Sunday, October 13, and we’re heading to our next big stop, San Cristóbal de las Casas, the capital city of Chiapas in southernmost Mexico (borders Guatemala). But because we didn’t want to deal with a potential 10-hour drive, we planned to stop just short of half way – Juchitán de Zaragoza. Our 3.5 hour drive to Juchitán took 5.5 hours. To Google’s credit we did stop briefly in Tehauntepec. More on that in a moment, but first a quick ABCDEFG’S summary of our drive:
A: Plots of blue-green Agave made for a beautiful patchwork quilt on the Sierra Madre mountains.
B: For the entire drive on 190 through the mountains, there were Bible verses on rocks and other messages too.
And Butterflies galore! I had to periodically close my eyes (fortunately I wasn’t the one driving) because they were flittering all over the roadway and barely dodging our car.
Basura. I don’t think I’ll ever grow accustomed to seeing piles of trash by the side of the road. On some of the mountainous roads I saw very little and wondered what would happen if I were to peek over any random cliff there. Would I find bags of garbage? But on the country roads…piles. Obvious, blaring, stinky, piles. Turns my stomach.
C: We came upon an army Checkpoint, and while I didn’t have an internal freakout, I did literally hold my breath. I still have Policia Highway Robbery PTSD. I am learning that not all the policia are bad. It seems that just the policia estatal feel as if they have the right to rob. We passed by a couple Federale checkpoints and were stopped by both the army and the transit police who simply wished us a nice day and one guy (transit police) in Chiapas even offered us a map.
D: Dogs…we saw at least six dead dogs on the highway. We passed a young couple standing in front of a dead dog on the side of the road. They were holding one another. I wondered if he had been their dog or if they had just hit and killed a poor, homeless soul.
Donkeys may come galloping down the road when you least expect it.
E: Eagle! I saw an eagle! I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to snap a photo, but it is permanently imprinted upon my mind.
F: Fun, sort of. Nearing the bigger towns, one is bound to be entertained while waiting at a light or approaching a tope.
G: Green! Scott is the one who came up with the 50 shades of green while driving into Chiapas. We were both blown away by the beauty and lush (chartreuse, olive, kelly, lime, pine, forest, fill in the blank__) green misty hillsides.
Space – for hours on end I admired the seemingly never-ending open Space and unique topography. Brilliant. Snapping a shot at 80 kph and sometimes through a dirty windshield doesn’t do the photo justice.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the shortest distance between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This 200 k wide piece of land is considered Mexico’s narrow waist and consists of three main towns: Tehuantepec, Juchitán, and Salina Cruz. It’s hot hot hot during the day, and one may have to watch out for mosquitos as the region has malaria. This area is a mecca for indigenous Zapotec people.
Santo Domingo Tehauntepec
Or just Tehauntepec (Tay-Wan-Tuh-Peck) is known for it’s matriarchal society and strong women. The name comes from Nahtual and means hill of the wild animals or hill of demons. The women are known for their strong personalities and colorful dress. Frida Kahlo’s style of dress was from this region, Tehauntepec.It is said she adopted this dress as a way of proclaiming her own feminine strength. Other accounts claim that Diego wanted her to dress in this manner because he liked strong women.
Juchitán de Zaragoza
Juchitán, which we’ve been calling Hoochitown (it’s easier to remember and almost sounds the same) is possibly one of the most tolerant places in Mexico according to what I’ve read. Only a 20 minute drive from Tehauntepec, this town of 42,000 people also has a reputation for powerful women, and alternative gender roles. Apparently tranvestitism here is very accepted. With a history of revolts, Juchitán is the first Mexican town to elect a left wing pro-socialist municipal government in the 20th century according to Wikipedia.I’ve read that few gringos visit this town, which may account for the numerous stares. We stayed at Hotel Central, a simple, comfortable, and clean accommodation for about 400 pesos ($32.00 US).
Wow. It’s hot here; even at 8:00 PM we were sweating. The good news: the guy who runs Hotel Central informed us that there are no worries about malaria but that dengue could be an issue during the rainy season. It’s not the rainy season.
Jardin Juárez in Juchitán is a bustling potpourri of activity. I was hoping for some good photo ops ideally capturing some of the women in their traditional dress or even better, a man wearing the traditional dress of the women. No luck.
After a quick scout around town, we departed Monday (October 14) morning for San Cristóbal de Las Casas.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
We arrived! Our four-hour drive to San Cristóbal only took five hours! Very easy and just so very beautiful. I really need to come up with more adjectives for beautiful, but that’s the first word that comes to mind. We saw egrets hanging out with giant bulls, fields of wind turbines, lily ponds, green rolling hills and warm rust-colored mountains peppered with lush green trees.
- Google maps is not all that. Have a good map handy, one that includes the small roads. And just know that some roads are not labeled and some are labeled with several different names and some road names randomly change. Trust your instincts, if you have a good sense of direction (Scott does and I DON’T), and you will usually come out OK, even if by a different road.
- Road conditions. We came across roadwork frequently and even on Sundays. And there are topes which force one to drive more slowly in towns. Expect to add 1-3 hours to your drive depending on your journey. For instance, 200 miles could take 4-6 hours.
- Libre or Cuota. The free (libre) roads are smaller and slower than the cuota (toll) roads. We averaged about 200 pesos a day while driving Cuota roads. We had one experience when we were flagged toward a specific toll booth only to find it not in operation. There, lined up, were a half a dozen teens and young women with a collection can. All we can figure is that the town allows the locals to collect the money for specific organizations. In particular that day, CNTE seemed to be collecting 30 pesos from each car to further the cause for teachers in Mexico. They’ve been on strike for almost 3 months in many parts of the country.
- The pay roads are better roads. If you don’t mind going much slower and dealing with potentially more roadwork, libre is the way to go. Either way, the drives are stunningly beautiful.
- Start your day with a full tank of gas. We drove over 100 miles in the mountains without seeing a gas station. With the tank nearly empty, we pulled into a Pemex (national gas station) yesterday. I was a li’l nervous about that.
- Have all necessary paperwork ready in case you are asked to show it at a checkpoint. There are almost guaranteed checkpoints when entering a new state. Put your cash in different but accessible and memorable places. Also have a cell (Mexican burners are cheap) with the number of the local tourist office and 074 (a National emergency number) and o76 (an information number). If a state police officer threatens you/asks for dinero for some ridiculous car issue that he just made up, politely let him know that you first have to check on a few things with the office of tourism.
- Carry food and water. You may not be able to stop for those things. Otherwise, every town regardless of the size has mercados. There are always papas (potato chips)!
- Don’t expect street lights in most towns and cities. Uno y uno – one by one is the unwritten protocol.
- Have pesos available for baños as many will charge 2-5 pesos for use. Carry some spare toilet paper.
- There is a general unwritten courtesy to drive on the berm or emergency lane if someone wants to pass. When on a curve or a hill, if you see there is no oncoming traffic and the person behind is tailgating, give them the “go ahead” wave. They will likely give you a wave in return.
For the most part, the roads in Mexico are in great condition, and the scenery is Eye Taco. BUT
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To see Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here.
To see Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here.
To see Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here.
To see Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here.
To see Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here.
To see Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
To see Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here.