San Cristóbal de las Casas – A night bus to remember, a city to adore

After a great day touring the ruins of Monte Albán and its surrounding villages, we hopped on our first night bus of our travels to San Cristóbal de las Casas. Night buses bring a little bit of joy in the fact that we don’t have to spend money on a night’s accommodation (cheapos) and on the whole, we do like a good nap on a bus.. any bus.. and generally 5 minutes into the ride.

After my sickly episode on the boat in Alaska, I decided to purchase some of Mexico’s best over-the-counter motion sickness pills. Neem was feeling brave however and decided against taking them. After about an hour or so into my slumber I was awoken to a pale faced (not easy for Neem to do), sickly Neem. She was not enjoying the ride and had already been reaquainted to the tasty sandwiches we prepared a few hours earlier! I brought out my magic pills and next thing we see is a nice little ray of sunlight as we roll into the the beautiful colonial city. The first night bus experience.. 50% success in my books! FYI – ADO buses (the main Mexico bus company) is extremely comfortable with seats going back quite some way and in all you feels quite safe. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help a lot when you’re travelling through some very high and windy roads. Oaxaca to San Cristóbal is one of those roads.

We arrived close to 7am, which we felt was way too early to check into our hostel. Some hostels in Mexico have an early check in fee, others are closed until a certain time. We hadn’t looked it up for this place, so we hung out for a little while and then went in search of brekkie and the all important travellers friend, coffee.. I mean wifi.. I mean both. Still getting used to the portion sizes, cheap prices and language barrier, we ordered a huge breakfast. That was fine as I was starving and Neem didn’t get much energy from that re-appearing sandwich from a few hours earlier.

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Brief tidbit; Pancakes are called hot cakes in Mexico which we found out following the arrival of the above meal.

We dropped our bags to the now open hostel and went on our first jaunt out into the buzzing city. The markets had opened around the church and the tourists and locals were out in full force. The Mayan ladies more or less make up the full population of the workforce in the markets. Their attire is a little different than the Oaxacan indigenous who wear colorful light dresses. They wear black wooly dresses here to ward off the cold of the Chiapas highlands. Neem made put some bargaining skills to work and got a lovely bracelet and photo to boot. They don’t like their photos taken (we heard later on) as they believe it captures their soul. However, some will allow photos for money! Not too many though.

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The market was huge and in some places kind of smelly. Neem felt the nausea coming back, I didn’t want to see her breakfast so we legged it out and back to the main cobblestone streets which cross the heart of the city. It really is a beautiful little city which is in parts closed to just pedestrians, giving it a european feel with hints of local culture. This became the theme as we crossed most of the colonial Latin American cities. The Spanish left some beautiful architecture behind them, but in doing so, wiped out many generations of local culture and traditions.

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We checked out some vegetarian restaurants here – Who said we’d be eating rice and beans for three months?! Naturalissimo was a great lunch spot serving Indian curry, which was actually a Thai curry and falafel burgers. La Casa del Pan was a yoga type place with a small cinema and served up some great locally inspired dishes. This place won us over with its very tasty Chile Ancho Relleno. Neem struggled to share it with me!

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Views from either side of the city were amazing. We took a sunset walk up calle Real Guadalupe to its church which gave us a fine view back down its pedestrian street to the main zocalo (square/plaza) and allowed us time to people watch as they went about their end-of-day activities. Kids playing football, dogs being walked, an old lady cleaning her back yard and us two, watching the sun go down.

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The evening was spent with a cheap beer around a fire in our hostel, speaking to some new and old people. The gringo trail is full of people all year round which you undoubtably meet in a few stops, allowing to build some friendships and share some tips along the way. Jasmine, Carrie & Dave would become a little important to us in the near future at our upcoming border crossing.

Conversations always start with the typical questions about where you’re from, where you’re going and how long you’re going for. This was still our first week so we inevitably became the students after this. We were still deciding our route to Guatemala and onwards. Hostel chats around campfires are an important tool to any new backpackers!

Our final day here saw us visit Sumediro Canyons, about 30 miles east of San Cristóbal. It’s a much smaller scale as the Grand Canyon in the U.S. but extremely impressive all the same. We did a 20 mile boat ride through the river formed within the canyon, spotting some crocodiles, spider monkeys and a lot of birds along the way.

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It was absolutely beautiful but as with the Grand Canyon, it get’s extremely hot at a much lower elevation to where we came from. Where there’s an opportunity, there’s an opportunist. A nice little boat selling drinks and snacks met us half way out.

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With an early morning bus ride to Palenque the next morning, we went to bed a little early. Like Oaxaca, we really liked the vibe of this city. Some people stay here for much longer than three days. We have places to go, people to see and miles to go before we sleep again.

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