South of Mexico City everything changes a little bit. Towns are less dandified, the landscape wilder, even people are different. A trip to Oaxaca, the Pacific Coast and finally to San Cristobal in Chiapas.
Oaxaca, 30th November
On 25th November we leave the Ciudad Magica de Puebla. To visit the next 1: Oaxaca. Some 350 km to the south. A day driving.
On the way a glimpse of snow-covered Citlaltepetl. The highest mountain in Mexico. More than 5600m.
Soon later we turn off from the busy Veracruz highway. We’re approaching the Eje Volcano Transversal. The road gets considerably smaller, more winding and narrower. Up’n’down between 1000 and nearly 3000m. Thus, it takes us the whole day to arrive in Oaxaca.
On the mountain passes some nice panoramic views.
Then we’re in Oaxaca. The very 1st impression: Roads are pretty congested.
2nd observation: everywhere are notices of people not happy with all kind of stuff happening.
Of course, the permanent protest of groups of indigenous Mexicans protesting against different discriminations by immigrated Mexicans. Sad, but probably true.
But also, more specific notices – eg the staff of a small museum complaining in public about the mess with their incredibly incompetent boss. Well, who knows – maybe good to know.
Strangely, there are many more tourists in town than we’ve seen in any other city so far. Looks like we’ve finally arrived on the Central American Backpacker Route, better known as the Gringo Trail. Let’s see how long it will take until we’ll have to munch banana pancakes for breakfast.
Whatever. We have to discover what all these tourists have to see in town. Marvel at the town’s Cathedral de Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion.
Looks like they had a lot of money for churches. For ordinary people’s houses it looks slightly less stylish. Not to compare to these bourgeois buildings characterizing old towns further in the north.
Sneaking thru the town’s colorful alleys often means arriving at another church. E.g. the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de La Soledad. A place reputed for being very busy. Mainly by indigenous people from nearby villages. At this time of the day rather quiet.
Or the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. Probably the most famous 1 and definitely with a too-much-baroque interior.
Enough baroque’n’churches – let’s look into another issue. Surely everyone wants to know what Oaxaca really is famous for.
For that Mercado Benito Juarez is the place to head to.
There are some stalls selling all kind of Mole. In this delicious sauce you drown your chicken leg with some bites of rice aside. Usually, they sell red or green Mole. As usual with other Mexican sauces. Oaxaca adds the black 1 – the sauce with chocolate. Reminds to Lindt&Sprüngli’s chily chocolate.
But obviously this mole cannot be the real sensation. No, it’s simpler. It’s Mezcal – this everyday beverage made of Agave, distilled to perfection by the Oaxacies.
And offered in 1000 varieties in the Mercado.
Just a word of warning: when discussing Mezcal never mention Tequila. Even if for non-Mexicans it’s more or less the same: In Oaxaca just mentioning this competing product leads you inevitably to the nearest meat grinder.
In the eventual case that you don’t like Mezcal, just tell everybody that for religious reasons you get extreme allergic reactions when drinking it. And head for a beer …
… and later for a gourmet Mole Negro.
Unusual, delicious – even if most people can’t eat it every day.
Should you need some cultural events after all these culinary adventures? In Oaxaca just wait a little, they’ll find you while sneaking thru the alleys. And their programs change every day.
Oaxaca intensively tries to promote tourism outside the town. Of course, there are the well-known archeological sites nearby, especially Monte Alban.
But, their current emphasis is given to the different villages in the neighborhood. Especially on their market days. They’re promoted as pretty traditional places of indigenous population. Often producing incredible artisanal for the odd tourist.
We’re a little reluctant to visit. Think of 1000s of tourists flocking in, hawkers, pure artisanal markets, … – all this stuff you find in any corner of the world
Finally, we drive to Zachilla, today there’s their weekly food market – not souvenirs. Definitely, don’t expect traditional villages as you may find them in other parts of the world. You rather get a good selection of the worst of 3rd world architecture to admire. And the inhabitants. Well, they’re as Mexican as anywhere else in the country.
Fortunately, in Zachilla they didn’t convert their market into a Disney World. And tourists – in the morning next to none. Astonishing.
So, no touts, no souvenir stands, no hawkers. But people wondering what the hell you’re doing there. And the obligation to try all different Moles, fruits never seen before and to practice a lot of Spanish.
