USA & Mexico Part 3

St Cristobal is a charming place with the pedestrian-only streets in the centre and endless cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. From there, a couple of us went on a half-day excursion to the local villages and Chamula, a town which is mostly famous for its most unusual church. Unfortunately you couldn’t take any photos inside – a fact which was stressed to us over and over – and the descriptions don’t do it justice. Let’s just say that the church is a very bizarre blend of the pre-conquest Mayan and Christian traditions, and involves pine needles on the floor, hundreds of candles, and a chicken sacrifice.

It’s often the case when travelling that moving around from A to B is the worst part of the trip, so it wasn’t a surprise that the night bus from Oaxaca to St Cristobal was the low point for me. To my notions of hell, I can now add a bus which loops on winding mountain roads for hours, leaving me in nauseous misery. Also, five hours away from St Cristobal, some locals barricaded the road in a protest or other, and we got stuck in a giant traffic queue for 11 hours. At the very least, if you’re going to be trapped on a bus, this was a very comfortable bus to be stuck on, no complaints there. Plenty of leg room and seats that lean back so far you’re practically lying down.

Next up was Palenque, in the tropical part of Mexico, where we visited two beautiful waterfalls and saw the impressive Mayan ruins, in a lush and green setting that was strikingly different to the other sites. Our local guide there was a total star and told us heaps of interesting things about the Mayan culture (Mayan royalty for instance had their skulls deliberately elongated in childhood, to make them look more corn-shaped). By the end of the excursion, we got drenched in an epic rain which turned the ordinary steps into a cascading waterfall.

When in Merida, another day trip took us to a cenote, probably my favourite swimming spot on the trip, a relaxing cruise on the river spotting birds and crocodiles, and a pink lake near the salt mines (yep, it’s pink). Merida itself I probably just didn’t see enough of to appreciate; my most memorable experience there was trying blue cheese ice-cream on a blind pick.

After that, it was sadly the last day travelling to Playa del Carmen via the famous Chichen Itza site. I really appreciated how relatively quiet the other sites were; at Chichen Itza it was boom, dozens of giant buses, hundreds of tourists and hat sellers everywhere. The site however is beautiful and genuinely impressive, and its sheer area absorbs the large crowds quite well. Playa del Carmen… not really my kind of place. Super-touristy, loud, and overpriced. I was sorry to say goodbye to our group, but not that sorry about not staying longer in Playa.

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