Jan 10-15, 2014

I reach Paraiso, and to my dismay, this is another non-beach town. It’s a lot cleaner and friendlier than Alvarado, and as I circle the outskirts trying to find a beach, all I find is swamp lands that look like they gave birth to Malaria. If there are beaches, they’re beyond the palm trees and there’s no roads going there.

I turn back into town, find a hotel and go out in the town square for dinner. At night, from my balcony, I hear mariachis. Their HQ is set up across the road, on the corner. They’re all outside, and they’re belting out heart-breaking trumpets and guitars to a blue pickup idling in front of the house. I ask the hotel receptionist how much it would be to hear them sing a song or two. ‘No, no, senor, they only do parties and such, they don’t just sing like that.’ But I just heard them play three songs – how much would it be anyways? ‘Around $80 an hour, senor’.

Outside, they’re all lounging in front of their house, now with their costumes off, smoking cigarettes. Buena noches, yo soy de Rumania! Es possible de escuchar 3 canciones por dinero? ‘No, we only play for parties, weddings, you have a wedding?’ they reply coldly, staring me down. No, but I take out a wad of pessos and $20, which looks like another wad, because it’s made out of singles. So now there’s two wads, one in each hand, and they get to debating. The largest one, Arturo, (who is also the owner of the house), asks how many songs? I say 3 and he says $100. We get the price down to $70. They go back in and change.


After the first song, they warm up, start talking and joking and asking questions about Europe. I find out that most of them have a derogatory nickname. There’s Arturo (the king), Taz or Looney Tunes (seen above in the middle), Harry Potter (has glasses), Caballo (guess why), Pamplon (dumbass), Jorge (the singer and guitarist, above right – we both like System of a Down, but none of us can properly say the lead singer’s name, Serj Tankian, which doesn’t stop us from trying). The same blue pickup from before, comes back and stops, and they all greet it. The driver asks them where I’m from, and they tell him Romania, and that they’re singing for Europe tonight – they’re gonna be famous there! I go to the passenger window of the truck and say Buena Noches, and the man responds to the mariachis, ‘Aye, conio speaks Spanish!’, and peels off. A pizza delivery scooter in front of him almost gets run over, but the truck stops and the scooter gets out of the way.


‘Ahh, he’s in a good mood! That pizza boy was lucky tonight! He would’ve been pizza on the road hahaha! That’s the boss man right there!’ They all laugh and then get serious, ‘but please, don’t go down that street’ and make all sorts of fist and throat cutting signs. And just like in a movie, the police pick-up also comes by, 5 minutes later, and they all greet it too, and exchange jokes. Compared to other things, being a mariachi must be a pretty safe proposition. You’re always needed, weddings or funerals, and both the good guys and the bad guys like you.


I leave Paraiso early in the morning, and in Villahermosa I stop at Autozone for new wipers and other car things. It’s on the outskirts of town, where a lot of people with their pimped rides seem to hang out. Everyone stares intensely. Some come to check out the car and leave, others linger and start asking questions, leaning on the open car door as I’m eating a can of sardines. The vibes are not friendly, and after the 3rd or so ‘gringo’ I decide to get out of Dodge, heading towards San Cristobal de las Casas.

Right after Villahermosa, the drive becomes the most perilous I’ve had to make so far. Soon, I enter the jungle, deep into rebel territory, and even though it’s around 4PM, it looks like it’s 7PM. You are encircled by mountains full of greenery and you hear birds yelling at each other that you’ve only heard on TV. Fog, thick as whipped cream starts rolling in, and besides the fact that you can’t see anything at all, there’s the potholes, the no-pavement-rocks-and-dirt-thing, missing parts of the road (thankfully always in the incoming lane), taxis zooming by with Sena determination, big ole cows, children on bikes. Did I mention you can’t see a thing? The ‘3.5 hour’ drive takes 7.5 hours.

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I finally reach San Cristobal late at night. In the morning, it becomes the most beautiful town I’ve been in so far. Despite the fact that it has the most hippies in pajamas I’ve seen since college, (singing ‘La Cucaracha’ in badly accented Spanish) it’s a quiet, beautiful place; full of cafes, bars, and restaurants. It’s the first time I hear English since Texas, and also a lot of French. The town became famous back in 1994, when it was taken over by the Zapatistas, trapping everyone, including tourists, for days. That incident created ‘Zapatatourism’ and memories of those days can be bought on post-cards, tshirts and bandannas from small stores catering to your far-left beliefs.

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San Cristobal is also where I get my first stomach flu from eating tamales at Trip Advisor’s 20th rated restaurant. For two days I’m out, pooping mineral water. It’s not whether you will get sick after crossing the border, it’s when. Your stomach is now exposed to a whole new series of bacteria it’s never encountered before. Best thing to do is eat some natural yogurt. Wish I knew that early on.

And so, I don’t get to see much, but I do take a trip to San Juan Chamula, the only autonomous town in Mexico. Back in the day, it was the last town to give into the Spanish occupation (1524) after some of the fiercest battles known. Today, no Mexican police or military are allowed to go in. At the center of town is the church of San Juan, a catholic church that has had no Mass in 30 years. Photography inside is forbidden, but the floors are covered with pine needles, colorful candles, flowers and Coca Cola bottles. Small groups of people are littered on the floor, crying, groaning, praying. Local shamans perform ancient rituals of medicine and savior. (See a picture of the church on Instagram).

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A smaller praying chamber on the way to Chamula.

These are the personal views and thoughts of Stefan and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally, LLC.