Chiapas Here We Come

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As we flew into Mexico City, I was amazed by the never-ending view of the city. The houses and buildings extended as far as the eye could see. When you fly into U.S. Metropolitan areas, you generally see nice organized grids of buildings and houses. In Mexico City, there were few areas where it resembled the U.S from the sky. It looked like a bunch of little shacks stacked upon one another.

When we arrived at the airport, my first experience in this new land was trying to use the bathroom. I never realized that toilet seats and toilet paper were such a commodity. I guess I expected the airport would have better amenities than I might find elsewhere. I knew in advance that flushing anything down the toilet was not allowed, which in and of itself can make you regurgitate your lunch considering the waste basket looks like the bottom of a port-a-pottie. I survived the bathroom, but did not feel very clean afterwards, which is odd considering they have a bathroom attendant in every bathroom. It appeared as if they cleaned each toilet after every use, but still by the end of the day, I wanted to shower three times for good measure. Little did I know that showering would not be an option until over a day later.

Customs too was an interesting moment. I had to push a button to see if my bag would be searched. And, of course, mine was selected for search. Knowing I had nothing to hide, I wasn’t worried, but a little irritated that the guy might take everything out of my pack which was stuffed so tight it would have taken 20 minutes to stuff it all back inside. Fortunately, he was just as discouraged as the lady in L.A. and gave up after pulling out only two items.

After customs, we entered the main airport and stuck to our plan of having my first purchase in Mexico be a Cerveza. Right outside of customs was a bar called “Freedom” where we decided to call home for an hour to drink a beer or two and come up with a game plan. Two Victoria’s later we decided to head to the bus station and check on tickets to Chiapas, but not before checking flight prices which were $150 USD each one-way and obviously not worth the money we saved by flying into Mexico City. So, onward we go to the bus station. After asking around, we decide the most economical route was via the subway. Without hesitation, we jumped on the “most violent” subway on earth for a mere 2 pesos (20¢ US). Yeah, I guess we were willing to “risk it all” to save a mere $2.30. Ha Ha.

The subway ride was smooth, as was the free bus transfer to the Norte bus station. Now, the plan was to buy tickets for the following day and find a hotel to crash in for the night. However, when we arrived, we discovered tickets were still available for the 9pm bus directly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas and decided why the heck not? We had already been traveling for over 14 hours, why not 12 more?

View of interior of 1st Class Mexican BusThe bus left promptly at 9PM and we were joined by a soccer team from Chiapas. Two of them decided Linda and I were “good enough for them” and with big smiles sat right beside us. Linda fell asleep immediately, but I couldn’t imagine sleeping as the wet streets of Mexico City were flying by in the dark. Yeah, it was raining and we were on a Mexican bus, boy would my co-workers would have a field day with this story.

The bus driver was quiet the entire trip even when we stopped at the South station to pick up more passengers. There were no announcements of where we were or anything. I guess it was late at night and he did not want to wake anyone.

So, onward we go in the dark. The soccer guys had quieted down and stopped staring at us, that is until I made a complete fool of myself. I decided that the South station was the perfect opportunity to open my soda and take a nice big gulp. Obviously, I was not thinking clearly about the bumpy bus ride and as I opened the Coke, it spewed all over my lap. It not only sprayed me, but also Linda and my shirt, shorts and sweatshirt. I literally had a pool of soda in my lap, but thankfully for my sweatshirt in my lap I didn’t get any on the seat or anything else around me. Linda busted out laughing as I just stared at my lap. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that all of my clothes were in the compartment below the bus. Finally, I relaxed a bit and laughed myself which gave the Soccer guys the cue that it was ok to stop holding back their laughter. We all laughed for about five minutes and although I was embarrassed, it was good fun nonetheless.

I was essentially wet from head to toe and we did not bring a blanket for the ride although I know better now. I decided to ask the bus driver if I could get a change of clothes since we were still at the South bus station, but as I got halfway down the aisle, he started driving away from the bus station. I felt hopeless there in the aisle. But, I soon discovered I was in good hands. The soccer guy to my right insisted that I use his soccer jacket to keep warm. So, I put my soaking wet sweatshirt on over my soaking wet t-shirt and used his jacket to drape over my legs and soaking wet shorts. I said to myself, “only I would do something like this.”

