San Cristobal

Tuesday Nov 11, in Antigua
San Cristobal… Our overnight bus left Cancun at about 4:20pm. They said the bus would take about 16 hrs to reach San Cristobal.  It took more than 18 hrs.  With the exception of the bus from Merida to Cancun, all buses we took in Mexico arrived at least an hour later than the posted time.    
The part that I couldnt figure out was, why it took 5 hrs to go from Palenque to San Cristobal.  It was only 198 km!   After reaching Palenque at 5:00 am or so the bus drove to San Cristobal. The road was very windy and went into the high mountains. Along the way there were lots of mountain villages and of course, each one had speed bumps across the road. Thus if we werent slowing down for speed bumps, we were slowing down for curves and hills. We got to San Cristobal at 10:30 am. 
As before, Soon Jeong had selected from the guide book some places to stay.  Sooo I put on her green backpack and told her I would return to the bus station within an hour.  When I walked into the parking lot there was a man (Canadian) who asked if I needed a place to stay.   In my usual aloof fashion that I give to all hawkers wanting to sell me something, I told him no, I knew where I was going.   He handed me a small paper with his hotel advertised on it. I glanced at it and recognized the name as one of the hotels Soon Jeong had selected. I quickly gave him my kind attention and asked him how much for a double room with bath. Our negotiations took 5 minutes and I walked back into the bus station to Soon Jeong waiting there. I said I had secured a room and lets go!    Dennis, rode with us in the taxi to his hotel and discounted the price of the taxi from our first nights stay. 
I must say, the Lonely Planet guide book is usually pretty good.  It does appear to be the backpackers bible.  Everywhere we go we see travelers with the LP guide book in many different languages.  However, Soon Joeng and I have found that its not infallible. The guide book says our San Cristobal hotel has a “Bountiful” breakfast. It must have been a special for the person who wrote the LP review because my small bowl of frosted flakes and coffee was not what I would call bountiful. Soon Jeong had the second of the three breakfast menu items: two scrambled eggs, toast and coffee.  
The price of our hotel was not the most competitive either. We paid 250 Pesos/night and there were lots of hotels nearby that were 200 and under for a double. But the room was spacious and the shower had very hot water.  We stayed 4 nights. 
San Cristobal is an unusual city. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains. It is an old colonial city with the usual cathedral and several more churches. It has what I will call neo-cobble stone streets: Cobble stones that are actually prefabricated hexagons about 12 inches in diameter.  They gave the feeling of cobble stones but lacked the authenticity. The sidewalks however, were the genuine thing, large rectangle stones that after a century or two had become glass-like smooth.   

