Friday, August 11, 2006

San Cristobal del las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

First off, I think I may have failed to mention to the people on my list that we have a website established to follow the trip. We are uploading pictures and such and is being updated by our friend Alex. The website is The pictures are under the Captains Log, but check the rest out because it is nicely done. Now, onward...

Chiapas is the easternmost state in Mexico before the border with Guatemala. In 1994, an indiginous separatist movement officially known as the EZLN (and popularly known as the Zapatistas) was launched by locals of Indian descent. The movement was based out of the remote highland and jungle regions in the northeast portion of the state. However, the city of San Cristobal de las Casas to the west become important to the movement. Tourists from around the world flocked to the city in order to feel as one with the movement, and possibly to catch a glimpse of Zapatista's popular spokesperson, Subcommandante Marcos. The tourist presence helped give the Zapatistas a heightened image in global pop culture. The Zapatistas and the Mexican authorities have largely been at a péacful standstill for the past years, but Zapatista images still are visible throught the city, and twice I have heard Subcommandante Marcos name mentioned in passing. The city itself is a beautiful colonial city, set 5000 feet above the lush regions that run off to the Pacific coast to the south. We arrived here yesterday after a two-day long journey from Oaxaca. And there is pizza. Real pizza.

The unrest in Oaxaca did not end with the vehicle barracades at the city borders. The majority of the once-beautiful city buildings have been defaced with grafitti, all aimed at bringing about the end of the extreme right-wing administration headed by governor Ulysses Ruiz. Many of the streets are impassable, as makeshift barracades have been constructed out of highway rail guard, trucks, or giant chunks of stone torn out of the streets themselves. The few streets that are still navigable are backed up like Chicago rush hour. The city limit barracades are still intact, and people come and go by means of an abandoned railway line.

In this mess we tried to find our friends. After spending a rainy night in a hotel, we finally got in contact with Gina's friend Tony, who offered us a place to stay at his house. We had wanted to try and get to a market in order to settle up the bet that I had lost because my bike had been the first to go down. But daylight got the best of us, and we went over to Tony's place and met his parents. They had abandoned the house while it was being renovated, but said we could stay there for as long as we liked. While we were talking in the kitchen, my bike took a second dive, as my kickstand sunk into the ground in front of their house. Both of the parents had looks of extreme horror and ran over to the bike. Tom and I both knew the bike would be fine. I started laughing and Tom snapped a picture while singing "We're going to the market! We're going to the market!" I had lost the bet for a second time and I knew Tom would show no mercy. Tony's place was a good place to stay. However, Tom and I were forced to cram into a small full-size bed together. This would have been fine except that the only blanket on the bed was about 4 feet wide. This led to war which left both of us freezing most of the night. Tom finally won by outsmarting me and retrieving another blanket from a different room. I was so cold. From then on, Tony's dad kept a close eye on both of us, clearly convinced that we were doing drugs up in that room or engaging in unspeakable acts of ...well... you get the idea.

We spent the next day doing maintenance on the bikes, and went over to our friend Hugo's place for a BBQ. The night before Tom had jokingly told his mother that I was a vegetarian, so she went out of her way to make me a pepper and corn dish while everyone else ate meatloaf. I felt like an ass. The next morning, Tom and I headed for Chiapas. On the way out of town we finally managed to find a market. While sipping a couple smoothies in plastic bags, Tom perused the goods for an acceptable penalty. The bet had been that whichever bike fell down first, the other person got to pick something out of the market to lash to that person's bike that cost less than $10. It didn't take Tom very long. His eyes got missle lock on a shop selling piñatas. "Is that Dora the Explorer?" he asked. Dora the Explorer is a childrens cross-cultural cartoon heroine. The lady at the shop replied that it was indeed Dora and that she cost $5.50. My hear sunk as Tom's hand moved with lightening speed for his wallet. Laughter followed me out of the market as I lugged the four-foor tall pink Dora over to my bike. I strapped her on as Tom was bent over with laughter. Off we went.

As it turns out, Dora the Explorer is not really cut out for motorcycle travel. The first problem came as I tried to squeeze my bike through a gap between a truck and a sign. The bike made it through, but Dora took a serious shot to the temple, breaking her kneck. Luckily Dora's innards included a rope spinal cord, which kept her head more or less where it is supposed to be. But Dora would have a long road to recovery before she would run and play with the other kids. Outside of Oaxaca, the road twists and turns through the mountiains. Every few miles, crosses are planted at the side of the road to show where someone drove too drunk, too tired, or too fast, and paid the piper by taking the big plunge over the side. The turns were rough on Dora as well. Banking the motorcycle caused Dora's right foot to drag, and after 50 miles her foot came completely off. Dora also was not wearing proper motorcycling clothes, and the high winds began to rip her skin off piece by piece. Finally Dora's head was lost for good, either to a speed bump or a gust of wind from a semi. A sick little párt inside me laughed everytime I saw the look of horror that crossed a passer-bys face as they caught a glimpse of the carnage hanging off the rear of my bike.

The two day drive from Oaxaca to San Cristobal here in Chiapas took us through an amazing route. The road has been a never ending curve, and the KLRs have handled it beautifully. The vegetation has shifted from the more arid style that surrounds Oaxaca to a contunous lush green cover in Chiapas,. The road dives in and out of the clouds, with amazing views opening up in all directions. Tom is fun to drive with as well, as we both have a similar cautious-yet-aggressive style of driving. I trust him to do a good job leading the way whether we are blasting past semis on the highway, skipping lines of cars at topes (speed bumps), or slithering through jumbled traffic in the cities. The few differences in our driving probably stem from the fact that I think Tom puts more faith in the bike and tires than I do, whereas I think I put more faith in gravity than he does. So far he has been right, and maybe gravity is just a scientific theory that needs more study. But I doubt it.

Tomorrow we will be crossing the border into Guatemala. Crime is more widespread on the far side of the line, so we will have to be more careful about everything we do. But the bikes are holding up well after the first 3200+ miles, so hopefully they will get us through without incident. Anyway, hope all is well with everyone and check out if you want for pictures.


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