By By John Harvey Williams | Expats in Mexico
In my last blog, I shared part one of my recent trip from Oaxaca to Reynosa, Tamaulipas by way of Chiapas and Veracruz. Today, we move on to one of Mexico’s treasures: San Cristóbal de las Casas, before heading north.
San Cristóbal is one of many magical places in Mexico. Though it is only about 45-minutes from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the climate changes dramatically to a very cool and pleasant highland atmosphere, sometimes shrouded in fog, which gives the town and its surroundings a sense of mystery.
This visit was my first since 1989. Things have changed considerably. Though unbeknownst to me when I was there in 1989, the surrounding country was organizing for what would become known as the Zapatista peasant uprising of 1994. After 35 years of living full time in Mexico and traveling by vehicle all over the country, there is never a road trip that does not revel to me something marvelous that I have never had the pleasure of enjoying before. This trip was no exception.
I had the opportunity for the first time to visit the Museo Na Bolom. It is a must visit for anyone visiting San Cristóbal de las Casa. The museo was founded by Frans Blom and Gertrude Duby in 1950 and was their home as well as a foundation for the promotion of Chiapan indigenous culture and language.
After two nights in San Cristóbal we headed off to the very important classic Maya site of Palenque in northern Chiapas. On the way, we enjoyed another wonderful surprise, Toniná. Toniná was also a very important classic Maya site. It was almost constantly at war with its neighbor Palenque. I was very much aware of Toniná from my many years of study of Mesoamerican art history and have always admired their superb bas relief sculpture in stone. I had never before visited the site, however, and was unaware that we would be passing close by. The architecture is spectacular and there is a very interesting site museum filled with superb examples of the Toniná sculptural style, which is renowned not only for its superb bas relief work, but also rare Mesoamerican portrait sculpture in the round depicting their rulers in baroquely elaborate regalia.
Later in the day we arrived at the Misol Ha waterfall park and spent the night in a quite rustic, but pleasant, cabin after a very enjoyable swim in the natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall. The next day it was off to Palenque where we stayed at the wonderful and luxurious Chan Ka Ruinas hotel.
Upon arrival at the archeological site, following a very enjoyable visit to the site museum, we were immediately approached by an enthusiastic Lakandon youth offering to be our guide to the site. We took him up on his offer and did in fact see some trails through the jungle that I doubt we would have seen without him.
After a very enjoyable night at the Chan Ka we were off on a beautiful seven-hour drive to Puerto de Veracruz. Veracruz has always been one of my favorite Mexican states, not only due to its spectacular natural and quite diverse natural beauty exemplified by the Olmec wet lands and Tuxtla Mountains in the south, tropical highlands surrounding Xapala and beautiful and tranquil pristine gulf coast beaches of the Costa Esmeralda, but also because of its wonderfully friendly people known as Jarochos.
Puerto de Veracruz is infused with Mexican history. It is near where Cortez landed to begin his conquest of the Aztec Empire and the site of innumerable dramatic events in the history of Mexico, including the attempt by Spain to reconquer Mexico after independence, the arrival of Maximilian and Carlota on May 28, 1864 to begin their very tragic Mexican reign, the short-lived occupation by the U.S. Navy in 1914 and the presence of Constitutionalist and future Mexican President Venustiano Carranzo during the Mexican Revolution.
Today, the port is booming with development, especially the construction of luxury residential high rises in nearby Boca del Rio. We enjoyed a badly needed three-night rest at the newly renovated Hotel Emporio where we relaxed in a very luxurious room on the corner of the sixth floor overlooking the Plaza de Venustiano Carranza and the city center.
A beautiful new museum has recently been dedicated to the history of the Mexican Navy from pre-Columbian times to the present. One very interesting display at the museum was the history of Mexico’s entry into World War II on the side of the Allies on May 28, 1942 as a result of the sinking by a German submarine of a Mexican oil tanker, the Portrero del Llano, which was on its way to deliver oil to the U.S.
From Veracruz we were off to visit my partner Lucio’s wonderful family in the highlands of the Veracruz Huasteca region. They live in a very small village within the municipality of Castillo de Teayo, which in pre-Columbian days was an important center of Totonac culture and controlled by the Aztec’s at the time of Cortez’s arrival. Lucio’s grandmother speaks Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
This area is very picturesque and dedicated almost entirely to the cultivation of oranges. Wherever you are in Mexico it is highly likely that the oranges you buy at the market are from this area, which encompasses hundreds and hundreds of square kilometers of orange groves.
Following a very pleasant visit with the family we departed for the port of Tampico where we stayed at a comfortable hotel overlooking the Plaza de las Armas and the Cathedral. Tampico is a very pleasant place, also with a very interesting history. There is a traditional cantina on the main square called La Sevillana that serves wonderful seafood. We have made it a regular stop when visiting Tampico. Among the many interesting attractions in Tampico is the old Profirian customs house which is now a museum, and the bronze statue of Humphrey Bogart in the main square where the first scene of the “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” was filmed.
Mexico is always full of surprises. Keep enjoying this country and its marvelous people. Hasta la proxima.