Mexico Part 3: San Cristobal
— Mexico — 6 min read
April 8 - 14, 2010
I was only going to spend two days in San Cristobal, but one thing lead to another and it became longer than a week. I stayed at CouchSurfer Jose Luis' place and there was a good vibe there. I had planned on taking Spanish lessons in Guatemala for a week but I met two Argentinian travelers who were also staying at Luis' place and they offered to teach me Spanish in exchange for improving their English. One of them, Lucas was a Spanish literature teacher and journalist. I also needed to wind down a bit as I was on the road constantly for the previous two weeks working my way down Mexico. The pleasant highland climate up at 7,500 ft was also much appreciated.
The main house on the ranch where Luis was staying. This is Olivier's house and that's one of his horses, who's pregnant.
The side house where Luis and the rest of us were staying.
Olivier's second horse coming for a drink of water. It was real nice to be living so close to such big, beautiful animals. They came and went as they pleased as it was also their home.
Lucas, one of the Argentinians, besides being a Spanish teacher and journalist is also a marvelous singer and guitar player. He put together a CD album and is trying to go professional. He would just grab his guitar and belt out beautiful songs with a very strong voice. It was so impressive that Luis is holding the phone out and probably said to the person on the other end, "you gotta hear this."
We went into town to check out some local music. This is a group from Veracruz (known for great musicians in Mexico), where everyone had a guitar of all different sizes and people took turns singing. It was lively music with strong messages (I had some translations).
They had a small wooden platform and people took turns stomping to the music. The stomps would be mellow during the verse and get loud and energetic during the chorus.
Once it got too cold outside, the party moved inside. Check out the rhythm instrument, which was a jaw of some animal, probably a cow, filled with beads and a stick was grated against the teeth to create a maracas kind of sound.
The next morning I went to Comitan, about 90 kms towards the Guatemalan border to the consulate there to get a visa for the next few Central American countries. However, to my surprise they said India was now on the visa exempt list, so no visa needed. Yeah, tourist visa reform is slowing happening. On the way back to San Cristobal I saw these horses dragging lumber. Human and animal sharing the load.
And I finally found tacos cheaper than 10 Pesos (the dollar sign is used to signify pesos in Mexico). All through northern Mexico, the cheapest tacos were P10 and above. P5 is around $0.40.
Mmmm, greasy meat from somewhere on a pig.
In complete contrast to road-side food are all the huge supermarkets now everywhere in Mexico. It might be classified as a developing country, but Mexico has some faces that look very similar to developed countries. Buying provisions for the week ahead.
Automatic tortilla oven. Billions and billions of tortillas are made and consumed every day in Mexico.
Luis preparing some dinner for us.
Ham sandwiches with avocado and tomato. Simple and tasty.
He taught us this board game that night called La Polina. It's kind of like Monopoly where you have to get your pieces around the board and there are various rules on who can kill whom and where the safety zones are. It doesn't reward kindness and I think it teaches you how to be an effective mob boss, haha. Interesting game.
The beautiful cathedral in the central plaza of San Cristobal.
Old Spanish colonial city with cobble stone streets and lots of cafes with outdoor seating. The mood was very jovial.
If you're a CouchSurfer or staying with one in San Cristobal, you have to take part in the Abrazos Gratis (Free Hugs) event on Saturday afternoons.
No one knows who started it or where, but you basically just give out free hugs to passerbyers. Of course, you ask first and most people respond with a smile and open arms and walk away with an even bigger smile.
Selva, a CouchSurfing host from Germany who was doing some Yoga training on the Oaxacan coast, sticking an Abrazos Gratis sign on Lucas.
Having a few drinks after the event with new friends. I offered to cook a chicken curry for about five of us that evening and Mauricio, here on the left, who also lives in Olivier's house, spread the word that an Indian guy was making a chicken curry and what do you know, soon it became a dinner party for 30! More chicken!
