Around this time of year, I’m normally knee-deep in travel planning. I’m a pretty savvy budget-traveler, but this year I have some majorly expensive projects on the go, and can’t swing my usual August trip. I typically spend the last few weeks of the summer in Chiapas (southern Mexico) which is dear to my heart. I spend half the time in Palenque, staying in a hippie jungle compound and waking up with howler monkeys, and the other half in my favourite place in the world, San Cristobal, a colonial mountain town. I was just reminded of this story I posted to facebook on my last trip there, and thought I’d share.
“If we survive this, it’ll make a pretty good story.”
We left San Cristobal on a bus at 8:30 a.m. for the one hour ride to the Tuxtla airport. About 20 minutes in, there was a group of Federales. We couldn’t take the normal route, they said, as there’s an indigenous uprising, and they’ve created a blockade. “What if we tried anyways?” asked the driver. “They might let you walk through, and meet another vehicle on the other side” agreed the head Federale. “Why not?” said the dozen of us on the bus. “We’ve got flights to catch.” A beautiful drive up the mountain led us to a backlog of maybe 20 vehicles. “No pase” said the other drivers. “I’ll check” said our intrepid conductor. He walks away. Comes back in 20 minutes, “We can walk across, but I can’t get a hold of a bus from Tuxtla to come get you yet.” We all get off the bus, unload our bags and trek through a mountain. It’s a Zapatista uprising, and we’re right in the middle of it. I see a hand-lettered sign…the Chamulan villagers are demanding drinkable water. There is whispered concern that the large group of indigenous protesters will insist we go back, but no, one of them removes one of the small boulders they’ve used to block the way, so we can roll our suitcases through. Now we walk a few kilometres down the mountain road, but there are no buses available to get us to Tuxtla. After about 40 minutes, we fight our way into an eight-passenger van with 20 others, and sit on our suitcases for the ride to town. Once we’re past another group of police, we’re able to get out of the van and flag down a taxi to the airport. The airport is so far out of town, that I briefly consider that we may be being kidnapped, but no, that’d be too much for one day. We make it to baggage check 7 minutes before the gates close. And now we wait another hour for our plane.
So here we sit in this tiny airport, thankful for our drivers, a group of peaceful protesters, the fact that I thought “I should pee before I leave this bus,” a beautiful mountain to walk through, no rain and drinkable water. And a good story.
*The Indigenous Maya, like most of the indigenous peoples throughout the world are marginalized, often without clean drinking water, and have less opportunities to receive an education. A grassroots organization that I support is Schools for Chiapas, who work to educate indigenous children, empower women, plant food forests and create employment opportunities in Chiapas.