San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
The next morning about 7 am, I'd awoken to the feel of my bed shaking. At first I thought Charlie was shaking my bed to wake me, but when I looked over, Charlie had just popped up awake and was sitting up in his bed. He asked if I'd felt the shaking and I told him it had woken me. Checking my volcano and earthquake app showed there had been 11 earthquakes in the last 9 hours of the night, luckily only strong enough to wake us that morning.
Coming out of the ice cold air-conditioned room to eat breakfast and load the bikes was like walking into a sauna. Simply standing still and doing nothing, the sweat dripped off each elbow. It would be a long day ahead as we aimed for San Cristobal de Las Casas, 6.5 hours ahead on Google Maps, which, properly interpreted, meant closer to 8 or 9 hours.
The road past Salina Cruz was hot, long and could have been interesting if the heat wasn't so distracting. By the time we got north of Salina a few miles, (glad to be past it as my last experience there was miserable), we both needed gasoline. Unfortunately the stations were either out or had very long lines. As we looked for another station, I spotted a small place offering seafood cocktails and pulled in. We were hot, hungry and ready to cool off, postponing the search for gas until later.
The place was empty, but the cocktails were loaded to the brim with camarones and pulpo - prawns and octopus. They were delicious and I ignored my fears as to whether they had used purified water when making them.
Charlie proved to be quite popular with the girls, as they lit up like Christmas trees when he looked their way. They were anxious to get pictures with him before we left for the tollway, and a much-needed gas station somewhere ahead.
By the time we made the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, we were toast and didn't have the last hour and 40 miles in us. It was after 7 and we grabbed the first decent hotel we found, a Holiday Inn that wasn't cheap but neither of us cared. It had a pool and even a Domino's Pizza adjacent. Again, the pool was a welcome relief before hitting the room for sleep.
Morning arrived with reports of more earthquakes, though none had been felt and we began the process of dragging gear to the lobby before retrieving the bikes for loading. As I waited, a guy ran across the parking lot and grabbed my hand, excited to see the big BMW. He only spoke Spanish but made it clear he had a Yamaha and had never seen a big GS in person. He was a lot of fun and very excited as he ran off on his way.
San Cristobal de Las Casas lay about 45 minutes ahead and I was anxious to get back. In my previous trip, it was the last town in Mexico that Kim and I had made before turning back for Texas. It was the place I wanted to return to before hitting Guatemala and roads south. San Cristobal is a really great town with culture and a hip vibe, lots of Europeans and indigenous peoples, music, art and funky cafes and coffee shops. San Cristobal lies in the state of Chiapas, known for it's political uprising against Mexico, and in fact rebels had taken over the town of San Cristobal a few years back. A guerrilla war had gone on for a while between Chiapas rebels and the Mexican government, with the government reaching a truce of sorts by leaving the rebels alone. The rebel group is known for barricading roads and demanding payment to pass as a way to fund their army, so it is somewhat common to experience a "toll" when traveling through. The locals still support the group known as "EZLN" and the group has a storefront in the town of Chiapas. On my previous trip I'd bought an "EZLN" decal for my sidecases as a souvenir and I figured it might not hurt to have one on the bike if I did get surrounded by a rebel group on a back road.
The short ride in was not without a little effort, as the road climbs high up above Tuxtla and into heavy clouds. On portions, the visibility was almost zero, coming across trucks and cars stopped or broken down in the heavy fog. The town was finally made and a good hotel found for a decent rate.
I was wondering how much damage had been done in the town due to the major earthquake in the region and had been unable to find out anything previous to arrival, but it seemed the main church and one other were closed due to structural damage. Not too bad thankfully. It's approaching the end of rainy season, but San Cristobal and the region were still listed as 60-100% rain on all forecasts. We were lucky to have had very little on the ride in, but it wasn't long before the afternoon clouds and rain came.
Hitting the streets for food and exploration, the main plaza and cathedral were both cordoned off. The damage was visible high on the walls with structural cracks and missing plaster.
The threatening skies and closed areas squelched the usually vibrant plaza scenes, covered with indigenous peoples selling blankets and clothing. We were a bit surprised when a siren began wailing. People on the streets stopped and people poured out of the buildings, clogging the streets, standing silently and watching the roof lines. We stood with them and assumed it was for quakes - "terremotos" - and waited but felt nothing. I asked a policeman about the siren and he responded with "terremoto". It turned out that was the moment when the more severe Mexico City quake was happening.
The rains began to fall lightly as we huddled under the roof of a taco stand and scarfed down a few delicious ones. Two girls with backpacks attempted to squeeze under and we traded places, discovering they were from Israel and traveling for a month in Mexico. San Cristobal is a main spot for backpackers.
Wandering further, we got stuck in major afternoon downpours and hid out in the plastic tarp-covered mercado, watching as the tenants poked at sagging balloons of water above them with brooms and metal poles, running the water over to the neighbor's tarp.
The rain subsided long enough to lure us for a run to the hotel, but it was interrupted by another downpour and we dove into a coffee shop to warm up, followed shortly by the drenched Israeli girls we'd just met earlier and many others.
The process continued again several times until we finally made our hotel, pants soaked to the knees by the rivers of water running through the streets. Wet clothes littered the room and refused to dry with the high humidity of the constant rains.
Later that evening the rains subsided and we wandered the quiet streets lined with closed doorways and closed businesses, victims of the rainy season. The usually vibrant atmosphere of San Cristobal, with its eclectic mix of street musicians and hippies was silent.