Saturday, May 17, 2008

San Cristobal Surprise

In a previous post I'd alluded to my first brush with the dodgier side of the Mexican travel experience. Although I did indeed escape lightly it could have been a whole lot worse. It went something like this:

On our way home from the bar in San Cristobal (around 1am), my Belgian co-traveller Philippe and I were stopped by two men in uniform, waving badges and claiming to be police. We had been taking the recommended precautions, walking together in a brightly lit square, purposefully, two males, but it was to no avail, as the only other people in the area were taxi drivers in on the game (as were at least some of the local police). The 'police' attempted to strip search us and asked for money cards etc, being quite aggressive and threatening violence.

We eventually got away - giving the signal in French so they wouldn't understand ! I was grateful that I was wearing heavy boots - good for kicking and sprinting on cobble-stones, and as I had prepared for going out by leaving everything of value in the hotel , all I lost was a phone card. Philippe suffered a bit more, losing a camera and his bag, but we were lucky (after being unlucky, I guess), and we eventually claimed sanctuary in a hotel on the square, with help of an American/PuertoRican couple who were guests there (the guy on the desk wanted nothing to do with us). We spent the night on the floor of the hotel, and at dawn sprinted back to the hotel, then to the bus station and onto the first bus the hell out of there !

It was a shame, because it was a nice town, but clearly corrupt and we wouldn't have been safe there anymore, the guys (6 in all) were expecting a much greater haul. But we were unharmed and determined to stay positive and enjoy the rest of the trip. Here then is one of the few photos from San Cristobal:

So back on the busses, to a town called Palenque, that exists really only for the Mayan ruins of the same name, 7km out of town. The trip is less than 200 kms, yet takes about 5 hours, even with a maniac behind the wheel. That gives you an idea of the roads - winding twisting through
beautiful mountain scenery, small Indian villages and breathtaking views. Unfortunately Cyriana, and one of the danish girls sitting next to us were green for the entire trip, and couldn't quite appreciate the scenery. But for me the trip was a real highlight, and fired off some speculative shots through the windows (which, of course, didn't do justice to the scenery).

Outside Palenque (a very ordinary and reputedly dodgy town), on the road to the ruins, is an ex-ranch in the middle of the jungle, now given over to various accommodation venues, ranging from a hut for hammocks, camping sites, through simple cabañas, through hotel quality rooms and serviced apartments. Purists look down on it as a bit of an enclave, but we'd had enough of the genuine mexican experience for a while, so we jumped into a combi-van and headed out there to claim the last three rooms of the site.

I had a fantastic, peaceful sleep in a clean (and enormous, for one person) room, with only the noise of the jungle outside, and I woke up feeling a lot better about everything, ready for an early attack of the ruins (to avoid the suffocating midday heat).

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