The moment I entered Mexico I realized that Mexico is much more than tacos, sombreros and cartels. The ‘Real Mexico’ is more enthralling than the Americanized ‘Cancun’. Being a history lover, it was like a dream come true, as I was always fascinated by the pyramids and mythological stories of ancient times.
Mexico was home to one of the six ‘cradles of civilization’ in the world which were developed independently. Chiapas, Mexico’s southern most state is ineffable and took us on a thrilling ride through the Mesoamerican period to the Hispanic period.
With so much to look forward to, we reckoned it is better to travel with some local friends to know things better and joined Peter & Lidia(tour organizers and guides) along with ten other people. Chiapas is located 900 Kms. south of Mexico City. You can either go for a 12 hour bus journey or an hour long flight to get there.
We chose the former as going in a sprinter bus added to our effortless journey and helped us traverse across the various local places during the ride making it so much more worth it.
The road trip from Mexico City to Chiapas gave me a different perspective of Mexico. We passed through many small towns where we could see hibiscus plants and banana trees being planted in front of people’s houses.
The lush countryside setting made me yearn for the childhood days spent in my native village. Though separated by thousands of miles, both the cultures has many things in common- big extended families, exotic & spicy food, vibrant colours & festivals.
After 12 hours of the road journey, we reached Chiapa de Corza, a small city located in Grijalva river valley. From there, we hired a boat for a river ride through the famous touristic spot ‘Sumidero Canyon’.
This is the ‘Grand Canyon’ of the Mexico. The cliffs towered up to 1000 meters at some places, so tall that you have to strain your neck to gaze so high.
It is said that the canyons were formed at the same time as the ‘Grand Canyon’ about 35 million years ago. We spotted some river crocodiles, exotic birds and some monkeys hanging around the gorgeous canyon.
A calcareous formation with moss sprouting over it looms like a christmas tree. For 200 pesos ( approx. 700 rupees), we enjoyed a 2.5 hour ride, which was totally worth it.
After the boat ride, we dropped by the local markets in the Chiapa de Corza before leaving for San Cristobal de la Casas (our base for next three days). If you really wish to know more about authentic Mexico, you ought to visit the local markets to observe the way of life of it’s inhabitants.
The rich and varied textile work of Chiapas is distinct and quite striking, people here mostly wear traditional skirts, capes and tunics. No wonder, the work and art has sustained for centuries!!
Our next stop was ‘San Cristobal’ , a 500 year old Spanish colonial hill town. We made it our base camp for the next three days for easy access to other places.
We checked into a hotel in the town center or ‘Zocalo’ (as they like to call it), that was apparently, the most happening place and it just happened that we were there on New Year’s Eve.
The streets were glittering with colourful lights and people seem to wait endlessly to get a table in the road side bars and restaurants. The very first night, our dinner was Pozole, a traditional drool worthy Mexican cuisine with mariachi (traditional Mexican music) music at the backdrop that added to the appetite.
If you happen to be here, try Mezcal, a lesser known alcoholic cousin of the famous Tequila, that you can find in any corner of this town. It will be your dear friend during chilly nights.
Our second day started with Mexican idly for breakfast; yes you read it right, I was surprised too, but unlike the Indian idlis, they are rectangular in shape wrapped in corn husk or banana leaves and called Tamales. No trip to mexico is complete without tasting this hot hell of a dish.
Lagunas de Montebello national park which is 2 hours South of San Cristobal was our destination for the day. Lagunas means lakes in Spanish. The lakes are famous for their striking colours varying from blue, green to red with wild orchids that fringes them gracefully; it looked like a beautiful piece of art.
Tip: Don’t miss the canoe adventure through the five lakes (250 pesos each) if you ever visit this town,
One of the lake borders to Guatemala and after few steps we were on the other side. It was so exciting to be in two countries at once. If you want to buy some Guatemalan stuff and shop for souvenirs, check out the markets on the other side.
We headed back to San Cristobal after a well spent day at the Lagunas. Everything around us looked like a shot straight from a movie. It was so damn beautiful.
And as the lunch bells rang, our bellies screamed Mexican! We stopped by a café to slurp the infamous Chiapas coffee (Starbucks promotes Chiapas coffee). We also got to taste chiapaneco food near a lake shore- platanos fritas (fried bananas) and Queso fundida (melted cheese). Just so…yummy !!
Two more days to go and the best is yet to come…stay tuned!