Traveling Makes You Think: road between Palenque and San Cristobal

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It is evening. I am alone. Beside me a glass of wine keeps me company and sadly reminds me that a nice red sometimes helps to reflect. And so one thinks, one thinks about a trip to Mexico just ended, one thinks of a life that passes undaunted without giving you time to stop and enjoy the individual days.

By now every day is a struggle against time; commitments on the right, commitments on the left….

Wake up early, go to work, a fleeting break for refreshments, more work and then home…shower, fix up the house, do a couple of cuddles also fleeting to the dogs, make dinner…and then what? Is this perhaps called living? I don’t know.

Then again, we are part of a system and for better or worse we have to adapt.

I take another sip of wine….

Wine, what a sight. I wonder, “will those little children ever drink, once they become boys, a drop of good wine as I am doing now?” I don’t know. I find that I don’t know too many things tonight.

strada palenque san cristobal de las casas

strada palenque san cristobal de las casas

The road between Palenque and San Cristobal leaves several questions, many unanswered questions. It’s not in my wheelhouse to get excited easily, yet this road leads you to reflection, leads you to write an introspective post.

190 kilometers! It is 190 kilometers that separate Palenque from San Cristobal. 190 very long kilometers that take you from 0 to the 2100 meters of one of the most beautiful towns in Chiapas.

It is the first bit between Palenque and Agua Azul Falls that excites and shocks you.

Children sitting by the side of the road, that’s what you’ll find. And as you are passing by, these children a few years of age will stand up stretching a thin rope from one end of the road to the other. They will urge you to stop.

You, armed with your accelerator, could sneer at the weak roadblock. Instead, no, you stop and cordially decline all offers. These are not demands for money; these children are just trying to sell you their produce, simple corn cobs or various fruits.

You are not in time to engage the second one that the scene repeats itself.

nother Spartan checkpoint, another innocent attempt at a sale.

This is how it is and this is how it goes, I take note.

strada palenque san cristobal de las casas

I become even more aware of it during the visit to Agua Azul Falls. An entire village built on the banks of the river that feeds the falls and lives off the proceeds from the tourism that comes to visit Agua Azul.

Myriads of local children. Can’t tell if there are more children or tourists. In the middle of the cobblestone street and colorful stalls they run. No, they don’t have a latest generation smartphone, no, they don’t play pokemon go although in the jungle they can probably find rare pokemon. No, none of this.

In clothes a few sizes bigger than them they chase each other like they used to do. They have nothing more than those dated garments. Yet they laugh, they joke, they have fun with nothing, simply with what nature gives them.

You see them launching themselves with lianas into the cool waters of the Agua Azul River.

Throwing themselves into the river? Yes, I mean playing in the river. Does no one film them for these arduous games at the limits of decency? No, no one. Are they happy? Yes, definitely yes.

agua azul acqua

Far be it from me to think that the probably superficial attitude of their parents is correct. I only emphasize how good it would sometimes be to break out of conventions, structures and socially induced decisions.

On the one hand the black, on the other the white. Many times it would be smart to dwell on the gray.

The road between Palenque and San Cristobal is also a small inner journey. Not everyone, in my opinion, can grasp it. It’s kind of like those paintings full of colored dots that all look the same but only by concentrating can you find the hidden image. That’s it, I would say. Not everyone is able to grasp these aspects. It is also true that maybe not everyone is interested in them.

But if you are a traveler, and not a tourist, the impact with the local culture is one of the most important points of the trip.

On this road, it happens that the checkpoint is “mobile.” Two little girls are not stretching a rope across the entire roadway, no, one is sitting in the middle of the road, the other on the edge. The rope is only enough for one lane. You arrive with your car, they stand up and as if in a kind of nostalgic limbo occupy the single lane. You stop and are intimidated by their big eyes. They are selling corn, chips or fruit, that is, the few products the land gives them.

Unfortunately, you don’t buy, you can’t, you should with everyone. So you reciprocate with a cheap but sincere smile and further on you stop at a small roadside stall. Mother, son and two daughters, one of whom is very small. They are barbecuing corn on the cob seasoned with lime and salt. The son with extreme reverence helps his mother with the preparation; the older girl tends the younger one.

I can imagine the scene in Italy. I don’t see it possible.

strada palenque san cristobal de las casas

I have proof of this a few days after my return to the Belpaese. In one of the many adsl activations that happen to me during the week I find a family with a little boy just over ten years old. Just about the age of the cob child. Arrogantly he says he wants WiFi and while I work he keeps playing with the playstation simulating every scene of the game on television. He’s a few pounds heavier than he should be; they probably don’t cook as much corn on the cob at McDonald’s. But that is not the problem, if anything, the problem is attitude and I, fresh from the Mexican return, mentally make a quick comparison between the two children; between the corn on the cob child and the playstation child.

What do I answer myself?

I don’t know. For the umpteenth time in this post I agree that I don’t have an answer. Perhaps these are bigger and more challenging arguments than they seem; there are so many things to put on the scales. Surely this little boy could use a few days in the wilderness away from the comforts that seem due when in fact they are a great blessing.

…the wine is running out, the evening is drawing to a close, and some fatigue is beginning to set in….

Let me tell you one last anecdote.

From Ocosingo onward there are no more roadblocks. The road ends in San Cristobal, a town I would dare to call the pearl of Chiapas. Here the journey leads to another reflection. The city is beautiful but the poverty of certain people is evident.

You take a seat in a café on the plaza to have breakfast. There are set-price menus and the costs are negligible for what they bring you. The table is decked out with food that you know full well you won’t finish, you regret it but you know there is nothing you can do about it.

There are many 7/8 year olds walking around the main square trying to sell small handicrafts. They ask you to buy something and to the polite denial they respond with a glance at food. They are hungry, they hide it well but they are hungry. Then they ask you for a measly piece of bread. You want to give it to them but you know very well that after 5 minutes the situation would become untenable. You deny again.

After yet another refusal, one of them sits on the steps of the porch. He stares into the void and tinkers with a small wooden object. He looks sad, indeed he is.

Unfortunately, fate is malignant. At his side poses a family more affluent than his own. A fit little girl and her mom. A smile, a hug and a snap. The child looks at them with tender envy. You see it and understand how often we take for granted certain things that are actually the most important things. You take a slice of bread, butter it, coat it with jam and hand it to him. His eyes become twice as big. He is happy and gives thanks.

A little later it is a lady’s turn. Her awkward movements emphasize her now elderly age. Wobbly she approaches the table, you’ve finished your breakfast. No more bread, no more butter, only a little jam remains. You hand her three small boxes, she is happy as if you had given her who knows what.

Another gentleman, whose youth is now a thing of the past, walks slowly under the porches and scans with interest the tables with the remnants of other people’s breakfasts. Our former breakfast neighbors have left the table almost completely set. The elderly man notices but out of respect does not touch anything despite the fact that it is obvious that he is looking for food. He walks over to a table and grabs only a small box of unfinished honey. You think it will be his small but intense breakfast and instead no, he hides it in a hole in a pillar for when he needs it.

…the wine is finished, no longer accompanying me in the writing of this article.

A glance at the empty glass, another at the clock, it’s getting late.

Chiapas gave me these moments that make you reflect both during the trip and back home, moments that make you mature and grow.

Every trip gives these food for thought, you just have to know how to seize them.

I conclude with an aphorism that underscores this concept.

A destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” Henry Miller.


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