The late Wednesday morning trip from Tuxla travelled along the toll road, providing great vistas, albeit with a hazy fog in the distance and well faster than “Kodak speed.”
When the minibus arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas on Wednesday about noon, I checked Google Maps and briefly contemplated pushing/pulling the blue monster (as I refer to the roller suitcase) for 15 minutes to the hotel. Opting instead for a taxi, we bounced down Insurgentes to the zocalo and turned right. After a long block, the HotelMision Grand stood on the corner. While the outside looks like a story and a half, there are three floors, and I was assigned Room 201. I wasn’t able to take over the room until 3, so I dropped the bag and got a recommendation for lunch.
Walking around the corners to the next parallel street, a multi-block pedestrian space was full of buskers, vendors and walkers. Lots of eating choices, opening onto the street, enjoying the sunny 72°F temperatures. At La Surreal Extramuros I was able to get a draft IPA (artisanal de barril) and entromadas de huevos, banana en salsa de jitomate con queso, crema, cebolla, cilantro, y aquacata, accompanadas de frijoles de la olla con epazote. (Phone photo is blurry.) The food was good, but the draft was excellent. Across the street from me two young people were hustling tickets to the Jazz Weekend, which I already had a full pass for – I was able to get the times and process for getting to the venue.
By 3:30 I was back at the hotel, up the flight of stairs and unpacked. The room had a small interior balcony opening out over the courtyard which was being used as a dining area. A comfortable space without any drawers, there was enough room to eventually unpack my suitcase onto the armoire shelves in the area outside the bathroom (shower and toilet.) And the room safe was big enough for my electronics. My email app was slow on my phone, so I connected up the Chromebook and cleared some messages.
After a 15-minute power nap I headed to the two central squares. The closer, Plaza 31 de Marzo, has French influence, representing the short occupation in the mid nineteenth century, and faced the south side of the cathedral. Many trees surround the bandstand in the center, with numerous benches lining the diagonal wlakways. The bigger, treeless square, Plaza de la Paz, had the cathedral facing onto it, with a large wooden cross.
The Catedral de San Cristóbal de las Casas was closed after significant damage in the pair of September 2017 Mexican earthquakes. It was thought to only require quick repairs, so the Roman Catholic tradition of naming a second church as acting, or “pro-cathedral” apparently wasn’t done. The south and west sides of the cathedral were blocked at street level for construction repair by a covered walkway with a solid vertical wall. No real option for finding a decent (read unobstructed) view of the building, unfortunately.
Walking the pedestrian street towards the mercado, I came to the Convent of Santo Domingo, a section of which is being used as a museum exhibition space for fabric arts. It is a highly ornate, Baroque former church which was being repaired. The collection displays the weavings by locale of origin, as the indigenous populations apparently don’t mix much. The colors used were amazing, and the work stunning.
At 5pm, the afternoon free walking tour in English formed up around the large cross in front of the church, the Cruz Atrial. Laura gathered together a group of travelers probably numbering near 40. From the Plaza de la Paz we walked up Avenida 20 de Noviembre, another pedestrian street, to the mercado. A huge market, some open-air with canvas roofs and walls, others fitted into small spaces within the multiple buildings surrounding the church of Santo Domingo. We zipped past crafts, tchotchkes, candles, weavings, amber as jewelry and sculpture; then into the food quadrant, where fresh fruit, legumes and vegetables were offered. We were too late to get into the butcher’s area, although dead plucked and unplucked chickens lay on a few tables.
We stopped for a sampling of coffee at a corner bakery, before heading to a gallery which featured local artists, some of whom had very twisted minds. [I got a red t-shirt with a sinister arachnid embossed on the front.] Our final stop was another café, this one to try pox (pronounced posh.) A clear distilled liquor, fermented from corn, sugar and wheat, it is a sipping drink (in small quantities) which, at least with better quality, retains some of the flavor of the corn. Indigenous Chiapans have used pox in their religious and social ceremonies since pre-Columbian times. We also were given samples of two diluted and flavored versions: hibiscus and cacao. The former hinting of port, the second recommended in chocolate or coffee.
Our tour group was quite eclectic, with no one (except me) being over 35. A male quartet from Israel, German couples, young women from England, Swedes, and even a few from Mexico. This broad mix of youngsters from multiple cultures would repeat throughout my 6-day stay. As it turned out, I wasn’t taking a lot of photos while on the tour, other than some sunset shots and graffiti.
By the end of the day, my right forearm was beginning to ache. I’d had the neck strap wrapped around my wrist while I gripped the Nikon as I took pictures. I would be taking more pictures on a daily basis, but apparently I’d not “disconnected” my hand-camera bond while on the walking tour. Fearing loss of yet another camera, I was diligent about downloading to alternate media (hence the Chromebook) nightly.
After the tour I headed back to the Real Guadalupe (street) pedestrian mall where I’d had lunch. Picking La Lupe Restaurante would allow me more Mexican food. I started with a bottle of an artisanal beer, an oatmeal stout from La Patrona. Going for local cuisine, Empanadas Chiapanacas, dipped in La Lupe’s sauce, stuffed with ground beef, prunes, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Again served warm, it was tasty: three wrapped tortillas with filling, smothered in a yummy red sauce. My first choice for dessert (chocolate truffle) was unavailable, so I opted for the chocolate cake: homemade natural chocolate biscuit, moist with coffee’d milk and chocolate cream filling, with a touch of ganache.
Returning to the hotel, I copied photos off the camera chip and the phone, set out my clothes for the following day’s tour, and set the alarm on the phone. No temperature control devices in the room, and the duvet was heavier than needed. I still slept pretty well – the small window in the sink area proved to be a great night light for those trips to the head. For an extensive, thorough and lengthy discourse on the state of Chiapas, I recommend this Wikipedia page.