Let’s have a change. Let’s immerse from nowadays life into history. The place: famous Monte Alban. Some 15 km out of Oaxaca. The actors: The Zapothecs some 1500 years ago.
1st a word of warning: don’t expect you can simply go there, pay the usual 75$ (Pesos) entrance fee and somewhere you’ll get everything explained.
You’re way out of understanding anything from the note boards installed at certain places. They rather describe physically the structure – e.g. the pyramid has 4 corners, a height of 8,4278m and a base of 25,67834m. Interesting, but doesn’t help you understanding the purpose of anything. Thus, if you really want to know everything, better ask google 1st. If you’re just happy with some nice pics visit late afternoon, when the ruins glow in the sun without all answers from google.
Well, despite all your fascination for these old Zapotec stones don’t forget to admire the beautiful view from Monte Alban.
There’s another important archeological site near Oaxaca. Mitla. Some 30km outside town. Definitely less impressive than Monte Alban, but still worth a visit.
Interestingly the sights are spread all over the eponymous village. Maybe a possibility to allow the locals to make some profit from the visitors sneaking thru the streets.
Mazunte, 3rd December
Although Oaxaca is a pretty nice town with a good vibe it’s time to move on. The beaches at the Pacific are calling.
So, we drive on. To Mazunte at the coast. Just about 200 km, but crossing the Sierra de La Miuhuatlan. The road – pretty narrow, soon after leaving the town we approach the mountains.
Climbing up some 2500m, the road definitely following exactly each’n’every contour line and each’n’every hill.
Finally, it takes quite a while even if on the map the coast looks very near.
Never mind, there are numerous opportunities to admire the spectacular views.
Later afternoon we arrive in Mazunte.
The village currently promotes itself as an eco-tourism destination, mainly attracting backpackers. A harsh turn from the former economic basis: sea turtle hunting. Despite the ban of this activity only in the 90ties of last century they converted from turtle butchering to ecologically aware providers of all kind of services to tourists.
Visibly a development not easy for everyone. Still remains the strong feeling for many inhabitants ecotourism principally aims to provide pretty basic services at a much higher prize than usual. Even if this tendency can be observed in many other places, the guys here seem to have it optimized. Other girls were just clever enough to cover the waste water pipes under the sand at the beach to make them invisible.
Whatever. Despite its high prize level and rather low quality of services Mazunte is a favorite of the backpacker community, especially local 1s. Maybe also because the place is considered extremely liberal compared to Mexican standards.
For us of course, Mazunte is an opportunity to complain about everything, to hang around for a few days, to wait until nothing is happening the whole day and to simply slurp some beers in 1 of these eco- restaurants built in the middle of the beach. Feels like backpacker experiences some 20 or 30 years ago, just 20 or 30 times more expensive.
During daytime, no doubt there’s the ultimate obligation to hang around at the beach. Mainly there are 2 of them: the 1 with swim trunks and the 1 without – the later probably more exiting for local folks escaping from parents’ strict attitudes.
We even drive to famous Puerto Escondido some 50 km to the west. It’s said to be the ultimate beach destination for each’n’every backpacky sneaking thru Mexico. It seems nothing compares to it. Arriving there it looks like we don’t give the place the chance to unfold its hidden charm.
Somehow, we’re not that keen on the existing facilities at the northern part of this world-famous beach – it looks somehow like Playa del Ingles on Canary Island.
Concerning the southern part, we’re not sure whether a disastrous hurricane just has passed or anything else led to this massive dilapidation of the whole infrastructure. Whatever, quickly we’re back to Mazunte …
… to enjoy beach life’n’sunsets.
Unfortunately, some guys don’t allow you to walk all along the beach. Maybe for ecological reasons. We could also imagine for speculations. Still, who the hell should steal an abandoned, scruffy building right on the beach.
The Mazunties even created a special point to watch sunsets. Especially important for wannabe yogis.
Even if a lot of discipline is required.
To see this terrific sunset, you have to walk a little bit. Maybe for 15 – 20′. To Punta Cometa. Don’t be afraid to sneak along this trail thru dense vegetation.
You’re definitely not alone.
You’ll find a whole crowd of people – in astonishing yoga positions or drinking beer. Or both. All waiting for Mazunte’s sunset.
