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Journals from Spring Semester 08: Oaxaca, Mexico

2008-04-21 Chiapas Update

So first off, today is the official one month marker, and I think we're all starting to feel excited and scared about that. The idea of transitioning back into life in the US is seeming just as scary as transitioning into Mexico did. :) Thursday night we left the bus station for our week-long excursion around 8pm and 11 hours later we arrived in San Cristobal, Chiapas. Once again, after taking 2 Dramamines I passed out and slept almost the whole way there. :) Friday morning after we checked into the hotel we had a free day and while most of the other girls were catching up on sleep, Jessica, Martha, and I went exploring in the city. We found 3 amazing markets, bought lots of fun stuff, came across some good restaurants for lunch, and just basically had a wonderful time. San Cristobal is very different from Oaxaca in a couple of ways. 1) It's much higher up in the mountains, so we had chilly weather and rain almost everyday!! 2) Everything is cleaner, more tranquil, and less touristy. We also got less catcalls, woohoo!! The most exciting/crazy part of our trip was when we left San Cristobal at 6am Monday morning and made our way to the selva (jungle) of Chiapas. We (the 10 girls in my group and our 2 professors) piled into a 15 passenger van and made our way 3 hours east toward our first destination of Chiflon. It was this giant waterfall and we took a 2 hour hike there and back! It was the cleanest most beautiful water I had ever seen, but unfortunately it was raining and cold and so we couldn't swim. After Chiflon, we drove another hour to the ruins at Chinkultic, and hiked to the top of a large hill where there was a temple with four sacrificial altars. The region where the mayans built the ruins is near a natural limestone resource, and so a sink hole developed in the valley below. The mayans call it a cenote (basically just a very deep lake) it's where they would toss the heart of the human sacrifices after they sacrificed them. Right before I learned this fact, I leaned over to Martha and told her that I really wanted to go swimming in it....and then quickly changed my mind. After Chinkultic we drove 5 hours to the cabins where we were staying the night. We got to the place around 8:45pm and we had to wait for 45 minutes because they didn't have our reservations!!! By the time they got the cabins together we had 4 beds for 10 girls and were trying to drive away the mosquitoes. We woke up in the morning to scorpions in our sink...and we ready to get out of there! Tuesday morning was probably the best day ever. We took a 45 minute boat ride to this archaeological site (because it was only accessible by boat)called Yaxchilan and it looked like something straight from the movies! There were giant ants carrying pieces of leaves through the jungle path, monkeys in the trees, tucans in the trees, and vines hanging everywhere. The city that we walked through was huge and the architecture was amazing!! The river that ran alongside the ruins separates Chiapas from Guatemala, so when we were on the river we crossed the halfway point and were technically in Guatemala for like 20 minutes!!! Since we didn't actually cross onto the land, I couldn't get my passport stamped....so I really don't have evidence of being there. :( After Yaxchilan, we drove 2 hours more to another ruins site called Bonampak. This site was less impressive, but still interesting. There were 3 murals that have been preserved in the temples and it was incredible to see the bright colors and designs still intact after thousands of years. We also witnessed an extreme monkey fight while we were there, because there were two dominant males and their friends fighting over the fruit trees. They were barking and howling and I was completely freaked out because it sounded like a pack of gorillas, when really they were just tiny spider monkeys. We left Bonampak and were starving, but we were in such a small area that we couldn't find dinner for almost an hour!!! We tried a couple of places, but since we didn't have reservations for dinner they didn't have any food on hand. We spent the night again in more cabins, but this time we all had a bunk bed to ourselves with mosquito netting around it. Wednesday morning we left at 6am again and made our way to Palenque (another archaeological site). This site was one of my favorites because of the sheer enormity of the city. We climbed pyramid after pyramid, took amazing pictures, and saw many more trees and jungle. This was the major city of the mayan empire and had a population of at least 30,000 people during its peak. By this point though, none of us had showered in 3 days (because the showers in the cabins either had scorpions in them, or there weren't enough towels) so every time we got to the top of a temple we all smelled horrible. Luckily we were all in the same smelly boat. After Palenque we started our journey back to San Cristobal, but made a stop at Agua Azul first. It was this place with beautiful waterfalls that's known for it's blue water (the meaning of Agua Azul) but it had been raining a lot lately, so it was really just brown water and none of us decided to swim. After Agua Azul we had a 4 hour van ride back to San Cristobal, and of course it was on the curviest road of all time. One of the girls got really carsick, but even as she was throwing up in a plastic bag, the driver still didn't slow down much on the curves. We made it back to San Cristobal around 8pm and ran to the showers!!! It was so nice to get all of the sweat, dirt, bug spray, and whatever else we collected in the jungle off of us. Needless to say after 4 straight days of 5:30am wake up calls and horrific bus rides, we all passed out that night and slept for awhile. The next morning (Thursday) we had the day to ourselves and 9 of us decided to visit this eco-tourist park in Sumidero Canyon. We took another 45 minutes boat ride there and got to see pumas, jaguars, tucans, more monkeys, and we went zip-lining!!! The line was 892 meters long, with 5 different stations and I've never had so much fun in my life. The only bad part was when I smacked my shin against the wooden platform as I was landing at the 2nd station. I was laughing because it was so ridiculous, but it hurt really bad!! After the canyon, we raced back to the hotel around 6pm and had an hour to get dinner and change before catching our bus back to Oaxaca. We got to the bus station just in time to check our bags and board our 8pm bus. Our driver was a little more reckless this time around and so instead of 11 hours on the bus, it was only 10......I didn't sleep nearly as well, even with the Dramamine. But, at 6:15am we were back safe and sound in Oaxaca. Well, my fingers hurt from typing so much, and I'm sure that you're eyes are hurting too! Let me know if you'd like more information about a specific site. I have a very detailed itinerary that I typed up for Professor Gomez that he can share with you I'm sure. Krista

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