Juchitan to Chiapa de Corzo

As we plied the last section of coast traveling mortheast from Puerto Escondido along the Golfo De Tehuantepec we began to feel the wind picking up as we went. Turning inland just before Salina Cruz one enters the toll road that can be taken all the way to Tapachula near the Guatemalan border. We, however, were planning to enter farther north on the border at La Mesilla, with stopovers in Juchitan and Chiapa de Corzo near Tuxtla Gutierrez. As we made this turn we left the protection of the coast range, and could feel the wind pick up significantly. Within a couple of kilometers you reach the toll booth. As is our custom, I paid both tolls, but they always wave Karen through first so that only one bike is crossing the treadle at a time. The toll booths always have a small rest area with bathrooms and Karen will pull over to wait for me as I put my change away and put my gloves back on. When I looked up, I could see Karen tipped over in the rest area. I sped over to where she was to help her up and immediately realized what had happened. The wind was gusting so strong that when she stopped the bike it blew her right over. After finding a spot where my bike could lean heavily against the wind, we righted her bike and, checking to see that she was alright, we continued on our way to Juchitan. Unfortunately this little spill was a harbinger of things to come.

Juchitan, pronounced hootchy-tahn, produces huipiles and dresses employing bright colored yarn on a black field, opting for the brightest synthetic dyes rather than the more muted natural dyes. What is also interesting is that you will find both men and women in this traditional dress in that Juchitan has a large openly accepted community of cross-dressing gay men known as muxes.

With barely a week left before Christmas, Juchitan's market was overflowing with these wooden frames for making Nativity scenes and the flowers and moss used to decorate them.

Here a woman finishes one of them in the traditional style covering the roof with a variety of mosses and decorating the sides with a variety of leaves and flowers.

This Juchi Mama was relieved not to be suffering any ill effects from her fall earlier in the day.

As market activity heated up, sidewalk food vendors spilled in to the street adjacent to the plaza.

With the typical Mexican market overflowing with the most incredible produce it was unusual to find this mobile greengrocer on the street near our hotel.

Our plan was to skip San Cristobal de las Casas because of our disapointment with it the last time we were through here in 2009. On that occasion our only memorable experience was our visit to San Lorenzo Zincantan. We had visited San Cristobal in 1996 just two years after the Zapatista uprising. Unfortunately in 2009 we found that the hope for change remained unfullfilled, and that the revolution had been entirely co-opted by an element eager to capitalize on it. There was even a bar / disco named Revolution, and the whole place was like a theme park praying on young visitors who were buying the illusion of revolution. Even nearby Chamula, famed for its small church and the practice of religious syncretism, was an complete and utter disappointment. The churchyard was now fenced off, and they were chargeing admission to even go near. We tried to take a picture from the gate and they wanted to charge us even for that. When we had visited on motorcycles in 1996, we were surrounded by school children and treated like rock stars. In 2009 they literally through garbage at us because they didn't like where we had parked our bikes. It was just too sad. We had heard about a spectacular canyon called Sumidero near the town of Chiapa de Corzo just out side of Chiapas' state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez. Unfortuneately that too had developed some of the more negative aspects of places whose economies are driven by tourism. The small inconvenience of dealing with the occasional tourist trap behavior was nothing though to the story of how we got here from Juchitan.

I mentioned the wind incident the day before. Well when we got to Juchitan we asked about the wind and we were told it was the worst late in the day and at night, but that this was the "windy season". Now we had been through here before and we knew the next town of any size on our route was La Ventosa--which translates to The Windy. La Ventosa sits at the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and is home to Mexico's largest electric wind farm. The winds build as they travel hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico and build further still as they cross the Sierras and mix with the weather systems of the Pacific. All night long from our hotel room we could hear the trees across the street shaking from the wind. We thought that if we got out early enough we might miss the worst of it. About thirty miles out of La Ventosa we came across a backup of mostly tractor trailers about four miles long. We had been riding the yellow line at about a 20 degree lean, and occasionally a gust would push us all the way to the shoulder. When we got to the backup we skirted the stopped trucks weaving between them and using the shoulders on both sides of the road. After a few miles we came to a viaduct where four tractor trailers had tried to take refuge on what was a two-lane blacktop. it left a center lane barely wide enough for a car to squeak through. This was being used by what little traffic from both directions were able to manipulate and bull their way through the mess.

