Chiapas Highlands

After a few days of R & R in Palenque I set out to ride over the Chiapas Highlands to San Cristobal de las Casas, about 160 kms on the map. How hard could it be?

14 Deciembre, Martes                      

Got up early, ate a good breakfast: steak, frijoles, café con leche and then off I rode. It was drizzling as I rode past a sign that proclaimed ‘Ocosingo 118 kms’. The first 10 kms were paved and easy: smooth, long hills and no corners. Then I started to rise. Into the clouds that obscured my route, into a sudden shift in the weather. It got cool. The road crested and then a steep down-grade.

I started down and sped up. My brakes aren’t very effective I’m afraid and I went faster and faster. My hat flew off. So long sombrero. By now I was hurtling down the road, powerless to slow down at all. Two thin tires carrying 200 lbs of luggage. I went wide around the sharp curves. If I met a car, rock or loose gravel I’d be dead. Zoom! Got to the bottom and Whew! I was fried.

Walked up the next hill and the down grade wasn’t too bad. The next one was long and steep going up, which I don’t mind at all. Pushing the bike is easier on the legs. I could do that all day. But the downgrade. All I could see was a steep hill with a curve off into the mist. Hmm, I thought.

Looked at my watch and knew the only bus of the day would be along soon. So I waited a bit and then started walking. A few minutes later, just as I passed km 22, the bus came by. Threw the bike up and hopped on. Strangely enough, at the bottom of the hill there was a sharp curve and then some nasty potholes. If I’d have ridden down there I’d have killed myself for sure. For 15 pesos I went 20 kms, well past the end of the tar. First bus I rode on down here with my bike. What a trip.

Unloaded my bike where the bus turned around, Puente Tulija, way out in the sticks. The road is terrible. Holes, rocks, sometimes up to a foot of mud. Still raining. Off I ride. The road isn’t too bad, I can ride through. Sometimes I walk and push. But it’s OK on the downgrades. I don’t build up any speed. Much safer.

As 5.30 rolled around I started to look for a nice spot to camp. But the jungle was soaked through and through. Just as I was about to resign myself to a wet, long night I rode over a concrete bridge. Lo and behold, underneath, right above the cascade, was a nice, flat and, most importantly, dry shelf. Great. Camped out in style.

Kilometres       30                    To Date            800

15 Deciembre, Miercoles                              

Whew, what a day. 9 kms in 4 hours. Woke up warm and dry in my little shelf. After a leisurely breakfast of jugo de toranja, galletas and a tangerine, I packed my bike and slogged off.

All uphill in ankle deep mud. Yech. However, there was only a light mist instead of rain. Took me 2 hours to go 5 kms to the Agua Azul turnoff. It was a steep four km descent to the cascades. I could only ride a few minutes and had to walk my bike for about 90% of the road. Mud, rocks and curvas peligrosas made for a tough journey.

I could hear the falls a long ways away, roaring in the background. The roar grew louder with each hairpin curve. Then I was there. Lots of water cascading over a series of limestone cliffs. Muy bonito. The whole valley is gorgeous, so green and alive. Chiapas is a nice state.

Spent the afternoon sitting and reading and writing at the comedor where I had a steak and beer dinner. Slept there also.

16 Deciembre, Jueves                                   

Woke up early after a good 12 hour night’s sleep. I had my work cut out for me. I packed my bike, making sure all my lines were very tight. Then, after a gracias to the lady of the café, I set to and started my ascent from the valley. Into the mist I pushed. I left at 7.30.

The trip up wasn’t nearly as bad as the trip down. I was up by nine. I wasn’t sure when the bus came, so I unloaded the bike and sat down in the rain, prepared for a long wait. Five minutes later the bus slid in. Threw my bike on top and climbed in. 15 pesos to Cruces Ocosingo, 35 kms down the road. A spectacular ride. Cascades, mountains and cliffs. The proverbial drop off into the mist on one side and cliffs on the other. Crowded bus.

Got let off 20 kms this side of Ocosingo in the pouring rain. So I packed up and rode off. I figured I’d flag a bus as it drove by. I wasn’t about to sit in a deluge.

Five minutes later, as I was walking up a mudslide thinly disguised as a road, a Jeep 4×4 jobber stopped and the driver asked if I wanted a ride to San Cristobal. ‘Si’ I said. Loaded my stuff in the back and off we went.

Drove by Ocosingo. It lies in a beautiful, pine-fringed valley. I’ll have to return in better weather, looks intriguing. Drove on, some good road, some bad road but all superb scenery. Finally hit the Panamericana. Then to San Cristobal. My friend left me off at the zocolo. Excellent.

I made it. Rode to a little hotel that I’d heard about, checked in. Ahhh. Two thick wool blankets on the bed.

In San Cristobal they have steam baths. So after a short relaxation I rode down and steamed all the grime of the road off. Felt soooo good. Then to a good restaurant for a nice meal. Ahh, the creature comforts. Went back to my room and relaxed. Nice to be in San Cristobal. Just from riding around today it looks intriguing. A zillion shops and stores. Many churches and old buildings. Manana will be fun.

Kilometers       6                                  to date             815

Spent a few days in San Cristobal de las Casas, copped a quarter pound of Oxacan Spears and headed south along the paved Panamericana towards the border with Guatemala,

Published by Phil Parent

Phil Parent is a geographer residing in Queenstown New Zealand.

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