We left Mazunte and planned on riding in the direction of San Cristobal de las casas, located in the state of Chiapas. After an hour and half of slow, windy roads divided by small towns and villages, the roads finally straightened out and we thought that we were going to be able to make good time. Its not often you can ‘make good time’ on the roads of mexico, and this day turned out to be no exception. It wasn’t long before traffic came to a complete stop and we found ourselves getting deeper into the thick of it. We pulled off to the the side of the road and sat at a table under the shade of a plastic hut above us. The entire area was lined with tables, overhangs, cauldrons and BBQ grills. We ordered some food and asked the lady what the traffic was about. We found out there was a protest but I had a difficult time understanding the dialect and couldn’t seem to figure out what it was about. Regardless, it was nice to see such a huge gathering standing up for what ever they believed in. Even though it took us a lot of effort to get away from the crowed road, we were eventually able to pick up some speed.
It had been a long day and we still weren’t sure where we’d camp for the night. We considered a field, across from a store we had stopped at, but it turned out to be a military base and we weren’t allowed. We continued driving on the highway until we reached a toll booth. Exhausted, we decided to camp behind a small building, by the toll booths, on the side of the highway. Early the next morning, Rocky woke up and left the tent. While I was in there alone, I heard a bunch of women talking and laughing hysterically. What I heard them say was something along these lines (in Spanish), “Where are you going white boy? I was just about to drop my pants. Jajaja!” “Don’t be scared, we are just a group of ladies! Jajaja” “Can you pass us some toilet paper, we all need it to wipe our ass? Jajajajaja.” Shortly after, Rocky came back to the tent and I heard the women giggling. It turns out that they really needed to pee but the building was closed and they had to go behind it. They were surprised to see Rocky there but with good humor, they joked amongst themselves. when I walked out of the tent, their giggle turned into full laughter cause they weren’t expecting to see a women after all the naughty jokes they had made. But the best part, was when I greeted them in Spanish and they realized that I understood everything that they had said.
We continued on the road and stopped in a town named Tuxtla Gutiérrez, for some breakfast, at a corner side patio. Women walked the street balancing large baskets on their head. Some were filled with breads, pastries or flowers. We then continued riding through the beautiful State of Chiapas, making a few stops along the way, until we finally reached San Cristobal De Las Casas. I had contacted a man named José Luis on couchsurfing.org, and after stopping for some tacos we arrived at his house. Most Mexican houses have a tall gate surrounding the perimeter, at the doors of this gate was a large sign reading La Clave de Sol*. Jose Luis came out to greet us with a firm hug and said “Follow me this way my friends!”. We followed him around to the side of the house where he opened a different gate leading us to the backyard. We parked the bike on the lawn and followed him into the house.
*La Clave- A Clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of written notes. De Sol- of the Sun*
What happened next was extraordinary. We walked into a large kitchen/dining/living room and we were introduced to many friendly faces. It was Jaana’s birthday and everyone was celebrating. Drinks were poured, dinner was made and about to be served and everyone was doing something towards contributing to the festivities. The energy was high and we were overwhelmed with all the beautiful chaos that surrounded us. Jaana, with her sweet accent and gorgeous long blond dreads was traveling from Finland and is married to Pablo, the creative jewelry maker and empanada king from Argentina. *Empanada is a popular Argentinian meal* There was a French couple visiting from France, named Aurore and Julien. The stylish couple, Miss Charleigh from Scotland and the incredible chef Jimmy, from England. Robin was visiting from BC Canada. The hilarious Chiky from the Canary Islands, her friends, América from Madrid, Mar from Spain, and a girl whose name I have forgotten. Jose Luis then introduced us to the calm, cool and collected artist Jonathan, from New Orleans. Jonathan was renting an apartment on the property but was leaving to visit the beach for the week. We were surprised and very grateful when he invited us to stay in his apartment.
The party continued until late that night, Rocky wasn’t feeling well so he retreated to our apartment. I stayed up drinking cheap liquor called Tiburon, it cost me an entire dollar for the bottle. Charleigh was my new drinking buddy and we stepped out on the porch to join others for a cigarette. I was already catching a buzz and not expecting what came next. As I starred out into the darkness, I felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was trying to focus on the faint outline of a figure when I suddenly recognized what was starring back at me. It was a horse! My goodness, there were more than one. I was shocked and elated, I had no idea this place could have gotten any better. Not only did Jose Luis bring together a great crowd to create the kind of atmosphere that all human beings should be exposed to, but he also chose the perfect location to share with strangers from all around the world. Jose says he was once a politician, but I adored his hippy side. Thinking of him will always remind me to smile. His laugh, his heart, his kind eyes and the way he always said in a high pitched voice, “whoowhaaaat”. I loved his crazy stories, even the one about Lake Atitlan, a few friends, a few ladies and something about avocados.
