Arriving at the Guatemalan border we all had to get out of the van, walk through the border control for our exit stamps and then carry our bags to the next minivan with a mexican driver who took us to the mexican border for the next set of stamps
. About 3 hours later we were dropped off in the main square in San Cristobal de las Casas - Plaza 31 de Marzo, and began a brisk walk in the rain to the nearest decent looking place to stay. We saw a sign for a posada - a large house that has rooms for rent to travellers - and went inside to find the room available was up on the 3rd floor with a huge open balcony area with views of the whole city and surrounding hills for about 7 or 8 quid. All the buildings in the centre of the city are colonial dating back as far as the early sixteenth century with brightly painted fronts, wooden shutters and balconies. At the north side of town there is a huge church, the Templo de Santo Domingo built in the 1500's with a long flight of stairs up to the front doors. After a long, hot walk up hill through the town and having climbed the steps to the entrance the man in charge of closing up the church for the night shut the doors! Our high position did make a great place to get a few pictures though as the sun began to set. The main street for strolling around bars, restaurants and coffee shops is the Real de Guadelupe. Closed to cars it is where we spent our first evening in Mexico with a couple of cervezas (Corona / Sol country now) listening to some live bongo music and getting the hard sell from the local kids flogging carved wooden animals.
Nearby to San Cristobal is one of mexico's national parks, the Sumidero Canyon, a huge canyon carved out by a fast flowing river and home to a wide range of wildlife and waterfalls
. We took a small minibus out to the canyon in the morning and were hurried into bright orange life vests, squeezed onto a speed boat with about 40 other people and before we knew what was happening were speeding through the canyon dodging logs, birds and other tour boats at about 45mph. The driver/ jet pilot stopped the boat along the way at amazing waterfalls that fell down into the canyon from 100 feet up, he stopped to show us pelicans and monkeys in the trees and we saw about 10 six foot long crocodiles on the banks too. Not sure the stylish life vests would do much good if we went overboard there somehow.
With our onward ticket to Puerto Escondido booked for late afternoon (a 13 hour overnight trip), we spent a couple of hours watching the spain vs germany world cup semi final with a couple of lads from manchester that we met on the canyon tour ( thankfully and not surprisingly neither of which were united fans) and some $1 bottles of corona.
We were outside the hostel waiting for the bus to San Cristobal, Mexico at 7am, watching the villagers setting up their stalls for the day. Our driver was a really friendly young guy that tried hard to chat to us while driving up the steep mountainside out of town. When he saw us trying to take pictures of the lake through the window he pulled over at the top to let us get out and have a good view of the morning mist clearing around the volcanoes and village below. We picked up a group of 8 american students who had spent the weekend in San Pedro on the north side of Lake Atitlan while taking a break from their classes in San Cristobal. They are on a summer long program where they study in a mexican college devising ways to advance the local environmental views and gain credits back in the states at the same time. They were from Humbolt County in California, a place we had been driving through about 3 weeks earlier, and they were very impressed that we'd been there!