I'll open with one quick observation that doesn't belong in any one specific area; protesting is a popular activity in Mexico. I didn't try to count them, but in Mexico City I would encounter protests on an almost daily basis, and I visited only a small part of the city. There was also an ongoing protest in San Cristobal de las Casas that I think had something to do about privatization; I'm not sure what were the reasons for the protests in Mexico City. They were kind of a nuisance, obstructing traffic and occupying the police, but most people seemed to take them in stride. In one playful demonstration the protesters would taunt the police into a short charge, run safely away, then go back to taunt some more. Most people seemed to enjoy the theater, but not everyone; the police seemed unhappy and shop owners stood at the ready to roll down steel gates to protect their businesses in case the protesters succeeded in provoking a riot. Other than them people seemed to be having a great time. I could never find any information about these protests in the newspapers; I don't know if protests are so common as to not qualify as news or if the papers didn't want to publish anything that would upset the government. Whatever the causes, I found it interesting that I encountered more protests in a few weeks in Mexico than in more than 40 years in the U.S.
Back to the narrative: It was early afternoon
on October 30 when I arrived in Mexico from Guatemala at the border
town of Frontera Corozal. I was surprised to find no customs or
immigration checks, just a few police and shuttle vans waiting
for tourists like me. The appearance of a lack of security changed
during the two hour van ride into Palenque; we were stopped and
checked at all major intersections by well armed soldiers, and
at one stop had to get off the shuttle while it was searched and
all passengers checked out. No passport check, just inspected
to make sure we were not Guatemalans. Mexico secures its southern
border far more than the U.S. secures its southern border. In
fact, if the U.S. were to secure its border with Mexico in the
same manner as Mexico secures its border with Guatemala, most
of the world would express outrage, with the government of Mexico
complaining the loudest. I'm not advocating this, the U.S. military
has more than enough to do, but it does add perspective to the
Mexican government's complaints about U.S. border control efforts.
Once in the new town of Palenque I got a
nice modern room for 250 pesos, about $23. It had air conditioning,
television, a full tiled bathroom, everything you could want;
it was a pleasant change from more basic accommodations. The air
conditioning was especially nice, Palenque is in the tropical
lowlands and even in late October this area is hot and steamy.
I took a collectivo, a shared van/taxi, to the Migracion office
outside of town and got a tourist card allowing me to stay in
Mexico for 60 day. This was the only documentation of my entering
the country. As I was leaving the lady working there wished me
luck in finding a good woman in Mexico; apparently I fit the profile
of a wife hunting gringo. I wasn't and I'm still not.
New Palenque had a strip of restaurants and bars on the street leading to the central park, but not much was going on. I went to bed early and slept late, it had been a long day. Late the next morning I took a collectivo to the ruins of old Palenque, arriving about noon.
The ruins of old Palenque were very impressive, Halloween in new Palenque was disappointing. On Wednesday, November 1 I took the bus to San Cristobal de las Casas.
San Cristobal de las Casas
On November 13 my bowels felt stable enough to tackle the two hour bus ride to Tuxtla Gutierrez. Tuxtla is not a bad city but not very interesting. It has a decent Museo de Chiapas and a large botanical garden that was closed due to recent flooding when I tried to visit. The old town center is decent with some interesting restaurants, but its chief advantage is it is a short bus ride from San Cristobal and a convenient place from which to visit Simojovel and the Canon del Sumidero. I took a shuttle bus to Simojovel, changing shuttles in Bochil, and bought some amber, both rough and polished, for no good reason; it just seemed the thing to do. I didn't take any pictures since it wasn't that attractive a town. Buying the amber was interesting--there were a few small shops, but the best deals came by going to the homes of families that lived by mining or polishing amber. While following a woman who was showing me to her family's workshop (actually a shed beside their house) I passed a cow by the side of the road being butchered by a group of people. I don't think they routinely butcher cows in residential areas in Simojovel, I think this animal had some bad luck and the locals decided not to let it go to waste. Not a great story, but a reminder why it is a good idea to get your meat cooked very thoroughly when traveling, at least when traveling to countries with questionable health standards. I finished amber shopping quickly and was back in Tuxtla by early evening. My guidebook and some of the locals advised against being on the backroads around Simojovel after sunset. The remote areas of Chiapas have a bad reputation.
The most interesting thing I did when in Tuxtla was take a day trip to the Canon de Sumidero.
