Getting to Tuxtla Gutiérrez and exploring the Capital of Chiapas
Second trip for 2022, a bit more than a week after returning from the Caribbean on trip #1, I headed out on Valentine’s Day for Mexico. Originally a week trip to Acapulco in October 2020, I cancelled that trip due to the Covid pandemic and had a credit for my airfare with AeroMexico. Rescheduled for a year later and an 8-city loop in the central highlands, that trip was cancelled as it was a week after my second surgery for 2021. The credit was viable for travel through the first of March of 2022, so I began considering a February trip, perhaps to those 8 cities. However, my friends living in Guadalajara warned of cartel-related dangers in the highlands, and recommended heading much further south.
My itinerary in the air took me first to Atlanta, and then to Mexico City, before the final destination of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, in the state of Chiapas. While lifting my suitcase off my bed before the pickup and ride to the airport, I strained my lower back. So I was hobbled over, in pain, but resolved to push through. I slowly advanced to board the terminal train in Atlanta, and boarded early onto a two-thirds full plane.
In Mexico City the gate attendants insisted I use a wheelchair, which allowed me to bypass several hundred folks waiting to clear immigration, and then the security screening, I had to sit in a holding area until a gate was announced. (I needed a facility after 90 minutes,) so then slowly walked to the gate, but boarded early with another wheelchair assist. In Tuxtla, that “ride” went as far as baggage claim.
With my planning, I had arranged to have a taxi awaiting to take me to my hotel. It was near sunset, and by the time I’d cleared the airport and rode the 30 minutes into the capital city, it was dark. My first view of Chiapas and Tuxtla was not one to be impressed. Both the infrastructure and the general conditions of the buildings felt very “third world”. My lodgings, Hotel Maria Eugenia, was comfortable, and had a restaurant, allowing me to remain inside my comfort zone and have dinner.
Because it was Valentine’s Day, a special 3-course meal was all that was offered, and proved to be a disappointment. The corn soup was tasty, but the main was a chicken dish, bite-sized pieces of chicken breast under a coating of melted cheese on a slightly grilled thin slice of ham with strawberry compote adorning the plate which also had (box) mashed potatoes and a green lettuce salad with soft cheese cubes and raisins. Dessert was flan.
Venturing out of the hotel, I walked down a few doors to a pharmacy to get something for my back: diclofeneco (muscle relaxant pills) and Saludol (BenGay-like ointment). As very little English is used (spoken or understood), I guessed at doses and took a pill morning and evening, and used the salve at night, before bed and if I got up to pee. [Within 3 days, I was doing much better.] Across the street I found an ATM and took 7,000$MEX out, about $340US. Before bedding down for the night, I took a picture out my hotel window. I chose not to unpack as the safe was too small for my Chromebook.
Tuesday morning arrived and I headed out, as I had bypassed an included breakfast. Maybe 3 blocks away was the Catedral Metropolitana de San Marcos, the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mark, a 4-minute walk. After getting some outside shots, I entered and determined that Mass would begin in 15-minutes, so I found a spot in a pew a bit back and settled to wait, writing an update in my journal. The service lasted a bit more than half an hour, I barely understood a word, but I know the ritual and moves. The cathedral looks larger from the outside, but the high vault makes the nave look narrow. The modern stained glass is similarly reflected in the brilliant art behind the marble cathedra. A simple circularly-ribbed dome looms over the crossing, with partial frescoes, which continue at chair-rail height through the nave. Stark white both inside and out, air flowed and the building was cool in the morning.
Per Wikipedia, the most recent remodeling of the building was completed in 1965 when then Pope, Paul VI, created the Diocese of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. With a single tower on the north side of the west-facing entrance, it contains a carillon which rings hourly, striking once for each apostle. A separate chapel for prayer sits inside the entrance to the south, where the Presence remains. There is a significant echo, which adversely affected the call-and-response element of the celebrant’s sermon. He “sprayed” the congregation as he exited into the sacristy, similar to when I was in Barbados.
