I got into Mexico on Friday and headed straight to San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s famous for having been taken over by the Zapatistas back in the 1990s. It’s a pretty little colonial town. It’s in the mountains, so it’s cool, but not nearly as cold as Xela. I stayed in a cheap but rather crappy little posada where the mattress smelled bad, the owner rather incompetent, and the other guests friendly but weird (honestly, I really couldn’t care less about how everyone who stays there has a special little light in their eyes that makes the place special – whatever light is there is only there because it was the cheapest place in town).
Aside from being generally pretty, there wasn´t much to the town other than strolling around. So I went to a travel agency and booked a trip to the Canon del Sumido. So they bused me, along with two Dutch guys and a bunch of Israeli girls, off to the canyon for a two-hour boatride along a river as it flowed between 700 to 1,000 meter cliffs. It was amazing! The closest thing I can think of would be Brice or Zions, but with crocodiles. Yes, that’s right, crocodiles: sitting on the banks (very still, with vultures waiting a few feet away hoping the thing was dead and not just “hiding”). Also iguanas, monkeys, pelicans, herons, egrets, kingfishers, cormorants, and bats. In addition to the wildlife were some really good waterfalls spraying down the side of the cliffs. Hopefully my little camera will do it all justice. (Now I wish I had a digital camera, so I could share them.)
After a day in San Cristobal, I took the bus to Palenque. I got in fairly early yesterday and discovered that there really is nothing to do in this litle town whose sole purpose is to facilitate tourism to the big Mayan ruins site nearby. Since I wasn´t going to the ruins until the next day, I went about and made all my travel arrangements with the travel agencies, ate some tough carne asada with some fresh tamarindo juice, and read Gone With the Wind. I´ve been working on that thing for about a month now (it’s the only thing other than Les Miserables that I could think of that would last me long enough to make bringing the book worth it, and since Les Mis is the most annoying book ever, I went with our dear friend Scarlett — and haven´t been disappointed, it´s a great book) and am about halfway through. Some teenage boys who had been shining shoes took a break on the same bench I was sitting on and started talking to me. They were convinced that I was reading the bible (what other book could possibly be so big?). So we talked for a while about the book, where I was from, whether there were shoe-shiners in the US, etc. They were nice enough, but the conversation lagged due to the fact that we come from totally different worlds. They obviously couldn’t relate to anything in my world, and could only guess at their frame of reference. It was kind of weird and slightly awkward. Then they asked me if I wanted to buy marijuana.
When I turned down the marijuana, the guys wandered away and I went to an internet cafe to check the news and emails. Shortly thereafter about five pretty French girls came in and sat down. It was refreshing to hear French at first, but then the girl next to me started a steady stream of complaining. Apparently nothing worked for her and she was so frustrated and just couldn’t tolerate it and blah-blah-blah. Well, pretty soon I couldn’t tolerate it either (there’s nothing more annoying that a whiny French person, for some reason the language lends itself to whining as well as more romantic overtones). So finally I just turned to her and told her (in French) that she should change computers or go someplace else. I think she and her friends thought I was speaking another language (I mean, could I actually have said something so rude to them? surely not), so her other neighbor started explaining to me in broken English the situation. I assured her (stil in French) that I understood perfectly well what was going on but that it was really irritating to sit next to someone who was complaining out loud about everything but without doing anything about it. So, apparently yes, I could have said something that rude, and in French. Oh la la. I felt bad for a minute and then got over it when she left and I saw how much more pleasant it was to type without her complaining in my ear.
Today I went to the big Mayan ruins, my first official ruins trip of this voyage. They were fascinating and definitely not disappointing. I joined up with a girl from New Zealand who I had met in the hostel, and we managed to get a guide for fairly cheap. The big piramids are appropriately impressive and huge, and the other buildings very intricate and interesting as well. My favorite aspect was the complete absence of curves in the architecture. Unlike Roman, Greek or other European or Mideastern architecture, the Mayan architecture is totally angular. Where the others would have used arches, the Mayans have this trapezoidal structure that is clearly just as effective in holding up a roof for thousands of years, but still totally foreign seeming. Sometimes its fun to see how two groups of people on different sides of the world can come up with the same things; other times its fun to see how they come up with such different things to serve the same purpose.
After the ruins, I went to two nearby waterfalls. They were also very impressive – exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the middle of a jungle: huge roaring cataracts of water. One was just really big and tall with lots of spray and noise. The other was a kilometer-long series of falls and pools that should have been incredibly beautiful because the water is normally super clear and bright blue. Last night, however, we had a rainstorm to end all rainstorms, so the water today looked like chocolate milk. The falls were still impressive, but not nearly as beautiful. And I couldn’t work up the will to swim in it.
Roughly paralleling my own activities today was a big group of Mormon tourists. Yep, they were there in full force at the ruins and the falls, with Utah hairdos and modest tops. At one point their guide (who was also American), climbed up on one of the temples and started reading (at the top of his lungs) the King Benjamin speach, while everyone else waited below. It was kind of a cool idea – and it brought home how realistic it could be for lots of people to have heard what he was saying – but it was a little embarassing to have him doing it right there where everyone else was. It was fun, though, to talk to my guide about the many groups of Mormons who come down here. He didn’t know all the details, but he knew that we have some sort of unusual interest in the Mayan culture and religion.
Okay, that’s it for now. I’m running out of time on the computer and I don’t want to have to spend more pesos. I’m off first thing in the morning to Guatemala, where I’ll see some more big ruins, some more big waterfalls, and maybe some caves before heading to Belize.