The Mexigonia Weekly

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San Cristobal de las Casas – Our Home Away From Home

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Braden and Elizabeth arrived in San Cristobal in the state of Chiapas with the intention of staying for two days to learn about the region and its Zapatista influence. They stayed in a friendly hostel near the center of the city called Las Palomas (The Doves) and went to check out the town.

The streets were lined with stores, bakeries and coffee shops and the people are a mixture of indigenous Maya and contemporary hippies. Braden and Elizabeth found their way to Kinoki, a combination coffee shop and movie theater, with small theater rooms about the size of your living room. They perused the movie list, wanting to watch a documentary about the Zapatista movement, only to find that none were playing at convenient times. Ready to turn around and find other entertainment, the host told the Mexigonians that they could view the documentary at any time they chose if they reserve their own viewing room. So within minutes Elizabeth and Braden were sitting privately in a small theater, sipping their licuados (fruits shakes) and learning about the Zapatista movement in Chiapas that shaped much of the character of San Cristobal.


Chiapas is rich in agriculture and most of its inhabitants make their living off the land, many from the production of coffee. The Zapatista movement was a revolution led by peasant farmers to fight for land rights, better economic opportunities, women’s equality and various other issues of social justice. Though the movement, which peaked in the mid to late 1990s, has since quieted down some, the town of San Cristobal still reflects the influence of the movement for Chiapas, with vendors selling Zapatista documentaries, revolutionary dolls, and other paraphernalia from the social movement.

“We’re going to stay another day,” Braden told Gaby, the owner of Las Palomas. With a few story ideas floating around, and a strong desire to learn more about the city and its surrounding areas, Braden and Elizabeth decided to stay a bit longer in this eccentric town.

A few hours north of San Cristobal are the ancient Mayan ruins at Pelenque. Elizabeth and Braden awoke while it was still dark out, to make the journey to the ruins. After a rocky start by Rocinante, the two headed up the winding road to the north. A few minutes into their journey, they already noticed that this winding road was going to add hours onto their trip. As they decided to head back and go to Pelenque another day, there was suddenly a tope (speed bump) right ahead and Rocinante’s driver slammed on her brakes only to notice an awful grinding noise that came whenever the breaks were pressed. The Mexigonians drove back into town, happy with their decision to postpone their trip to Pelenque, and wary of what they would find wrong with the car this time!

As they pulled up to a mechanic shop to see if they could buy a starter (the other pending problem with Rocinante), Elizabeth noticed that the back wheel was touching the wheel well, the obvious culprit of the grinding noise while breaking. They drove Rocinante to the Volkswagen shop at the edge of town and pulled right into the repair driveway.

“Es diesel!” one mechanic was heard whispering to another. Braden explained the problem to the assessor in Spanish, with his ever-expanding reserve of Spanish mechanical and automotive words. While a mechanic looked under the car to diagnose the problem, Elizabeth and Braden explained their journey, diesel motor, and veggie oil system to a curious and interested group of Volkswagen mechanics. After realizing that the wheel axle had pushed through a particularly rusty section of Rocinante’s underbelly, Braden and Elizabeth handed over their keys to the mechanics who would nurse her back to health.

“Can we stay for two more days?” Braden asked Gaby back at Las Palomas. The car would need a day at the shop and the two would-be journalists were still chasing stories and trying to see Pelenque.

Without a car, Braden and Elizabeth took the 5 hour bus-ride to the Mayan ruins at Pelenque. It was well worth it (please see the Photos section). With Gabriel, their hired guide, the two learned about Pakal, the King of Pelenque, who began his rule at age 12. The Mayan city was well preserved and the two students of Mayan culture marveled at the advanced aqueduct system, symmetrical architecture, accurate calendar and sophisticated toilets! Surrounded by jungle, the Mayan city at Pelenque had very fertile land, making corn and chocolate their most coveted products, and the target of attacks by other kingdoms. After soaking in the culture and history of this people, dipping into a waterfall in the jungle, and hearing the calls of monkeys and birds, it was time to head back to the hippie city of San Cristobal.

Still chasing a few stories (check back soon for those!) Braden and Elizabeth decided to stay two more days to research and fix the car.

“You can stay for your whole life if you want,” Gaby told the two as they paid for yet another two days. But after nearly 10 days in this town, and completing some long-awaited interviews and research, Braden and Elizabeth left their home away from home. Eager to get to Guatemala, but sad to leave Mexico, the two travelers push started Rocinante with the help of some fellow road-trippers from Saskatchewan, Canada, and headed south to the border with Guatemala.


Last Updated on Monday, 23 November 2009 18:41