The most interesting thing about San Cristobal was the people.  Truly a backpackers haven. Lots of people with long un-washed and hair, beards, sandals, ankle bracelets, tattoos, baggy clothes, and a low-slung cloth purse over one shoulder.  On the other hand, there were overweight and overaged hippies with thinning gray hair pulled back into a pony tail, large bellies covered with Grateful Dead or Three Dog Night T shirts and wearing green camouflaged pant. A few well-to-do Europeans on a package tour. (They wore stickers with the name of the tour company on their shirts. To me they reminded me of flock of tagged sheep.) Plenty of Mexicans selling this and that, and few local people on their way to the bank or something. These people were the frequent and many. 
I was treated to an outstanding individual while sitting at a table outside a coffee shop. At the next table, a British gentleman was talking. From the conversation I concluded that he was an English mystic who, dozens of years ago, came to San Cristobal to apprentice with some native Indians to become a Shaman.  As he spoke he waived his arms in the air with gusto. He had no shoes, closely cut white beard and hair. He wore a loose tan shirt, baggy thin cloth pants, and a colorful hand-made string necklace. And his eyes rolled around when he exaggerated about the terrible things in the world. I further concluded….total nutcase.  
Saturday, the day of our arrival, we settled into the room and then walked around the Cathedral and central area to have a look.  
Sunday morning we further extended our wandering around San Cristobal. In the afternoon, we took a taxi to the cemetery. It was the second and last day of the Day Of The Dead celebration in Mexico. On the Day Of The Dead, people will go to the grave of their deceased relatives and have a party. Yes. A party, complete with food, alcohol, music, singing and laughter. To show respect the graves are lavishly adorned with flowers and other colorful things. The family will gather and have a good ol time.  There are even people wandering between the graves selling cotton candy, gun, drinks and other foods.  
Soon Jeong and I went there to get some interesting photos and to experience a part of Mexican culture. It was very interesting. 
Monday a bit of a business day.  We searched for a cooking school so we could video tape for Soon Jeongs World Cookbook. This was kind of an experiment; a cooking school is a business and would they allow us to do our business of video taping?  From the guide book we located a cooking school and signed up for a class after we had explained to the director what we intended to do during the cooking class.  He said video taping would be no problem.   We paid our tuition and scheduled our class for the next day at 10:00 am. 
In the evening we went out and got some night photos.  ( I was tired but Soon Jeong insisted we go get some night photos. It was a good thing)
Tuesday after breakfast we prepared our video equipment for Soon Jeongs cooking class.  We walked to the Language School that offered the cooking class and met with our cooking teacher; Mrs Coco.  She had been teaching cooking for 20 years.  She seemed bright and bubbly and was eager for the class.   Soon Jeong had selected Chillies Relanos (stuffed Chillies) for the menu. Coco and her husband drove us in their car back to their house for our lesson. 
The class was for just one; Soon Jeong. I was there to video tape and take photos. I was not going to eat because the recipe had chicken in it. When we got there Coco had all the ingredients spread out on the table: 2 kg of carrots, 4 zucchini, 12 large green peppers, a bowl of rice, a bag of flour, one whole chicken, 4 onions, about a dozen tomatoes, a basket of eggs and some beet chards.
Well, it was obvious that Coco was using our time and money to make a nice big lunch for her whole family. Her sister had conveniently stopped by on that day also. 
Coco spoke no English and we had no Spanish ability. This was not a big obstacle. Instructions can be given by gestures and demonstration.  Soon Jeong was instructed to cut the carrots. Coco prepared the peppers.  
Because this was for Soon Jeong’s world cookbook we she had to announce on camera. Naturally we had a few takes and retakes. This was too slow for Coco so she called the director of the school and told him that we would have to pay more money because it would take longer than usual.  The phone was handed to me for the translation of her insistence.  The director, Mr. Rejinald explained to me about the additional time and cost.  I reminded him that we had explained to him about the additional time required for video taping the day before when we paid for the cooking class.   I said we would do as much as we could in the normal allotted time but we would not pay more money.  
Soon Joeng told Coco that we should just make 4 stuffed peppers instead of the 12 she was intending to.  At that point Coco’s sister came in the kitchen and began cooking the other 8 peppers. In no time at all, Coco and her sister we busy chatting and cooking together. Soon Jeong and I were virtually ignored. Several times while Soon Jeong was announcing the steps the sister would talk aloud at will to Coco. I had to tell her to be quiet often. And even the maid came in to mop the floor and stood right in front of my camera. 
I tried to help speed things up by helping Soon Jeong cut some vegetables. No sooner had I made two cuts into a carrot Coco arrogantly said that my action constituted a 2nd student and the price would be double.   Both Soon Jeong and I were pissed off. 
We finished as quickly as we could and left. We were not give a ride back to the school, just pointed to the door and told to go left then right. 
Back at the school we were told the director was still on his lunch break. We called him and told him of our terrible experience and how Coco had no ability as a teacher. She was rude and obviously just wanted a large meal for her family on our money. .  I told him that I would probably not be able to use any of the video because Coco and her sister were talking too much in the background. (Including talking on their cell phone).     Essentially, we wasted our time and money.     A very disappointing experience from a school that was recommended in the Lonely Planet Guide book. 
Wednesday our last day in San Cristobal.  The day before we had signed up with a travel agency for a river cruise in Canyon Del Sumidero.  It was much better than we expected. The boats held about 25 people and were pretty fast; fun for zipping fast down the river. The cruise started out with just average scenery along a usual river but, after about 2km we enter a canyon where the sides of the canyon went straight up for more than 300 meters (1,000 ft)  in some spots. We were just a tiny speck between the giant cliff walls that displayed a beautiful vista all around us. 
In addition to the amazing geology, there was plenty of wildlife. The biggest surprise was the crocodiles. Yes, crocodiles in Mexico.  The boat drivers knew just were they hung out so he drove the boats right up next to them so everyone could get photos.  There were lots of birds to watch as we continued down river for nearly an hour.  At one point we stopped next to a waterfall that came directly out of the middle of the cliff.  In the sunlight the mist from the water glistened and created a spectacular sight. 

The only minus point about the river cruise was the huge amount of garbage in the water. Plastic bottles and other floating plastic trash was thick enough that the boat drives had to zig zag around it.   
When I saw that, it was quite disheartening.  I thought about the trash in Canyon Del Sumidero and other places around the world that I have had the displeasure to see with similar amounts of garbage destroying otherwise beautiful areas. I had a feeling that most of the world appears to be on the brink of an ecological catastrophe.  The world and the animals wait, anxiously wondering if someone will start or prevent the catastrophe.     
The cruise ended and we had an hour to look around a small town near there. It wasnt much. Just a place to get a bit to eat and look at the same souvenirs sold in San Cristobal. 
We got back to San Cristobal about 3:00 pm and went back to the same travel agent. We paid for out over night bus from San Cristobal to Antigua Guatemala.   Agaaaaain they advertised travel time would be 7:30 am to 5:00 pm.  
Thursday Nov. 6.   By now the routine has become familiar to us; up early, shower, cook oatmeal in our room, brush our teeth, pack and out.  A shuttle bus picked us up in front of our hotel at 7:00 am and took us to a larger bus near the travel agency.  28 people filled the larger bus. A few were late so we departed after 8:00 am.   
Crossing the boarder between Mexico and Guatemala was simple and somewhat chaotic. It was market day so the road on both sides of the boarder was packed with sellers, buyers, shops and carts.  Cars and people clogged the road. We had to get off the bus and walk through a small building carrying all of our belongings. In the building we simply handed our passports to a guy at the counter, the counter guy turned around and handed them to a guy sitting at a desk. He then opened our passports, swiped them in a machine and stamped them. We walked out the other door of the building and got back on two different buses….the smaller, Guatemalan buses. Some of our group was going to different destinations and that was the reason for the two buses. 
After switching buses again in Panajachel city we pulled in to Antigua at 8:00 pm.  My mother’s house is in the tiny town of San Bartolo. Just 8 minutes from downtown Antigua. The last bus to San Bartolo leaves at 8:00 pm.  

Next update will be on life in Antigua at my mother’s place in San Bartolo.


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