Crossing into Mexico was one of the stranger borders, since you leave Guatemalan customs in La Mesilla and then need to take a taxi 3 km to Ciudad Cuauhtemoc to officially enter Mexico; which country are you in for those 3 kms? No man’s land I guess. I went from the border town another 3 hrs to San Cristobal de Las Casas, a fairytale colonial city that actually made me think I was in Disneyland a couple of times. It’s located in Chiapas, a state full of mountains, ecotourism, Mayan history and an unexpectedly cool climate. The backdrop of the cobblestone downtown is Cerro de la Santa Cruz, a small mountain with steps leading all the way to the top where you can find a church with the most beautiful view of the city, and the biggest, more patriotic Mexican Flag you could ever imagine. There are 31 states in Mexico, and it’s a huge country, but funnily enough its often not included in talk of North America or Central America, so it’s just kind of in its own league. Respectfully so, though, since just the state of Chiapas has over 100 languages spoken by all the different indigenous groups, a testament to the countries rich and complicated culture. Nothing was really that different for the first couple of hours driving into Mexico, but it slowly became obvious I was somewhere new when the roads stayed consistently safe, American tourists were numerous, people didn’t speak just Spanish (usually English or some indigenous dialect), and I saw a Wal-Mart supercenter in the middle of the countryside. I also thought it was awesome that there are actual places in Mexico called Tabasco, Jalisco, and Tequila, and that stray chihuahua’s replaced the non-descript, middle-sized dogs I had gotten accustomed to.
I couchsurfed some more in Guatemala and Mexico and the host I had in San Cristobal de las Casas was a young guy who worked for the Ministry of tourism, lived right downtown, and ran a bar on the main nightlife street with friends of his. He was such an awesome host, and as it turns out, we ended up having a mutual friend in Oregon since he went on a Rotary exchange in highschool to Eugene and met Clare, my former Semester at Sea (fall 2006) classmate Ryan’s girlfriend who I stay with when visiting Oregon. Small world.
I didn’t spent much time in Chiapas since I was mostly taking the huge detour inland to see Palenque before making my way back to the Caribbean coast. I crossed back into Belize before going north again, through Chotumel and straight into Tulum, a big backpackers. There’s a beautiful coast line there, speckled sparcely with resorts, a mayan site, and lots of cenotes. I stayed at the Weary Traveler hostel, which was cheap and included a mediocre breakfast, but offered a stiff atmosphere and an overly complicated way of managing its guests – if you’re there soon, I highly suggest taking a bus or a cab out to the coast and paying $5 to sleep in a hammock on the beach.
I spent a few days in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, both overridden with middle aged or retired cruise ship passengers, mostly Americans or Quebecois Canadians. They all port off just for a day, with the assumed goal of shopping til they drop, buying all sorts of Mexican souvenirs, cheap alcohol, and overpriced jewelry. It was fun to hear all the Spanglish exchanges, since every tourist just knew a little Spanish, and most of the vendors knew enough English, but together they spoke thi hilarious Spanglish to negotiate just the right price.
I ended my trip in Mexico in resort-filled Cancun. Ending a two month backpacking trip in central America there was a little ironic, very expensive, but totally practical for flight purposes. I was spoiled by being put up in an all-inclusive resort for 2 nights, a strange thing to do alone but almost even more luxurious that way, and spent most of my time writing, drinking specialty coffees with Kahlua, and swimming in the ocean or the pool, depending on how salty I wanted to be. It was a prefect middle point between Central America and Miami, where I flew to after leaving, slowly readjusting me to American culture, more spoken English, and the gradual drop in temperature and loss of sunlight hours I felt while heading North.