What an incredible place! It was already dark out when we had arrived and it was difficult to register exactly what the area was like. But, from what I could gather, there was the smaller house that Jose Luis lived in, where the party was taking place, it was called “Two Moons”. To the side of it, was a huge three story house that was actually separated into thirds, creating three different apartments named, Solstice, Eclipse and Equinox . There was a large backyard with a vegetable garden on the side of the large apartment complex, and stables in the back, for the horses. As the night continued, I found myself in a conversation with Oliverio. He was the one who owned the land and built this magical place. Oliverio was the manliest man I had ever met, or as Rocky calls him, the “French-Mexican Marlboro Man”. He was a jack of all trades, tall, dark and handsome. In the morning, I would meet his lovely girlfriend Catherine, an artist from southern France.
I woke up the next day slightly dehydrated, most likely alcohol related. Rocky was already awake and I found him outside in the backyard doing yoga with Jonathan and some others. I laid in the hammock on the balcony under the warm sun until Rocky was done. We took a ride out though the City for a bite to eat and a little site seeing. San Cristobal is located in the Central Highlands region of Chiapas and sits in a small valley surrounded by hills. Its Spanish colonial layout, with narrow cobblestone streets, roofs covered in red clay tile, the facades of the buildings painted in various colors and wrought iron balconies with hanging flowers, is simply beautiful. Much of San Cristobal culture is associated with the city’s large indigenous population, which is mostly made up of Tzotzils and Tzeltals. The traditional culture associated with these indigenous groups is the making of textiles. Gorgeous fabrics are sold and worn by them. Amber is also very popular along with ceramics, wrought iron and filigree jewelry. We returned to La Clave De Sol and relaxed until dinner was made. Jimmy prepared an incredible Indian inspired meal for everyone and we all sat by the fire place for more drinks that night.
A large greasy breakfast was great for my morning hangover. We found a restaurant down the road that served eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, coffee, juice, etc. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten what I consider a traditional breakfast. The only thing missing was Canadian maple syrup. After breakfast, we stopped to pick up some groceries because I planned on making some Coke Chicken for dinner. Coke chicken is chicken cooked in Coca Cola. When heated, the Coke caramelizes and coats the chicken with a sticky delicious glaze. Unfortunately, I figured out later that night after cooking the chicken for 4 hours, that it would not caramelize because the Coke in mexico was made with real sugar cane, unlike the Canadian/American Coke that is made with cheap substitutes. At least the chicken turned out really tender.
We woke up early the following morning despite going to bed late. I made a large pot of soup for everyone and relaxed most of the day. While Rocky napped, I hung out on the back porch with Charleigh and Jimmy and we drank Tequila out of the bottle. It makes me laugh to think back on that, I really enjoyed their company because I’m not much of a drinker, especially hard liquor out of the bottle, at noon time. Jaana and Pablo planned on making pizzas for dinner that night. Most of us joined at Jose Luis’s house and just as dinner was being prepared, the electricity went out. Luckily there was a fire burning in the fire place and we all grabbed whatever flashlights we had. It turned out to be such a fun time that as soon as the lights came back on, we turned them off and continued to use the flashlights. The pizzas were yummy and of course, we drank more liquor and even smoked a few joints.
It was cold and cloudy the following morning. Being located in the mountains, San Cristobal was always chilly, but with the sun hiding behind clouds made it much cooler. Rocky and I went for tacos in the morning and found a great bakery that served good coffee and pastries. Before retuning to La Clave de Sol, we picked up some firewood to heat up the apartment. Regardless of the whether, it was a dark depressing day, I would be saying good bye to my drinking buddies and sidekicks Charleigh and Jimmy. As they cabbed it to the bus station, we followed them on the motorcycle to say our last goodbyes. The next few days weren’t the same but at least the sun was out.
