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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Off to Mexico!

Traveling in Central America can be an adventure...just on the buses. Depending on which type of bus you take, a trip could take two hours, three, or maybe even five. The fastest and most secure way to travel is by a shuttle, which is a 12 or 15 passenger van that goes from one location directly to another. After that, you could take a first class bus, which may stop a couple of times to let passengers on and off, but it´s also pretty quick and direct. The slowest means of travel is the second class buses, or the chicken buses as some people call them. They stop anywhere along the way to let anyone on or off, with whatever it is that they´re carrying.

Our transport from Antigua directly to San Cristóbal de las Casas was on a shuttle. The picture above shows what was on the window. We thought it was pretty funny. We left at 5:00 in the morning and arrived in San Cristóbal at around 4:00 or so in the afternoon.

Along the way, of course, we had to cross the border between Guatemala and Mexico. It was a little strange to arrive at what seemed to be the border...to check out of Guatemala...and then there wasn´t a ´check-in´to Mexico. The picture on the right is of this ´no man´s land´that we navigated, following the driver of the bus through alleyways, corridors and vendor´s stalls until we came out after a while on the edge of this ´village´and reboarded the van. The vendors there had wads of both quetzales and pesos, there were houses, cars, and markets, restaurants and stalls, all in-between the two countries.

After driving for a couple of minutes through this all, we finally saw this sight:

Then, we got back off of the van and went into the customs agent´s office in Mexico. After getting everything stamped, we got back on the van and continued for a few more hours until we arrived at San Cristóbal de las Casas.

The first thing we had to do, of course, was to search for a place to stay and also get a bite to eat. After looking at several different places, we were both getting a little grumpy (the jaguars were coming out) from not having ANYTHING to eat all day, so we broke down and ate at a little place.
Susan had some quesadillas with avocado on the side. I ate my sychronizadas (sort of a ham quesadilla with tomato and lettuce inside) so fast that there isn´t a picture to share.
Just a block down the street, we finally found a place to stay.

After searching a bit, we found a nice place to stay, just across from this church:

We figured that we´d always be able to find it, as bright as it was! As it turns out, the people that have the little stalls there in front are always there, selling fresh fruit and other food. There was also a laundry a couple of blocks away, an internet place a couple of doors down, and a nice bakery, too. Susan is addicted to the chocolate donuts. : )

After leaving our bags, we went for a walk around the town. We wandered through the markets and enjoyed seeing all of the variety of the produce that was for sale.
Here in this town, the population is partly mestizos, a mixture of Spanish and Indigenous people, and then also ¨pure¨ indigenous people, which are Mayan. As I understand, Chiapas, the state that we´re in, has the highest percentage of indigenous people in all of Mexico.

Taking pictures of people isn´t as accepted here as in other places, and so you´ll notice that are pictures are more of items and not people. We´re just doing our best to be respectful and polite, as these people are much more autonomous than any other state in Mexico, with very strong local customs and different attitudes.
As foreigners we´re welcome, but we are expected to be very respectful of local customs as a condition to being treated respectfully as well. Seeing the local market was wonderful, and looking at the lillies in the picture on the right, you can imagine how beautiful it was to see men carrying large bundles of them on their backs, walking to their stalls in the market. Were it not for the ´taking photos´issue, I´d have easily shown you a photo that looked just like a Diego Rivera painting. Beautiful!
Pictures from a distance are fine, but even still we were careful to be polite. A lot of work went into each individual stall, with the proprietors taking pride in their produce. The colors were so rich, and the smells were strong, both of the herbs, the pineapple stands, and also the butcher stalls.

All along the southern part of the market were Mayan women that were standing around with three or four chickens in each hand, all tied at the feet and hanging head down. People would come by and inspect them, hefting them in their hands to determine their weight, turning them around and poking them. It´s a tough life for a
rooster, you know!
The woman in the photo on the right already bought one, and was sitting on the side of the road nursing her baby. We know what she was cooking for dinner that night. I´m not sure if it was just what the lady was offering to everyone or just to me, but at $10 I think the price was a little high. The chickens were of course "free range" "organic" and "heirloom breeds" but all of that meant that they were a little on the skinny side, not the overstuffed fat American ones we find in the supermarket back at home. If that was the going rate, good for her!
This little girl was playing with the metal tongs that her grandmother was using to pluck out roasted corn that she was selling on the roadside. We watched her for a little while, and she kept poking the corn until finally her abuela took the tongs away and rearranged them again. This is a pretty common sight, as everywhere you go people are selling their corn that they´ve cooked on grills, boiled, or in the case of this woman, grilled and then kept warm in hot water.

After all of this, we were quite hungry again, as you can imagine. The smell and the sight of tacos al pastor drew us inside. Here is a short video of the man slicing off the pork for the tacos:

The pork is sliced thinly and then marinated in vinegar and spices overnight. Then, it´s arranged on a vertical spit, in between a pineapple that´s been split vertically as well. Each taco they made here had little chips of the roasted pineapple included as well.

It´s good to be in Mexico.

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