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Southern Chiapas
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-02-12 19:23:59 | Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico
Keywords: colonized, deception
At first I didn't plan to go in Southern Chiapas, because of what I thought to be a dangerous zone, due to the troubles in that area many years ago. My itinerary didn't require me to go in that part of that state, only in the Northern part, to visit Palenque (where I am now), some 200-250 km away from Tuxtla Guttiérrez, the capital of the state. But I met along my journey through Mexico many people who told me I should make the detour... so I did.

I was a bit skeptical because the first person who told me good stuff about Southern Chiapas was an American. Since Americans love cities they colonize, like San Miguel de Allende, I wasn't too sure about it. But another tourist also told me how great the area was, especially San Cristóbal de las Casas. And as I talked to a few Mexicans about my plans to go there, I was encouraged to go to. Apparently it was seen as a beautiful place by Mexicans too!

So, I took the night bus from Oaxaca to reach San Cristóbal de las Casas early in the morning. I already had booked my hotel at a great rate online... so I didn't need to roam the city all morning... I just walked a bit in the Centro near the location of my hotel and looked at the activity in the zócalo (park usually in front of the local cathedral). Although I left a city where there are many Americans (Oaxaca) and I somehow expected to see a few in San Cristóbal de la Casas, I didn't expect to see that many, due to the size of the place. I was wrong. San Cristóbal is apparently almost as colonized as San Miguel de Allende can be!

But there's a major difference. In Oaxaca most of the gringos are white-skinned retired Americans who go there for the warmth but don't take any sun while in San Cristóbal, it's a much younger mostly mid-20s vegetarian backpackers crowd... although the retirees are also present. It's much more international too... I heard speaking French almost as much as I did English. The French presence in some signs and local businesses (like a French restaurant) show it was not just a coincidence.

The city is supposed to be magnificent... it wasn't my impression. It has some colours, but quite limited. I guess some of the charm was taken away but the fact many of the Centro streets were under renovation while I was there... but it's more than that. When I'm in Mexico, I expect to encounter Mexican culture and be surrounded by all the aspects and varieties of it in all the regions I'm visiting... that's one of the main reason I'm traveling. In San Cristóbal, not only the rich culture of the Chiapas is diluted (and sadly present mostly in the street vendors costumes – mostly mothers with their kids as you can see above), but it echoes only as one voice in a chorus of foreign languages. On top of English and French, there's an Arab community in town... so you can hear Arabic as well!

After a few days in San Cristóbal, I took the bus to reach Tuxtla Guttiérrez, the state capital. In most guides I viewed, they were saying to skip the boring capital and go directly to San Cristóbal. I guess there was some hope then I would like the city :-) And I did! It's a rich cultural city where you will see the Chiapas culture in exhibit not only in the park vendors costumes but also in tons of crafts shops, in the light shows projected over the cathedral at night and in a variety of other expressions.

Another side of the Chipas culture is the music.... and Tuxtla is the capital of the Marimba music. There's a park dedicated to it right next to the museum of the marimba... and many nights a week, an orchestra plays in the kiosk and hundreds of people come around to dance or just enjoy the music (see video below). I didn't have the chance to go see the spectacular Sumidoro Canyon nearby, but I did enjoy my time in the city.

Tutxla is very safe... not only by Mexican standards (was named Mexico's safest city in 2011)... but by International standards too. It has been named one of the 8 best world cities to do business by the London Financial Times, both for its safely and its sustainable development policies.

However, Tuxtla has also earned my title of “Most confusing city in the world”. Why? First, let's start with the good points... it's a classic grid system with very few exceptions. The streets are numbered and start off a central point. So far, you say “Great! Easy to navigate!”. Not so fast... since both streets (running North-South) and avenues (running East-West) are numbered... it can lead to a confusion between 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue... but that's not that bad... as both co-exist peacefully in cities like New York! The problem with Tuxtla is that you have two 2nd Streets, bearing 4 names. And those two 2nd Streets cross the two 2nd Avenues, bearing also 4 names. So, you cannot simply tell someone “Meet me at the corner of 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue”... because there are 4 street corners matching this description.

Google Map of Tuxtla centre

Let me explain with this image from Google Maps. Locate the green marker in upper left corner. That's the corner of 2a Ave Norte Poniente (2nd Ave North West) and 2a Calle Poniente Norte (2nd Street West North). Then go South to the turquoise marker... First, you'll see the 2a Street Poniente Norte changes name for 2a Street Poniente Sur as you cross the Central avenida. Then you'll reach the marker at 2a Ave Sur Poniente (2nd Ave South West) and the 2a Calle Poniente Sur. On the same logic, the blue marker is at 2a Ave Sur Oriente and 2a Calle Oriente Sur while the red marker is at 2a Ave Norte Oriente and 2a Calle Oriente Norte. The centre of the grid is the corner of Central Ave and Central Street! Not confusing at all! :-)

Corner of Central and Central

Part of the reasons why I didn't have the chance to visit the canyon was the fact I've been battling for almost two weeks with a cold. The weather and hosting conditions didn't help me to fight it however. In San Cristóbal, the nights were very cold (due to altitude – 2144 m – and no heating)... while in Tuxtla, it was extremely HOT! I mean above 30 C, reaching 40 C with the humidity factor. With my medication and lots of orange juice I was able to have a few hours a day to explore both locations... but the cough was very intense at night. That's also why I haven't had the chance to post many entries in the last two weeks... but I'm much better now.


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