Leaving Hierve el Agua we continued towards the Chiapas region, the road is still windy, temps are getting hotter which means earlier starts.  Distances are given on the gps but times tend to vary greatly and remain somewhat unpredictable and double the calculated time.   We have come to love the ioverlander app, thanks to travellers before us, many spots are pegged out as places of interest, explore, shop, refill propane, laundry, warnings and camp.  Where we can, we have added in places we’ve discovered.   Our next stop was also found on the app as a great place to camp for the night.  Ojo del Agua, a fresh water spring, that’s been captured and turned into swimming pools, surrounded with giant trees that are home for many birds.  The water temperature is cool and refreshing, the sandy bottom has lots of small fish who aren’t shy to nibble at your skin, it would be ok if they just stuck to my feet, like one of those fish tank pedicures offered in some spas, but they seem to like taking the occasional bite elsewhere too. 

By sundown the place is deserted, just one other couple there in their van with Kentucky plates and a dozen stray dogs roaming around.   A quiet night, at first light we’re back into the water, enjoying having it all to ourselves. Just us and hundreds of birds singing the dawn chorus. 

Hitting the road by 9am we set course for Santo Cristobal.   The rest of the day was a bit of a disaster and resulted in a raging argument and not a lot of fun.  I’ll spare you the details, but it didn’t involve going down to a ‘must see’ waterfall on our list that I had forgotten about or a trip up a mile high walled canyon.  We arrived into Santo Cristobal late and made our way through the tight narrow streets with low slung wires just as it was getting dark.  Our campground was a welcome sight, time for a cold beer and a shower to wash the day away.  

The next morning after breakfast, in calmer waters, we set off on foot to explore the old town.  Making our way along the narrow streets with brightly painted buildings to the town square, people were busy setting up market stalls for the day. Driving across the country we have noticed the differences in the people, the facial features and bone structure. Here in Santo Cristobal we have noticed another distinct change.  Predominantly Mayan, in traditional dress, they are much smaller in statue, stronger facial features, similar to those carved into Mayan rock ruins from thousands of years ago. Their hair is strong, long and black, Mayan is their first language and Spanish is second, making it even harder to communicate.

We found another market, I love the buzzing atmosphere, the sounds & smells from the cooking stalls and pretty displays of goods for sale at real prices and watching people go about their day. The Fruit and veg section had all the produce carefully stacked and displayed. The meat & poultry section had live and slaughtered animals for sale, nothing is wasted.  The kids each brought mangoes and nuts, speaking with the vendors and making the transaction.  The people appeared to be reserved and not too friendly, but after taking the time to speak with them, a smile usually breaks through.

Driving through the mountains on the smaller back roads, we get to see and experience much more.   Passing through village after village at such slow speeds we were able to have a passing glance into the lives of the people who live here. Small road side homes with basic furnishings are often set up sell items too, just trying to make a living. The roads are too steep for gas stations, so petrol and diesel is sold from 10L containers in front of homes. Some homes have electricity for light, but no washing machines or tv and all laundry is done by hand and hung to dry.

The youth are also industrious and creative, coming around one corner we were ‘held up’ by a group of 10 yr olds holding a rope across the road forcing us to stop, as soon as we do they climb up the side of the truck holding up their goods for sale, bags of sugar cane, fried plantains, baked sweet breads, anything and everything. We purchased a couple of items from them after haggling down the highway robbery prices.

Topes are the other reason for slow progress, I swear there is one every hundred meters, today the children counted 252 topes driven over, I think this region has the highest tope count in the entire country! Road repairs are another thing, coming around one corner we could see where the road had fallen away, instead of repairing, they simply paint a white line around it and hope that no one topples down the 20ft drop!

We noticed how reliant the people are on the land for farming, corn is grown everywhere, cooking is done on wood fired adobe brick ovens that have to be fed with wood, no 6 burner gas top – electric cookers here.  Corn tortillas vegetables, rice and beans are the staples.  The children don’t seem to go to school, they are working in the fields with their parents or out stacking firewood.  It appears as though daily life is all about survival, I wonder how much of their way of life remains the same from hundreds of years ago…  

We pointed out to the kids how older children look after the younger children, even though the older ones are only 7 or 8 themselves. Fully responsible, with their baby brother or sister strapped to their back, they go about their duties. I can’t imagine kids back home taking on such responsibilities, perhaps we need to teach & delegate more to our kids?  I can’t even get mine to volunteer to do the dishes each night. Though they do make their own beds and me a morning cuppa tea. Little boys of 5yrs with machetes in their hands, not a parent in sight, and he had all his fingers! Also how physically strong the people are of all ages, carrying large, heavy bundles of wood on their backs aided with a head strap. Makes me realize just how easy our own lives have become.

Over the mountains and down into the Yucatan we go…