I slept more than I thought I would on the bus – eventually, stretched over two seats with a spare blanket cushioning the armrest in the middle, full of Dramamine and over-the-counter sleep goo – but I still felt delirious and out of touch the whole first day in San Cristobal. Sound would rush in and out or my head would suddenly drop and I’d realise I’d been on the verge of drifting off.
The town of San Cristobal is beautiful – probably the prettiest town we visited. It also has the biggest split between the rich and the poor. The town was gorgeous, and decked out for tourists with fine shops and great restaurants. But the native people of Chiapas are very, very poor, and lined the streets begging or selling embroidery or crafts.
(I wanted to say ‘handcrafts’ there, which is Ivan’s word. Everyone has handcrafts, and we can do “many varied (va-RYE-d) activities (ak-TEE-va-ties)”.)
I couldn’t get past it. Women try to push woven friendship bracelets into your hands while their babies sleep strapped to their backs, dirty toddlers drifting along behind them. Old men with one arm or no legs shake cups in your face in the restaurants. A stooped old lady shoved her stump between my face and my latte inside one café, and I was so grossed out – and so upset at BEING grossed out – that I gave her all my change and ran.
One night, as it hammered with rain, I watched a woman matter-of-factly cutting up plastic bags to spread over her sleeping children.
Ivan took Brenda and I out to a canyon where we rode in a boat down the river. Gators sunned themselves on the banks and vultures circled high on the cliffs above, pelicans perching in the trees and monkeys hiding out of sight. It was beautiful, but the river was choked with trash and coke bottles, to the degree that a few times we had to steer around islands of tangled rubbish.