Google Maps says to turn left, so we maneuver onto a narrow side street. Luckily, other cars move out of our way so we can get through. “Turn right at this street,” I tell Matt. It is even narrower. When are we going to learn to NOT follow Google Maps? Still, we have no choice but to follow it down. With each parked car I look in the mirror to make sure the trailer tires don’t hit anything. We are both holding our breath. At one point the trailer tires are rubbing the curb on one side and a parked car on the other.
Thankfully, the road opens up a bit and we can breathe again. Google Maps takes us out of the city and onto a quieter country road towards some hills. Not far down is Rancho San Nicolas. We enter the gates and are greeted by an oasis of shady trees, little cabins, and other travelers. The air smells clean, and although warm, it is not oppressive. We pay for three nights, find a double wide spot in the corner and set up camp.
After dinner, a VW bus rolls in and out tumbles 2 boys a little younger than Graysen and Rylan, who want to go meet them right away. The plates on the bus are from Argentina. We start out speaking Spanish, but the mother, with another baby in her arms, switches to English after a bit. I am happy the boys have someone to play with and that they might even start to learn Spanish.
The next day we set out to explore the town a bit. Without the trailer, the narrow cobblestone streets seem quaint and unthreatening. They are clean and full of life. The colonial architecture is so much more interesting than the modern cement squares. The buildings are brightly painted with wood accents, a rarity in many parts of Mexico.
Three pedestrian streets radiate out from a leafy main square and are filled with laid-back cafés, inviting restaurants, yummy bakeries, interesting art galleries, narrow bookstores, and fun shops. I think it would take me at least a month to try all the restaurants that look good.
Walking down the street, we hear primarily Spanish, but also some French and other languages. This is not a city just for tourists. There are business people, artists, traditionally-dressed Mayans, lovers, and tourists all mixed together. Each corner brings a lovely vista of the surrounding hills and new street to explore. The market is an explosion of colors, scents, people, and noise.
Matt and I were here 11 years ago when we traveled throughout Central America. I remember really liking it, but so much has changed that even the main plaza somehow does not look familiar. Perhaps it is not the certain placement of things that matters, but the general feeling of a place. The vibe it gives off. This time I am really in love with San Cristobal.
I have a strong desire to plant a garden in the corner where we are camping and stay for the summer. The weather is perfect here: gorgeous during the day and cool enough at night to pull back out the down comforter. It is so peaceful at the campsite with the wind rustling in the trees that some days we don’t even leave. The boys are perfectly happy to run around the trees, playing with their new friends. A Mayan woman comes by every few days with cheap, fresh vegetables and a lovely smile on her face.
Our friends Joe and Josee show up and then Guy and Amy, whom we also met in Oaxaca. It is so nice to see friendly faces, especially for the boys. We grill pizzas one night with them and the Argentinians in a communal palapa with a fireplace. It feels great to share food and a fire with our new friends.
After 10 days, we decide that it is time to get moving towards Rio Dulce. The boat papers should be almost there and we can start getting settled in for the hurricane season. It will be hot and muggy, but at least we know the place. We have a lot of work to do to learn the boat, improve our Spanish, teach the boys to swim, and find a way to generate an income so we can set sail next winter.
I take the bike into town one last time to do some internet and have a glass of wine at a sidewalk café. There are some musicians playing nearby and a tableful of elderly men laughing and carrying on across the street. I see a father with two sons that look like they would be great playmates for G and R chatting with friends. I relish this moment. I am really going to miss this place and this vibe, but I am also excited for what is to come. Hasta luego, San Cristobal!