Turns out San Cristobal de las Casas is a beautiful city with lots of amazing architechture/city design, it also has an incredibly diverse variety of culinary offerings. Seemingly, a place I should enjoy very much. Unfortunately , it just does not fit me. It remindes me too much of Otavalo, Ecuador. Touristy to a disturbingly overt point, where the nick-nacks that are manufacutred somewhere else en masse and sold as "native" have become woven into the tapestry that is the city now. This brings up an interesting question when thinking about tourism and the promotion of tourism as an economic strategy.
In the village I was staying at there are unexcavated ruins and a cenote near by. During my time there the main road was being expanded and properly paved to promote "la ruta de inglesias", a route concived by the local government to bring tourists though the area (the road project was not for the locals, if not for these alterior motives it would not have been performed). It would feature the chruches of these small towns, a point of interest not only archetecturally but for their role physically and symbolically in La Guerra de Castas. Obviously these ruins and the accompanying cenote would be an additional draw.
The important part in this "not for the locals" part. What happens socially, histoically, and interpersonally to a city, town, or otherwise who devotes a majority of their resources not to cultivating themselves but to cultivating an atmosphere and environment for people who will be but a transient mark, staying for hours, days, or weeks. The percieved will or wants of this collective "other" become the defining motivation for development. Is this sustainable?
The economic crisis has shown us the vunerablility of tourists destinations. Even more so, other threats such as the cartels in Northern Mexico have taken an even greater toll. I have seen the results first hand, in the border towns and further south as Mexico gets lumped into a cohesive conceptual idea of which results in people being scared of the entire country. Many not realizing the size of the country and distances between the events they see in the news and the major tourist destinations involved.
Aside from its vunerabilities and lack of guarantees of stablility (for more on this check out this blog post, I randomly came across it while writing this and it takes premise of tourism as a suatainable econmic strategy and examines the case studies of Elmina, Ghana, Prora, Germany, and Acapulco, Mexico with very interesting results) there is also the question of where the economic impact is actually felt. Is it the locals who actually benifit from these sorts of projects? local governments? or foreign investors? Many of the Caribbean Islands show the negative effects of the monoculture tourism cycle where outside investment comes in economic growth is made but the funds go back outside or are used just to promote more tourism. Arable land is eaten up by hotels and other projects to bring in more tourists while the local population gets the leftovers. Public works projects or building local economies are not a priority. Imports rise to provide for the comforts of the tourists. And the local population is provided jobs but soon, on some of the smaller islands, you have a nation of hotel workers, cooks, bus boys etc. Is that a model for sustainable growth? A model for economic, agricultural, or societal independence?
Unfortunately, I do not have the resources with me to cite more direct examples. Here is an introductory book that looks into the development of the contemporary Carribean click here. Obviously, the history of there islands is very different from that of the village and the area which I am discussing but the results not only economically but societally should be taken into account. The blog post I listed above, has references for looking more closely at the anthropology of tourism and some of the effects of tourism that look beyond just "the bottom line". My travels have just make me question the seeming "quick fix" that tourism is presented as.
For more on the difference between local and non-local economics please take a look at this study.
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On top of all that the weather is horrible this time of year in San Cristobal de las Casas (cold with drizzely rain). I decided to risk it and head for somewhere warmer. The trip would put Fricka and I to the test but I felt we were up for it and I just was not "feeling" this city, and if I was going to settle in a city for a little while I need to "feel" it.
I had alread planned on hitting Puerto Escondido on my route home and a hostel advertisment I found turned out to be the last push I needed. So off we go!
Naturally, the first bit of travel after I no longer have a camera to take pictures turns out to be the most spectacular visual and technical day of riding I have ever had in my life. To start out with, San Cristobal de las Casas is high in the mountains and as I was moving toward the coast I would have travel quite a distance vertically. The city is so high that as I took the winding mountain road to Tuxla Gutierrez I was above the clouds. As I looked over the sides of the road down the mountainside the clouds completely blocked my view of the valley below. It was the closest thing to majestic that I had seen since being in this country. Distant forest covered (confiers, similar to the flagstaff area) mountain peaks poking above a sea of wispy haze, the sharp v-shaped vallies filled with a swirling mist that looked like tide rolling into the coast.