After clearing the viaduct and navigating another mile or so of backup we came to the main cause of all the problems. An oncoming tractor-trailer had got blown all the way across the highway and into the ditch on our side of the road. Two huge tow trucks were busy trying to get it out of the ditch. When we had reached the front of the line of backed up trucks we made the mistake of going all the way out to the front of the line where we were both instantly blown over. We were able to get my bike up, but I was unable to let go of it to get Karen's up. I had to stand there pushing the bike against the kickstand with all of my strength. Some drivers helped Karen get up, but she too was wrestling just keeping the bike upright. After what felt like an eternity the tow trucks finally got the ditched trailer up, and with the oncoming cars finally blocking the wind we were able to get on the bikes. I made it about 10 feet before getting blown over again. We got the bike back up and were able to turn them perpendicular to the road facing them staight into the wind, but we could still not get on them. At this point I was getting genuinely concerned. Finally a Federal police car came by and told us if we could make it ten kilometers we would be out of the worst of it. He flagged town a bus and told the driver to go slow and ride along side of us blocking the wind. With a little help we got started but my bike by this time must have gotten flooded and when I shifted into fourth gear I couldn't accelerate. I down shifted to third thinking it had been better there, but that was like hitting the brakes and Karen hit my saddlebag from behind with her knee and we both went down. I want to point out that this was the day after the Mayan prediction for the end of the world. Don't think that that hadn't entered my mind. Well finally another cop and another flagged down truck to block the wind and we were able to get rolling. As soon as we were able to get up to speed we were able to leave the protection of the truck and carry on. As long as the bikes were rolling we were fine, it was only when they were stopped that we couldn't fight the force of the wind. And as promised, after about 10 kilometers the wind was much less threatening.

We mentioned avoiding the tourism that had left a bad taste about San Cristobal, but it turned out that althogh Chiapa de Corzo was a beautiful town it too had some of the seamier elements of a tourist trap. This mostly extended to restaurants that served only high priced buffets, or others that practiced faulty math. And all but the smallest places had bad service and added in tips--something we encoutered nowhere else in the whole country.

Beside the main draw of the area the Sumidero Canyon, the town is very popular as an event location. Both the quinceañera on the left and this bride from a party staying at are hotel stopped to pose willingly.

Also while there I figured I could lift my spirits by giving my riding boots the first shine they had received since I purchased them in 2008.

We were up a little early for our boat ride, and it was nice to walk around the plaza without the normal crowds. The town was covered with a light mist when we snapped this ceiba tree thought to be the oldest in Mexico. You can see how the sidewalk had to be re-engineered to alleviate the damage from the roots.

The combination of haze and solitude made the town a much more welcoming place. The shot above is in front of the church and below at the muelle where the canyon tours leave.

The boats begin their day at 8:00 am but they don't leave until they have at least 15 people, so it was 8:45 before we got on our way. We road through a sea of ducks before entering the mouth of the canyon.

What courses through the Cañon Sumidero is basically a reservoir created when the Rio Grijalva was dammed for a hydro-electric project. The canyon walls rise more than 700 meters and at this hour of the morning the sunlight doesn't reach the river, and on this day parts of the top portion remained shrouded. The round trip, though, is a little more than two hours and as you progress more is revealed

In the early going its the river crocs and spider monkeys that are the stars of the show. Unfortunately at the distance the monkeys are and the frenetic pace at which they put on their display of acrobatic prowess, they become little more than a blur on the photographic image.

At one point the canyon wall soars a full thousand meters above the water (above), and the boatman eagerly points out caves and brings the craft closer to things like this grotto to the Virgin below.

The money-shot, so to speak, of the whole voyage is this formation known for obvious reasons as the Christmas tree. At more than 300 meters tall, it is formed by a trickle of water that exits the canyon wall during the rainy season. It consists of a sort of calcification like a stalactite that gets covered by a sort of mossy lichen and wisps of fern like coverings. The closer you get to it, the more amazing it seems. Note that in the photo at right above there is a tiny rectangular marquee in the center right above the water line. To illustrate scale, that is the portion represented in the photo below after the boat was drawn closer

The driver then maneuvers the boat to where we are almost directly below the overhanging structure, and you begin to realize how many different elements of nature have come together to complete this marvel. Unlike the descripion of the latest video game for PlayStation, the word awesome may be appropriately used here.