Back on track we go on a 1st-class Mexican bus on the bumpiest streets I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Luckily, the bus was of good quality and had decent shocks. Yet, it felt like I was on a boat because many times it swayed so far left and right, I thought it would fall over.

One can feel at home on a Mexican bus, but you can never forget the human factor. The guy in front of us was sneezing and coughing so badly I was certain I would catch whatever he had. Not to mention, about three hours into the ride, I heard loud vomiting from the bathroom. It was so loud I nearly gagged myself despite the fact we were many rows away from “el baño.” He proceeded to vomit at least two more times on the trip.

Early in the morning, I heard a female become extremely agitated in the rear of the bus. She was calling out her daughter’s name and then two males start pulling violently on the bathroom door trying to open it. It appeared her daughter had been in the bathroom just long enough to make her worried. The two guys pulled on the locked bathroom door in vain for at least twenty minutes while the mother and brother called out to her and were telling her to turn the lock. During this entire time, I never heard any sounds coming from inside the bathroom. Eventually, Linda woke up because of the noise and I informed her of what was going on. I asked her if we should tell the driver since I assumed he must have a key to the bathroom or know of another way of getting inside. Linda told me not to get involved because at times like this people often do not appreciate the help. So, I had no choice since I do not speak Spanish and was not able to communicate with anyone involved.

Nearly a half hour later, the 12 year old girl walked out of the bathroom as if she was completely unaware of what had just transpired. She actually appeared as if she had been sleeping. Later I remembered how hard the door was for me to open and wondered if she had passed out after relentlessly trying to open the door. I guess we will never know.

About five hours later, we arrived in Tuxtla Guttierez. I had slept little, if any, on the bus. Yet, Linda slept like a baby. I woke up at every bump and swore that the bus driver went off the road nearly ten times during the trip. We never stopped for gas and I couldn’t comprehend how we survived with the same bus driver for 12 hours straight.

As we were getting our luggage, I learned how this was possible. I saw a compartment near the luggage hold open from the inside and out walked the second driver. Inside I could see there was a compartment just big enough for a bed and blankets. I guess they switched places at some point, but I never knew the difference.

As we were driving through Chiapas in the morning, I was taking in the lush greenery consisting of a mixture of palm trees and what appeared to be cypress. There was a light fog at times and a cloudy sky. I woke Linda up several times to let her know we were in Chiapas and to allow her to see what she had traveled so far to see. She would look out the window for a couple of minutes and fall back asleep. I found it interesting how uninterested she appeared.

As I soaked in the view, I couldn’t help but feel the anxious struggle the indigenous people of Chiapas have gone through. I could visualize Marcos and his Zapatista commanders walking on the foggy hills wearing camouflage, masks and carrying guns. I was reminded of how we have treated American Indians and the end result they have experienced. I couldn’t help but think it is ironic that we call people like Marcos terrorists merely for protecting their land. The land they righteously deserve. If they stand up and fight, they are terrorists. Yet, if an organized Country uses arms to gain what is not rightfully theirs, they are heroic and courageous.

Once we arrived in Tuxtla Gutierrez, we decided to eat breakfast before finding a hotel room. We ate at a vegetarian restaurant called “Naturalissmo” and enjoyed the food. The female cab driver came back for us about an hour later and recommended “Hotel Posada Chiapas” for about $20 USD a night. Although it is a little hole in the wall hotel, it was clean and decent. Although I couldn’t get over the fact the shower and the toilet were one in the same and the entire bathroom gets wet when you take a shower. Furthermore, the toilet did not have a toilet seat and the beds and pillows were harder than I have ever experienced. But then again, Welcome to Mexico.

As I sit in the hotel bed in Tuxtla Guttierez, Chiapas, while Linda is sound asleep on the other bed, I am reminded of why I am here. As I told Linda, I could save money and invest in an “Americanized” Mexican experience like Cancun or I can spend that same money to explore the heart of Mexico and actually learn something. As a sponge for knowledge, I’d rather do the later. No matter what happens, I will never regret coming here, never!

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