On the Road: Chiapas, Mexico

Cañón Del Sumidero

Log: 28th May 2016 – 14th June 2016

• I want to say it’s almost comical when concepts you can mentally perceive but require a strong amount of emotional endurance come into fruition. But what I’m really finding is my faith for “trusting the process” growing stronger every moment. My mind was in quite an interesting place the last time I wrote. Struggling with certain circumstances and working hard to rewrite the negative mental tendencies I’ve accumulated. Letting go is never easy and a solution I’ve found to this is allowing time and space to take its natural course. When you create distance your objectives can be seen externally and you no longer associate with them like before. I was able to let go when I flowed through my vulnerability and progressively the next doorway of my journey presented itself.

When I arrived to San Cristobal I didn’t really have a further direction. I had considered staying in Mexico for about two months with the possibility of going to Oaxaca. Any time I decide to make a move I’ll always follow my intuition or watch for signs of synchronicity which help me form a decision. I wasn’t getting a pull towards Oaxaca though and I started to feel a little lost. I’ll admit I haven’t really had to apply my Spanish skills since being in Central America and I noticed the struggle of this boundary the most when arriving to Mexico. I’ve spent a lot of time being around other travellers or areas where it’s more common to speak English. After 6 months I’m starting to really see how pour of an excuse that is and I’m down for not having applied myself sooner. You can’t quite comprehend how much you miss until you experience these special moments that could be transmuted more deeply if only you could express the right words. I started to question the imprint of my travels and an inclination for more started to bubble.

I met Neven half way through my stay in San Cris and discovered he was road tripping through Central America. Having started in California, he was spending the next few months making his way down to Panama. We first bonded over our expectations and desires of travelling and he inspired me with his passion for exploration and contribution. Seeking authentic connections with locals off the beaten track and to truly understand people of the world so that he could give back in a way that would create a significant impact. It was an infectious attitude that moved through me. Neven proposed accompanying him on the next leg of his trip through Chiapas. I found comfort in the idea and agreed and I am incredibly grateful for having said yes to that moment. Saying goodbye to my newly found friends at the Iguana Hostel, I was looking forward to the next phase of my travels.

My Iguana family.

The Toniná Ruins

Named by the indigenous people Tzeltal, Toniná means the House of Stone. Metaphorically, the name refers to the home of celestial lights and deities of time. Toniná was a site of calendars and rituals.

After leaving San Cristobal, our first stop was the Tonina Ruins. I can’t begin to explain how incredibly magic this site feels. It was quite peculiar to arrive to find no one else around. I often try to stay clear of places that are swarmed with people because personally it takes a lot away from my experience. I was lucky enough to sit atop these steps; a nurturing silence with a faint rustle from the forest. My mind could only imagine how this place may have existed over a thousand years ago.

Neven + I
The Toniná Ruins
The Toniná Ruins
View from inside one of the ruins.
The Toniná Ruins

The Waterfalls of Chiapas

I was incredible surprised by the amount of luscious waterfalls sprinkled throughout the state of Chiapas. The scenery out of the major cities are mostly dense green rainforest with flowing creeks and bodies of water. Having the chance to explore the refreshing falls and nature was a nice compliment to the current heatwave and humidity and a clean contrast to the bustle of San Cristobal.

Cascadas El Aguacero
Cascadas El Aguacero

Cascadas El Aguacero was by far my most favourite waterfall, reminding me of a magical underwater terrarium and the first falls I experienced of Chiapas. We took the 750 steps down the canyon side and were able to camp directly under the cascading waters that fell over 80 meters. We arrived late in the afternoon and were lucky enough to enjoy the area to ourselves.

Agua Azul

Agua Azul although beautiful, didn’t impress me as much as some of the other sites. What tainted my experience was how touristic the area had become and how the moment you arrive you are consistently haggled into paying bananas or other bits and pieces. There’s a massive market area right by the falls and someone is always fighting for your attention. We naively got caught up in a scam which meant we were charged twice for entry, stopped twice on the road, both locals claimed the other was fraudulent. It wasn’t that paying twice was really the issue as a couple of extra pesos doesn’t mean much. It was just a little disheartening the lack of honesty shown. Aside from that, the waters hold up to their name and are glorious in all its shades of blue and green.

Roberto Barrios Waterfalls
Roberto Barrios Waterfalls
Roberto Barrios Waterfalls

Roberto Barrios was my favourite waterfall to explore. There’s about four major waterfalls that run down into each other. At the bottom of each are big crisp pools of overflowing water. We camped at one of the sites closet to the top and ended up having our own private space. I couldn’t pass the chance to take a cheeky dip.

Welib Ja

We only made a quick pit stop to the Welib Ja falls as we were exploring the village of Chancalá. Another incredibly magnificent site, the day was clear and beaming and I enjoyed a swim in the pool alone.

