August 16, 2006 GMT

I think I'll go to Chiapas, because it's so much safer than where I am now.


I never thought I would say, I think I'll go to Chiapas, because it's so much safer than where I am now, but that's what I was thinking as I left Oaxaca. I was headed for San Cristobal de las Casas, but I knew it would be more than I wanted to do in one day. I got out of town at a reasonable hour and made good progress, although the going was pretty slow through the mountains and a bunch of little towns. When I got to the litle town of Jalapa de Marques, there was a line of cars and trucks stopped on the road, so i figured it was an accident and puled off the road. I walked up the line, and come to find out, it was more of the same group as in Oaxaca, blockading the road. (The Oaxacan group is called the APPO, Popular Assembly of the Communitiy of Oaxaca, or something close) About this time, I met a Dutch couple, who were waiting as well. Mark and I went up to the roadblock, and found someone who spoke English, and we tried to get a handle on what was happening. The story we got was that a protest organizer from this town was "captured" by the government, on orders fromm governor Ruiz, and no one knew what had happened to him, although they thought he had been taken to Oaxaca city. They were going to blockade the road till they got word that their man was alive and well, and were waiting for a phone call from Oaxaca, and when they got their confirmation, they would open the road. Of course, there was no telling when or if that would happen. About this time, a local guy came up to us and in broken English said there were 2 kids on bicycles that would lead us on a detour around the blockage for 25 pesos each. We tried to find them and couldn't, but it gave us the idea that, since there was a profit to be made, there would soon be a solution to the problem. Sure enough, after another hour we got word of a kind of "toll road" around the roadblock.
More than one local had told me they would let a motorcycle through, as they were letting pedestrian traffic through. I tended to believe them, as I had ridden through one blockade in Oaxaca city, and the protesters never bothered people on foot there either. But, on the other hand, there were a bunch of tough looking guys at the barricade, with machetes dangling from the wrist straps, and I thought a misunderstanding could get ugly real fast, plus I wanted to stick together with Mark and Chantelle, so not knowing the protocol for running a roadblock set up by leftist rebels, I decided to take the toll road with them. We got a caravan of 2 pickups, a suburban, The Dutch couples rental car, and my motorcycle together. The guide got into the suburban which led. We bounced along on 2 track roads the farmers used to get tractors into their fields with. Now I'll give the guy in the surburban credit for setting the whole thing up, but he was incompetent as a driver. One time he got the suburban wedged inbetween a tree and a fence post, and we had to dig out the post before we could get going again. three times we stopped to pay different people to cut across their land, the agreement was for 20 pesos each to each landowner, but the last guy got a bonus from me, as I ran out of smal bills and had to give him a US 5 dollar bill I had in my wallet.
We got to a creek crossing that had real steep banks that dropped down to a muddy creek bed, and Mark got out and said "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to do this, we don't drive in mud bogs in Holland." So, never being one to turn down a chance to beat the crap out of a rental car, I jumped in and drove it across. I think Chantelle was worried, since I didn't take off my motorcycle helmet, and she was afraid she should have one too. After one more easier water crosing, which Mark handled, we were back out on the highway.
We stopped for a coke, and to discuss plans, as we had heard there was another roadblock up ahead. As we were drinking our cokes there were three sharp explosions that I took to be gunfire.
Mark said "Nobody in Holland has guns, so I don't know what shots sound like."
I said "Everybody in Texas has guns and they sound just like that."
So, we slammed our cokes and got on the road. I still don't know if it was gunfire or not, and that is a good thing. We drove on, crossing from Oaxaca state to Chiapas, and there never was another road block. We saw several Humvee's full of Mexican Army soldiers headed the other way, but I don't know what happened. The Dutch couple and myself drove until it was getting dark, then stopped at a little motel for the night and had dinner, and spent the evening talking about the various places we had visited.


I got up and was ready to roll by 8 am. Said goodbye to Mark and Chantelle, they were headed to a river , whose name I can't remember, to take a boat ride through the canyon it created. Supposedly cliffs 3,000 feet high. That's like Yosemite stuff. Anyway sounded very cool, but another trip. I was planning to go to San Cristobal, but I got there before noon and still felt like riding, so I went north to Palenque. I had planned to visit the ruins at Palenque anyway, and figured it didn't matter which I did first. I should say first, though, that Chiapas may be the prettiest state in Mexico, and that is saying a lot. The mountains are spectacular, of course, but the diference is here there is water. All kinds of little mountain creeks flowing into big rivers in the valleys. This is the rainy season, so take that into account, but this country is incredibly green. Sometimes there is grass 8 or 10 feet tall right up to the edge of the road, makes it like riding through a green tunnel. Naturally, it also blocks your view, so you have to resist the urge to grind the pegs or anything. So if you get a chance to take the Libre, or free road, from Tuxtla to San Cristobal you won't be sorry. They grow corn on hilsides so steep, I don't know how you could cultivate by hand even, but evidently they do. There looks to be some beef cattle here as well, in addition to the normal pigs, goats, and chickens. When I was researching this trip, this is the area of Mexico I was most concerned about, for safety, as Chiapas has a reputation for being unsettled. The good news is that the EZLN, or Zapatistas, don't have any history of messing with tourists, but after all the aggravation with Oaxaca my attitude was "I dare any Zapatista to fuck with me." There wasn't even much military presence on the highway, just one checkpoint, and a couple of Humvee's on patrol. My last trip down here, there was a lot more military presence, although I did't go through this exact area. I was riding with my helmet shield up and hitt a swarm of bees. I don't know if they were the African killer persuasion, but the 2 that got in side my helmet and stung me hurt like hell. The worst part was one was buzzing around, and Iknew I was going to get nailed, and sure enough, before I could get stopped and get my helmet of, ouch.
So, I got to Palenque, and rode out the road to the ruins, to get oriented for the next day,and found a little enclave of a few palapa style hotels, a couple restaurants and a bar on that road. I ended up getting a little cabana thing for 160 pesos a night. Really, up and down the road to the ruins are a whole bunch of camping and hotel things. If you wanted to cheap out, you can rent a hammock for 3 or 4 dollars a night at some of them, but as usual I have motorcycle and computer security to think about. They kind of have the island thing going here with outdoor bars and restaurants. Seems like a lot of European new agers walking around playing flutes and looking stoned. I can deal with it, but a little of that goes a long way with me.


The park at Palenque opened at 8 and I was there at quarter after. I walked the 3 miles from my hotel, just to get some exercize, since I am not doing any bike riding now. By the time I got there I was just dripping sweat. The humidity was 100 per cent, and the air was incredibly heavy. There were already several tour busses lined up to get in. I was hoping to find a tour group that was getting an English speaking guide, where I could tag along and listen in. No luck, I found 2 Italian, and one German, but no English. So I didn't get as much of the history as I could have, and the museum ended up being closed on Mondays, too. I still really liked the place though.
In the afternoon, I went to a waterfall caled Agua Azul. This place was great. For about a mile at least, it was just falls after falls. There were some good swimming holes at the bottom of some of them too, which I took advantage of. Went back to the cabana, and had dinner at one of the restaraunts there, and had a quiet night looking at the pictures I have taken so far.

Posted by Andy Tiegs at August 16, 2006 01:18 AM GMT

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