“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
Days: 25th May – 15th June 2016
Kilometers until 15th June: 17.920
Sarah saw somebody moving around our clothes while we were in the water. I yelled “Hey, amigo! Que pasa?” As the guy turned, we saw the mask covering his face and the machete in his hand. “Mas tranquilo!” he wispered and kept searching through our clothes. I tried to persuade him that we don´t have anything valuable with us (which was luckily true) but I didn´t dare to approach him to much. Soon, he gave up his unsuccessful search and disappeared into the jungle just as fast as he appeared…
San Cristobal de las Casas
After a few weeks of constant travel, it´s pleasurable to stay at one place for a while. Through that kind of change of circumstances, the appreciation rush brings smile on one´s face. Therefore, I decided to enjoy the relaxation of the hostel life in San Cristobal, the main town of the Chiapas province in Mexico. After a BBQ event on my first night in San Cristobal, I felt like I knew half of the people in town. Aurelie, Daniel (the Mexican Tarzan), Ellias (the Mexican Yogi), Sarah (the Australian beauty and a Yoga teacher), Christina (the Romanian neighbour with never-ending energy) and many others. Within the next days, we became a group with the sole purpose to explore and get the best out of the area.
The province Chiapas is famous with its nature (mainly rainforest) and its indigenous culture. The area stays often out of the main tourism reach. San Cristobal was cheap and had a great backpacker vibe. The town offered a lot of culture to explore, especially indigenous. My favourite activity was to get lost in the local market where I could forget about the other backpacker tourists and dive into the local lifestyle.
After several days in town, I met with Marco, a local Couchsurfer, and I stayed with him for several days. He lived with several other Mexicans and my days there was an amazing course in Mexican culture, language, food and… partying. I had to speak the whole time in Spanish which gave a grand boost to my language skills. On top of that, Marco was an encyclopaedia about the local culture and nature. He gave me some advices that led me to new adventures later.
A few times, some of us camped in the nearby mountains to recharge. On one of our visits in the rainforest, we met a French guy who had been living in a small house in the mountains for several months. We visited his house and exchanged some thoughts on culture, lifestyle and spirituality. His kind manner and interesting story left us thinking and reconsidering some commen assumptions of our society.
As San Crisobal felt too tight for us, we took longer trips with my car. Without any doubt, the most impressive place we visited were the Cascadas de Aguacero – a place, which is inexplicably infamous among tourists. Deep into the crack of a canyon, Cascadas de Aguacero is a series of paradise-like waterfalls which are the source of a wide but very shallow river within the canyon. A few sand banks just below the waterfalls offered us a place to camp. We fell asleep to the sounds of the waterfalls and woke up to the sight of them in front of us. The waterfalls had created many small pools and hidden caves so we spent the most of the next day exploring. The place felt magical!
On another day trip, Sarah and I went to the Canon del Sumidero where we could enjoy the magnificent beauty of the canyon from the various viewpoints above it. The river waived through the mountains like a snake. Both of its shores, despite its steepness, were covered with jungle.
The magic of San Cristobal and the amazing people there somehow enchanted the time because two weeks passed incredible fast. But as mentioned in the beginning, a constant change leads to happiness through appreciation. So before feeling the boredom, I left San Cristobal to explore the rest of the jungles in Chiapas accompanied by Sarah. On the last day, everybody gathered to say bye. For me, letting go of things, places and people is one of the most important lessons of trevelling. Only by letting go you make space for new adventures, experiences and people. And my next weeks proved this in the best possible way.
The jungles of Chiapas
Our first stop were the ruins of Tonina. It´s one of the highest Mayan pyramid in Central America and on every of its six levels, there is a small town of differently used stone structures. The soundtrack of Indiana Jones was playing in my head while I was climbing the pyramide. From the top, we could see, hear and feel the surrounding jungle.
Next, the famous Agua Azul, which turned out to be more of a market than anything else. Indeed, the waterfall was beautiful but the never ending offers of bananas and tacos, as well as the fact that they double charged us for the entrance (a well-performed scam) was enough to balance out the natural beauty.
We found a much better experience on the less popular Roberto Barrios waterfalls. Located further away from the main road, it represented a series of waterfalls located in the middle of the Languana rainforest (one of the most dense high jungle areas of Mexico). Few people, clear water, gorgeous waterfalls and numerous caves to explore – what more to wish? We decided to camp in the jungle next to one of the more abandoned waterfalls. It gave us an opportunity for a sunset swim under the waterfall. We spent the night and the following day relaxing at the waterfall, reading, writing, learning Spanish, doing yoga and most importantly – just enjoying being there. But being in the jungle should not go perfectly smooth. In the morning, we woke up with the sight of a big tarantula on top of our tent. Welcome to the jungle!
