Our bus going from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas got ambushed this morning. I guess the Zapatistas are still alive and doing well in the southern state of Chiapas. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation was very active in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, but have been relatively inactive for the past few years.
We spent the last five-days in Palenque visting the Parque Nacional Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak and Agua Azul before catching a collectivo this morning for the ADO bus station. We were one hour into our six-hour bus trip through the jungled mountains of Chiapas when we hit a roadblock close to Agua Azul. It appeared as if almost every resident of this particular pueblocito was there to make sure we couldn’t pass. Large (2 x 8) heavy wooden planks laced with six-inch metal spikes had been dragged across the road blocking all vehicular traffic. We stopped.
Our bus driver seemed very surprised as these extortion tactics haven’t been used in quite sometime. He immediately began a dialogue with our new friends, and after about 10-minutes convinced them to let us pass without further hassle (or cash incentive). We never really felt threatened or in physical danger, but I had made up my mind that we would have to pay some sort local baksheesh if we were going to proceed any further into the mountains. They dragged the barricades away and we continued our journey only stopping long enough to warn any oncoming buses of the treatment we had just received.
Word must have filtered back to the authorities, because in about an hour we saw a truckload of armed Federales heading in the pueblocito’s direction. The Mexican Army also has a significant presence in this region, and between the two groups I think they probably got it sorted out and the road reopened. The ranks of the Zapatistas are filled with local indigenous indians and have a lot of popular support amongst the small villages that dot Chiapas. At the barricade their signs and banners proclaimed their very real dissatisfaction with the Mexican government, the lack of political reform and the injustices the local indians still experience in the pueblos and pueblocitos at the hands of the government.
We arrived safely and without further incident late this afternoon, and settled into a very nice little hostel in the centro historico district of San Cristobal. This beautiful little city of 189,000 inhabitants is nestled in amongst the mountains at an elevation of 7000 feet above sea level (Merida is only 30 feet above sea level by comparison). The mountain peaks continue to rise all around us (taller still) and the weather is decidedly cooler than we’ve experienced in a long time. It stormed for a while, but all-in-all it is very pleasant indeed. We will be here for the next three weeks exploring the new sights, sounds and activities—and people.
I will start posting photos and narrative of the past week in Palenque in the next few days. So far we’ve enjoyed this trip down to Chiapas (bordering Belize and Guatemala) very much—including our unplanned excitement this morning. Please be reassured that we are both safe & sound and in good health.