Eight Months On The Road
By David Rice
San Cristobal de las Casas
Backpacking in Central and South America
Eight Months On The Road
San Cristobal De Las Casas
Casas in the morning and I booked a hostel for two nights in the nice colonial town with narrow side streets and a medium sized town square.
The indigenous people dress in colorful clothing hand made in their villages and come to the old church where they set up indigenous markets and the people come streaming in from the countryside to sell everything imaginable including medicinal herbs. There is an excitement about the place and a difference. This place has an atmosphere of uniqueness.; this is no ordinary place but a place truly different.
Perched as it is on the edge of the Lacandon jungle and feeding the watershed of the Usumacinta River, San Cristobal has been for millennium a way station for travelers hauling goods from the coast bound for the ancient Mayan city of Palenque. Earlier times would have seen Olmecs hauling shell and jade from their outposts on the Pacific coast.
Today San Cristobal is a watering hole for backpackers to the cascades of Agua Azul and backpackers to the ruins of Palenque and for viajeros like me heading to Guatemala and points south.
I was planning to make photos along the way, particularly if I reached Antarctica, so I was carrying my Nikormat SLR that I have had for many years. This trip would prove too much for the venerable old camera and it quit working in Ushuaia Argentina.
I had a stash of 50 speed Fuji Velvia and 100-speed Provia and some Kodak 64 and 100 but I only had used half of the film when the camera went down. I later replaced it with a Canon digital Powershot model and the photos in these pages are a combination of the two.
From San Cristobal, I headed to Guatemala on a local bus, reaching the border town of La Messilla. From there, highway 190, the Pan American Highway, took me to Guatemala City. These borders can be at times crowded, at time deserted, and at other times unevenly regulated and amorphous. Here is where US dollars in small denominations and stashed in an easily reached pocket come in handy. The dollar, God love its fading value, still has clout most anywhere in the world and they still recognize the US dollar even in the jungle where people speak languages known only to a few. At the borders, I paid for the passport stamps with a few dollars in change and was able to get the needed papers and visas.
I like that passport stamp, it can be a badge of courage not easily earned at some crossings but I like to get them nevertheless. The stamp becomes more than fancy when the authorities check your papers and look for the official stamp that tells them that you entered through an approved checkpoint and that you paid your visa fee.
Once off the bus and in a strange city, I carry only a backpack and keep both hands free to fend off the unexpected. You never know when you will need both arms free to duck under low hanging trees, to steady yourself when dodging potholes, to get to your cash and papers, and to fend off the occasional petty thief.
Speeding Through Central America
I have backpacked through Central America so many times that on this trip I wanted to pass through as quickly as possible and spend my time in South America; therefore, once I left San Cristobal I would make a quick run through the Isthmus. I would not spend more than one night in any of the cities until I reached Columbia.
The obsession to move can get so strong that I will endure much to be near the next bus station. In Guatemala, I checked in to the Paris Hotel, a faded place as old as they get with original furniture from a century ago. It is across from a bar that had hollering and music until three in the morning but I booked it regardless because it was two blocks from the bus station that would get me to the next city.
I can put up with a lot of inconvenience if it gets me near the next bus.
|San Cristobal , Backpacking
David Rice Photo