As I moved futher down in elevation I was soon engulfed in the mist. My visiblity was reduced to but a hundred feet or so, and I would lie if I did not say that I was anxious enough after a few days before to be driving granny speed, but I enjoyed every second of it! Not only was the atmosphere captivating but I pretty much had the road to myself and it was proving to be even better than the road I had come up on (most importantly only 2 topes!).
My head was quickly brought out of the clouds, figuratively and literally, as I entered Tuxtla Gutierrez. The highway happens to go right though the center of the city and there are an exorbinant amount of stoplights. It was frustrating and ate up almost 30-45 min traveling only a few dozen kilometeres.
The trial was worth it and as I exited the city I was greeted with another spectacular road. Not only did this road have only 1 tope but it was in excellent condition and the mountain which I was traveling down looked out over a lush rolling prarie-like valley. I must admit I was in a bit of pain but was greatly enjoying this opportunity.
After that it was a flat straight road to the Oaxaca border though the valley. It was ranching area but so vividly great and the plant life so vividly aboundant. Being at a lower altitute the flora was of a much more tropical variety and covered the mountains that formed a wall around this neatly protected, fecund treasure.
Considering this was all in the first few hours of travel I could not ask for much more from Chiapas, but the state left me with a parting gift that I will never forget. As I exited the valley I came over a rise to find my decent would take place on a twisting and winding road that followed along the side of a geologically marvelous v-cut valley with sharp toothy mountains forming a line like a serrated blade. The forest that covered these mountains looked like it was ripped from the set of Jurassic Park, complete a river at the bottom of the valley fed by a multitude of cascading waterfalls. Best thing of all? Not a single tope on this entire strech of road. Pain and tentativeness were thrown to the wind, Fricka had had enough of that as it where, and I dove right in to the splendor that is the Carretera Federal 190 Chiapas-Oaxaca border road.
My first bit of Oaxaca paled in comparison to Chiapas, a flat plain filled with marshland. Soon I turned toward the coast as I made my way past an enourmous wind energy farm, in scale and individual windmill size. I unwittingly got trapped on two cuota (toll) roads, but the total ened up only being about 70 pesos and once I had got back onto the carretera libre I realized that I probably saved a few hours of time by avoiding Salina Cruz.
As I came down off the foothills of the central Mexcian mountain ranges I spotted my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Soon I was close to the coast but could not get a good view of it. Just a little peek here and there though the trees lining the road. I was along a cliff face so do to the erosional nature of the ocean the road had been set back a ways from the edge. I continued on.
I was rewarded for my patience, though if I was inpatient I would have recieve the same view but I am sure it would not have felt as good. As I rounded a right hand turn the trees parted and I could see a bay, gaurded by two large mounts on each side of its mouth with the surf breaking just before colliding with a brillantly white semi-circle of a coastline. It was an amazing view.
I was happy I was close to the coast as when on the gulf side the coast was where I made good time and the trip was relatively relaxing. Unfortunately, That would not be the case on the Pacific side. There were no problems but the road is very twisty, and as enjoyable as that is, it really cuts down on your speed and the time you are able to make. This is important for me as my body was starting to feel a little achey. The weather decided to not do me any favors and with an hour or so I was driving through the heaviest rain I had experienced on this trip. Right before that though, in the area between Playa Grande and Huatulco I found another just fanstaically visually stunning area. There were cascades, natural hotsprings, large granite bouldered vallies and river beds. Seems like a great place get lost if you ever want to find a place where people most likely won't find you.
The rain persisted and so did Fricka and I. The cold and wet were starting to take a toll on my body but I was able to maintain a reduced speed and stay alert in the less than ideal road conditions. Luckily, the weather and road opened up as I got closer to Puerto Escondido and I was able to make it to the hostel while it was still light out in the amount of time that I had planned, roughly 10 hours.
The hostel, Osa Mariposa, ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be. It is not a sterile formal enviroment. You are expected to take care of yourself and it is set up so that you can just hide out in your room all the time. The hotel does not have all the fancy ammenities and you have to walk to find internet, it is a little ways outside the main town, but it is only a 200 meters from the beach, the staff is fantastic, and I am happy. They do operate as a bar/resaurante as well, the serve vegetarian cusine and it is pretty good.
