¡Escribe, Escribe!

Trip Start May 01, 2006
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Flag of Mexico  ,
Saturday, May 13, 2006

One of the great things about travel is that each new day promises a brand new experience. Nothing is routine. Sights are seen, sounds are heard, often for the first time. Such was the case as I hopped on a bus headed high into the mountains of the Chiapas State.

Perhaps some regional comparisons are in order. If Mexico City is New York, then Oaxaca is Chicago. And if Puerto Escondido is San Diego, then surely San Cristobal de las Casas, my next destination, must be San Francisco...tucked away far and high in the mountains and the clouds.

The 14 hour, red-eye bus ride was heinous, but well worth it. After a quick cab ride from the terminal to the center of town, it was immediately obvious why this place has long been a favorite stop for travelers. The climate is superb this time of year - the dry mountain air is refreshing, the occasional afternoon showers are short and sweet. The colonial buildings are lined by cobblestone streets and small sidewalks littered with cafes, bars and restaurants. The central park is especially scenic and is paralleled by a historic, pedestrian-only street. Here is the epicenter of the city´s live music scene, which is pretty diverse with Latin Reggae and Ska at the core.

There are far more Gringos, Euros and other international travelers here than any other place I´ve been so far. Visiting a major travel hub has its pros and cons, ups and downs. Sometimes it´s annoying, but one thing´s for sure - it´s always amusing... let me give a quick example.

Where there are tourists in developing countries, there are invariably locals gunning for the a slice of the collective tourists buck. Mountain tours, horseback riding, bike rentals, jungle excursions, etc, etc all help create unwieldy busloads of funny looking tourists who, for some unknown reason, are all wearing tight khaki shorts and leather sandals with socks.

Then you have the local beggars, hawkers and scammers - these dubious characters hang around the high traffic areas such as churches and plazas, waiting for the tourists to return from their overpriced bus tours. San Cristóbal is home to its fair share of these types, whose "services" ranged from a legitimate shoe-shining to good old fashioned begging. But the town also had another great scam, so amusing that it bears description here. I´ve named it "¡Escribe!" Here´s how it works.

My first day there, I was sitting by the main plaza when a young boy, perhaps 11 or 12, approached me. He was holding a notepad and pencil.

"Hola Señor," he said.

"Hola," I replied.

"My name is Hector. ¿What is your name?" he followed in English with a heavy accent.

"Mí nombre es Juan" I said, eyebrows slightly cocked in suspicion.

He then offered me the pad and pen, and in a desperate tone, belted out "¡Escribe! Escribé jour name. ¡It´s for my school!"

I quickly thought to myself: Escribir is the Spanish verb "to write". "Escribe", then, must be the polite, formal way of saying "you write." Ahh Hah! He wants me to help him with a homework assignment by writing my name on this paper, perhaps for some study in travel patterns or social statistics."

Yes, I´ll admit that I was tempted at first. It was for school after all! But common sense quickly took over... I didn´t know the exact angle but knew he was scamming for a quick peso, so I quickly replied:

"Sí, sí, my nombre es Juan. Pero, Tu Escribe!" I said, suggesting that it would be even more productive and educational if he wrote it himself.

I could see my reply vexed this young fellow. He came back with an even greater sense of urgency "¡No, tu! ¡Tu escribe! ¡ESCRIBE!"

This exchange went on for about 20 seconds before the lad, realizing he had met his match, walked off. It wasn´t until later, talking to a young gal who actually fell for it, that I found out how it worked. After writing your name on the paper, the little guy (or girl) will ask for 5 pesos. If you question it, they remind you that it´s for school. If you resist, they threaten to tell the policía, who are always standing close by, armed with giant machine guns.

Yep, that´s it. It´s really that simple. Write your name of a piece of paper, get charged 5 pesos. No complexities, no illusions. And apparently it works because loads of the local kids do it.

