Friday, February 28, 2003
We day-tripped to Tuxtla Gutiérrez today, population around 500,000. A local bus from Chiapa to Tuxtla dropped us at that company's station, then we walked six blocks through the teeming streets to the colectivo stop for the zoo, our destination. The colectivo was an experience. No matter how full it was, people kept getting in. And the driver was going FAST. There were so many people crammed in the minivan that Tom couldn't see out at all, and I barely could. The colectivos make frequent stops, and we didn't know exactly where we were going. But the zoo was the only stop listed on the windshield of the van, so we figured we'd either see it or we'd get off at the end.
When the bulk of the passengers disembarked at the end of the line, we did too, where we found ourselves at (dramatic pause) a Mexican prison! Oops. From the great amount of activity, it appeared to be visiting day, but since we didn't know any prisoners, we quickly took off in the opposite direction of the prison on foot. It seems we'd overshot the zoo by about half a kilometer.
We arrived at the almost-deserted zoo and were told by a guard we'd have to wait 45 minutes to go in. At this time it appears you're only allowed to visit the zoo with a guide, and they do three tours a day. Waiting along with us was a group of teenage girls from a Catholic girls' school on a field trip. I was fully prepared to give them the evil eye if they started flirting with my husband, but they behaved.
The Zoomat, also called Zoológico Miguel Alvarez del Toro, is really something special. The interesting thing about the park is that every one of the several hundred animals there is native to the state of Chiapas. Among others, we saw crocodiles, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, tamandras (sloth-like animals), nutrias (otter), tigrillos, leoncilles, huge black jaguars, peccaries (wild pigs), tucans, owls, and quetzales (a rare bird). Several species of non-dangerous animals are allowed to run free, and we'd see them scurrying past as we walked along the paths. Our tour of the zoo lasted a little over an hour and consisted of only the guide, Tom and me, and one other couple. The cost for this was absolutely nothing.
Tucan cuello amarillo (Yellow-necked toucan)
We took a taxi back to centro to avoid any more unexpected adventure and ate a late lunch at La Sombrita, a little antojito (literally translated "something you eat on a whim") stand in the plaza. We'd seen the prison, the plaza, and the zoo in Tuxtla. How could we top that? So we walked back to the bus station, returned to Chiapa de Corzo, rehydrated with a few liters of water and juice, and took cold showers. It is over 100 degrees.
The Zócalo in Chiapa isn't quite as happening as the other towns we've been in. I suspect it's just too damn hot. Dominating the square is Chiapa's most remarkable monument, a great brick monstrosity built in 1562. It is supposedly the finest example of mudéjar, or Hispano-Moorish, architecture in the Americas. The structure is actually a giant canopy over a well-head, called a Pila. Just like I've always said: Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess!
Across from the square, before you come to the river, is the town's other great monument, the church and former monastery of Santa Domingo, built in the late 16th century.
Tonight we had the best meal of our trip, at El Campanario, a block from the plaza, a restaurant sharing the same owners as the overpriced Hotel la Ceiba. It was fabulous. The meal was about twice what we've paid elsewhere and well worth it. Tom had a sirloin and I had carne de Tampiqueña. Along with two cervezas each, the meal set us back 216 pesos, less than 20 bucks.
Out on the street, someone was setting off big homemade fireworks for no apparent reason - loud, but not particularly impressive.