Palenque

Neven + I with Adonis

Neven and I arrived in the evening to Palenque unsure of where we planned to camp the night. Stopping out front of a restaurant by the river we considered our options. Adonis approached from the restaurant and invited us in for food and although reluctant to eat, tired and hot, our choices were lacking. “Hablas inglés?” he asked. “Sí, Sí” we answered. “Okay! I would like to practice my English. Let me bring my pretty people some food!” I’d never met a character like Donny, like an energiser bunny that never stopped, he only ever had the sweetest intentions. Always dancing and bursting out with “Que Viva!” (What a life!) We mentioned how we were thinking of camping by the river and he was insistent about the dangers and offered to ask the owner if we could camp in the yard instead. Now I couldn’t have come close to perceiving the endless generosity from the owner Roxanne and her family. Not only did they allow us to stay for three nights, they made room for our tent in the restaurant when it rained, shared stories of their lives over special made meals, and reminded us constantly that we were their familia. Although Roxanne couldn’t speak any English there was always a tremendous amount of joy that came from her when she would call my name. She became my mexican mama. It’s moments like these that I relish in, breaking away from the conventional touristic path and for me, stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing magic in the most unfamiliar places.

Friends + the Forest 

We took a day trip to Yaxchilan, which is along the border of Quatemala, in hopes of driving to the ruins. Unfortunately you could only reach the ruins by boat and the cost was well out of our budget. We decided to find a spot along to way back to Palenque to camp the night and just as we were leaving the village we came across an out of place backpacker looking for a lift. We stopped and Xander, the Belgium, jumped in. We advised him of our plans and let him know he was welcome to join. He happily accepted after expressing that he no longer had money and his journey over the border was less than pleasant. We spent the night sharing stories, keeping cosy over a tasty meal and in exchange for our generosity Xander taught me how to play the ukulele, something I’ve been seeking to learn over the last few weeks. What nice synchronicity!

Neven, Xander + our new friends.

In the morning some of the inquisitive children from the village we were camping close to came and surprised us. Some moments for me were a little lost through the translation of words but that simple boundary was broken after an exchange of some fruit, a kick of a ball and a cool swim that brought us closer together. I was reminded of the wonders of joyous play and to never forget your inner child.

The Mexican Experience 

Be careful what you wish for.
Our friend Ricardo, who worked at the restaurant we camped at, offered to show us around his village. “We can play football, I’ll show you the waterfall, and we can make a traditional meal with my family.” Another opportunity to delve deeper into the Mexican experience and push the boundaries of my ever growing Spanish skills, why not! To my naive surprise, Ricardo said we would be killing and preparing a chicken. Now contrary to belief it’s difficult to maintain a vegetarian diet while eating out in Central America. You are better off preparing your own food as fruit and vegetables are cheap and abundant. Meat accompanies almost every meal and chicken often isn’t considered carne (meat) so when you ask for no carne there’s still usually chicken. My intention for an authentic experience didn’t exactly picture me in the backseat of the car cradling a distressed chook but I had desires to see and understand the daily lives of the local people. Ricardo and his family had warmly welcomed us into their home and I wanted to respect their hospitality. I’ll be honest in saying I had doubts throughout the whole involvement. What tested my morals was something that was a common routine within this culture. Apparently everything I had been seeking.

Neven + Ricardo

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I can say with certainty that after preparing my own chicken meal I am more than adamant with maintaining vegetarianism. I am not against consuming meat but I’ve always felt that if you want to eat it that you shouldn’t support the overconsumption and mass production that leaves a negative impact on our environment and is detrimental to the humane wellbeing of animals. You should understand and value what it means to take the life of an animal. I see that the necessity of this experience is arguable but my values previously blurred in areas and this process only allowed me to deepen my perspicacity. I respectively ate my last meat meal. I go back to that moment every time I consider consuming meat and I no longer have wishy washy boundaries, the imprint has been deeply set.

The Perfect Ending

After the few weeks travelling through Chiapas, Neven was ready to continue to Guatemala. I had throughly enjoyed travelling with him and was once again in a place where I was unsure of my direction. I had previously spent two months in Guatemala but hadn’t come close to seeing as much of the country as I wanted. Moving through with Neven in the car meant more opportunities for exploration. I was ecstatic for the possibilities. Now it wouldn’t have been a typical day if we had made it to the border without an arise of a new adventure. The GPS took us on an unexpected detour which left us with 45 seconds before the border closed when we arrived. Not wanting to drive back 60 kilometres to the closest town, we asked a ranch owner close to the border if we could pitch our tent. Not only were they generous in letting us stay, they shared stories and showed us their life on the farm. I got to ride my first horse, while Neven reminisced back to the days on his grandparents farm in Bulgaria.

We left in the morning with warm memories of the kindness expressed by all the beautiful people we had encountered over the trip so far. Knowing that I would be back, I wished Mexico a sweet farewell and was curious of the new surprises Guatemala had to offer.

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