I was so amused by the utter simplicity and ridiculousness of this ploy that it became a source of constant amusement for the rest of my stay. Everywhere I turned, there they were - these scruffy little youngsters, armed with paper and pen, running down the streets, jumping out from dark alleys, popping out of windows, all calling out in excitement and desperation:

"Escribe, Escribe, ESCRIBE!"

But all joking aside, San Cristóbal is truly a spectacular town. The natural beauty of the mountain setting can be seen from anywhere in the city. The local music scene is alive and well, which makes for some pretty intense nightlife that I enjoyed with new friends from countries all over the world. Perhaps the highlight was last Friday´s day trip to El Parque Nacional Cañyon - an incredible canyon-turned-reservoir we explored by boat. This was one of those places of such size and scale that it´s hard believe when you´re seeing it first hand, much less capture in photo or describe in words after the fact. It was a perfect accent to an already amazing stay in San Cristóbal.
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Comments

afagan
afagan on

ESCRIBE!!!!!!!!
That's crazy stuff. I'm enjoying this blog to no end, dude.

shaunmenestrina
shaunmenestrina on

Juan B Gomes...
Juan B. Gomes!!!

I'm living vicariously through ya!...I'm on vacation and still working?!!!...how does that work?

Keep up the good stuff! Wish I was down South too!

The trip of your lifetime...

Peace brother!

miketart
miketart on

Escribe!
Yo B,

That is awesome. Way to be on the lookout. I especially liked that you noticed the very large machine guns close by. So, after you figured it out, could you not just stop laughing whenever you would see a poor tourista getting scammed?

You could actually do your own scam and charge tourists to warn them of scams like this.

Give it a try...out

MT

bg2000
bg2000 on

Launching My Own Escribe Business
Dude, that is too funny. Like the little boy in Peru who would shine your shoes and complain about his ripped up sneakers the whole time (which I assumed were his special out-to-beg-and-get-me-some-new-sneakers shoes). I think I might test out the Escribe business here in San Francisco over in the financial district. Maybe hire a team of independent Escribe distributors to make me rich. Or teach people how to start their own Web-based Escribe businesses!

Sounds like you are having a blast out there getting ripped off and getting your ears blown off (thankfully not by that machine gun).

johnb22
johnb22 on

Re: ESCRIBE!!!!!!!!
Thanks man - writing about it is almost as much fun as living it!

Should I plan on making some future entries that detail the week you came down and traveled with me?

johnb22
johnb22 on

Re: Juan B Gomes...
On vacation but still working?! Shouldn't it be the other way around... working but still on vacation!?!

Thanks for checking in Shaunny Shaun, good to hear from ya brother. Take it easy there up north... check back often.

johnb22
johnb22 on

Re: Escribe!
Dude, Mike, you're right on point! I actaully did start my very own 'Anti-Escribe' business. It's called 'Cuidado! Cuidado!' It's working well... no need to return home with the money I'm makin.

johnb22
johnb22 on

Re: Launching My Own Escribe Business
That's right! Tom Cruise. That's was the kid's name. Not to be confused with the other cast-of-kooky-Cusco-characters Jenny, Anderson, Viente-y-dos...

jamesbrown
jamesbrown on

Whats up hottie?
Hey you, I am so glad you are sharing your adventure with us it figgin awsome man. Love the video of the rocks, I can imagine how beautiful and serene it must be to see nature that pure. we miss you and dinner will be ready for you when you come home. Marley man has been taking his first steps and eric and I are going on our own lil trip, not as exotic as yours just to michigon for a family reunion, (I'm a lil nervous) but it should be interesting, hopefully we will get to see the white sox play. Well be safe, One love
James

johnb22
johnb22 on

Re: Whats up hottie?
Wuz up Mommy!?! Glad you're enjoying the site, I'll keep the entries comin if you keep comin back and readin - You and your hubby and the boy have fun on your trip up North... looking forward to that dinner when I get back! XOXO

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