Sunday, February 23, 2003

Palenque is lively on Sunday morning. People are out and about, coming to town to shop. I almost wish we were spending another day here, but we've been in Palenque long enough. It's time to move on.

It's a five and a half hour ride on scenic Highway 199 to San Cristóbal, which is enough time to show not one, but two bad movies. The first one was in German, subtitled in Spanish. How surreal. The title, further translated by me into English, was "The Princess and the Warrior." It was by the director of "Run, Lola, Run." The only other gringo on the bus with us, an American, had actually seen the movie before. We'd rather look out the window at the scenery anyway.

Scenery along Mexico 199

We passed countless shack villages en route and witnessed much slash-and-burn agriculture taking place. We made a ten-minute stopover in Ocosingo, where I saw the first, but certainly not the last, breast-feeding of the trip.

Ocosingo

Time for a new video. It's not a movie after all. It is educational programming from Discovery Channel dubbed in Spanish regarding dinosaurs. I knew there had to be dinosaurs around here somewhere!

This bus ride seemed to take forever. We had to crawl along the road at a painfully slow rate due to the enormous amount of curves climbing up into the mountains and due to the great number of topes. Topes are a Mexican institution. To ensure drivers don't just speed through these little villages and around the curves, the government has installed speed bumps in the road as big as a coffee table, usually well marked, but occassially a surprise. You WILL slow down for a tope, or you WILL be leaving part of your vehicle behind. These things are serious. I took Dramamine, but I got a little queasy anyway.

Sunday in the mountains

As we were going approximately two miles an hour over one of these topes while passing through the town of Oxchuc, we witnessed something odd - a bunch of men in scary masks were dancing in the road. Tom thinks they were hoping we would throw them pesos. I have no clue. Celebration? Protest? Dancing for tips? Beats me, but it was interesting and surprising.

What the hell?

We finally arrived in San Cristóbal, but we were headed to Comitán de Dominguez. Outside the bus station, a chubby little boy asked me for a peso for something to eat. He was eating at the time! If I spoke more Spanish, I would have given him a lesson in marketing. As it was, I gave him nothing.

Caught a combi to Comitán, an hour and 20 minutes, then took a taxi to centro. We're staying at the Hotel Virrey, two blocks off the Zócalo, 250 pesos ($23) a night. It is very cute, with a little courtyard and a fountain with tortugas (turtles) and way too many chirping birds. Our book described the staff as charming, and we'd have to agree.

Courtyard of the Hotel Virrey

Comitán is a very charming colonial city, and it has the biggest and best Zócalo ever! The square is very attractive, and there were tons of people and live music and just lots going on. There was a mariachi band playing in the center of the Zócalo, Native American flute music coming from a corner, and various music coming from the surrounding shops. There were shoeshine boys, Chicklet girls, and miscellanous snack vendors. We saw a big group of people gathered and went to check it out. It was a guy selling an Oxiclean-type product, and very excited about it. These folks are nothing if not enthusiastic! The gringos are few and far between here, and Tom said we really stuck out, so I put away my camera. Now we blend.

Now how much would you pay?

The cutest little Mexican boy ever (4 years old maybe) started playing "kick the plastic bottle," and he soon got Tom and me involved. Eventually, a slightly bigger boy took the bottle from him for no reason. Little-boy panic was about to ensue until a replacement bottle was found and the game continued. Finally we bid our little amigo adios and went on our way. He never said a word to us.

We ate dinner at the Restaurant Helen's Enrique in the Hotel Casa Vieja off the Zócalo. It was excellent! If you go, get the filete de Tampiqueña. Plus they had the best guacamole I've ever tasted.

Continue to Day 9

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