Resting in San Cristobal

I decided I would take a bit of time to relax in San Cristobal, and it was a good place to do so. Decent food (for me, plenty of vegan options), excellent coffee (mucho organic, local and some ‘fair trade’ options too) and an attractive centre that makes for some easy-going, meandering walks around and about the distinct colonial architecture of the town.

It’s been a great way to unwind a bit and though I haven’t explored much outside of town I did get to see a good few things here. As well as my Fair Trade visits, Dan suggested I visit one or two of the several NGOs that are based here. Most of them are geared towards helping the indigenous populations in Chiapas. I met up with Faustino & Gilberto at Desmi and popped into the office of Frayba. As Dan had explained to me on our visit to Acteal, the local indigenous populations have suffered heavily over the years and organisations like these two try do what they can to help.

Desmi promotes the interests and rights of mixed and indigenous communities in Chiapas. They work to promote economic solidarity through means of justice, equality, dialogue and environmental respect, all geared towrds creating autonomy within these communities.

Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (Frayba) Center for Human Rights is an independent non-profit Civil Organization. Frayba was founded in 1989 through the initiative of Samuel Ruiz García, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas. They work in defense and promotion of human rights, especially for the indigenous villages and communities here in Chiapas.

Changing tack…my time here coincided with an annual culture festival (Cervantino Barroco) so I got to sample some local music in different venues around the town. There is normally some music to be had here if you wander the plaza or some of the pedestrianised streets

I also took the chance (and I would certainly describe this as ‘taking a chance’) to send a couple of things back home. I’d tried to do so from La Paz and was confronted by the impressively convoluted way of using the Mexican postal system. When I was there, any package must first be inspected by customs, which was conveniently located about 3km away from the post office. So I expected more hassle here in San Cristobal, but firstly I had to find an envelope…

After trawling around town trying to find a large packet envelope (Mexican post offices haven’t got around to selling the kind of things you might need to send a package. Just stamps), I went back to the post office to await the fun. Amazingly enough it was not only straightforward but I got a lot of help getting it sent. The guy behind the counter found an old box that I could use; he packed it up (firstly having to check what I was sending) and conveniently ignored the extra few grams that took the package into a higher price band. I expected nothing but more hassle and so I’ve had to revise my view a little. The other strange thing was seeing the row of staff busy typing away on typewriters, though one lady looked particularly bored as she plodded her finger on the space bar to get to the end of the line…

I stayed at a nicely-run B&B called Gite del Sol. It was inexpensive and friendly, on the lower scale but suited my needs (apart from getting used to the cool evenings and crispy mornings). It’s run by a Mexican-Canadian couple so I kept hearing French and English as well as Spanish, as welll as the odd spattering of German too. As for food and coffee, I found some great places here. The best vegetarian (where I went repeatedly) was Arcoiris, which does a vegetarian buffet. It’s very homely and low-key and they do some ‘interesting’ combinations when using up the previous day’s food, particularly the bread…but it’s generally fresh and it was easy to find vegan options there. My top recommendation! There are a couple of really good bakeries (Madre Tierra and Casa del Pan Papalotl, which is also organic) too where I ate enough bread to make up for all the tortillas I’d been eating for the previous two months. For coffee I had too much choice…from the Cafe Museo, Casa del Pan, Madre Tierra, Cafe La Selva, Cafe Yik…all organic, some Fair Trade, all local Chiapas coffee.

Leaving San Cristobal was hard to do…but Guatemala soon awaits!

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Acapulco

I ended spending more time than I thought I would in Acapulco. And it wasn’t because I was searching for the long-gone Acapulco of old – the Rat Pack, Liz Taylor, even the Four Tops. Appropriately I arrived in the rain and in heavy traffic. The Acapulco of today is still trying to recover it’s lost charm. At first glance I couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

However I eventually got to look around and see what was on offer. I’d been helped in finding a hotel by ‘Little and Large’, two local tourist helpers that had my suspicions raised right from the start, but actually were genuinely trying to help tourists get a place to stay. Though I never did ask them what their commission was…

The setting of Acapulco is quite spectacular and the main strip has a large number of hotels in various states of loveliness. There were pockets of areas for tourists (I did get my coffee at Starbucks, I’ll admit) and countless touts hovering their services for taxis, cheap tat, food etc. The local constabulary were always out in force, typically on the back of a pick-up in body armour, balaclavas and wielding their automatic weapons. The traffic seemed never-ending too. Saying that, there are miles of beaches and interesting local markets. For me it was a welcome stop just because I could get myself some familiar food and drink and wander about in different areas. Of all the tourist places I’d been though on the coast probably my favourite of Mazatlan, Manzillo, Puerto Vallarta and here, was Puerto Vallarta. Still, I never did see Ixtapa (Cancun-like resort) and it was only when I left town did I pass close to Acapulco’s modern tourist area (Acapulco Diamante) where the all-inclusives are located. I’m sure that’s where you can really kick back by the pool and think you’re just in a hot part of America.

