The next morning we awoke in San Cristobal and found ourselves over 2000 meters (6000 feet) higher in elevation. We spent just over a week staying with a local family, taking some much needed Spanish classes, and wandering around the town and it's markets. One afternoon we visited Chamula, a small town even further up in the mountians than San Cristobal that is home to a large indigenous population. While in San Cristobal we also got to witness some of the festivities associated with the celebration of the Virgin de Guadalupe which include lots of traditional costume, music and dancing, and setting off of lots of fire crackers at all hours. At the end of the week, with our Spanish speaking abilities much improved, we decided to visit Tonola, a small town near the Pacific coast in southern Mexcio.
A Mexican family we met in Texas (remember them?) had family in Tonola that offered to let us stay for a few days and we figured that there is no better way to practice a language than surrounding yourself with people who speak it and no English...and so off we went. We had a wonderful time and stumbled through many conversations and introductions entirely in Spanish. We went to the beach a few times (and later found out that there are a lot of great white sharks off the coast near Tonola), visited Carlos' ranch for a tour on horseback, and spent an evening meeting some other members of the family.
After a few days in Tonola we headed back up into the moutians to visit the Mayan ruins of Palanque. The excavated ruins span several acres and you can still walk in/up most of them. They are surrounded by jungle and we were lucky enough to see and hear some howler monkeys while we were there. The ruins were one of the most amazing things we've seen in our travels.
From Palanque we headed for the coast of the Yucatan Penisula and spent several nights in a little cabana on the beach in a popular tourist town called Tulum. We went swimming, swung in the hanging beds along the beach, cooked and hung out around campfires at night, and met a bunch of traveling students from all over the place during our time there. We also visited some more Mayan ruins that were a bit less impressive and much more crowded than those of Palanque. They did, however, have a nice beach. From Tulum we traveled to Cancun and spent a couple of nights in a hostel before flying home to NH for the holidays.