When I was researching for this trip, I was quite surprised to discover the presence of an Orthodox cathedral in Tuxtla. During my continuing research, I’d really only located this one in Mexico outside the national capital (where I have visited 4, include in Volume I of Cathedrals to the Glory of God.) The Cathedral of San Pascual Bailón is a smaller church, mid-block, a short walk from the zocalo and the Catholic cathedral. White, with taupe highlights and gold-colored columns, the entrance sits behind an iron gate. Inside, the flooring tile is turquoise and white, with a Marian blue on the ceiling. The walls are white, with statues of saints in shrines set into the arches along the outer walls.
While I was visiting, a woman had been “cleansed” by an acolyte who proceeded to brush her repeatedly with a bouquet of dried flowers and plants. The priest, a younger man, heard a confession and gave absolution and a blessing in the center of the nave, which surprised me. The altars and shrines were all elaborately decorated, an evidence of fervor and faith.
From the second cathedral I started wandering. Hoping to visit a few museums (something that would surprise many), I met with frustration, as most were closed, including the Museum of Coffee. However, across from the closed doors I entered Bocadito for a late breakfast of huevos con machaca and coffee.
Returning to the hotel to drop my unneeded jacket (it had warmed up) I took a 45-minute siesta. Out and headed to the Faustino Miranda Botanical Garden, where I discovered I needed “bug juice” (mosquito repellent.)
The garden sits near the Sabinal River, which I crossed once or twice in the city’s rectilinear grid of streets. I wandered through foliage I barely recognized, noting that unlike the typical manicured arboretums, dead and discarded matter was left visible with no “prettification” to the plants or the grounds. Many palms looked to be over 50-feet tall! Two models of dinosaurs reminded me of my suggestion that we have something similar in our HOA wetlands. There is also a museum with two stories of botanical information, including blocks of logs, cut and polished to show the heartwood and growth.
Wandering in bright sunlight, I found my way to the furniture production quarter. Unlike the multiple options of beautiful dark woods found in the museum, everything seemed to be made of light pine. Google Maps offered the suggestion for a Contemporary Art Gallery as a museum option, and reported it open. Well, it was quite a walk, including some hill climbing, and was not really open and not really a gallery, as far as what I could see from the darkened doorway. Passing through the district of San Roque (church was closed), I saw some interesting graffiti art.
Returning to the hotel, I did my usual Internet activity, and tugged my forelock in writing an email admitting that, as advised but dismissed by me, Tuxtla Gutiérrez was a disappointment, with little redeeming about it. As the sun was setting, hoping that the cathedral might be lighted, I walked back to the zocalo and hung out listening to an “orator” shouting through an amplified microphone. Giving up as dusk settled in, I went walking in the shopping district scanning for a “decent” restaurant. After a half hour, I returned towards the cathedral and settled into its namesake restaurant.
I was introduced to a different option for beer-drinking, the michelada, where beer is added to a (powdered chili and) salted-rim glass/stein which contains Bloody Mary mix and ice. My main was Tampiquena de Theo, which came served on the traditional oval plate with the food placed to represent Tamaulipas, where the dish originated. I was starting to determine a trend – as with the dinner the previous night, the meal was served warm. Personally, I like my food hot, and was facing this disappointing aspect of restaurant food too frequently on this trip.
As I passed through the city center, the square was still active as the gates were being closed around the cathedral. The anticipated lighting was meager, so my shots are a disappointment. When I got back to the room, the full moon, the “snow moon” had risen about the mountains surrounding the plains drained by the rivers, and I was able to get an interesting picture.
Getting up the next morning to another tepid shower, I closed up my suitcase and headed down to the lobby. After checking out, my taxi arrived and took me to the bus terminal. Again I had language challenges, but eventually boarded the 16-passenger bus and the driver began our climb to San Cristobal de las Casas. Tuxtla is at about 1700-feet, while San Cristobal is nearer 7500 feet above sea level. My ears popped several times during our gradual climb. Construction is underway, so, in addition to semis hauling goods and materials up the two-lane expressway, dump trucks with rocks and dirt being moved from trimmed cutouts to a future broadened roadway slowed traffic to a crawl. However, we pulled into the terminal in San Cristobal as scheduled.