The real Mexico
Mexico is one of the biggest surprises for me on this trip. I had never thought about coming here before and knew accordingly little about it. But the natural beauty, timeworn cities, welcoming people, tranquil beach towns and unexpected roadblocks are definitely a good reason for everyone to rethink their holiday plans!
After a full day of driving, Santiago and me make it into Chiapas where the rain season welcomes us with a free shower. The next morning I relax with a book outside of the camper while Santiago visits the temples of Palenque, which I have seen already. On our way to San Cristóbal de las Casas, I feel like I’m back in Guatemala. The roads are winding through the jungle while we cross little villages every now and then. Locals dressed in traditional outfits are laughing as we drive by. People are very poor in these parts of the country but obviously that hasn’t taken away their smiles.
We stay a few days in San Cristóbal, breathing in the smells of the city and watching people in their daily life. Mexicans are very outgoing people and you see them sitting in the streets, talking and enjoying life in general. Kids run around the central square, others sing and dance to the sounds of Mariachi bands playing in the streets and foreigners sit in little cafes reading books. One day we meet up with a guy called Daniel through Couchsurfing, who lives in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas. He shows us around San Cristóbal and later we visit a nice park in the outskirts of town.
On our way back to the center we stop in a little store to buy some food. Santiago asks the young girl from the store straight away if we can use their private kitchen to make some Quesadillas and she’s left with few options other then saying yes. We prepare our food and eat outside in the sun. After dinner we are able to catch a ride back into town with a girl from San Cristóbal.
Our next stop is the impressive Cañón del Sumidero, where we take a boat tour along the Grijalva River. The walls of the canyon rise up to about 1000 meters from the water level. Squeezed into a small boat with around 30 passengers I find it quite hard to enjoy the sights though. A hike through the canyon would probably be much more rewarding…
When we drive into Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the streets are full of people and we get stuck in traffic. I see something burning on the other side of the highway, some people taking food from a stopped truck and here and there people walking around with machetes and wooden clubs. Even though I don’t know what is going on, I feel that people are not going to harm us. We make it through without a hassle, but get into an even bigger traffic jam on the other side of town. People here are giving away packages of food and bottles of Coke from big trucks. Hundreds of passengers are lined up to get something for free and I feel reminded of images from Africa where hungry mobs empty planes full of emergency supplies. Santiago is in the camper preparing sandwiches, when people start screaming “Gringo! Gringo!”. I’m almost sure they are about to empty our fridge or even worse… I try to smile to everyone and act casual. Someone hands me a bottle of Coke into the car and then I’m already through the roadblock, still not able to understand what is going on. That night we sleep in a gas station and talk to some of the employees. They tell us that these people were teachers, trying to make the government pay them more money. It gets even more fascinating when they tell us to fill up our tank because the teachers are expected to take over the fuel stations for the next few days…welcome to Mexico!
After leaving beautiful Chiapas behind us, we make our way through Oaxaca to return to one of my favorite spots of Mexico. In Puerto Ángel, Zipolite and Manzunte we relax for a week, reading, eating, swimming, snorkeling and walking around the towns. Someday we buy some fresh fish from the fisherman and Santiago talks a woman waiting for her children into taking us home to use their kitchen. While Santiago and the kids sit in the camper, I drive everyone to the house. It is a very rural shack with a firewood stove. While Santiago entertains the kids, I help cutting some vegetables. But we end up being served by our lovely host and feel welcome in the family. Another beautiful experience with the local people, that shows me how warmhearted they are.
We continue along the pacific and sleep in Puerto Escondido for one night. The next day we are trying to drive to Acapulco, the much older sister of Cancun, that just doesn’t want to stop the party. But in a small town called San Francisco we get into another roadblock. This time people are protesting against political corruption. There had been regional votes a few days before… They sit under a big tent in the middle of the highway and a line of hundreds of cars is stopped to both sides of the little town. Parked on a bridge in front of the roadblock, we watch the spectacle, getting more and more ready to stay here over night. In the meantime we become a spectacle of ourselves and people come by to take pictures with us. I got a lot of compliments for my eyes on this trip already but sitting here on this bridge, people seem to make comments about them every two minutes. We try to make the best out of the situation and play some music for everyone. I call the playlist “Mexican Revolution” and include songs like Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution by Tracy Chapman or Transvision Vamp with Revolution Baby.
When people start driving their trucks through the river to bypass the roadblock, things get a bit more exciting. A little mob of people comes running over the bridge with wooden sticks, screaming and trying to stop the cars on the other side of the bridge. There is no police in sight, fire trucks stopped in the middle of the bridge waiting… A girl with a baseball bat walks up towards us and speaks a bit to Santiago. She is furious because somebody has killed her dog in revenge for being in this roadblock. People start saying that the road might be blocked for a few days. After the government in Guerrero killed 43 students last year, they can’t afford to raise more international publicity. Things like this are just being kept silent with news stations controlled by the government all over the country. At some point we decide to get into the camper. We try to sleep but outside it gets crazier while the last bits of twilight become pitch-black darkness.
We hear people screaming to each other and lots of glass bottles breaking. I hope we are not getting into something really dangerous here and drift into a very light sleep. Around 3 am we hear everyone turning on their engines and the headlights flood through the curtains into the camper. Someone screams “vamos vamos!” and knocks on the camper. Apparently they are about to open the road for ten minutes. I’m sure that whatever noise we have heard before was the reason for this change in plans. In a stop-and-go manner we cross San Francisco and drive into the dark night.
In the next morning we arrive in Acapulco. An absolutely crazy place with hotels lining up on the beachfront and a gigantic city spreading far inland. We walk along the beach and head over to the old town after to watch the famous cliff-divers of Acapulco. From heights up to 35 meters they jump into the shallow water of the pacific underneath. They have to time their jumps perfectly with the incoming waves; otherwise they might hit the ground when entering the water. In the night we check out the well-known nightlife of Acapulco.
From Acapulco we drive north into the much cooler inland. In Taxco we even have to wear long sleeve shirts and jeans again. The city is built on steep hills and tiny little streets run through the town like a labyrinth. I have to park the camper along the main road because I couldn’t fit through most of those streets and would also lack the power to climb some of the hills. While walking around the city we have to stay close to the walls to let cars pass. All the taxis in Taxco are old VW beetles, so it seems that about 70% of all cars are beetles. I love it and declare it to one of my most favorite cities in Mexico straight away.
Two days later we drive further into the interior to see the charming city of San Miguel de Allende. Another favorite without a doubt. Old cobblestone streets, probably the most gorgeous church in all of Mexico, colorful old houses and a vibrant lively center with street artists and skillful artisans. We meet Pepe who works in the artisans market and he shows us a few nice bars in town later on. While drinking the cheapest Tequila in all of Mexico he makes some bracelets for us. In the next day we visit one of the hot springs close to the city before leaving towards Guanajuato.
Guanajuato is on of the most important student cities in Mexico and has a very nice modern center full of bars and cafes. From the Pipila viewpoint you have a nice view over the city. Interesting are the main streets, that go along tunnels under the city. We stay one day and continue to Guadalajara, the second biggest city of Mexico. Here we visit our friend Angeliqua in her house.
Our last highlight is Sayulita back on the Pacific Ocean. Two days here remind me again how much I love this place. The little town just offers the perfect combination of everything I need to be happy. Lovely beaches, nice restaurants, foreign people, surrounding jungle, good waves and a positive vibe that cannot be put into words. I will most certainly come back one day to live here for a while! For Santiago and me it is the perfect end of our trip and all that’s left to do is return to Mazatlán where we are going to celebrate my birthday…