Flashback Friday: Loving nature in Chiapas

Hello, all. For 2014 and beyond, I am staring a new feature called Flashback Friday featuring previous travels and pit stops.  It will be on the first Friday of each month, and hopefully enjoyable for all, including me since I see my travel days being limited the next few years while I am headed back to the classroom.  First up, my adventures in Mexico, where I lived during my last sojourn as a student.

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

In 1999, 2000, and 2004, I spent a large chunk of time traveling in Mexico.  Visiting Chiapas was one of these chunks of time.  I was here in 1999 and 2000.

Chiapas is not one of my favorite places in the world. It is one of only a handful of places in the world that I did not feel welcome or safe thanks to the Zapatistas who live in the area yet not only did I go, I went twice.

zapatistas//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
In case you were confused as to where you were.

I was also there with my dad– who stood out negatively in every way…speaking English too loudly, making inappropriate eye contact, wearing socks with sandals, you name the infraction, he probably committed it. Needless to say, my stress level was at an all time high, with the constant boarding of the policia searching for who know what, and my dad saying, much too loudly I might add, ‘why do you think the police took those tourist off the bus?’ Not for a guided tour, I can bet you that…now will you just pretend to read the magazine and SHUT UP.  I was at my wits ends, and really wanted to ship him back to Cancun, but he really wanted to spend time with me, and I thought it best that we be out in nature rather than try to explain intricacies of Mayan history to him.  And let’s be honest, for anyone not overly fascinated in art and architecture, what I do on a daily basis, it boring…especially when it comes to writing my thesis–who wants to watch someone do that?

Misol-Ha

Misol-Ha is a spectacular 115 foot waterfall right smack in the middle of the jungle…nature at its best.  At its base is a huge plunge pool surrounded by lush vegetation; it’s perfect for swimming. [Movie note:  It’s the waterfall in the Predator movie, or so I’m told.  I’ve never actually seen the movie].

misol- ha 2//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

A wet, slippery path leads behind the falls to a cave.  You can pay 10 or so pesos to explore it or wow the gatekeepers with your knowledge that 1. you are an American who happens to speak Mayan and 2. have blonde hair and speak damn-near perfect Spanish in a Castillo accent [at least according to the Mexican I encounter on a daily basis.]   Either way, I kept my pesos.  At one time, a plank of wood was balanced precariously over the cliff edge.  It looks like it could be a diving board or a lookout spot from which to view the falls, but it’s neither.  It’s just an unsafe piece of wood hanging out over a cliff. If someone hasn’t already toppled off the edge, they will one day. Don’t be that person.

Cascadas de Agua Azul

About 40 or so miles from Palenque, the Cascadas de Agua Azul – exist. They originate in the municipality of Tumbalá, where the Shmulia, Otulun and Tulia rivers meet. And boy are they beautiful.
Agua Azul

The turquoise water gathers in cool natural pools that are perfect for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Some areas are cordoned off and can only be admired from man-made boardwalks and viewing platforms. The swimming areas are clearly marked and easily located thanks to the shrieks of people flinging themselves from rope swings. Only swim in the designated areas and don’t get out of your depth as the currents can be strong and people have drowned.  Don’t be one of those people. Just enjoy their beauty.

As a side note:  the nature in Chiapas is raw and beautiful.  I noticed that I used the phrase ‘don’t be that person’ twice.  It’s a place where nature is so beautiful, so wild, you just want to touch everything, be as close as possible, but seriously, be careful.

