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San Cristobal: kicking my preconceived ideas to the curb

sunny 24 °C

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This is San Cristobal de las Casas. Graffiti by noted street artist Kram

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And so is this. Typical street view

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And so is this. Nescafe in Mexico is (almost) a thing of the past. Artesan coffee roaster using local beans

We came to San Cristobal with great anticipation and very little prior knowledge. Everyone we spoke to who has been here has LOVED it - this may be the only Mexican destination that is unanimously revered. Here's what I pictured in my mind:
a) largely indigenous people
b) no cameras allowed ( natives feel their souls will be stolen)
c) respectful attire only ( no shorts, tank tops, flip-flops)
d) hilly, chilly, photogenic
e) conservative - the "old" Mexico

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Here's what we've discovered so far:
a) indigenous yes (there are 10 distinct Mayan languages and cultures), but there is a broad mix of people who live and travel here.
b) cameras allowed everywhere but inside churches. If you wish to take a picture of someone, be respectful and ask first - it will likely be yours, for a fee.
c) tourists wear almost anything, but flip-flops can be dangerous on these streets and sidewalks.
d) it is hilly, a bit chilly (23 degrees during the day, 12 - 14 at night), and very photogenic
e) the "old" Mexico is being enhanced by a generation of savvy entrepreneurs

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An international beer shop that moves far beyond Corona and Modelo

One delightful development in San Cristobal over recent years has been an explosion of specialty food shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. For every tourist-trap restaurant with laminated menus and sidewalk hawkers, there are several more that have taken the local, organic, "your chicken's name is Colin" approach to a whole new level. Thanks to Tripadvisor's #1 suggestion, we headed to Frontera for lunch, and ordered coffee and sandwiches. The sandwiches arrived on wooden boards - house-baked bagels with our fillings, garnished with fresh cream cheese and julienned carrots. Coffee arrived with instructions - 2 white mugs, a French press and a card notifying us that our selection was "produced in Campesinos Ecologicos in the Sierre Madre de Chiapas at 1200 - 1700 feet, its origin Jaltenango, Siltepec, and with notes of citrus, nut, caramel and chocolate".

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Frontera is one of three businesses housed in an old farmhouse-style building - thick walls, heavy beams, interior courtyard.

Our first day here was spent wandering the city and trying not to have too much of an agenda. We're here for 6 days, so we have plenty of time to see the sights - sometimes the most memorable experiences are the serendipitous ones. It's possible I could have gone my whole life without holding a tarantula, but now that one's been scratched off the list. We walked by a young man who was letting people know about the insect museum around the corner, and he had a big, hairy Chilean Rose tarantula as his crowd-grabber. When I asked if I could touch it, he cautioned against trying to "pet" it, as it would get agitated, but he offered to put it on my flat palm. I can't tell you what it was like, as I had my eyes closed the entire time.

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It is possible to walk for hours - the city unfolds in front of you, and no matter what street you choose to walk down (or up), there will be lots to look at.
There are two pedestrian-only streets , and quite naturally, they have the biggest concentration of shops and restaurants.

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The streets here are unbelievably narrow, and most are one-way, with "UNO" at each intersection (each car slows down and takes their turn). The modus operandi for drivers in San Cris is to hurtle madly from intersection to intersection. The modus operandi for pedestrians is to stay alert and stay alive.
This is an example of a typical street - to make matters more challenging, people will pull their cars up on the sidewalks as temporary parking spots, allowing just enough space for another car to squeeze by.
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Chiapas has an incredibly varied and dramatic natural landscape, and there is so much to see within driving distance of San Cristobal, so we planned a couple of day trips, and will save the big sights like Palenque and some of the jungle tours for after we leave. Yesterday, we drove out to the Sumidero Canyon, about 45 minutes from here. The Sumidero Canyon is very narrow and dramatic, with some cliffs reaching over 1000 feet.

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Small boats take passengers up the 13-km. waterway, for a 2-hour trip that included sightings of many kinds of birds, howler monkeys and crocodiles. It was amazing - we saw them all. I tried to get photos of the monkeys, but they got lost in the trees. Our guide stopped the boat at a number of places, so we could observe them. The birds flapped and posed for us,and the crocodiles did very little, which I guess is a good thing. We saw a number of adults and a few youngsters, but they were so small, they didn't show up against the rocks in a photo.

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These birds are called zopilote - they are a type of vulture, and typically, they congregate in large groups. As bird life goes, this looks rather bleak - hanging out on a sun-baked river bank.

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We also saw a rock formation that is known as Arbol de Navidad (Christmas tree) - formed over time by an overhead waterfall. As our guide pulled us up close, we felt the light mist coming down from hundreds of feet above.

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We're off to a village tour today - this time we're going with an English-speaking guide, and we will have an opportunity to see a lot more and learn a lot more than if we just drove there on our own. So much more to tell you about - the churches, the markets, the museums, the textiles, the street art, the presence of the Zapatistas, the ongoing protests - so many stories. I'll get another blog about San Cristobal and area out in a couple of days.

While we have been in Mexico, we've had the great joy of seeing the crescent moon upside down, like a smile, rather than as we view it at home, on its side. It has something to do with our southern location - maybe one of you knows why? Stephen took this shot from the end of our street.
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Posted by millerburr 05:32 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

always wanted to explore Chiapas so reading your blog is great.

by Robbi

Great pictures! The 2 bright lights (one is much brighter than the other) next to the moon are Mars and Venus! We've been seeing them too, only not the upside down crescent we discovered in Sayulita!

by Alanna

For me Gin, this is your best & most interesting
blog to-date and shall look forward to #2 about this area. Even with my eyes closed, I could not
have a tarantula on my hands. Take care. Kay

by Kay Miller

Hi Ginny , I think u r correct about the smiling moon being a southern influence we were enjoying the same moon in Joshua Tree the other night .
Thank u for sharing such your informative and entertaining blog, Gordie and I have been travelling in the Southwest and SO enjoying your posts. Your next career should be as a travel writer/blogger !

by Bonnie

I have to agree with Bonnie's comment about your next career; you are a natural when it comes to writing about your travels. By the way, you won't catch me putting my hand out for a spider, especially one starting with "t" and ending with "a"!

by Heather

Excellent stuff, great pics, Laureen shrieked at the big hairy tarantula, see you in NO x

by Dave

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