Trip Start May 01, 2006
25Trip End Ongoing
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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
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
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"
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
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.