April 25, 2016: A tale of two Tuxtlas
Tuxtla Gutierrez is the capital city of the state of Chiapas. Like San Cristóbal, it sits in a mountain valley, though at around 1700 feet (520 meters) rather than San Cris’s 7200 feet (2200 meters). Tuxtla also has nearly 4 times the population, and almost none of the charm. As a result of the elevation difference, Tuxtla has generally been about 20ºF warmer than San Cris, hitting 100ºF (38ºC) a couple of times. It’s hot.
Also, because it is a large city sitting in a mountain valley, there is a lot of pollution, particularly, perhaps at this time of year when there has been virtually no rainfall in months. The air is often visibly thick.
All that pollution does make for some nice sunsets, though.
Tuxtla is not completely without it’s own charm, and probably its most endearing feature is the Parque de la Marimba, a pleasant, wooded urban square, where free nightly concerts draw crowds of young and old alike, who sit on park benches oriented toward the park’s central gazebo, where bands of marimba, horns, and singers play. Immediately surrounding the gazebo, inside the benches and elevated garden beds, a ring of open plaza is covered with locals dancing to the music. On our first night at the park, floodlights illuminated the center of the park, as television cameras moved about, capturing the band as well as the dancers.
During our stay downtown, we visited the Zoológico Miguel Álvarez del Toro which features amazingly varied Chiapan wildlife. Curiously, we were expecting to pay 60 pesos to get in. At the ticket booth, they asked where we were from and charged us 20. Apparently the price has gone down. This has to be the best value in zoo admission anywhere.
Tuxtla’s zoo is really good, and as an added bonus there were lots of local animals roaming around that weren’t zoo residents. For example, the zoo has a spider monkey exhibit. Outside of it, above the human spectators, the trees were full of howler monkeys, perhaps enjoying the up close view of their captive cousins.
There were also deer, squirrels, and an interesting assortment of large tropical birds, again that were not part of the zoo.
In addition to the “locals” we saw black jaguars, one of our favorite animals,
and an incredible assortment of tropical birds.
There is also a large crocodile exhibit. You are not allowed to feed babies to the crocodiles.
Of course we also managed to find the good eats the city has to offer.
Tuxtla’s Less Charming Suburbs
As some of you know, we have a day job. We do some work on the road. Idealy, not too much, but somewhat steadily. We won’t discuss the particulars on this blog, partly to prevent losing readers to boredom. Anyway, the reason we bring this up is that we have had (for us) a busy couple of weeks, and, while Hotel del Carmen was perfectly reasonable, working in that hotel while listening to yapping dogs and neighboring construction started to become a headache. So, we decided to spend some of our recent income and splurge on the top rated hotel in the city, blowing the budget with a spendthrift increase of $30/night.
We moved to the Hilton Garden Inn, 1.75 miles (2.8 km) away, and in a whole different world. Here, we looked out at the Chili’s in the parking lot, the McDonald’s and Sam’s Club across the street, the nearby Applebee’s, and rested comfortably knowing that the enormous shopping mall next door contained every consumer desire we could possibly dream of. This neighborhood has less Mexican culture than Blessing, Texas.
While at the Garden Inn we made three attempts to visit the Museo Regional de Chiapas. On the first attempt, a Monday, the museum was closed because it’s always closed on Monday. In spite of Laura making several phone calls before we went, she was unable to get good intel on this, so we chanced it. Fail. Instead we saw a nearby small and free museum dedicated to local botanicals, the Faustino Miranda Botanical Garden, which includes an exhibit on medicinal uses for several plants. Just about all of these “medicines” were reported to cure ojo (evil eye) and/or diarrhea. That’s a little window into traditional Mexican life for you.
On the following Friday we again attempted to visit the regional museum. On Fridays the museum is typically open. But on this particular Friday there was a state-wide teacher protest. These protests are ongoing, with teachers protesting government “reforms” in education. Some have involved violence. Apparently because of those protests, the museum was again closed. We later learned that while the Tuxtla protests were relatively minor (just a couple of burned cars), in San Cris, on the same day, multiple stores and a state government building were burned. The next day, 18 teachers were given a free flight on a federal police airplane (a 727) to a federal prison in Nayarit. A local radio station called them out by name and age, possibly out of fear that they might disappear. Public demonstrations are at an entirely different level here. We studiously avoid them.
We again trekked to the museum on Saturday and finally gained access, third time’s the charm.
It’s a huge building, but only two large rooms are in use for visitors. The building looks like it is equipped for air conditioning, but there was definitely none in use during our visit.
The room pictured above features archaeological treasures from Chiapas, like these:
The other is dedicated to the post-colonial history of the state.
On the whole the museum may not have been worth three attempts, but was certainly worth one.
But why you may ask, are you spending all this time in Tuxtla, a city that you don’t seem to love? Good question. It’s our house, of course. When we left San Cris we made the 6000 ft descent, and saw some beautiful views on our way to Tuxtla.
Our intended destination was Puerto Arista, on the coast of Chiapas. All seemed well for nearly 2 hours of driving. But when we arrived in Tuxtla, the house started acting up, exhibiting the same symptoms that had us in the mechanic’s shop in the first place.
After phone conversations with the San Cris mechanic and getting a computer diagnostic at a local Autozone, we decided to try our luck with the service department at a nice big, modern Dodge dealership we happened to run across. If Dodge can’t fix it, who can? So the house has been with Dodge since April 8th. During that time there have been various diagnoses of the problem, but no resolution.
So, while waiting for new diagnoses and new parts, and having exhausted the charms of Tuxtla, we decided to leave the house with Dodge while waiting for those parts and to hit the road (in a bus). Next time you hear from us, we won’t be talking about Chiapas.
Until then, thanks for following our adventure!