Journals from Oaxaca, Mexico
A lot has happened since the last time we talked – We’ve spent DAYS traveling and have gotten to explore many new places and met many people.
2 weeks ago, we left Oaxaca on a nighttime bus. It was Platino, the nicest there is. We travel in luxury – supposedly. The bus is really comfortable, everyone even gets their own television screen and can choose what movies they want to watch. However, the combination of traveling at night and the fact that the city of Oaxaca is in the middle of a valley means you don’t necessarily get to sleep peacefully. I love Oaxaca, but every time we leave I get a little angry at the fact that we have to travel over some of the most curvy mountain roads I have ever experienced. But, we left Oaxaca at 8:30 at night, arrived at Tuxtla Gutierrez at about 6 in the morning, and left again for Palenque at 11, where we arrived at 5 in the afternoon. We stepped off the bus to extremely humid, hot weather that was quite a change after the more dry heat of Oaxaca. Luckily for us, our hotel had air conditioning, which worked very well.
The theme of the trip was staying busy. After eating and resting that night, we woke up early the next morning to head to Mayan ruins found deep in the jungle. First, we stopped at Yaxchilán, which has pyramids and even a labyrinth of sorts. To arrive, we took a lancha, or a boat, on the river Usumacinta, which is interesting because it marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala. Technically, we were in international waters. There were also crocodiles. Luckily, we didn’t encounter trouble from either situation and arrived safely at Yaxchilán. It’s very different being in the jungle – the heat is almost unbearable, and climbing up and down the ruins is even more difficult than it is in other places we’ve visited, even though they’re smaller. For this, we were very tired after our first stop but continued on to Bonampack, which is another set of ruins that also contains stelae, basically giant rocks with drawings and artwork on them that are very interesting, and Bonampack also has murals that depict wartime practices and celebrations of the culture during the 6th and 7th centuries. It was a long day with a lot of traveling, but worth the pain.
The following day, we headed off to Palenque, where we were able to learn about the tomb of Janab Pakaal, which had some of the most interesting artifacts and drawings that archaeological finds of Mayan cultures. The site is enormous and located in the heart of the jungle, with multiple buildings, small and large. After passing by the pyramids and larger part of the city, we passed through the jungle and later to a museum containing more information about the city and the people that lived there, the Mayas. It was all really interesting, and an interesting change from the other cultures we’ve been learning about (such as the Aztecs. The cultures were completely different).
After another 6 hour bus ride, we arrived Thursday to San Cristóbal de las Casas. Like Oaxaca, San Cristóbal is a colonial town, so the architecture is beautiful and the town has a really nice, small feel to it. Our first full day in town we visited the main church in town and explored the market, which is huge and filled with all kinds of local (and some foreign) products. Chiapas has a lot of textiles, so we had our fill of products to try. I think it’s safe to say that most of us spent WAY to much money on this portion of the trip.
The following day we left the hotel at 5 in the morning. As college students, this hour is almost associated with death. But we survived, and also survived the almost 6 hour car ride to our first stop of the day – Las Nubes. Although we didn’t know where we were going when we got out of the car, the trip and early morning were worth the wait. Our guide (who had obviously done the hike before), practically sprinted off into the jungle and we had a rough time keeping up with him in the humidity. As soon as we made our first stop along the trail, though, we were amazed. We got to see some of the most beautiful waterfalls and lagoons I’ve ever seen, with water that was unbelievably blue, and we even got to swim for about an hour, which was quite the treat. Later that day, we stopped at Los Lagos de Montebello for lunch and to look at yet another beautiful landscape. For anyone who’s been to Crater Lake, it almost reminded me of this setting – higher in the mountains and a little colder, with forest all around. There was even a little island in the middle of the lake, which had water that was about 6 different shades of blue. Stunning. We ended the day by visiting a pueblo that is well known for it’s handmade pottery, and many of us left with some cool figures.
On Sunday, the day was full again with visits – this time to Los Chamulas, some of the indigenous communities around San Cristóbal. The interesting thing about these communities (especially San Juan Chamula), is that many of them have been able to conserve much of their indigenous culture, without being affected by the arrival of mestizos or Europeans. There’s an interesting mix of cultures, however, because in San Juan, for example, there’s actually a Catholic Church. What’s different about it, though, is that the people living there still practice much of the same religion they did before the conquest, but in the newer building. When we walked inside the church, what we saw was spectacular – and resembled no church I have ever seen before. The floor was covered in pine needles, which the guide explained were there to maintain a connection with nature. There were people kneeling all around the church, many in front of rows and rows of candles (some of which had obviously been burning for a long time, as they had almost turned into puddles of wax on the floor). People come on their own to pray for various things, and there isn’t a priest there or mass or anything like that except for one time a year, during the town’s fiesta dedicated to their saint (San Juan). The people there still use old healing practices as well, for example, bringing a chicken with them into the church, as well as a bottle of Coke – after their prayers, they kill the chicken as a representation of their sickness, and then drink some of the Coke (they used to use baking soda and water in the old days) to make them burp, which supposedly would help the sickness or problem leave their body. This type of belief was really interesting to see in person, and they still shape their lives around these types of rituals. Pretty cool to see.
After one more day in San Cristóbal, we left at about 8 o’clock at night on a bus and got back to Oaxaca at about 7 in the morning. It was a really interesting experience to get back to the bus station in Oaxaca – the last time I had arrived there was my first time here. For that experience, I was feeling all kinds of emotions – fear, anxiety, excitement. I had never been to Oaxaca and had no idea what was going to happen, and had all kinds of expectations for my semester abroad. This time, after having been here for almost 3 months, it was like coming back home for a lot of us, I think. The whole group had missed Oaxaca, the town and the people here. It was a really cool experience to come back into town on the bus, but this time looking for familiar sights and feeling like a little bit of a local. Oaxaca is amazing!
So that’s a little about our long trip to Chiapas. It was a lot to do in 8 days, but worth it. We learned a lot. Now, we’re back in classes and trying to wrap things up, big essays and things like that. We’ve also started taking the workshops the institute offers, our first is salsa which is a blast. Our group’s not too bad, it looks like to me. We have a good time, anyways. Always getting better too!