Sliding through Suriname

Most people would struggle to place Suriname on a map, often even placing it on the wrong continent [I don’t know; it just sounds African]  Suriname is South America’s smallest country, and I’d wager that if I asked 10 people, at least 5 wouldn’t be able to point it out on a map [and I’m being generous].  I never planned on popping in Paramaribo, but the chance go truly go off the beaten path lured me in.  As a former Dutch colony, you’ll see places like Onafhankelijkheidsplein on street signs and maps [that really just means public square], but as a Caribbean country you’ll hear languages like English, Creole, Dutch Indonesian, and Chinese. This little gem, formerly Dutch Guiana, sits in the upper corner of South America, between Venezuela and Brazil and more specifically between its colonial brethren, Guyana and French Guiana.  The mix of culture, food, language and architecture makes for a very interesting city, reflecting influences from Dutch colonization, Indonesian workers, West African former slaves, Indian workers, Chinese laborers and many more.  The mix of races, religions and languages doesn’t work for many cultures, but from the small glimpse that we saw, Paramaribo does a remarkable job in making it work.

Parbo, as it’s called, pulls together influences from many different cultures, and it somehow seems so effortless.  Locals switch back and forth between 2 and 3 languages, mosques sit next to temples, synagogues and churches, streets are lined with Indian, Creole, Chinese and Javanese food, along with a McDonalds or fried chicken shop to round things out. As a tiny historical fact, Suriname gained notoriety as being the area that the Dutch traded for in exchange for the UK acquiring some land in North America [ever hear of New Amsterdam?  No, how about New York?]

(On Sundays, locals gather on Independence Square to face off in a bird chirping competition.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Wagers are placed and the birds face off in a chirping/singing competition.  Unfortunately, we missed the actual event, but we showed up just in time to see a few of the cages of small birds still set up in the plaza and being slowly loaded away for next week’s match-up.)
Waterkant
The inner city of Paramaribo is designated a Unesco World Heritage sight for it’s mix of architecture and preserved history.  Also there is a tremendous amount of wooden structures that one would not necessarily associate with the Caribbean.
The mosque… that shares a corner with a synagogue
I’m sure things are not 100% perfect, but the way the city finds a way to blend so many different cultures, races and religions is most impressive.  True ecumenical spirit is hard to find these days. And by these days I clearly mean 1723–which is when the synagogue was built.
What would a former Dutch colony be without bicycles?  Paramaribo has a plethora of them .The Dutch also added to their legacy by building a large series of canals to help drain the city, part of which sits below sea level… not unlike another Dutch city that starts with an A and ends with dam.)
The palm gardens [Palmentuin] are just behind the presidential palace. Back in the day, only the leader and his acquaintances could enjoy the space [because let’ be real, there were no female leaders ‘back in the day’].  However, modern times prevail and the palm gardens are open to the general proletariat such as myself.
Fort Zeelandia has an interesting history. It was originally built in 1640 by the French and was completely made of wood.  It was later captured by the English and  renamed Fort Willoughby. In the 1650s more Dutch settled in the area and in 1667 Dutch Admiral Crijnssen took Paramaribo and recaptured the Essequibo-Pomeroon Colony. The battle which ensued between the English Admiral William Byam and the Dutch Admiral Abraham Crijnssen lasted only three hours. Why? you may ask.  The British ran out of gunpowder and munitions.

Adm. Crijnssen renamed the fort once again, and Fort Zeelandia remained Dutch until 1975 [ because #historynerd].

But Suriname has a dark side too.  It’s relatively unknown to foreigners because most foreigners couldn’t even find Suriname on a map. It’s ‘president’, a dictator really, is also wanted for murder [for his role in the Bloody December of 1982] and by Europol for importing over 1000 pound of cocaine into the Netherlands back in 1999.  But you wouldn’t know this unless you researched the country ahead of time and if the Number 1 Google search for Suriname is ‘Where is Suriname?’, it’s a safe bet would-be tourists don’t know about the king-pin cocaine drug lord/murdered turned president [dictator].  But Paramaribo feels safe; there is no heavy military presence so one would not expect its leader to be a criminal…

Love might be too strong of a word, but I did really like Paramaribo

But I digress…

The area used to be home to a lot of sugar plantations/mills, but when the Dutch pulled out, the sugar industry dried up too.

The Arya Dewaker Temple.  and a message written in Sanskrit—probably something religious.