We had been waiting for some motorcycle parts to be delivered in the mail and they had finally arrived. Although we kept the chain on the motorcycle spotless, it was due to be replaced. Being a motorcycle owner as well, Oliverio spent some time with Rocky, looking over the bike. Oliverio asked to test out her power and Rocky allowed him of course. The gate was opened, they exchanged bikes and both rode up and down the street a few times. It was obvious that Oliverio enjoyed the KTM because I tried taking pictures but wasn’t able because he was riding too damn fast. He even rode past one time with both hands in the air! Oliverio invited us to join him and Catherine out that night. Catherine and I went shopping during the day and met up with the guys after the sun went down. We walked through the city center, tasting cheese samples and stopped to buy some coffee beans at a local coffee shop. After bar hopping and doing a few shots of Mezcal, a Mexican alcoholic treat, Rocky realized he had lost his helmet. Luckily we found it at the coffee shop. We had such a fun time hanging out together that Oliverio suggested we go out to a place he knew we would enjoy the following day.
We woke up the next morning and rode the motorcycles to go see a waterfall. After at least an hour and a half on the road, we reached Cascada El Chiflón. We hiked up stream for a long time, admiring the teal colored river. Our visibility was limited to what was directly in front of us and it wasn’t until we were a short distance away that we had seen the falls. It truly blew my mind. It all began with a light mist as we climbed higher up the path. Suddenly we reached an area where we were given view of the largest most powerful falls in Mexico. I was not expecting this at all. I can only describe this moment as the most magical one I have ever shared with nature. I climbed a bit higher and walked onto a platform that extended out in front of the falls. I stood with my arms in the air as the mist soaked me completely and the sun kissed my face, embracing me with a rainbow.
After an awesome day and a delicious bite to eat, we dried up as much as possible and headed back home. The ride back seemed to have taken much longer. The sun went down and it got cold very quick. Being a bit damp still from swimming earlier was not helping at all. I was so cold that I spent the entire ride fantasizing about sitting in front of the fireplace. The moment we returned, we immediately started a fire. Since staying in San Cristobal, Rocky became quite the fire maker. Nothing beats a wood burning fireplace.
To our surprise, Jonathan had finally returned and we were excited to get to know this kind stranger a bit better. We woke up early the next morning and it was great to join him outside for his yoga lesson and then a nice cup of java. Jonathan is a coffee snob as he would call himself and staying with him taught me to appreciate a strong cup of coffee. After a relaxing day, Rocky prepared a huge pasta dinner and invited everyone to join us. Most of the same friendly faces showed up but also new ones like Alex and Mia traveling from Quebec, Canada. Once again, we ate, drank, smoked and laughed lots.
The following day was reserved for fixing the bike. We accomplished most of it until the chain tool broke, repairs had to be put to a stop until the following day. With no other responsibilities, we decided to get stoned and meet the newcomers, Kate from New Zealand and Floris from Belgium. Oliverio took Rocky to a tool maker the next morning and got the chain tool fixed, after we finished working on the chain Oliverio and Catherine invited us to have dinner at their apartment. Oliverio told us how he was from France and his father was a famous Mexican actor. He showed us old pictures and shared many stories of how his father began his artistic career in 1938 until 1947 in Mexico before being contracted as a singer and musician in Libya, Egypt, France and many other European countries until 1978 when he returned to Mexico and worked in Televisa (television) programs until he passed away in 2003 at 80 years of age. It was fascinating to look at all the great, old pictures Oliverio had saved, Rocky even scanned a few pictures for keepsake.
The next two days were spent relaxing, smoking weed, drinking coffee and preparing for Oliverio’s birthday. Rocky planned on digitally restoring the picture of Oliverio’s dad and spent a several hours doing so. On the day of his birthday, we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some cake and conveniently found one that was made with tequila. That night, everyone gathered together at Oliverio house for the festivities. What a great party! There was never a dull moment at La Clave De Sol.
We slept in the next morning, I thought everyone would have until I caught Jonathan downstairs with the coffee already brewed, a large pot of soup cooking on the stove and a painting being drawn on the wall. I hung out with Jonathan most of the day while Rocky napped but, once he woke up, I helped him do an oil change on the bike. Later that night we spent watching documentaries on the computer in the living room. As we were sitting in the dark, Rocky asked what was running across the floor. I turned on the light and to my surprise I saw a big, fat spider the size of a large gum ball. I immediately grabbed the broom and gently brushed the spider towards the door. I was seriously petrified doing so but I couldn’t let the spider stay inside. There was a short step to the doorway and I was panicking because I wasn’t sure how to lift the spider up. With another gentle brush I tried maneuvering the broom a certain way but it didn’t work. Instead, the spider rolled against the step and actually made a loud thud. Oh my goodness! I was so scared and Rocky wasn’t about to help me, he just told me to leave the thing alone. How the hell am I supposed to ignore a spider that thuds when it slowly hits a wall? I finally managed to lift it up the step and I continued to brush it safely out the door. For the first time since staying at La Clave De Sol, the night was so silent I could hear the crickets, everyone was asleep. Just as I noticed the silence I almost broke it with screams as I also noticed I was surrounded by at least ten spiders the size of the one I just let out.
