Quiet Marina Chiapas -- just Groovy and two sport fishing boats.
New thatch roofed palapa
restaurant under construction.
"Combi" or "Colectivo" van.
New train tracks will take cargo inland.
Puerto Madero market
Backwards tricycles take people around town.
We get a ride.
This little girl thought Mark's face was
worthy of a photo.
Sunrise in Marina Chiapas
Andrés catches a Sierra (Spanish Mackerel)
"Greyhound" type buses for inland travel.
Twisting mountain roads
We drove through countless busy little towns.
There were lots of military
In town, the streets are for strolling.
We had to get through this!
Swinging footbridges connected the towns on
both sides of the river.
Our road clings to the mountainsides.
Watermelon stalls fill one mountain peak.
Scenic views on our route.
A landscaped sidewalk connects many towns.
We share the road with
travelers of all kinds.
We pull alongside a horse and cart.
High school kids try to flag down the bus.
We stop dead in our tracks while a
transformer is replaced.
We discover San Cristóbal is full of life…and nightlife.
Puerto Chiapas to San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico
March, 2012 - We were very happy to return to Mexico after
visiting Antigua, Guatemala. Groovy was waiting patiently for us
in the brand new Marina Chiapas, and the construction around
the marina was still on-going.
A new palapa building that will soon house a marina bar and
restaurant was getting its final rafters, and Groovy was one of just
three boats that had taken up residence at the still-not-officially-
One day we took a crowded combi van to the big
nearby city of Tapachula and made the half-hour
trip scrunched up against a young family with a
toddler. The husband excitedly told us all about
the improvements coming to this small seaside
community of Puerto Chiapas. Besides the new
tourist marina, which is the pet project of ten of
Tapachula's captains of industry, the waterfront
is rapidly metamorphosing.
Once home only to a large shrimping fleet,
Puerto Chiapas has cleaned up the filthy shrimping process and now
has a cruise ship dock, a growing malecón, and plans to become a
major cargo shipping port with new train tracks that head to the inland
industrial hubs. This young dad was so thrilled by the prospects for his
small town that he nearly jumped out of the seat of the van as he
described the growth and what it would mean to his community. He
was most excited that the endless construction all around us was
supported by Mexico's President Calderón and the political power base
in Mexico City. His feelings of hope and anticipation for his hometown
and his young family were palpable.
That same joy filled the air in Puerto Madero, the small
town that fronts the harbor of Puerto Chiapas around
the corner from the new marina. This is a gritty small
town that bustles with color and noise, pungent smells
and spontaneous street music. It isn't a pretty town --
dust fills the air and, at first glance, it is dirty, decrepit
and run down -- but it hums with an inner vitality.
Smiles were abundant and all the streets were filled with crazy three-
wheeled backward tricycles that shuttled people from place to place.
Some of these trikes are made from the back half of a bicycle and
others are made from the back half of a motorbike, but all have a
skinny seat up front that is shaded by a flopping awning.
Passengers hop into the front seat and get a bumpy ride.
Mark couldn't resist trying one of these carnival
rides, and all of a sudden I was squeezing in next
to him and asking the driver to take us around
town. "Where?" he asked. "Oh, just up and down
the streets so we can look around!"
He was more than happy to oblige, and for 15 minutes or so he drove us up and
down all the narrow streets, waving to his friends while we giggled like little kids in
the front street. What fun!
Whole families would pile into these things, mom, dad and three kids hanging on;
old ladies would settle their shopping bags on the seat next to them; and
businessmen would spread out, relax, and fill the whole seat. In back, the driver
would pedal or roll on the throttle, and the little jalopy would jiggle and rattle
This is a tourist town for locals from Tapachula, the big city of half a million people
about 15 miles away, but it is far from an international destination. All the tourists
are weekenders and day-trippers looking for a few hours on the waterfront in a
small seaside village. Gringos are a rarity. So we got a great laugh when a little
girl pointed her camera at Mark -- from the safety of her seat next to her mom in
a combi van -- and took Mark's picture. We definitely stood out in this crowd.
Music played everywhere, mostly from
stereo speakers, but we rounded one
corner to see three men playing a
xylophone. They were totally in sync with
each other as each took one section of the
xylophone, and the music was lighthearted and fun. I later discovered that this long
legged xylophone was called a Marimba, an instrument that is prized and beloved
throughout the state of Chiapas. This one on the streets of Puerto Madero turned out to
be one of the first of many that we would see both here and further inland in the state in
the coming weeks.
to blow hard out in the gulf,
preventing other cruising
boats from crossing to
Marina Chiapas from
Huatulco, although many
boats were waiting on the
other side to make the jump. This meant life was very quiet for us
at night, as the two of us and Andrés, the captain on the sport
fishing boat parked a few slips away from us, were the only three
people actually living in the marina.
