A Bus Schedule Update

Between San Cristóbal de las Casas and Palenque, México
November 2016

I’ve got a bone to pick with Lonely Planet about the bus information in its Mexico guide. Most of the 15 five-hour bus trips it lists as traveling from San Cristóbal de las Casas to Palenque actually take closer to eight hours. The route goes via Tuxtla Gutierrez and Villahermosa. Oddly, the bus I took never stopped in Villahermosa.

It was a grueling ride on a road strewn with potholes. At one point in a suburb of Villahermosa, the bus went several blocks out of its way to avoid a broad sinkhole that stretched across the main highway.

On the upside, I finally did see Rocky Balboa — Sylvester Stallone is a much better actor when dubbed in Spanish — and a Hungarian movie, Fehér Isten (White God), about a girl and her missing dog, which turns out terribly bloody.

Tzotzil Villages

San Juan Chamula and San Lorenzo Zinacantán, México
November 2016

The funereal and the festive. Welcome to the Tzotzil Maya villages of Chiapas.

Cover photo: Ruined church, village cemetery, San Juan Chamula

A Village Church

San Juan Chamula, México
November 2016

Picture, if you will, a village church. From the outside, a white edifice with an arched doorway adorned by colorful tiles depicting flowers. As 12 o’clock strikes, three men in the bell tower ring the bells by hand. The count has little to do with the hour — they go well past 12 rings, punctuated by the sound of firecrackers going off nearby commemorating a local festival. After a few minutes, though, the bells and explosions fall silent.

All this extraversion belies what awaits inside. Crossing the threshold, the interior is dark and crowded. Only candles illuminate the room. There is pine straw strewn across the white tile floor that gives off the scent of a forest.

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Spirit Bomb

San Cristóbal de las Casas, México
November 2016

Night falls on the Plaza 31 de Marzo to the sound of landing bombs — more specifically, very hard bass. The usual weekend street performers have been usurped by skaters doing tricks on makeshift metal ramps, while a crowd looks on. You can barely hear the onlookers cheer and applaud, though, nor understand how the skaters can keep their equilibrium amid the din. The bass is so strong, so spine-crushing.

Crossing over to the vast square at the foot of the cathedral, I see the light show immediately and the crowd already bouncing in front of the stage. This is an EDM show. For the uninitiated, this is hard techno, played at an ear-splitting volume and churning from one song to another without reprieve. It is music that is more felt than heard.

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Sábado Espíritu and the Jaguar House

San Cristóbal de las Casas, México
November 2016

The old churchyard is just a front for the daily textile market. You hardly can see the buildings for all the merchants’ stalls set up on the hill between the Templo Santo Domingo and the more ancient Templo de la Caridad. It is easy to get lost in row after row of stalls selling local crafts, woven goods, shoes, jewelry, figurines, and food.

The former convent attached to the Santo Domingo church houses a good museum depicting the conversion of the Maya, with a separate room of Mayan and other Mesoamerican artifacts. Even better is the excellent Mayan textile museum, which tells the stories of the local village crafts, some of which are sold outside in the market, and of the people and their traditions. If people are what they wear, then the highland Maya are adorned in white accented by simple reds, blues, and yellows.

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The News About Castro (Missed Opportunities)

“Well-informed sources in Miami announced the imminent fall of Fidel Castro, it was only a matter of hours.” — Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadows

Before there was a Plan B, there was another plan. No, not Plan A. Call it Plan B-1.

Plan A was Argentina, but that fell through. I hurriedly researched various locations: Iceland and Mexico were chief among the contenders. But one country was at the top of my list: Cuba.

For more than five decades, Americans have been banned from traveling to Cuba. The U.S. has maintained an economic embargo established during the Cold War soon after Fidel Castro took power. Only a small number of people who had obtained U.S. government permission could travel there.

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Ticking Clocks

The question comes up often: Why don’t I do this full time? Travel. Write about travel. Make it my job, my life.

I envy some of my fellow bloggers who have put careers on hold, sold their belongings, and set off around the world. The guy who writes the voluminous how-to guides, the Australian midwife, the intrepid budget travelers, all those couples on open-ended global honeymoons. It’s what I should have done at their age. In my twenties, I wanted to live abroad. Sometimes I regret that I didn’t. Sometimes.

The thing is I have a career. I’m a writer, an editor, a journalist. I work on magazines. I’ve worked for a long time to become good at my vocation. I endured crap jobs that paid so little I lived on rice and macaroni & cheese. I moved from city to city following the next job.

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