I was going to stay at another hostel called Frutas y Verduras but I emailed both hostels that I would be traveling on motorcycle and if they had room to accomodate. Frutas offered a one sentence reply. Dave, the owner of Osa Mariposa, sent me a one page reply, even offering a chain to lock it up. He also cleared up my questions about directions, double checking the google map link I sent him.
I tend to do this before heading into a city now, send out a few emails to see if there is room for Fricka. One, I do need to know this information. Two, the promptness and detail of the response tells me a lot about the ownership and atmosphere of the hostel.
So here I am in Puerto Escondido, just southeast technically, I will be taking some time off now as I have a few body parts that are a lot more sore than I thought they would be. Additionally, Angela and I had been trying to figure out a place to meet up at and using this location as a home base places me in easy bus ride distance from Cuernavaca, the place she had originally suggested we go. I had doubts as it was quite a distance out of the way of my ride home and I had wanted to stay away from the traffic and police around D.F. Fricka and my current states make this easier as I can bus up and do not have to worry about the extra miles, which neither of us are in shape for right now (Dave made this option even easier by offering to store my things at the hostel while I was gone for free).
As I hope I was able to capture in words, today was a visually mind-blowing experience. I apologize to you all that I was not able to have a camera to share this with you. It was something very special and I think that you all would have very much enjoyed the pictures. I thought of posting images from the web but figured you could look them up yourself and it did not feel right to me. The camera is gone and the blog should reflect that.
That being said. I could not be more pleased that I have no pictures of the events and experiences of today. As special as all of this was it is even more so to me knowing that the only evidence resides in my head (this is a figure of speech and for those of you out there who have aruguments over where images or memories may actually reside or how they may be accessed, this is not the time. Though I look forward to continued conversations on such matters.). As I mentioned in my first post, taking pictures is not something I do for myself, and if in anyway the emotion and excitment which I exerienced and experience thinking about this day in my head (again, stop it) was translated into the words you just have read, that is the reason why. It is not the easiest thing to express in written form but their is a distance and detachment that is created when viewing life though a camera lense.
A picture will always be a reproduction, indeed my memories are a reproduction but they are not just a visual reproduction. They engage each and every one of my senses. I can still feel the stiffness in my knee and the tinge of pain when grabing the clutch with my left hand, along with the force of the wind, the dew that clung to my face when I went though the mist in the mountains. I can smell the pines of mountains, my sweatiness in the plains, the subtle accent of salt as I reached the coast. Speaking of salt, I can think of the taste of my sweat as well as the bitter cold of the heavy rain. I hear the shifting gears within Fricka as I downshift into a sweeping left hand turn that brings me feet from the edge of the escarpment on which the guardrail-less road clings to the side of a mountain hundreds upon hundreds of feet above the valley below. And then, only then, we have the words which you read above.
You may say that a picture helps to stimulate these other senses. But there is something to the way in which we, those of you who feel the shared collectivity of the word in a societal and contextual sense, are so focused on visual stimuli and the way it dominates our lives that we forget the rest of the senses that help to enrichen the human experience. And again with you picture you are another step removed from reality (whatever that may be). This is not a dimissal of the medium or to say that there is nothing from which an art like photography has to contribute but their is a distinct difference in reference to percieved reality.
For anyone who wishes to explore this further and articutlated in words much clearer and by a mind much more brilliant than mine, I recommend The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the link is to a free web version but if it interests you I would suggest these Illuminations (contains the above article) and Reflections by Walter Benjamin. I also feel that I must mention Michel Foucalut's The Order of Things, in relation to how this preferential treatment of sight may have come to be.
This is the type of thing that links in directly to the academic work I am interested in. What are those underlying taken-for-granted influences of society, language, etc., the structure in which we are born and live, that have such a pervasive and subtle affect on our entire lives. What manisfestations do these effects make and in what ways do individuals exert their own agency and slowly manipulate and change these structures?
If you made it though this entire thing, thank you. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. I will be stationary for a while and will have time to respond. If you wish to just wait and talk when I get back, I cannot wait, I'll bring the wine.