Ocosingo! Ocosingo! Ocosingo! The taxi drivers come at you from all directions, trying to convince you to accept their transportation offer. It makes me feel like a t-shirt launched into the arena at sporting events, as spectators compete for the quadruple XL t-shirt that no one ends up wearing anyway. Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine. Except, at the end of the day, I get to choose which cab I take, while the t-shirt doesn’t get a say in the matter.
After declaring my allegiance to one of the many cab drivers heading to Ocosingo, we waited for another fifteen minutes to fill the final spot in the taxi. We rounded out our Starting Five and embarked on the nearly two hour journey from San Cristobal de las Casas to Ocosingo. The windy mountain roads made me thankful that I was able to snag shotgun, despite offering the coveted seat to my compadres, which they had humbly declined. The young boy in the backseat with his father probably wished he had accepted. I guess hindsight is 20-20. We stopped three times on the two hour drive. Twice to let the young boy out to throw up on the side of the road. The cab driver called our third and final timeout for a bathroom break. He came to an abrupt stop, hopped out of the car, quickly followed by the three amigos in the backseat. Initially, I had no idea why we had stopped, until I realized that they were taking care of business on the side of the road. Before I had time to join the party, everyone rushed back to the car and we were on the road again. I had missed a major bonding opportunity and was killing our team chemistry. The rest of the trip went smoothly, despite the speedbumps every few hundred yards, and we arrived in Ocosingo around lunchtime.
Ocosingo isn’t on the Gringo Trail, but I stopped there en route to Palenque, since it’s on the way and provides transportation to the Mayan ruins of Tonina. The locals in Ocosingo were the friendliest I had met thus far. For the first time on my trip, I felt like the majority of the people that I walked by or interacted with were happy to see me. It wasn’t that people were rude elsewhere, but rather that the locals in Ocosingo were particularly welcoming. They shook my hand, asked me where I was from, and wished me well during my time in their homeland. And for the many indigenous people in Chiapas, this has been their home for many centuries.
I met two Mexican twenty-somethings, Alberto and Jose, at the Tonina ruins, who befriended me and helped me navigate the Colectivo schedule from Ocosingo to Palenque. They invited me to join them for dinner before my departure to Palenque. As we feasted on tacos, my new friends explained to me that some people in Mexico are xenophobic. Though I hadn’t experienced much of this firsthand, I suggested that the xenophobia likely stems from a lack of trust and fear of the unknown. I also informed Alberto and Jose that we have the same issue in my country, even amongst citizens of my country, which have been amplified and brought to the surface recently. This conversation made me even more thankful that my new friends had embraced me and had been so hospitable. It also serves as an important reminder for me to continue to smile and engage amiably with locals, with respect for their culture, history, and way of life. That is my responsibility as a visitor in their country. And for the locals that haven’t interacted with many people from the United States, it’s even more important for me to serve as an ambassador and set a positive example.
After a long day of travel and sightseeing, I finally arrived in the jungle city of Palenque from Ocosingo. The jungle in Palenque sits at a much lower elevation and is much more humid then the cool mountain air in San Cristobal. It was nighttime and I hadn’t arranged any accommodations, so I settled for a Posada close to where the van driver dropped me off. One of the staff members at the Posada showed me to my room, and as he opened the door, I was hit by a humidity wave that nearly knocked me off of my feet. I asked if the air conditioning worked and, much to my dismay, he shook his head, and pointed to the fan. Not much of a consolation. He tried to soften the disappointment by assuring me that I have two beds to choose from. I told him the bed on the right would be just fine…
It’s natural to want to frame our social media lives with only the positives, but with anything, including this trip, there are highs and lows. My stay at this Posada was a bit of a low. But, alas, I survived and stayed at the nearby Jungle Palace in the jungle village of El Panchan the next night (though palace is a generous term for the accommodations). Started from Posada now I’m here…in my jungalow (jungle bungalow…?).
Other recent highlights include: beautiful churches in San Cristobal, hippie/psychedelic orchid greenhouses, hippie commune disguised as a hostel, hanging out with cool people at free mojito night at other non-hippie hostel, touring Sumidero Canyon, local girls asking to take a picture with me, girl asking if anyone has ever told me that I look like Orlando Bloom (this might be the highlight of my trip so far), meeting other travelers at hostels, meeting locals along the way, Mayan ruins at Tonina and Palenque, interesting modes of transportation (bus, cab, and crowded colectivos), watching the Euro Cup final during a rainy afternoon in San Cristobal with my Danish friend, Anders, huge & crazy everything market in San Cristobal, playing freestyle ping-pong with my Australian mate, Jay, touring the jungle of Palenque, sleeping in my jungalow, exploring the incredible Roberto Barrios Cascades, and, of course, more taco eating.