And then it happens, and …
… – the sun has gone.
San Cristobal, 7th December
Mazunte is history, we’re on the way to Chiapas. To San Cristobal. It’s pretty far away. Some 600 km. Today we just head for Salina Cruz, some 200 km along the coast.
Salina Cruz: a town pretty different. Contrary to most other places in Mexico it’s simply ugly. Its economy depends on the port and a refinery. It looks like there’s no energy left to improve anything in this town. Rundown, dirty, houses crying for maintenance abundant, pretty limited facilities – you name it, you get it. Well, people are still pretty friendly. Looks like the surroundings in which they live don’t matter to much.
Strange, but even the murals look rather weird.
Definitely, should Salina Cruz be a beauty, we could not unhide it. Thus, the next morning we’re on the road again. Nearly 400 km. Many km along Oaxaca’s cost. Just flatland, the road too distant to the sea to admire it, 37° C – pretty boring. After a while we cross into the State of Chiapas.
Finally, the road turns inland. What a relief we’re driving up the hills. Some 1000m altitude and some 10° less. Then we drive on a plateau until Chiapas capital Tuxtla Guiterrez. The road – a constant up’n’down. Pretty interesting to observe what excellent advises are given to the poor driver on steep descents: Yield to cars without breaks. Let’s hope the guys leaving the brakes at home indicate that clearly to other drivers.
Then the last few km to San Cristobal. Just uphill. Some 1500m.
Late afternoon we arrive in San Cristobal. Slightly astonished how cold it is.
And how different it is. No high houses, red tiled roofs. Looks much more like a huge village with some clear signs of its age.
Surely a few roads in the old town are in perfect shape – ready made for the tourists. Numerous bars, restaurants, jewelers – whatever tourists need to be happy.
Well, San Cristobal is considered a rather poor town. A fact that may also reflect the prevailing atmosphere. It has the reputation that you’ll have to search quite a bit for the usual Mexican cordiality and warmth. Whatever. Let’s see.
Shortly later another group on the same issue – now the taxi drivers.
San Cristobal is definitely not a town with skyscrapers. Mostly just 1 storey, …
… maybe except the Zocalo – the central plaza.
It’s dominated by the town’s famous cathedral. Unfortunately, it’s currently under renovation. Maybe a victim of the 2017 earthquake. The fence to the construction site is being converted into temporary murals. Thus, still something to admire.
On the square in front of cathedral there are 100s of people queuing up. We’re a little astonished – especially as we discover how heavily guarded they are. Finally, we realize that these people coming from surrounding villages are just waiting for hours in front of a bank. Well, money matters.
Walking around town. They have their Arco del Carmen – the former gateway to the town. And incredible viewpoints you can get to after climbing up a few 100 steps. They just forget to tell you that being well above the town doesn’t mean a great view because there are too many trees on the top.
Or walk to the town’s main market: Jose Castillo Tieleman.
Many indigenous inhabitants of the surrounding villages are selling whatever you can imagine or are on their ultimate shopping trip.
A visit to the market. A rather ambivalent issue. The folks there are well known for their rejection of external influence and tourism. Nobody’s really aggressive, but they definitely let you know that you’re undeniably not welcome – a situation quite unique in Mexico. Nevertheless, it’s also a market with a very traditional structure and many interesting products.
Anyway, should you need a chicken, it’s the ultimate place to head for or …
… for incurable vegans – nowhere else in Mexico you’ll find better’n’tastier hay.
The market – a place to see, but show a low profile. And consider it rather a once in your life visit than an everyday shopping paradise.
Finally, San Cristobal’s most famous church. Again, famous for its baroque effusiveness: Santo Domingo de Guzman.
Unfortunately, it’s as well closed for renovation. And its incredible outside is only partly visible. Due to the exuberant artisanal market developing on the square around the church.
Understandably you’ve enough seen and read of San Cristobal.
Well, just one last issue: Should you ever be hungry in this town: it’s Resto Santo Nahual.
And avoid the Pizzeria El Punto in the Plaza San Augustin. You would even not dare to feed your mother in law with this stuff they call pizza.
Just a well-intentioned advice. Of course, you may not follow it.
Hey guys, enough for today. More follows soon. Even more interesting than these stories.
In the meantime remain jealous and wait impatiently for the next post.