When I said we were going to eat our way through Mexico, I wasn’t joking. We drove from Mexico City down to San Cristobal de Las Casas, but despite Google’s promise that it would take 7-8 hours, it was 16 hour drive, including, of course, breaking my car and blowing out the tire. We stopped at the first posada we could find, a few blocks from the main plaza, took hot showers and headed straight to bed. The next morning we slept in and then headed out to see the town.
I had been here in 2008, but my perspective has entirely changed. Back then I had only traveled to Europe and a little bit of Mexico, so there was so much I didn’t notice on my first visit.
The fresh fruit juice stands…
The same flags that hang in my neighborhood in Bucerias…
The hot chocolate, which I honestly don’t think was even on my radar. Here’s the menu, they let you order it three different ways: Clásico (sweet), Semimargo (semi-sweet), or Más Kakao (very little sugar). Then you can choose a flavor like cardamom, mocca (chocolate and coffee), three seeds (coffee, chocolate and cardamon), mayan-style (seven different chiles), passionfruit, vanilla, cinnamon or mint. I asked the waitress what was best…
She said, “cardamomo” so that’s what I got, a semi-sweet hot chocolate with cardamon. SO GOOD.
This whole trip is centered around eating Mexican food, so while there are tons of restaurants, there’s also a big expat community which has shaped some of the offerings. There are more cafes than I remembered, or maybe I didn’t notice last time, but I wanted something different. We walked around a few blocks and ended up at a fixed price lunch inside a hotel for about $5 for three courses. They had a nice atrium and a little fountain near our table. It was really cute.
The salsa here was so sweet. It was very different from what I’ve experienced so far.
My main goal was to eat the caldo tlalpeño which I had never seen before. It’s sort of like a tortilla soup, in theory but with vegetables.
Then I had the milanesa de res con ensalda verde, which was good and cooked very much the way I remember it in Guatemala.
Not shown, was the final dish, choco flan — and despite years of not liking flan, I now love it. Mexico has worn me down. My name is Christine, and I love flan. There I said it. I’ve had it three times on this trip and each time I was like “yum!” and then I’d tell my husband about it and he’s like “gross!” which I think means he’s still an American but I have to turn in my passport at the local embassy.
I have zero memory of the church below, or in fact, any churches in this town. This return trip has really made me realize how oblivious I was as a traveler back then. All I remember is that main square and drinking at the Crocodile bar. Oh and the kids. The indigenous families who try to sell you bracelets and trinkets. This time it was wooden giraffes and the same shawls I didn’t buy last time. Back then I was trying to take pictures of the kids, to get that “National Geographic” shot, but my stance on that has changed over time, and I feel like — for me — it’s exploitative. So I don’t shoot locals unless I can do it without them noticing, but largely I skip that, out of respect. That’s not to say other photographers are being disrespectful necessarily, it’s just feels that way for me, when I’m doing it, and my feelings on it are complicated.
We worked for a few hours in a wine bar, where if you buy a glass of wine (for about $3 for the Mexican Malbec, which was delicious), they give you a free tapa. A really big tapa. And then they just give you popcorn and other little snacks every hour or so “on the house”.
By the time it gets dark, the town switches from tourist mode to drinking mode. This, I remember. I was traveling on my own, and sitting in a bar, talking to some other traveler, having a drink, well, it seemed like the best way to pass the time. I still agree.
There’s a lot of music in town, here are some local musicians after a gig.
And I switched from drinking Pacifico to my new favorite Bohemia.
We just spent one day in the town, and it all felt rushed, yet at the same time, I feel like I probably saw more than I did five years ago. Some things never change, and below is the little gazebo where I drank coffee five years ago and did a terrible job of saying no to children selling things (I would say, “Oh hello, oh, um, no I don’t want to buy that but thank you!” which is practically an opening offer. I might as well have said, “Yes, I will definitely buy that, but first ask me six more times! I’m a tourist and I don’t have any personal boundaries.”). Interestingly I had no problem on this trip, I would just say no and move on, no one asked a second time.
At the end of the night, in a town filled with bars, there’s just one thing to do: order a classic margarita with a chile salt rim and listen to live music. The alcohol fortifies you from the cold, it gets chilly at 6,000 ft. Lovely.
PS: Shout out to Glenn, sorry I missed you! I didn’t get your twitter message until the next day, and I missed you by about an hour. I probably passed you on the street for all I know. Small world. I also met a photographer who showed me his portfolio and it had a picture of Wes Nations from JohnnyVagabond.com — who I met in Thailand. Small, small crazy world.