(February 21 – written by Dave)
Food, glorious food. We like rest days in bigger towns, especially when those towns are on the tourist trail and there are lots of good food options. I’ve kind figured out a few of the things I really like on the Mexican menu – such as mole – and you get good examples of mole and such in these types of towns. Nancy probably has a slightly narrower palette than me and is happy in these places because you get good choices in food that is “more western” – such as buttery croissants (Senior editor’s note – it’s just that I don’t have quite the iron stomach that Dave does. It’s nice to be able to eat without worrying about what it will do to me later…).
We rarely have good luck getting locally exotic food in foreign cities. By this think pizza in Japan – plastic cheese, too much of it and corn (who puts corn on pizza – seriously) Or try ordering Chinese food in most Mexican towns and regardless of what you order, you’ll get mostly the same dishes, covered in the same syrup, tasting pretty much all the same. And forget about proper Mexican food in Australia – not gonna happen. So, last night we knew we were taking a chance eating Thai food in Mexico. But boy were glad we did. We had Pad Thai and Green Seafood Curry. It was very good and could have been served in Thailand without complaint.
The last food treasure that we found here is even more exciting as we know that we are just getting started. Of course, you know that I am talking about coffee and really good coffee. We are just getting into the Central America coffee growing region and San Cristobal has a strong coffee culture. You’ve find some sort of small roaster and cafe combination on just about every block. We’ve indulged our passion for coffee – even buying some beans for later use (which happen to be giving our room a lovely coffee smell as I type this).
Onto the cultural side of things… We were not really sure what we’d find here. Just like most Mexican cities there is a long history and lots of old colonial buildings (San Cristobal was founded in 1528). So that was all pretty much as expected. There are some old churches but a good number of them have some form of tarps and/or scaffolding – perhaps earthquake damage. And they do not appear to be near as grand as some of the churches up north.
The thing that surprised us most is how much the people have changed. The people here are much shorter and more “Central American” looking. We’ve seen a lot more folks in traditional dress as well. At first, we thought that this might be sort of a put-on for the tourist but we ended up today in a market that was very local – not a westerner in sight. For starters, everything was very low, as in I bumped my head on things. And from all appearances, most of the other customers were locals, in mostly traditional clothing.
Traditional clothing is mostly wool skirts and shawls for women – with lots of colourful needlework. Many women have a young child of random aged strapped to them. The kids are dressed like their mothers. We didn’t see too many men in the market but those we did also had on some wool with needlepoint. We didn’t see a lot of tight jeans, Air Jordan shoes or NY Yankees hats. Again, it could be a show for the tourist but there so few tourists in the market, I don’t think so.
We’ve travelled in many countries in the world and seen plenty of markets – I love dragging Nancy to them. This market was such a rabbit warren, with the low ceilings; it was almost hard to be in for long. When we reached the chicken and shrimp sections, Nancy called time and we made an exit stage left. She needed my keen sense of direction to get us back out – left at the chicken feet, right at the prawns, straight past the mango/chilli/cricket sales stand and run for towards the light at the end of the lane where you just make out the sky.
Aside from eating in nice restaurants and not in markets, we’ve managed to get a rough route and schedule mapped out from here to Panama City. Thanks to all those who’ve gone before us and taken such good notes. Nancy has read every single one of your blogs. Meanwhile, I figured out how to get GoogleEarth to draw an elevation profile where GoogleMaps won’t (such as in Guatemala) – I know, how exciting.
We are here one more day and have promised ourselves that we’ll go to one of the three museums on the same street as our hotel. BTW, our hotel is great – we are using the last of our credit card points. I keep telling Nancy it’s all downhill from here. She is frantically searching the panniers for small, loose change that can be used for an upgrade… (Senior editor’s note – actually, looking at the elevation profiles for the next section I suspect I will be too tired to care so long as I have a place to lay down and sleep so that we can get up and do it again the next day!)