“I arrived at night in a driving thunderstorm,” writes Correspondent Michael Paladin from Mexico, “after 11 hours on the road in a bus from Antigua. San Cristobal de las Casas is not the easiest place to access. The town is situated in a shallow bowl surrounded by green forests on the higher mountains (6,000 feet-plus altitude).
“If Copan, Honduras, where I visited recently, is a quarter-sized version of Antigua, Guatemala, where I live, San Cristobal is Antigua times four. And, whereas the good people of Antigua seem to revere their city’s signs of age, in San Cristobal, they have painted, patched, and applied mascara. The inner older center of the city is designed for walking, shopping, and eating, with several streets closed to cars.
“I spent part of my first morning getting one of my Guatemalan-based telephones to work internationally. Communications can be a chore in this part of the world, but that’s part of moving around Central America.
“In the evening, it’s chilly, and I understand now why the guidebook recommended a room with a fireplace and why friends said take a sweater. The blanket on the bed was useful.
“I’ve never seen such vibrant colors. The buildings are painted intense reds, purples, serious blues… Perhaps the people here feel the need for stimulation because of the overcast weather patterns. Their efforts are effective. I feel like I need sunglasses to walk around town.
“There is so much to see and do here and only so many hours in the day…or until the afternoon rains come. This is el invierno (winter), the season for rain throughout Central America (and I forgot my umbrella). All the hotels are offering half-price specials.
“I’m staying a nice posada for US$25 a night. Excellent bed, nice bath. The only thing lacking is a glass for the evening cocktail. In town, the only thing I haven’t found is Flor de Cana rum. I’ve had to fall back on Havana Club. The price is right. I did find hand-painted mugs with Sub-comandante Marco’s visage. (I bought one to keep in the room for the Havana Club.) The arts and crafts here are extensive, beautiful, and vivid.
“A six-day jazz festival starts next weekend. It’s being staged in a spectacular theater built in 1931.
“My main impression of this place? Color. Not only on the buildings. The tourist guides wear flamingo-colored pantsuits. The native women wear glow-in-the-dark purple rebozos (shawls). The half-size stoplights at the major intersections flash in red, ‘UNO, UNO,’ meaning that one car at a time has the right of way.
“Guns? Not many. None of the ubiquitous pistol-packin’ or shotguns you often see in this part of the world. The security guard at the telephone store carries pepper spray (of the red or chili variety, I didn’t ask).
“Tomorrow? Quien sabe? Who cares? Real estate is not expensive, and rentals are reasonable. There are a few hundred expats scattered about, including about 200 Italians who have settled here. The real estate broker (at Century 21) couldn’t explain why, so we both shrugged and laughed.
“I like this town. There is a hum and a charm. If you’re looking for a cooler climate, à la San Francisco or Santa Fe, New Mexico, this could be the perfect spot for you.
“More soon. I’m hungry, and there are more restaurants than I imagined…”