6. San Cristobal de las Casas

Days: 17
Crocodile sightings: 4
Cathedrals climbed: 1

Sleepily we introduced ourselves to the other residents at Roscoe’s Backpackers meeting young people from America, Canada, Germany, Portugal and the UK amongst other nationalities and backgrounds and were soon told of ‘The Walking Tour’. After a simple breakfast included with our room, we set off to find the town square and join the free Walking Tour at 10am. IMAG1539A large group gathered and then two Mexicans asserted themselves as the guides, they themselves surprised at the large turnout. One guide explained we would split in two; one English speaking tour and one Spanish. Both would be very relaxed and offer a cultural insight to the city informing of us their recommendations of where to go, eat and drink, see and do as well as soft social and political commentary. Looking at his watch he confirmed it was 10am and therefore we would need to wait another five or so minutes to ensure we did not start on time in line with the Mexican way of life! The tour lasted over five hours including several tasting stops; coffee, soup (apparently 24°C is cold) and at the end Pox – pronounced posh – which is a strong spirit made from corn. We visited two cathedrals and paid MX$10 to climb to the top of one to capture panoramic views of the whole city. Whilst making several friends on the tour, we stretched our hamstrings and promised to reunite with the group later in the evening at a craft beer brewery.

Through chatting to several people, we realised that most travel from Mexico City to Cancun or elsewhere opposed to our reverse route, whilst this didn’t allow us to meet up with people further along our path, we gained several great recommendations for where we are going from those who have just been. Before re-joining our walking group in the evening, we stopped off on the main pedestrian street for a bite to eat and a beer. Peering at our neighbours drinking red wine, we discussed how our previous locations have been so hot, beer was often our first choice. IMAG1547Intrigued as to what Mexican wine tastes like we asked the two girls and boy next to us and they recommend the Merlot. Two glasses and an invitation to the craft brewery later we returned to our hostel briefly to change into jeans for the first time since England. It felt good! We headed over and one by one formulated some of the tour including our new Dutch friends from the wine bar and were quickly introduced to a rainbow of Mexican spirits. Undecided whether I would rather understand their Spanish descriptions of the shots or if I was blissfully ignorant, after one too many I called enough enough and insisted we eat some dinner. Five of us wandered to a nearby restaurant, recommended on the walking tour, and enjoyed a lovely meal with every intention to return to the bar. Inevitably a day of walking, an array of alcohol and a large meal sent us straight to bed seeking a pillow not pox!

Monday. Mezcal, Merlot and mushroom pasta swirled the perimeter of my stomach as I grasped the water on the bedside table. “Seb, it’s 8.15am!” he leapt put of bed and rushed to the reception to book a last minute place for a Canyon tour. We had heard good things but had to try again for 8.30am to see if there was space. Two of our new friends were coming too and it was set to be a fantastic day out on a boat. Ah, a boat – sudden fear of combining rough water with a hangover was soon alleviated with logic – it should be calm water and cool in the canyon. IMG-20170324-WA0011We packed our jumpers and discovered our friend was ill so we clambered into the mini van and made the hour journey, almost all downhill, to the Canyon. On boarding the bus (not in the ticket information / guide) they informed us the Canyon is around 45°C, we should wear hats and apply mosquito repellent. First thoughts; how helpful and timely. When we arrived there was of course a huge hat stand filled with sweating tourists, I joined them and bought the cheapest hat I could find for MX$50 (£2) and risked not buying more insect repellent. We lathered on suncream like milk on cereal, grabbed a life jacket and gingerly jumped into the boat with thirty or so other tourists ready for their day out. The open boat sped off at a good pace only slowing at points of interest, the first being vultures. Around six hunched and scuttled along the dry ground by the water reminding me of the latter scene in The Jungle Book; we marvelled, photographed and sped off again. The tall walls of the Canyon steeped over us, using grandeur to intimidate those who passed through. Then pointing and gasps filled the boat, there it was, stop number two – a crocodile. The prehistoric beast sprawled it’s full length on a bank surrounded by naive birds, it’s mouth ajar displaying bone-crunchable teeth whilst maintaining a deathly stillness. Tension consumed us as a bird neared close to the jaws – “WILL IT SNAP? WILL WE WITNESS IT SNAP?” – total stillness responded our eager questions and alas, the boat sped off. We saw several another crocodiles, birds with a wingspan as wide as a sofa soar above us and of course, more and more of the Canyon itself. Requiring windscreen wipers for the amount of sweat we perspired, we returned to the dock after a two hour tour and not one mosquito in sight.

After the boat tour we were then taken to a small, nearby town for an hour where we missed the breeze of the boat and melted like the mango ice cream we purchased in desperation. Not wanting to have a sit down lunch we slouched through the town and found a street food vendor. Having heard about the hygiene in the region being poorer than most and applying the logic of 45°C heat, chicken empanadas and no fridge, I declined their bargain offer – Seb ‘Stomach of Steel’ Elliott rolled his eyes and accepted. We boarded the bus and began the incline all the way to the heights of San Cristobal. IMAG1562After a shower and rest at the hostel, we headed out for a low key evening meal and an early night. We went to a fantastic restaurant and had one of the best meals in Mexico to date – competing with the culinary delights of Bacalar – I had flank steak tacos and Seb had something with every kind of meat you can imagine. Full and satisfied we headed to bed. The next morning, you guessed it, Seb became incredibly poorly. After a forceful request to leave, I explored the city solo whilst Seb continued to be ill for the entire day. We spent the evening in the hostel, Seb recovering and me on hand for anything needed. The next day was night bus day and after a slow, cautious morning we realised that several people in our hostel were also ill. In fact, since leaving the hostel we’ve heard about 12-15 cases of San Cristobal related illness all of whom had street food. Our last day consisted of walks to the market and a visit to the textile museum before boarding our 14 hour night bus to Puerto Escondido. The sharp winding roads tested both of our stomachs but by morning we made it and walked off the bus covered in relief and coastal sunshine.