Also, I was glad to get out of town in the end. I’d heard and read stories of local corruption, the touts, the pickpockets etc. Luckily for me I avoided all those and as I rode out on the flat plain in the warm sun I passed another Starbucks but thought….no, I’ve had my fill now.

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Zihuatenejo bike shop

During my wandering about Zihuatenejo I happened upon the bike shop “Bi-zihuanas”. I decided it was probably worth getting Edna a service while I was here (she deserved it), and I’m really happy I did. The owner, Alejandro, is a very friendly bloke and Edna came out afterwards looking in great shape like she was up for a night on the town. Alejandro and I talked a bit with a mix of Spanish and English, and just about got to understand each other. Lots of typical nodding, at least from me. Alejandro and his friend Ricardo (whom I met the previous day) are bike enthusiasts; Alejandro having spent some holidays cycling in France on many of le tour routes.

I highly recommend this shop whether you need supplies (good quality stuff there) or repairs or just want to drop by for a bicycle-related chat.

http://www.bi-zihuanas.com

http://biciclan.blogspot.com

Bizihuanas@yahoo.com.mx

Alejandro and his "Bi-zihuanas" bike shop
Alejandro shows Edna at her best. Though I was almost tempted to trade for one of those yellow bikes on the left

Calle Cuahetemoc No. 39 Col. Centro, Zihuatenejo Gro, Mexico

Zihuatenejo: no sign of Andy Dufresne or Red

I took a rest in Zihuatenejo (how exactly did Red remember the name and have any idea to spell it..?), the place made (even more) famous in the film Shawshank Redemption. It is a little different from what I expected the film to make out but it was a welcome place to spend some time. There are plenty of touristy facilities but it is all mixed with the normal goings on that you’d see in another Mexican town (unlike nearby Ixtapa, a purpose-built Cancun-like resort that was probably imported pre-fabricated from America).

Like most of the tourist places it is the quiet season and a number of places are shut. But it’s no less lively at the local markets where I like to poke around and see how the locals get on.

 

Todos Santos

I’ve been spending a few days in Todos Santos, a small but spread-out village just inland from the Pacific coast. It’s one of those ‘sleeper’ villages that has attracted a lot of attention (and US money) in the last few years due to its laid-back atmosphere and proximity to the major cities of La Paz and Cabo San Lucas (Los Cabos), collectively being re-branded as the “Cabo Rivieria”. Authentic Mexico it certainly is not. Numerous artists and would-be US retirees have set up here, but it’s not hard to see why. It’s also right on the Tropic of Cancer (so having crossed that marker I’m now officially in the tropics!)

I’m very much enjoying it though as it’s still a quiet enough place to unwind after days cycling through the desert. English is prevalent here, and all the signs of a tourist town abound – lots of cafes and restaurants, spas, boutique hotels, ‘health/well-being’ places etc. I found a coffee shop (La Esquina) that serves organic coffee, which I think must be my first since Ensenada. Very welcome indeed. I also checked the friendly GotBajaMaps store – quirky souveniers (not that I’m buying any as I have enough luggage…) and very helpful local information.

I also picked up a local rag called the “Gringo Gazette”, a free bi-monthly English-language ‘newspaper’ that is published from California but seems to think of itself as based in San Jose del Cabo. Either way, it’s a sloppy publication that seems to promote xenophobia and the colonial ‘us and them’ attitude that characterises new developments in ‘developing’ countries. Change is happening quickly in this part of the world, but really it’s the same story seen many times before. Money’s talking here but it’s not the peso.

I’m staying in a smaller little place called El Pescadero, where I can camp and enjoy the view of the small pool (I’ve yet to try, surprisingly). It’s a nice little spot to enjoy my time here, except for the 12 km commute I’ve been doing back into Todos Santos. Oh, and the heat, the dogs…ok, just kidding, it’s a pretty sweet deal.