Over the course of 9 months in 2017, my partner and I sold all of our possessions, including 2 vehicles, and a house full of stuff. In order to sell the house for its maximum value, we also completed 3 months of renovations that had been lingering for over 3 years. We wrapped up 2 businesses and left a town and tight knit community that we both cherished. We did all of this in order to seek out a life of freedom, away from the hustle and bustle of the 9-5 life, but most importantly, we did it so that we could travel. This is our story…….
As our collectivo (small shuttle bus running locals from town to town) wound its way from Palenque to San Cristobal, we noticed that the flora and fauna all around us began to change. And then, just like that, we were up in the mountain tops, not a palm tree in sight! It was if we crossed an invisible line, dividing the jungle from the mountains, I guess, in essence, that is just what we did. We were now amongst the pine trees and the higher altitude scrub brush. The lush tropical jungles that we had grown so accustomed to over the last year, disappeared behind and below us.
We arrived in San Cristobal de las Casas, the first time, at around 6:00pm. Immediately out of the bus, we could feel the cool crisp air, and I have to say, it was a bit of a relief. We were excited to not only breathe the fresh mountain air, but we looked forward to spending some days without the familiar sticky humid feeling on our skin that we had grown so accustomed to.
We had heard many a good thing spoken about San Cristobal, namely the amount of art and creativity that the city exuded, so we were eager to check it out. We had been warned that it was cooler, so we prepared ourselves for that, and were excited to finally use our wool sweaters and other warm weather gear that we had been lugging around with us through the tropics for the last 12 months.
We had left Guatemala only 2 days earlier, leaving behind our beloved Flores, the place we called home for 3.5 months. We were on a mission to get to Oaxaca, the capital of the Mexican state of the same name. There we would be celebrating Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), one of Mexico’s premier festivals. San Cristobal was on the road to Oaxaca, and we would visit it on the way, and again on our return heading back to Guatemala.
Since we knew that there was much to see here, we decided to spend about 5 days exploring the funky mountain town. The temperature was cool at night, I would venture around 15-17 degrees celsius (59-63 F) (although there would be frost on the grass first thing in the morning, so it must have gotten colder), but was brilliantly sunny during the day with temps at a reasonable 22-25 C (72-77 F).
We enjoyed ourselves as we walked around this magnificent town. Although, sitting at 2200m (7200ft) above sea level, we found ourselves very tired for most of the time, and also did a lot of sleeping and relaxing as well while we adjusted to the altitude. The town sits in a sort of valley that is perched between several small peaks that flank its edges. Normally, atop most of these surrounding peaks, sits a church or other significant building. Many of them have stairs that go up to them, so we found ourselves huffing and puffing up these stairs, in order to gain a good view, and a better perspective of the city below us.
The streets consist of ancient cobblestone sidewalks that are worn smooth with wear over the centuries that it has been occupied. The main downtown area, a pedestrian section only, bisects the center of the city and is rife with artisans and street pedlars from all over the world. From the get go, we could see that San Cristobal was not JUST another Mexican City, it was in fact very multinational. Because of this, for the first time in many months, we had access to Sushi, Noodle Bowls, Indian Food and more! In fact, our very first foray into the city brought us straight to a little corner restaurant that served Poutine! (If you don’t know what Poutine is, it is one of Canada’s national dishes along side Maple Syrup, Back Bacon and Ceasars. Check it out here.) Of course (!) we just HAD to have some poutine! It warmed our hearts and our bellies, and literally, our bodies, the first night we arrived.
After a couple days we found ourselves climbing some random stairs up a random hill and stumbled upon a funky bohemian bar. Immediately upon entry, we knew that we had found ‘our place.’ The building functions as an artist coop and we made quick friends with the people running it, plus met the current artist in residence, Jackie. Jackie is a hand poke tattoo artist, which of course, intrigued us. She is from LA, but would be living at the coop for 2 months while she promoted her art and secured some business. She has been travelling and working in many parts of the world, so we had lots in common and tons of stories to share. We hit it off with her right away. Most of the rest of our evenings were spent in this spot hanging out, and enjoying what must have been, one of the best roof top terraces with a stunning view over the city, that there was.
On our last full day in San Cristobal, we decided that rather than just hanging out in the city, we had better see something of the surrounding area. Together with Jackie, we decided to head to Mamut Caves, a cave system that was located just outside the city, a 15 minute cab ride for about $1 per person. We asked the guys at the artist coop where we should go. I had heard about Rancho Nuevo, but Meow (local born and raised) said that the Mamut Caves were just as spectacular, and not as busy. Perfect!
