SWELL IN SAN CRISTOBAL
Greetings from San Cristobal de Las Casas! We are now 650 miles west of the Caribbean’s sun-toasted shores, and 6800 feet higher in elevation and are pleased to report that the fresh mountain air has welcomed us fully into its rarified embrace. We feel it's worth mentioning that getting here was surprisingly uncomplicated. The Aero México flight from Cancun to Tuxtla Gutierrez (the nearest airport) was so uneventful it was almost disappointing. Our flights were all on time, the aircrafts were squeaky clean and our seats were comfy.
We even had a smooth stopover in Mexico City with just enough time to buy some overpriced M&M’s. Tutxla Gutierrez turned out to be our favorite kind of airport: small, tidy, compact. A whopping total of 2 baggage carousels greeted us on arrival and our backpacks actually beat us off the plane. Amazing.
La Casa / The House
The house we are renting is a great mix of old and new. Like most of the homes here, the roof is a thick layer of Spanish tile. The front doors are hinged portals of wood and glass that open onto an annex made of ancient stones that buckle like a mouthful of bad teeth. Adam and Cha, the previous renters, maintain that this area is part of the original house and probably as old as time, as much of this city is. The south-facing main room is our favorite, an atrium of light from dawn until dusk where we work, cook, eat, listen to Andrew Bird albums repeatedly and read by the fire. Outside, the patio is home to our hammock and 500 peso bicycle which, while awesome, handles (according to Tor) “like an old man with rickets”.
The main bedroom is a throw back to simpler times (think Don Quixote meets Little House on the Prairie), ensconced in wood and a barebones motif that would be considered “rustic” by American standards. Which is sort of amusing, considering that the house is outfitted with surround sound speakers, a satellite dish, modern appliances and very strong, very fast wi-fi. Needless to say, we love the jumble and the contrast that Mexico offers. In the mornings, the neighborhood awakens in layers—a chorus of far-off roosters, the clanging bells of Guadalupe, clusters of Chamula women leading their burros laden with firewood, and the signature, calliope tune of the gas truck as it rattles past.
We especially like our back garden, which is of the vertical variety: a steep, grassy hill ringed by a tangle of trees, cacti and flowering bushes. From this vantage point, we enjoy a stunning view of the surrounding mountains, Church of Guadalupe and the city as it fans across the valley.
As for neighbors? So far, we have met one: a beautiful, apple-faced Siamese that we've nicknamed "Momo". She decided to make a temporary home in a culvert on our roof while she gave birth to three kittens. We learned of her happy news because it was impossible to ignore the sudden onslaught of rustling and mewling above our kitchen. Yesterday, we finagled a rickety ladder into place against the house so that we could peek up into the culvert. And there, wedged in like several very furry sardines, was Momo, along with three tiny heads that popped up from beneath her.
At first, we were fairly unconcerned about the little family’s wellbeing. A sudden afternoon downpour, however, prompted us to wrap a tarp around a towel-lined box and hoist it gently onto the roof, where sure enough---we found Momo spiky-furred and soaked to the bone, her ears laid flat as she hissed sullenly in our general direction. About an hour later, we checked again and found that she had moved her little brood inside the box and was settled (and much less grumpy) beneath her tarp-covered porch. Bueno! No drenched kittens tonight! And an added bonus: no more plaintive mewling.
El Ciudad / The City
It’s not obvious that San Cristobal de las Casas is home to 250,000 souls. The cobblestone streets feature two-foot high sidewalks that somehow never seem overly crowded; a place where pedestrians and cyclists reign. On our first evening in the city, we wasted no time in taking a stroll. We zig-zagged south and made our way impulsively towards the anador (pedestrian mall) on Calle Real de Guadalupe when suddenly, we were waylaid by a sandwich board that could not have been more irresistible if it were a tractor beam. Comida Thai, it read in a bold script. We exchanged glances. Could it be? Thai food? Right down the street? It seemed (and still seems) too good to be true. We entered giddily, almost tripping over ourselves in an effort to get to that first, sweetly burning mouthful of chili-infused ecstasy. The smiling proprietress (of Thai extraction) handed us a handwritten menu of the day. After we ordered, she disappeared behind a Dutch door and the melodious sounds of chopping and sizzling filled our ears. Our eyes began to sting as our mouths watered and soon we were lost in the rapture of some of the tastiest Thai food we have eaten to date. Nearly as attractive as the explosive flavors at Comida Thai is the price: the dishes range between $60 – $80 pesos (between $5 - $7 US). Maravilloso!
Cosas que Hacer / Things to Do
Since arriving in San Cristobal, our days have fallen into an easy rhythm. We get up early, marveling at our still-visible breath before making a fire in the living room chimenea. By 10 AM, the temperature has risen considerably and we can open up the house's large, hinged windows. The sun reaches its peak around 2 PM, which is the perfect time to log some quality sway time in the hammock. In the late afternoon, we shut off the computers and take a walk, usually meandering south, towards the church of Guadalupe, which is perched on a hill within view of the house. It’s a sublime time of day. The anadors are bustling, the aroma of wood fires drift through the air. Families are walking home or going out to dinner. Often, people are clustered around the doors of churches, the flower-filled sanctuaries blazing with candles as prayers float out into the night.
Earlier today, we roamed the Santo Domingo market before the rain began. So marvelous. And overwhelming. Stall after stall, we fought sensory overload as we made our way through the throbbing, infinite maze of color and texture, admiring woven blankets, screen-printed, Zapatista couture and handmade jewelry. Thankfully, we kept our wits about us and emerged with minimum damage. Our purchases included a fabulous $7 Chamula poncho, a wool hat and a paragua (umbrella), which came in very handy on the walk home.
It’s evening now and steely clouds rove in packs above the darkening hills to the south. Outside our front gate, the gigantic palm tree is swaying forcibly in the breeze, backlit by jagged shards of lightning. The inner storm-chasers in us applaud this spectacle as we savor the view from inside our rustic-modern-old-new house where the fire is roaring, the jazz is loud and the Chiapaneco coffee is strong. As we watch the winds pick up and the landscape fade into the shadows, we have a feeling that we will enjoy our time in this city a great deal.