Journey Home: San Cristóbal de las Casas

One of the places we knew we wanted to revisit on our drive back north to the U.S. was the Chiapas, Mexico city of San Cristóbal de las Casas.

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Still closer to San Jose, Costa Rica than we are to Austin, Texas. Mexico is big. But we’ve already crossed 4 out of 5 borders, which is the hard part.

It’s a lovely, walkable, Spanish colonial town with a friendly vibe, fresh mountain air and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. (Click on a photo to see slideshow/full captions.)

You should totally visit, but it is worth checking with your accommodations about whether there are any festivals going on in the neighborhood during your stay. This place likes to party. Which is cool, and we’re generally fairly intrepid travelers who can pop a Tylenol PM, put in our earplugs and fugheddaboutit.

… but our AirBnB was in the middle of Barrio de los Mexicanos, which hosts a festival for the Virgin of the Assumption in August each year, during which revelers set off bottle rockets, ring church bells and play music all night long. Bad timing on our part. The dogs were scared of the fireworks, and for the first couple nights none of us got much sleep. The second morning, a marching band woke us up at 4:30 a.m.

Despite the bombs and the minor sleep deprivation, we did manage to get out and explore the city a bit. I was working during the days, but at night we’d walk along the cobblestone peatones (pedestrian streets) and stop in at one of lots of wonderful restaurants. In which, evidently, Andy takes more photos of me than I do of him. Forgive the food montage.

Andy visited the Museo del los Altos de Chiapas one day, and I did manage to get to a yoga class at Casa Luz. (Yoga in Spanish is a great way to review body-part vocab!) On Saturday the sun came out and we and the dogs hoofed it up to the church at Cerro de Guadelupe, where we got a great view of the city. Afterward we stumbled upon a parade (part of the ongoing festival), with floats, horses, and dancers wearing dresses over innertubes along with terrifying masks. It was an incredible sight.

The next day, we set out early for the 10-hour drive to Oaxaca, where we are now. More on that in the next installment!

Bocas Del Toro, Panama

A couple weeks ago, to celebrate Andy’s birthday, we took an eight-day trip to Bocas Del Toro, Panama. (We’re so close — easier to take a 45-minute flight now than a whole day of travel at some point in the future, if ever.)

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The province of Bocas Del Toro consists of the mainland and nine main islands. We stayed on the largest, in the capital of Bocas Town. Many of the clapboard buildings on stilts in Bocas Town were built by the United Fruit Company (Chiquita Banana) in the early 20th century.

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The dock at Raw, one of our favorite restaurants in Bocas. The smaller Isla Carenero is just across the water.

 

Our B&B, called Stay, was right at the end of the runway, literally a one-minute walk to the tiny airport. The Dutch hosts, Marcha and Chris, are lovely people. One night they brought out wine and snacks and Andy brought out his fiddle, and we were all having such a nice evening that we forgot to go to dinner.

On our first full day, we took an all-day boat trip. We saw dolphins and sloths, went snorkeling, and spent a couple hours lounging, swimming and hiking on the remote protected island of Zapatilla. Not gonna lie; it was pretty magical.

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The beach at Cayo Zapatilla. Some of the loveliest water to swim in I’ve ever encountered.

During the week, I worked from the B&B, and Andy went to Spanish language school at Habla Ya. He learned a lot, and on his last day there he and his classmates took a field trip to the old people’s home. Andy played his fiddle for the residents, and some of the ladies got up and danced. I’m sad to have missed it.

Working from Bocas was challenging at times — at one point, the internet went down for hours due to a damaged undersea cable. I missed an important call, and there was nothing I could do to alert my team what was going on. No one else on the island batted an eye, but internet trouble stresses me out. I feel so fortunate to be working remotely in these incredible places, so the least I can do is be as effective an employee abroad as I am at home, to prove I can make this work. And when that falls through, ugh, I feel like I’m letting everyone down. Fortunately, interruptions are less frequent in Costa Rica. And we have Google Fiber to look forward to when we get home to Austin! *cue choir of angels singing*

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Happy hour at Buena Vista

One night as we were enjoying dinner and drinks on the water at Buena Vista, one of our favorite restaurants in Bocas, a tropical storm picked up. The restaurant is open-air and Andy was getting a little wet sitting next to the edge, so we moved to a more inside table. And then the storm really picked up.

Andy barely had time to finish his burger before the roof started leaking. Napkins were flying; the bar staff scrambled to cover food stores and stow flower arrangements. We crowded in the somewhat more dry entrance area with the other patrons and some tourists who had ducked in to get out of the storm. We were stuck. There were no taxis to be found, so we just chatted up the other prisoners and accepted the free drinks our server brought us because she felt bad.

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waiting for the rain to stop, watching the rising flood

Finally the rain abated and we were tired of waiting for a cab, so we decided to walk the 10 or so blocks back to our B&B. That’s when we learned the town had flooded pretty badly. We had no choice but to wade through it; in some places, the water was up to our knees. Shopkeepers were trying in vain to keep the water from entering their shops; residents were saying it was the worst they’d ever seen. Poor Marcha and Chris had been bailing water out of their shower and off their porch for an hour, they’d gone into our room and put our things up on the bed just in case.

The next day, everyone carried on as usual. In Costa Rica, they say pura vida. In Panama, it’s tranquilo. Does everywhere have some version of hakuna matata? What’s North America’s, then? It’s all good?

After school and class in the evenings, we explored town and sometimes the surrounding islands. Water taxis are $1-5 one way for the closer islands; we enjoyed boating to The Blue Coconut on Isla Solarte and to Isla Carenero for a beach hike and a drink at Bibi’s.

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View from the deck at Bibi’s on the Beach, Isla Carenero. Recommended, in case you can’t tell.

 

One night we got lucky and stumbled on surprisingly badass latin music at another good restaurant, El Ultimo Refugio. The friendly bandleader dug how into it we were, and started giving shoutouts to Texas in every song. At one point some guy come in with his family and grabbed the cowbell. Oh no, we thought. But seriously? This guy was an incredibly musical cowbell player. So rhythmic and dynamic. His cowbell was on point.

Toward the end of our stay we walked to the Bocas Brewery, just north of town. We chatted with Wally, the friendly American owner, and had a couple drinks with some fried pickles (I guess we’re missing Texas!) on the scenic back patio.

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Andy in his element at Bocas Brewery

On our last full day, we took a water taxi to Isla Bastimientos and camped out all day under a thatch umbrella at Palmar on Red Frog Beach, only breaking for the occasional dip on the ocean or trip to the bar. It was dope.

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Andy in his new Panama hat at Red Frog Beach, Isla Bastimientos. (Did you know Panama hats are actually from Ecuador? We did not.)

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Red Frog Beach

Now that we’ve crossed Panama off our list, El Salvador is the only country in Central America we haven’t visited.

We’re getting close to heading home — only five more weeks in Costa Rica. Andy is on tour in California at the moment, and I’ll be in Boston for work for a bit next month. This time will fly by. Over Fourth of July weekend we plan to visit the Osa Peninsula, the last item on our Costa Rica bucket list. Then we begin our long journey home.