The next day, Jonathan told me it was margarita day and I was excited. Rocky and I were still waiting for one more package to arrive in the mail, so we rode to the post office and it had finally arrived. Once we returned to La Clave De Sol, Rocky spent the day napping while Jonathan and I hung out. He wanted to make nachos so we took a walk down a few wrong streets but eventually found a store. We purchased everything we needed and went back to make some salsa, guacamole and Margarita’s. Jonathan is one of the best people I have ever met and it made me sad to know that Rocky and I were leaving the next day. Once morning came, I was really sad because I felt as if I was leaving something incredibly special behind. Today, I know otherwise. La Clave De Sol is forever with me.
Passing through Oaxaca on our way towards Chiapas, we passed through a large wind farm just outside of the town of Iglesia del Nazareno.
La Clave De Sol was always full of travelers from all over the world. From left to right: Paula (Canada), América (Spain), Pablo (Argentina) & his girlfriend, Jaana (Finland), Charleigh (Scotland) & her boyfriend, Jimmy (England), Mar (Spain), Jose Luis (Mexico), Auror (France), Robin (Canada), and Auror’s boyfriend, Julien (France)
Charleigh, Jose Luis & Jimmy “The Brit”
Having arrived in San Cristóbal de las Casas after dark the evening before, we didn’t notice the stables and horses until one appeared out of the darkness.
After over an hour motorcycle ride and an hour of hiking, Oliverio, Catherine, Paula and I finally arrive at Cascada El Chiflón, one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Mexico.
The power of the falls sprayed a tiny water droplets everywhere, enveloping us in a cloud of mist.
I saw Catherine taking a close-up of this little critter on our hike up the river.
On our hike back to the motorcycles, we all took a dip in the cold, refreshing waters of the river downstream from Cascada El Chiflón.
Oliverio In Exaltation
Nights in San Cristóbal de las Casas in November/December can get quite cool. During the day I would take the ax and gather firewood (until I realized that there were shops on the other side of town that sold them by the bundle for quite cheap). We enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire every evening.
Jonathan usually started the morning with a either some form of alcoholic beverage, a marijuana cigarette and some yoga – sometimes all three.
In the middle of changing the chain on my motorcycle, my chain press tool broke (probably my fault). I rode on the back with Oliverio to his friend’s machine shop to have a replacement piece made.
There were always travelers coming and going at La Clave De Sol. Jose Luis’ smile and laughter were infectious.
Flores (Belgium), Jose Luis & Kate (New Zealand)
At one point during our stay in San Cristóbal de las Casas, there were eighteen travellers who, at one time, gathered together at La Clave De Sol.
Cooking With Jonathan
Paula & Catherine at Oliverio’s birthday party
The Three Stooges
Oliverio’s Father (left) was a famous Mexican actor. His began his artistic career in 1938 until 1947 in Mexico before being contracted as a singer and musician in Libya, Egypt, France and many other European countries until 1978 when he returned to Mexico and worked in Televisa (television) programs until he passed away in 2003 at 80 years of age. This is the photo that I restored for Oliverio for his birthday.
In his state of inebriation, I didn’t know if Oliverio realized that the cake wasn’t round. I didn’t have the heart to tell him.
The night was a blur…
When Oliverio wasn’t climbing up trees and chopping them down with a hatchet, he tended to his horses.
Oliverio’s stallion (who prefers his right side)
Paula & Oliverio On Horseback
Oliverio – The Man, The Myth, The Legend
After tending to the horses, we rode in the back of the truck with the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces.
The Dude abides. If there was a refined and artistic version of “The Dude”, Jonathan would be it.
After about two weeks at La Clave De Sol, it was time to move on. We will always remember the moments and the people we shared them with while we were there.
If you are planning on visiting San Cristóbal de las Casas, Oliverio has rooms for rent, rents horses and gives guided tours. He also makes jewelry, rustic furniture and sells organic vegetables.