After our hike in El Imposible, we decided to stick together as a group a bit longer and visit the renowned feria gastronomica, or food festival, in the small mountain town of Juayua. I mean, who doesn’t crave some freshly grilled iguana after a long hike in the sweltering heat? We arrived in town just in time to watch the vendors pack away their culinary delights and soon found out the festival was wrapping up for the weekend due to the national election that was taking place the next day.
Hi there. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Though I (we) have failed to keep up on my promise to fully update the blog during this hiatus, not all is lost. We have both accomplished something this summer:
One year ago today, Zach and I pointed Blue Steel due West and began the adventure of a lifetime. We started our trip in CT so it seems only fitting that we are back here today celebrating one year on the road. It is also fitting that the northeast is experiencing somewhat of a heatwave, with record temperatures and brutal humidity. It’s as if we never left Central America. Though much has changed since we’ve arrived back in the states, not the least of which is the fact that we both have to go to work today!
Our plan to make it to Parque Nacional El Imposible before dark seemed reasonable enough. Distance-wise, it wasn’t far and the border crossing into El Salvador went smoothly, leaving us plenty of daylight for the trek. Between the four of us we had three maps and a handheld GPS. The fact that the road to El Imposible was in a slightly different location on each map didn’t phase us at all. It wouldn’t be the first time we used a less than mediocre map (or, no map at all) to navigate Central American roads. We’re experts, we thought. Besides, even if we got lost we had twelve weeks of Spanish class between us – we could easily use our new skills to ask for directions from the locals.
We were both annoyed when our alarm went off at 4:50 am on our first Saturday in San Pedro. Sleep weighed heavy on our eyes and we wanted nothing more than to roll over and ignore the incessant beeping. Still groggy, I forced myself out of bed and began preparing our packs for the day. We had to hurry if we were to be on time meeting the rest of the group. Once Zach was up, we had a quick breakfast of corn flakes, which Rosario had set out for us the night before, and ran out the door. Pedro and the others were already waiting for us when we arrived.
During our time in San Pedro, the school arranged for me and Zach to live with a local Guatemalan family. After nine months of living in the van, our new home felt luxurious. We had a large, private bedroom, hot showers on demand and three meals each day provided for us. Our host “parents”, Rosario and Pedro, were a young couple of Mayan descent who spoke both Spanish and Tz’utujil, but very little English. Not poor by any means, they make a modest but comfortable living and work extremely hard each day for what they have.
When our trip was in its initial phases, as in still just a pipedream, we always agreed a layover for a few weeks of Spanish classes on our way down to Argentina would be an important part of it. We didn’t know where and we didn’t know when, but we were certain we would make it a priority. For one reason or another, perhaps because we began feeling pressure to speed up our pace, I noticed our language regarding classes begin to change; what started as a “Yes, definitely” was becoming a “Well, maybe..”
From Caye Caulker we continued our travels through the small country of Belize, heading west towards the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. We had heard good things about the Belize Zoo and, even though zoos are really not our thing and even though it was expensive ($15 USD/person), we decided to stop. The zoo is filled with over 100 rescue animals native to the area, including jaguars, ocelots, howler monkeys, tapirs, and various species of birds, including the largest in central America, the Jabiru. While the jury’s still out on whether it was worth the entrance fee, it was cool to see many animals we may not get a chance to see during our travels.
One of the amazing things about Chiapas, that is, besides the mist-wrapped mountains and Caribbean-clear rivers, is its rich and vibrant indigenous culture. Of the 4.2 million people of Chiapas, more than 25% are indigenous groups, mostly Mayan. There are at least nine languages spoken and each ethnic group has its own beliefs, traditions and dress customs. Tzotzil and Tzetzil clothing, specifically, is the most varied and colorful in Mexico and often identifies the wearers’ village. One of the things we were most looking forward to during our stay in the state was visiting some of the smaller Mayan villages that surround San Cristóbal.
San Cristóbal was one of the cities I was really looking forward to visiting prior to our departure. Nestled in the mountains of Chiapas, the city has the familiar colonial charm we’ve become accustomed to in Mexico – cobblestone streets, colorful homes, clean and winding streets perfect for strolling. But what really makes San Cristóbal distinctive is the predominant and immediately obvious indigenous presence. Due to its location in the heart of Mexico’s Mayan population, the city is ripe with the culture and customs of the Maya.