The true beauty of Palenque
Agua Azul made me cautious about very touristy areas so we decided to skip the ruins of Palenque and just used the nearby city to recharge our food supplies. As we were leaving in the evening, wondering where to camp, we stopped at a local “restaurant” for a snack. There we met Adonis, probably the most energetic person on the planet. When he was relaxed, he would sing, dance and waive at passing cars. A very nature related person as well. He offered us to camp in the parking lot of the restaurant and the owner of the place, gladly agreed. We ended up staying there for three nights. Roxana (the owner), her husband, Adonis and the rest of the staff became like a family to us, taking care of our comforts. To hide from the pouring rain every night, we actually camped in the restaurant after it closed. Sometimes our tent was still pitched in the middle of it when the restaurant opened in the morning. On top of all, the three days of speaking purely Spanish gave another boost of my Español.
The river nearby was a great place to relax. Unfortunately, on one of our river visits, a guy with a machete and mask appeared out of the jungle and searched through our clothes just in front of our eyes. We did not have anything precious to take though. Somehow, after that occasion our visits of the river decreased rapidly.
Ricardo, one of the restaurant staff got very fond of us and invited us to spend a day with his family in their house in a small village nearby. We grasped this unique oppotunity to experience the local lifestyle. His family was more than a happy to have some “Westerners” as guests and wanted to cook a local meal with chicken, which meant that Sarah and I had to make another compromise with our decision to eat Vegetarian. Yet, at least we paid our respect to the food by actively participating in preparing it from the buying of the chicken through to killing and cooking it, reminding me of the time spent on my grandparents’ farm in Bulgaria. I think everyone who decides to eat meat should go through the process of killing the animal at least once. The experience reminded me clearly that, for me personally, the presence of meat in my dish is not worth the process of killing.
During our stay in Ricardo´s house, he explained us about his lifestlye, culture and even taught us some of his indigeneous language. Later that day, Ricardo showed us some of the local waterfalls and then we joined the local football game where I had to confront the rough reality that I´m out of shape for soccer! The good sweat was accompanied by the high interest of the young Mexicans in me and the places I´ve visited. They paid for the information by teaching me some rather unappropriate words in the local indigenous language Chol. What a day!
Back to the jungle
After several days at the restaurant, we decided to go back in the jungle for a night. On the way, we picked up a hitchhiking Belgium guy, Xzando, who had just crossed the border but was completely out of money because they ripped him off at the border. We decided to share our Rocinante (also known as Toyota Corolla), food and time in exchange of his interesting stories and ukulele lessons. We camped in the forest, close to the river. On the next morning, my eyes weren´t properly open yet as we were instantly surrounded by many local children. The boys were interested in my car, the girls – in Sarah´s hair. Classic!
We spent almost the whole day with the kids playing volleyball and swimming in the river. What those boys were doing was crazy! They were climbing more than 13 meter high trees, then moving above the water on the branches and jumping into it with a laughter. It was like watching the Mexican version of “The Jungle book”. Xzando and I satisfied our adrenalin needs with a jump from the bridge. Sometimes I think that seeing a culture through children is one of the purest experiences. They did not hide any emotion, any interest or any question from us.
On the way to the border
At some point, I felt that my time in Mexico is coming to an end. Or more precisely, I felt that I want to explore more of Central America. I was happy that Sarah decided to join me on my journey into Guatemala. Rocinante faced one last challenge of one hour driving though the roughest terrain ever (my bad, wrong turn, sorry Rocinante). We arrived at the border around 45 seconds… after it closed. Confronted with the only option to drive back 60 kilometres to the closest town. I asked the owner of the first ranch next to the border if we could camp at his property for the night. He not only accepted but also gave us a tour through his property, letting us ride his horse and try his homemade tamales. It was truly beautiful, on the final of my stay in Mexico, to experience again the kindness of the normal people of the country, a kindness that never stopped to amaze me.
In our final night in Mexico, we were woken up by people running not far away from our tent, probably some immigrants crossing illegally in the night.
Early in the next morning, the smile of the local villager waving us goodbye was still on my mind as we drove under the sign saying “Farewell and good travels”. Guatemala was awaiting.
Thanks to my editor: Natali Kancheva
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