We headed off at around 12:00 and wound our way through the city streets and out into the wilderness. We arrived to an open field and a young man, clearly not happy with his day (or life) to pay our entry fee of about 50 cents. I asked him if this was his family’s property, and he begrudgingly nodded. After walking another 20 feet though, we were approached by another young man, this one asking for 50 cents more. He gave us a ticket and we reasoned that the first guy was charging us for driving onto his property to get to the caves, and the second guy actually owned the property with the cave on it? Who knows! Either way, for the price of $1.00, we weren’t going to put up a stink.
We entered the cave and were pleased to find out that we were, in fact, the only people that were visiting it at this time. Thank you Meow! We explored the well worn trails that had lights on them, plus went a little further with our headlamps into the far reaching corridors, until it got to the point where we would have had to crawl on our bellies to get any further. At the beginning of the cave, and the largest ‘room’, we had noted a vent in the ceiling and we could see greenery and light coming down the shaft.
After exploring the rest of the far reaches, we found ourselves back at the beginning and kind of feeling like “now what”. We had explored every nook we could, and it had only taken about half an hour. We didn’t want this party to end so soon.
As I went over and inspected the vent, I noticed all sorts of greenery, lichens and mosses, growing on the sides of the shaft. I commented that it would be really cool to be there when the sun shone down, which I was certain that it must do at some point during each day. Not 5 minutes later, after we had started looking at other parts of the room again, Chris pointed and said, “Look!”
There it was, a single sun beam shining down the shaft. We were immediately drawn to it. The cave was quite cool, and we relished in the warm beam that came down and caressed our faces as we stood under it. Little did we know that the show was just about to get started.
Immediately, Jackie noticed a green mound at the base of where the light hit. It was iridescent green like pond algae, and it looked just as slimy. But when we all touched it, it was hardened rock. It was a feast for the senses as we took turns touching it. Water would drip on it from above every few seconds, and somehow, probably because of the tiny bit of sun that hit it, it was retaining some chlorophyl or other green element, that the rest of the cave didn’t have access to. We were mesmerized by this phenomenon, and we spent much time looking at it, and playing in the sun beams. We affectionately named the green blob…….well ‘Blob.’ How appropriate.
In no time at all, we started to notice that the cave was illuminating all around us. Previously missed features that were hidden in dark corners, were now receiving light beams that were refracted from the tiny crystal structures that graced the entire cave. Light bounced into every recessed corner and we started to see just how intricate and incredible this cave was. As the sun moved, and the light beam adjusted with it, the light would bounce around to different spots and we sat for about an hour and watched one of the most spectacular shows that mother nature could ever produce.
As we sat in stunned amazement, watching the spectacle unfold all around us, we couldn’t help but realize just how lucky we were to have witnessed this. Our timing could not have been more perfect, and we were all so grateful. As the sun beam crept up the wall, starting to leave the cave, we heard voices coming in. Those voices were followed by other voices, and it became apparent that we were no longer the only ones in the cave. Although we were sad to not have it all to ourselves anymore, we also couldn’t help but feel sorry for the new arrivals, as they had literally just missed the most awesome event of the day, by mere minutes.
We thanked ‘Blob’ for the show, and continued outside back into the stunningly sunny and beautiful day. A little trail wound up the hill above the cave entrance, so we headed up to hang out on some sort of old zipline platform, to decompress from what we had just experienced. While up there, some butterflies flew by us and all around us, and as they flew away, Chris declared that he wanted a butterfly tattoo on his hand, to remember this experience. With Jackie being just the girl to do it, our plan was set, we would return to San Cristobal again on our way back to Guatemala after visiting Oaxaca, so that he could get his tattoo.
We hailed a taxi from the side of the road as the sun was setting, and headed back down to San Cristobal, but not before we took a selfie and watched the awesomeness of the San Cristobal valley below.
To be continued………
Thanks for reading! Please know that above all else, I aim to inspire others to just get out and see the world. Traveling is such an enriching experience, and I can’t even comprehend how much it has shaped me as an individual. If you have ANY questions, or need travel advice of ANY kind, PLEASE don’t hesitate to email me at the address below! I will do my very best to help you in any way I can!
Xoxoxo Happy Travels!
Current Location: Livingston, Guatemala
Travelling Plans: We are housesitting here until the beginning of January 2019.
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