Honestly I can’t remember what I actually imagined about this place before coming here.
I was excited about it yes, as everybody I know that’s been to Mexico told me San Cristobal de las Casas is a must-see. Together with the smaller village San Juan Chamulas, it’s supposed to be one of the Chipas region’s hippie-like and colourful mountainy villages, I was told.
Well. CHECK CHECK CHECK!
Besides, Oventic – where the Zapatistas live in their own demanded autonomy – is a neighbouring village, reachable for specially interested. I’ve indeed been especially interested in the Zapatistas since I first learned about the movement in University. (I´m very into social movements, but that´s another story).
Before arriving to San Cristobal de las Casas, I hadn’t worried about accommodation as Id seen online that the place was full of decent hostels. After three hours of traveling on roads of various standards, away from the weird little place Bacalar, the bus left me and my metall-seat-tired-bum at the station downtown. As I started walking with my overweight backpack towards the center I was quickly moved by the look of the place.
Welcoming me were old, narrow streets full of small cement houses painted in all kinds of bright colors and busy working women on every corner dressed traditionally with cotton blouses tucked inside wide woolen skirts. Already on the first block I walked down I’d seen a blue house with yellow door frames, two neon orange houses with turqoise window sills, a pink house with grass green borders and numerous worn out balconies with ceramic flowerpots and painted chickens on them.
From the look of the people in the streets I felt much closer to the pre-colonial history of this country than in Mexico DF.
A closeness that comes with a price I’d say, because the streets are full of seemingly deprived indigenous people (including kids) working as street vendors. Everywhere I’ve gone till now, most indigenous people (out of whom only the women are dressed traditionally as mentioned above) seem to be selling textile, sculptures, fruits and cigarettes, or polishing shoes. Fortunately Ive spotted some shops and cafes managed by indigenous people as well.
Another blast from the past that visualizes on every corner are the functioning Volkswagen Beetles. They are everywhere, exist in all colors and seem rather popular. I mean, they even serve for driving classes:
I asked a man in my hostel what’s up with all the Beetles.
Oh, el bocho, he said, referring to a beetle in Spanish. It used to be a very popular car when it first came to Mexico. Since then we’ve produced our own Volkswagen cars, therefore we have so many. I think the last bocho was made only ten years ago.
Now that I think of it, one could assume it’s due to the fact that I LOVE old beetles that I love it here already, and for sure it definitely has something to say with my instant good feel in this town. It took me a day to start dreaming of living here for a period with an old beetle to take me around, with a small flat in a pink-painted house whose balcony is perfect for my morning coffee hour and where I can create art in the evenings.
One day maybe. Why not?
Regarding my hostel, El hostal de Paco, it’s perfect. I found it as a result of many coincidences, which of course adds up to my awe for everything here. As it’s located quite far away from the other hostels I had spotted on booking.com I realised upon arrival that my backpack was too heavy for me to get there walking. So I started walking towards a sign saying “we got rooms” on a random street, when a taxi driver stopped next to me and the driver asked if he could help me. After I had mentioned the name and address of El hostal de Paco, he confirmed it was in close distance to the town center and I jumped in.
When driving down the two main streets however, I understood the hostel was further out of the center than a couple of the others Id found, and got a little annoyed with myself never having booked a place before my arrival. Still, I decided to trust the driver and also knew that whatever is called town of San Cristobal de las Casas, is within small distances.
Words can´t explain how happy I am today that I didn´t go for that tiny gut feeling in that taxi! The welcome committee in the El hostal de Paco was beyond imagination and made me realise in a second that I’d chosen the right hostel. I think I have to write a story one day about all the personalities I´ve met here, but for now these features are worth mentioning:
- The owner (Paco) is the perfect chill host with a big C and H. He´s as weird, funny and occasionally annoying as can get , but since I tend to like odd personalities, I think I almost love him. His way of yelling WELCOME HOME! YOU ARE ANDREA RIGHT? WE´VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU!, actually made me feel a bit awkward in the moment I entered the building with my huge backpack on (and admittedly a bit annoyed after the long journey), but after finding my place here Ive realised that that one glimpse of a feeling like WHO THE HECK IS THIS MAN AND WHAT KIND OF A PLACE IS THIS? WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME? only were products of my own realisation of Gosh-Jeanett-you´re-outside-of-your-comfortzone-now-travelingsolo-on-top-of-everything-feeling-a-bit-insecure-about-it-all kinda thing. I even forgot about my potential allergies to the two adopted (former stray) dogs living in the hostel who jumped at me when I arrived, and decided to trust Paco who assured me that they never enter any of the guest rooms. Honestly though, seeing how he treats the dogs was another reason I was convinced this hostel is the best in town! I´ve made it clear right? I feel at home here.
- I’ve been placed (for my self) in an authentic old fashioned 7 people’s dormitory that must be over three meters tall, with the walls painted in sky blue.
- A German retired man with a US citizenship has lived here for 2 years (!) and the first thing he did when I came was to show me his German museum: his room covered with miniature castles and train stations from Germany made out of paper or plastic. Yes, he is another oddy that´s for sure, but I also already love him! The story about his life and reasons to be here is to be continued, but to give you a picture I’ll share this picture I took of him this morning while I had my breakfast in the kitchen. He always starts his day like this:
He sits there, in the middle of the hostel´s patio, which he calls his office, for an hour or so with a book, coffee and beer.
- Then there’s a young, beautiful Australian couple – that’s been traveling in Mexico and Guatemala for a year – renting a room for two months. Due to having adopted a dog (that they had seen in a small cage in a pet shop and felt sorry for) on the way, they’ve now planned to work in Canada for 6 months over winter season in order to save up enough money to get the dog with them overseas back to Australia.
- More stuff worth mentioning about the owner Paco then; he´s extremely friendly with regards to longstay guests and seems much more into having longtime guest as opposed to random tourists just coming for a day or two. It´s as if he´s creating his own little community here where everyone is invited to come and live. Hah! He´s also constantly making jokes about the German man, and never answers seriously to any question about himself or the dogs, which can be a little pain in the ass attitude at times, but as for advice for where to eat and travel and what to visit however, he is the King.
- Last interesting guy around is a Mexican in his late 20s who came for a month to escape some love issues back home. He works on his computer and seems to be going through an interesting phase of life. I already consider him a good friend after having spent several days with him in the village, out on bars, chatting, drinking tequila, laughing and sharing life stories. There you have it: I already have a new person in my life I consider a good friend, only because of this weird little gem of a hostel (and random pick of it).
Today this new friend and I went to the neighbouring Zapatista village together. We´ve talked about sharing an interest in visiting since I came, and finally found a good day to go.
I honestly got some mixed feelings about the whole trip and need to reflect over it, but overall it was super interesting (for us at least…). When I get my head more around it Ill try to write a piece about it.
All in all: VIVA San Cristobal de las Casas!
Now I’m off for some delicious tacos in town. Adios!