There was still no power or water at the marina, and soon we had
to make water to refill Groovy's water tanks. We invited Andrés to
accompany us on our excursion into the bay, and he grabbed his fishing pole and happily came along. There's no equivalent
Spanish expression for "A bad day spent fishing is better than a good day at work," but he knew exactly what we meant. He had
already finished his boat work for the day, so off we went.
It turned out to be a fantastic day fishing. After tooling around in the bay for just
a little while, Andrés caught a beautiful dinner-sized Sierra (Spanish Mackerel).
Back at the dock he cleaned it expertly and I made us all a dinner from it. We
had lots of fun chatting away in broken Spanish and broken English over a
gringo style meal, comparing notes on some of the crazy expressions that fill
both languages. Where we'll call a nice person a peach, Mexicans call a loved
one a mango, and where we sing "Happy birthday to you" they'll use the same
music and sing "You're a green toad." Seems funny, but it fits the music
perfectly, far better than the long words for "happy birthday:" "feliz cumpleaños."
In the afternoons of these
pleasant days at the
marina, the cabin of the
boat was hitting 90
degrees, no matter how
we shaded the deck or
cockpit. So we decided it
was time to head inland
into the cool mountains
We caught a combi van to Tapachula, and from
there took a large Greyhound style bus 200
miles inland to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a
quaint colonial town perched high up in the
What a ride that turned out to be. We had
front row seats to an incredible show.
If an interstate existed, the trip would be just
a few hours. But not so on this route. The
tiny, twisting, single lane mountain road
crosses two mountain ranges. "Topes," or
speed bumps, are planted along these roads
every few miles and traffic slows to a crawl as
each vehicle spares its shocks and creeps
over the steep bump. Every ten miles or so a
town crowds the road into a chaotic traffic jam.
And in between all this mayhem, the military bring the whole road to a
halt at strategically placed military checkpoints. At several of these
checkpoints we were all herded off the bus to oversee the inspection of
our luggage in the baggage compartment.
I counted seven bus
stops, seven military
checkpoints, and an
infinite number of
"topes." All this
would have made us absolutely crazy with
impatience, but the spectacular scenery
and lively towns we passed through made
it all worthwhile, despite averaging 22
mph for the entire trip.
For many miles we paralleled a river that
had communities living on both banks.
Little swinging footbridges connected the
towns on either side.
At the summit of one mountain we saw endless watermelon stalls, and for many miles
every town was connected by a bright red brick sidewalk trimmed with large, brightly
colored flowering bushes that flanked the highway.
This highway is traveled by vehicles of all kinds, from our huge bus to
cars and trucks to horseback riders to walkers pushing carts. Uniformed
high school kids stood in the middle of the road trying to raise funds by
waving cars down. The bus driver hung out the window and bantered
with them as we drove by.
When we pulled into one
town the bus had to
negotiate some very tight
turns. We were just
commenting to each about
how hard it must be to drive
a huge bus on these tiny city
streets when the bus turned
a corner and suddenly faced
a complete roadblock. Some electrical workers were replacing a transformer
on a power pole, and their truck blocked the entire road. Oh well! Our bus
parked in the middle of the road, and we all piled out onto the street yet again.
This time rather than watching men with machine guns rummage through our
luggage, we all descended on the local convenience store to get snacks and
drinks. What a hoot! We hung around in the street munching chips and
getting to know each other while we waited for the workers to complete the
transformer installation. At long last they came down off the power pole,
moved their truck out of the way, and we continued on.
We enjoyed this drive a lot. The last two
towns, Comitán and Teopisca, looked so
appealing we were tempted to hop out
and stay a while. But San Cristóbal was
our destination, and at last, after nine
hours of climbing and descending, we
finally pulled into the charming city set at
bags off at the
dashing out into
the night we
found little kids
and parents, teens, tourists,
lovers and old folks all filling
the streets. The air was brisk
and everyone was in jackets.
A chocolatier lured us into his
shop with the most delicious
fresh chocolate treats, and a
few doors down the mellow
tones of saxophone blues drew
us into the middle of a photographer's opening exhibition at an art gallery.
The wine flowed, the hot tamales were passed around, and the crowd spilled out of the gallery
and down the block. We shivered in the bitter mountain air, but the spirit of this town was warm
and inviting. It was easy to settle into San Cristóbal, and we ended up staying for 10 days.
Find Puerto Chiapas and San Cristóbal on Mexico Maps.