<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> RV Travel San Cristobal de Las Casas
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Tepantepec Oaxaca -- San Cristobal de Las Casas CHIAPAS

By, David Eidell (03/2003)

The signed highway turnoff onto Mex 190 (The Pan American Highway) occurs at Tepantepec, Oaxaca. This is about an hour's drive or so south of Tehuantepec. This section of Mexico can be incredibly windy. I referred to the "Wunderground.com" weather map of the USA to make sure that there wasn't a high pressure area over Texas. If I were driving a high-profile rig and discovered a Texas high-pressure area, I would hole-up in Salina Cruz or Tehuantepec, and then depart at dawn. Winter North winds can reach a hundred miles per hour blowing left to right.

Mex 190 winds its way up into the hills and then drops down into several micro valleys. The scenery here is fabulous -- rugged mountains, picturesque ranchos, teams of oxen leading plows crisscrossing tiny cornfields. It is here that you shall encounter a highway sign stating "Termina Oaxaca Principia Chiapas" (End of Oaxaca, start of Chiapas). Soon the traffic will start to thicken as you approach the Capital city of Chiapas, Tuxtla Gutierrez. The capital city is like all Mexican cities choked with cars, buses, trucks and taxis. Take the bypass "perifierico" south of the city. Watch for signs to "Chiapa de Corzo" the next town down the line. While on the periferico you will see signs for the "Zoo". Tuxtla's zoo is one of the best in Mexico and it features many of the wild animals of Chiapas including a Jaguar (the kind with four-paw-drive and a spotty paint job).

Tuxtla Gutierrez is at two thousand feet elevation while a scant twenty miles East (as the crow flies) San Cristobal de Las Casas lies at 7,000 feet. The drive is fifty miles. I chose the brand-new toll road section that bypasses thirteen miles of belching trucks and several dozen speed bumps (topes). The next thirty seven miles are made on the conventional two lane Mex 190 which was in surprisingly good shape. The long and steep grade from Tuxtla Gutierrez is not the place to haul excess waste water, fresh water or even gasoline. Leave perhaps twelve to fifteen gallons in the tank of a real greedy large gasoline RV. On the section of switchbacks beyond the end of the toll road you will thank your lucky stars for minimum weight. Very large gasoline motorhomes may have a problem getting underway again if they have to stop on this section of roadway. Remember this fact when stuffing full every cubby hole while parked at home in your driveway. My one-ton un-turbocharged diesel with camper had it's accelerator pedal close to the floorboard in first gear rounding some of those switchbacks. Newer diesels, especially those with more than three gears and turbocharged will climb the grade like a mountain goat on steroids. My 9,000 pound camper never came close to stalling out on the grade, but I sure would have worried if the rig was say 5,000 pounds fatter or had been towing even a small trailer. Long ago I had learned to buy souvenirs on the way back to the states and not on the way down.

As I mentioned earlier in another letter, the chances of getting "ambushed" by highway robbers is absurdly low during daylight hours. About as likely as getting waylaid on Interstate 80 to Reno Nevada. The Mexican Army is stationed in Chiapas about twenty thousand strong, and then there are the Mexican Marines. There haven't been any robberies since the army moved in several yeara ago so ignore any prattle to the contrary. In Tuxtla Gutierrez, I poured over several recent Mexican newspapers which revealed that there was "trouble" in an out of the way town by the name of Chenalho. A decades-old feud (reminiscent of the Hatfields & McCoys) has resurfaced over the rights to a hand dug water well. Tempers flared and shots were fired. Like I stated earlier, these Maya indians are not drugstore caricatures but proud, cranky native Mexicans.

Miles and miles later, tall pines start to be seen alongside cornfields some of which are alsolutely vertical. The sultry heat of the valley far below gives way to dry and crisp air perfumed by the smell of pine needles and wood smoke. Homes are made of rough cut lumber including bark, topped by pink and black fired roofing tiles. The wealthy in Beverly Hills would pay an architech millions to recreate such quaintness on an L.A. mansion. But this is Chiapas and one must expect the sudden appearance of a tiny Tzotzil indian man coasting down the grade in a Hong-Kong pedicab like cycle in which the cargo is several hundred pounds of firewood. Pedestrians are dressed in traditional hand loomed garb revealing which village they belong to. Little boys chase bleating goats along the shoulder. And all the while majestic mountain peaks frame these scenes. Tired or not, one cannot help but smile and think that "this is going to be a major destination".

San Cristobal de Las Casas used to be part of Guatemala and it has retained much exotic flavor. Yes there are brand-new Ford and Chevrolet automobile agencies on the southern bypass ring road, and yes that was a Domino's Pizza motorbike that passed you at seventy on the shoulder. If you stand at a real distance and gaze upon "San Cristobal" (pronounced "sawn cree STOW bal") only the quaint chapels and majestic cathedral stand out (churchs have priests while cathedrals have Bishops). But venture into "downtown" and you will find the grandaddy of all rabbit-warren-like shops and cafes and restaurants and stores, and jazz bars and libraries, internet cafes, expresso and cappuccino bars, and (there's way too much to list). And there is the central "zocalo" the town square. This doesn't even begin to describe the gigantic indian "mercado" a few blocks North. The Mercado is the real enchilada, hundreds of tiny open air stalls selling everything from radishes to breathtaking works of art. I want to commission the creation of a XX - size wool sweater for me. Double thickness to allow protection in even summertime San Francisco (California) fog and wind.

The RV park that I am in is to me, my favorite spot in Mexico. Tall pines surround the place acting as a barricade, carpeted with grass, studded by tall pines, and it has a huge fireplace, and full hookups. All for three dollars sixty cents a day and it is as secure as a bug in a rug. This morning I ordered up a full cargo (one burro's worth) of mixed pine and oak firewood for an evening's fire. Daytime highs are in the mid to upper seventies and it chills into the fifties or even forties at night. Absolutely bone dry humidity, and absolutely no flies or mosquitoes. At night the sound of gentle breezes sighing in the pine boughs makes a perfectly acceptable accoustical narcotic to replace the sound of crashing surf.

¡Yo Llego! (I Have Arrived!)