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Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Cañón del Sumidero

After spending the week hanging out in Ixtepec, we travelled across to Tuxtla Gutierrez, the state capital of Chiapas. We planned to go and visit the Sumidero Canyon which had been recommended to me by everyone that had been to Tuxtla. We arrived early in the morning and made our way down towards the river to find someone who would take us along the canyon in a boat.

Before going on to the river, both Da and I were really hungry, so we went on the hunt to find something to eat. We decided that we would head to the market and on arrival we ate some empanadas with beans. Up until this point, I had been so careful about the food that Dad was eating because as foreigners we tend to struggle with a lot of the food here when first confronted with it. As I knew I was going to be living here for a long time, I ate all the food that was presented to me and have suffered all the horrible consequences as a result. Constant stomach discomfort, food poisoning, i've had it all, but thankfully you eventually build up a resistance to it, and stomach problems become less frequent, although its always necessary to be resonably careful where and what you eat. I can honestly say that the food was the hardest part of living here at the start. I really didn't get totally used to it until 6 or 8 months into being here. The problems come from the fact that the food isn't as carefully prepared as it is at home( in terms of hygiene standards) and the amount of different types of bacteria that exist that we don't have defenses against. To me empanadas are such a simple food, easy to prepare and it seemed out of the question that any of us could possibly get sick from them. How wrong it would turn out to be..........

Sumidero begins near the city of Chiapa de Corzo and stretches for about 35km, crossing a number of impressive cliffs, finally ending at the reservoir of the hydroelectric dam Chicoasen. Its possible to visit the canyon by boat or by driving along the miradores (viewing points) at the top of the cliffs that surround it. It was suggested to us that the travelling through it on a boat is the most enjoyable option so we paid for someone to take us down the river. We got kitted out with life jackets and made our way out on to the river.

We got taken down through to Canyon and the boatman pointed out all of the interesting sights along the Canyon such as la Cueva de Colores (Colours Cave), a small cave which has some pinkish colours on the ceiling and a statue of Virgin of Guadalupe. Another sight which coincided well with Christmas time was a formation on the rocks which they refer to as the Christmas tree, which oddly enough looks just like.....a christmas tree. During the rainy season it becomes a waterfall, but during the winter, when the rain is not so abundant, instead of the waterfall an interesting formation is created covered with moss . The Canyon is also home to crocodiles of which we passed a few lying on the banks. About half way through we arrived at the highest point of the Canyon, thats about 1000m deep. The views the whole way through the Canyon are absolutely spectacular. The canyon walls towering over you when you are at the bottom are enormous.

It took about an hour and a half to travel the whole way through the canyon , at which point we arrived at the Chicoasen dam, a massive electricity generator. Before the dam was built, the river was full of fast flowing white waters, that were impossible to navigate by boat. Since it was built , the water levels are much higher, and the river is now tranquil and slow moving. The dam is now the fifth highest that exists in the world.

The whole round trip was about 3 hours, after which we made our way back into Tuxtla to catch a bus to San Cristobal de las Casa to visit a cave system called las Grutas de Rancho Nuevo. Located 8 miles south of San Cristobal. The caves are filled with spectacular limestone stalactities and stalagmites which are illuminated along a 2,475 foot concrete walkway inside a labyrinthe of caves.

There are some indigenous children who hang around outside and give voluntary tours around the caves, in the hope of a tip at the end. Our guide was a young girl who must have only been around 10 years old. She guided us through while entertaining is with stories and jokes about the animals and figures that she was able to make out in the rock formations.

When we came out of the caves, we went to buy some tea and biscuits as we hadn't eaten anything since eating what would turn out the be the dreaded empanadas. We sat and drank tea for a few minutes before Da started complaining about feeling a little bit sick. As the colour slowly drained from his face he complained of feeling more and more sick until it looked like he could have possibly keeled over. He complained of a sore head, nausea and possible upset stomach. We went in search of some toilets, after which we decided we needed to get back towards civilisation and out of the forest in case he did take some kind of turn for the worse.

At this point it was around 6o'clock in the evening, and the part of the forest we were in started to look pretty deserted. Da's health seemed to be deteriorating rapidly so we went in search of some kind of bus or taxi to take us down out of the mountain. As he started looking and feeling sicker and sicker, I slowly realised that taxis didn't seem to be arriving any more and there was no sign of any buses, in other words, we were stuck up there. At that point I figured we should walk down out of where the caves are situated and get closer to the main road. As we were walking down through the forest whatever it was that had upset his stomach decided it was time to get out, so white as a sheet, he leant up against a tree, doubled over and started wretching violently.

It became clear that we weren't going to be walking any where quickly and the lack of any possible transport out of the forest we were in started to make me worry about how the hell we were going to get out, and how sick Da was going to turn out to be. I've seen various people get food poisoning here, including myself when I ended up in hospital, and I started to picture the worst possible situation. Just as it seemed to be getting grim, two men spotted that we were in a spot of bother and came over to offer some help. They luckily had brought a jeep up with them and offered to give us a lift back to San Cristobal. At that point da was still trying to vomit over everything, so i had imagined that they last thing they would have wanted was to have him vomiting in their car, but they saw how desperate a state he seemed to be in, so they gave him a plastic bag and told us to get in.

They dropped us off at the bus station in San Cristobal and after vomiting some more in the bus station toilets, we checked into the first and possibly worst hotel we could find and got Da into bed. The hotel was equipped with some of the most dangerous looking electrical fittings that i've seen in a hotel and an unlockable door that we had to put furniture up against to keep closed, but in the circumstances all we wanted were two beds and a bathroom so that Da would hopefully get over whatever bug he had picked up from the dreaded empanadas...............

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