San Cristobal de las Casas

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Where can you find tasty cappuccinos, buttery french pastries, great pizza, lots of dreadlocks, ginger kombucha and vegetarian food in Mexico? San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas! Here you can also find piles of amber and silver jewelry, beautiful textiles, and adorable little animals sculpted from clay or hand-sewn with felt.

The recent history of San Cristobal de las Casas includes the January 1, 1994 occupation by the Zapatista rebels. This date marked the inception of the NAFTA agreement, and part of the Zapatista rhetoric is a rejection of exploitative globalization and the capitalist system. Signs such as “Muere la sistema capitalista” (death to the capitalist system) dotted the countryside. Driving east and south from the city, we passed many Zapatista signs declaring the area an autonomous zone from the Mexican government.  How often do you get to see that in the U.S.? We embrace their slogan, la tierra es de quien la trabaja, meaning the land belongs to those who work it. It’s the Mexican equivalent of “use it or lose it.” The area is also well-known for the indigenous communities that surround the city. We visited two of them with a guide and have plenty of interesting customs to write about on the next post.

San Cris felt like the Santa Cruz, California of Mexico. It’s an easy town to bike and walk around with pedestrian malls, organic produce, and cool weather (including plenty of rain). We spent nearly four weeks in San Cristobal de las Casas, with a break in between to visit ruins further south and east in Chiapas. We unexpectedly found old and new friends in San Cristobal, including Dave and Anika who are also driving around Mexico and blogging about their trip, and our friend Hillary who invited us to a 24-hour experience at an artists’ collective, Edelo. Our neighbors at our campsite were fun to spend time with as well, and we passed rainy evenings in front of their fireplace making pizzas. Jason (from the U.S.) and Elka (from Cuba) were just two of the many artisans who sell their wares at the market, and I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful handmade copper and jasper necklace in trade for a hula-hoop.

Our favorite restaurants here don’t have much Mexican food. Good eats can be found at Punto Pizza Lounge, the Horno Magico (a french bakery), and the Parrilla Argentina (the one on the corner). La Casa de Pan Paplotl also does a lovely buffet lunch including California-style salads with beets, quiches and vegetable soup. Pozoleria La Molcajete has tasty pozole starting at only 20 pesos, but otherwise much of the Mexican food we’ve had here has been unexceptional. On one occasion our taco plate at Emiliano’s Moustache included some plastic wrap, a fact which did not seem to bother our server in the least. Luckily there is a mini-farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays featuring organic produce, locally produced coffee and cocoa, and blue corn tortillas (we learned that one way to avoid GMO corn is to buy blue corn). If you have access to a kitchen, buying food at the many produce stores is definitely the way to go.

After visiting Palenque, Yaxchilán and Bonampak to the southeast, we headed back to San Cristobal from in mid-July to meet John’s mom, Peggy. In honor of her visit, we stepped up the accommodations from campsite to our very first hotel room with a fireplace at Hotel Diego de Mazareigos. Named after the founder of the city (who changed its names several times before finding one that stuck), this hotel is located in two different 18th century mansions with beautiful courtyards and fountains. While $75 USD seems like a fortune to spend on a room as compared to camping for less than $10 per day, we’ve finally found a place to stay that offers good service and hospitality for the money, a sometimes challenging feat in Mexico. Our room comes complete with toilet seats, hot water and a roof that doesn’t leak. Previously, we camped at Rancho San Nicolas for 100 pesos per day on the east edge of town. This campground and RV park does have a pleasant lawn surrounded by hills and trees, but the cabins and rooms for rent were pretty dismal. We would recommend staying at one of the many hostels in town instead if you don’t have a tent.

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