While on my raft trip in Canon de Sumidero I finished filling one memory card on my digital camera and started another. That card and my camera disappeared on a bus ride from Oaxaca to Mexico City. Fortunately I kept the full memory card in a part of my luggage separate from my camera, or I would have lost the pictures of Tikal, Copan, Palenque, Antigua, San Cristobal, and the Canon del Sumidero.
I spent much more time in Tuxtla that the city warranted. On November 23 I bought an overnight bus ticket from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Oaxaca, with a bus change in Juchitan. I left Tuxtla at 10:30 in the evening and arrived in Oaxaca at 10:00 in the morning, feeling somewhat worn out. Long bus trips are a drag.
Oaxaca is nice, of the cities I visited in Mexico it is my favorite. It is not as cheap as other places, but reasonable rooms are available if you can live without luxury. I found a basic but adequate room with a bathroom (I'm spoiled, I like having a private bathroom) at Hotel Santa Clara for 150 pesos, about $14. The room was only three blocks from the Alcala pedestrian mall, which was very convenient. Oaxaca is a medium size city, about a quarter million people, with a large well preserved colonial center, lots of restaurants and bars, historic buildings and museums, and arts and crafts galore. It is almost a mile high, which gives it a mild climate in spite of the tropical latitude. Oaxaca has a small ex-pat community, big enough so I could find someone to talk to in English when I got tired of struggling with my limited Spanish, but not so large that the ex-pats dominate, as they do in San Miguel de Allende. Oaxaca also felt safe; I was careful but did not feel like I was taking a great risk walking around at night. Based on the small portion of Mexico I saw, if I were to choose a place to live in Mexico, I would choose Oaxaca.
I am really bummed that my camera with the pictures I took of Oaxaca was stolen. I had pictures of the Iglesia de Santa Domingo, some from inside the Museo de la Cultura de Oaxaca, including some cool Day of the Dead sculptures, the botanical gardens, night shots of the colonial streets, the Cathedral, the Casa de Benito Juarez, Basilica de la Soledad, a pet toucan at a restaurant I ate at, and more. The pictures I really hate losing were of nearby Monte Alban, which was the capital of the Zapotec civilization in this area from about 200 BC to 700 AD. It is not as big or well restored as Copan, Tikal or Palenque, but still an impressive site and evidence that the great cultures and civilizations of pre-Columbian Mexico were not limited to the Maya and Aztec. I better not dwell on this, I'm getting burned up about having my camera stolen all over again.
Oaxaca, and everywhere else I visited in Mexico, also had bars serving really good tequila and mezcal. Not the painfully harsh stuff that has to be drunk with salt and lime to mask the taste, but really nice sipping liquors. Of course once inside you they have the same devastating effect as Jose Cuervo. I'm mostly a beer and wine person, but I had to try a few of these bars.
I went on organized tours of some of the local craft villages; the market at Octlan, a weaving place in Santo Tomas Jalieza, San Martin Tilcajete where colorful wood carvings are made, and San Bartolo Coytepec for its black pottery. On Saturday, 29 November I took a tour to Mitla, where there are the remains of a small Zapotec city which was partially dismantled to make the town's church. After this we stopped at Teotitlan de Valle for a demonstration of Zapotec weaving, where wool rugs of a quality comparable to Navajo rugs are made by hand. These rugs used to be bargains and were sold in New Mexico in the 1980's as cheap substitutes for more expensive Navajo rugs. They have gone up a lot in price since then. I've got about a half dozen small ones I picked up when I lived in Albuquerque, I should treat them with more respect. We also visited El Tule and a 2000 year old ahuehuete tree, a type of cypress. It is claimed to be the single biggest biomass in the world, I don't know how you verify this claim. On Sunday I took a bus to Tlacolula for their weekend market, where I knocked off a good bit of Christmas shopping. I was taking pictures all this time, but they're gone. I could have made a really good Oaxaca page with those pictures.
On December 3 I Fed Ex'd a large box of unnecessary stuff I had bought to the U.S.. On Thursday, December 4 I took a first class bus to Mexico City.
In Mexico City I wasted time looking for my missing camera and shopping for a replacement. Mexico City is a terrible place to buy a camera. On a happier note, on December 15 I made a day trip to Teotihuacan.
On Wednesday, December 17 I left Mexico City for the nearby city of San Miguel de Allende, the gringolandia of Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende
That was it for Mexico. On December 21 I returned to Mexico City and on December 22 caught a flight to Atlanta Georgia and drove back to Tallahassee.