I enjoyed being a chef again and put everyone to work chopping vegetables: Joelle (from Quebec), Luis, Aurelie (from Reunion), Maria (San Cris local), Olivier and Ikura (Japanese traveler that we met in the plaza).
Cutting green peppers and onions: Carlos (from France) and Monika (from Poland).
Kal (from Korea) preparing a Korean rice dish with all the vegetables. If you think riding a motorcycle through South America is crazy, Kal here plans to Walk around South America. He's walked around South Korea and is preparing for his multi-year journey in San Cristobal. We had some nice discussions about Zen Buddhism and the energy in the Universe, which was currently being channelled into the food :)
Once it was prepared, the chicken curry disappeared real fast. I couldn't even get a picture of the finished dish, haha. It didn't come out as I expected as I've never cooked for so many people, but with the right spices and adequate salt, no one would complain.
Finally getting a chance to sit down and enjoy some of the food.
Selva and Melady (from Madison, Wisconsin) preparing a mango lassi (Indian yogurt drink) for dessert.
A campfire was started outside and everyone gathered to listen to Lucas play the guitar, under a beautiful clear night sky.
Always enjoyable to be around a campfire.
There was some dancing by Mario (the other Argentinian)...
...and story-telling by Lucas who was quite dramatic. I couldn't follow much of it, but the presentation itself was interesting.
A beautiful evening, put together as it happened.
The next day I went with Olivier to see some quarter-mile horse drag racing. This is typical of this region and happens quite regularly.
Everyone stands real close to the raceway to see their horse get ahead and then get smothered in the dust cloud as they pass.
The timing system for the races with some camcorders for video playback.
There was lots of waiting around for each race, about an hour in between. Chicken on the grill and locals mingling about.
This guy was interesting - he was selling small concessions and collecting the beer cans thrown on the ground by everyone else. Maybe he gets some cash for recycling them, but it's funny to see how people care less about garbage down here and just throw things down as soon as it's of no value to them.
The next race started...
...and the excitement was over in less than ten seconds. I like this picture for how the dust trails mimic the horse's tail.
Typical evenings at Luis' with dinner on the porch. Everyone took turns preparing dinner. Soon, more people were staying at Olivier's, Mauricio's and Luis' place as they too enjoyed the vibe here.
Besides the good food and the company, everyone enjoyed being so close to the horses. Some of them even went on horse rides (on the black male as the mare here was expected any day soon).
There was lots of dancing. Here, Lucas and Joelle are swinging away.
Carlos and Aurelie spinning into smiles.
Good times. Nice to mix with travelers from all different parts of the world and see how similar and diverse we all are.
Busting a few moves myself.
Mauricio works for an outfitter company, organizing tours and treks and he got us a deal on a river cruise though the Sumidero Canyon, near Tuxtla Gutierrez.
The steep canyon walls from the river. It was a two hour motor boat cruise with a Spanish guide.
A limestone cave with a shrine to the Virgin Mary deep inside.
And nice big crocodiles basking in the sun. We saw three huge ones and the boat got real close to the shore.
Some more pictures of San Cristobal's interesting buildings.
Shaded tree avenue near the central plaza.
Doing an oil change for sanDRina. It had been 3,500 miles since San Francisco and the oil was well used.
I asked the store where I bought the oil if I could borrow an oil pan as I had all the tools needed for a simple oil change and felt better about doing it myself.
Cooking one last meal in San Cristobal. This time it would be all vegetarian. Preparing a broccoli pasta sauce.
Carlos making mashed potatoes with garlic and chillies.
Presenting the food: a cucumber/tomato salad, mashed potatoes and the pasta sauce.
Good to get some greens after lots of fried meat dishes the previous days. Garlic mashed potatoes with a cucumber/tomato salad with avocado and pasta with a broccoli tomato sauce.
And good food always goes well with good company. It would be easy to spend a lot of time wherever the vibes are good, however the road is calling.
Previous: Mexico, Part 2: Beaches and Oaxaca