A Challenge from Chiapas
The directions I received by email from the Evergreen Ranch started like this. “If you come directly from the nearest airport, Tuxtla Gutierrez, you can take a taxi for two hours for 1,000 pesos (about 6,000 yen). But you can also come by bus or shared taxi."
This is followed by a detailed description of how to find a cab or local bus in any village. The village of San Isidro Chichihuistan is located in the Teopisca region of Chiapas, southeast Mexico. A large ranch there is the destination of this trip. It is called "Evergreen" in English because the ranchers are an American and French couple. In Spanish it is called El Rancho Evergreen.
I live in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, where I work for a Japanese company and live with my family, but it was during the winter of 2018 at Christmas time that I decided to make this trip. My wife and two daughters decided to go to Japan for the winter break, leaving me abandoned during the festive season. During their absence, I had four consecutive days off, which is rare in this country. That is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the Saturday and Sunday before that. But at home in Mexico City, it is cold at this time of year. A chill fills the air, but for me, considering economics, it is not worth turning on the heater only for myself. What is more, being home alone, combined with the low temperatures, would make me feel lonely. So, I decided to travel to the trickiest and most remote place to go, where I know I'll get a kick out of the whole adventure. After contemplating where to go on this escapade, "Evergreen Ranch" came to mind.
This ranch appeared just once in the travel magazine "México Desconocido", which introduces hidden places to travel to in Mexico. I had purchased every issue of the magazine for over five years till then, and I noticed that most of the popular spots kept popping up every two years or so. One day they would be in the "Top 10 Beach Resorts for Couples" section, the next it's in the "Hidden Beach Spots" section with a different photo. However, this ranch was unusual and showed up only once, and the American kind of name, “Evergreen”, stood out from the crowd of other hidden destinations. According to the article, the husband and wife co-owners of the ranch have two children, both girls. They are in their mid-teens, similar to my daughters. They grew up in Mexico, speaking French, English, and Spanish fluently. They and my two daughters have the same backbone, that is, they grew up in Mexico with foreign parents. Hopefully, I would get to know this family. I could envisage the four girls playing happily together in the future. In addition, there are many horses on the ranch and you can learn to ride them. This is one activity that I have always wanted to do.
According to the photos on the ranch's website, the cottages on view look traditional and the animals are cared for by the family. To get there, you first have to go to San Cristobal de las Casas or simply “San Cristobal” a village in the state of Chiapas, where you can find many indigenous people who continue to live in a traditional way, and then drive for another hour.
“If you are going by public transport, when you arrive in the town of San Cristobal, walk to the central market. From there you can take a bus to the nearby villages, and when you get off in the village of Nazareth you can take a shared taxi.”
It was quite a hassle as well as time-consuming to have to make all these connections. But the owner of the guesthouse, who at the time didn't know what kind of person I was, a hippy, perhaps a rich guy, a poor student, young or old, emailed me with these options. If you charter a taxi from the airport and pay about 6,000 Japanese yen, it will take you to the ranch deep in the mountains. But "if you take the public bus normally used by the villagers then a shared taxi, it costs 1,800 yen," it says. In the eight years I've lived in Mexico City as an expatriate for a Japanese company, my occasional trips have been mainly to the beach, where I've always been accompanied by a transfer from the airport to my hotel. In addition to the cost of accommodation, flights, and meals, I've always opted for the all-inclusive style. As I've become more and more resort-oriented, I took it upon myself to read the directions from Evergreen Ranch as a kind of challenge. The information I received gave me food for thought.
“It may be a little difficult for you to come for the first time, but most travelers get here by bus or shared taxi. We usually share taxis with people in our village. But if you are rich enough, you can get a taxi directly from the airport.”
It didn't say so directly like that, but this message made me think that it was impossible to take a taxi directly from the airport to the ranch from the point of view of "The Evergreen common sense". This encouragement to guests to save money is clearly reflected in the price categories of the rooms. The Barn Wood Room, where I stayed, has three beds, and the price was 250 pesos (1,500 yen) per night for a bed, 400 pesos (2,400 yen) for two beds, and 700 pesos (4,200 yen) if you rent the whole room. I took a look at the pictures on their website and it looked like an old-style crafted hut, built from wood from the village. "The Cottage", the other one was already booked up, even though it was a month and a half away before my trip.
“Many of our guests stay here for a long time, so most of them share their rooms with other travelers. If you wish to pay extra, you can rent a whole room for yourself. What would you like to do?”
So says the email from the guesthouse. Part of me wanted to stick my neck out and share a room, but ultimately I didn't want to bother any unfortunate roommate with my world-famous snoring and sleep-talking, so luckily for everyone, I decided to rent a whole room for myself. Also, it's still cheaper than any hotel I usually stay in. Arriving at a traditional cottage like this, to my mind it would definitely be more suitable to take a local bus or shared taxi than to arrive directly in a chartered private taxi as it would give me the feeling of a true adventure.
When I was a student in my early twenties, I studied in Mexico for two years. During the school summer holidays, I would take the bus to various places. At that time I never thought of the option of taking a taxi alone. In Mexico City, for example, I always took the metro, and in Oaxaca, the state next to Chiapas, I rode the local buses which was a life experience in itself. Fast approaching a rickety, green bus that belched black exhaust fumes, which would stop anywhere in the street when you raised your forefinger from your right hand. I learned this by imitating the locals. When stopping, I hurried to join the other passengers to squeeze in through the always-open door. Cheaply, I suppose, is how I've always got around.
As time went by and I was about to turn fifty, I could only take three or four days off at the most. I have learned to use this as an excuse to "buy time with money". It sounds poetic, but it's just a fixed way of thinking that makes you give up on the details and hassles which you may encounter. It stuck in my mind like a fatty piece of meat does to your belly and finally, I couldn't get rid of it. But what do I do with the time I have saved? The answer is “nothing special”.