The sun is brilliant on my last day in San Cristobal de las Casas. I pack my backpack and set it aside. I have until the evening, and I want to experience one last bit of Chiapas for Chiapanecos.
I walk to the market behind my hostel where I can roam for the whole morning and be the sole stranger in the crowd. Despite attempts to cover the walkways with tarps, curves in the earth hold little pools of muddy water. Mayan women in their perpetually plastic-sandaled feet step right into the puddles that I work hard to avoid. Going home everyday with mud covered feet is probably not much of a problem when Tierra is embedded in your soul from day one.
I go past stalls selling those plastic sandals. They resemble some of the Jellies shoes of my youth, except they are opaque and come in practical shades of black and brown. I see stalls that look strangely similar to the teen-oriented accessories stores that are commonly found in United States malls. I see stalls with buckets full of fruits piled up in artful pyramids. I think of San Cristobal mornings spent eating sweet mangoes from this market with the juice streaming down my fingers. I see little women carrying squawking chickens as they maneuver through the market. I like this place; it is what it is.
Later in the day, I make my last stop at the little restaurant I’ve visited almost every day in San Cristobal. It’s a place where everyone says, “Buenas Noches” to everyone else when they walk in, whether or not they know them. I order my regular, a beautiful huarache and freshly crushed pineapple juice for under four U.S. dollars. As I enjoy my last moments there, I unmistakeably feel that I am ready to leave San Cristobal, but I am happy that I was able to find a San Cristobal that I liked.
At the bus station, the driver hands me a little box of headphones and asks me to select a drink from his cart as I climb aboard. Even though it was the cheapest ticket when I booked it, I’ve somehow ended up on a fancier bus than normal. It’s practically empty, and after our first stop, there are are only four of us left on the bus. We spread out in the first few rows.
It should be the most pleasant bus ride ever, but we are stopped at least three times by the police. In a crackdown on both immigration and drugs, all vehicles heading from south to north are suspect. Each time we are pulled over, the lights are switched on and a police officer climbs on the bus to inspect. One of those times, the policeman asks me where I’m from. In my delirium, I have silly paranoid thoughts that he will assume I am from the Caribbean coast of Central America and think I’ve snuck across the southern border. But when I tell him I’m from “Estados Unidos,” he nods and walks right on.
We arrive in Oaxaca around 6am. My backpack, which has been stored underneath the bus, is partially open. It is very apparent that it has been searched, and whoever did it was not very careful. A kind attendant at the bus station sees the concern on my face. He recommends that I look through my bag right away so that if anything is missing, I can file a report immediately. He unlocks a waiting room so I can check my bag inside. Everything is intact and I’m happy that I keep anything of value in my carry on.
I find a cab to take me to the hostel I stayed at last summer. When I arrive at this familiar place, I am welcomed by a familiar face. Mexico City and Oaxaca are the first places in my independent travels that I’ve ever returned to. It feels right. A sign of slowing down, but not stopping.
I return to a room I already know and interchange catching up on sleep with catching up with people I haven’t seen in a year. In the afternoon, I visit my favorite cafe for a cappuccino. I recognize one employee there and I see the warm recognition of me on his face when I walk in. From there, I spend hours in the Cultural Center of Oaxaca before taking a stroll around town.
It’s deliciously quiet and calm that Sunday afternoon, but I know that Oaxaca is never quite still. I love this about Oaxaca, that beneath the mellow surface, passion is always churning. It’s less than 12 hours into my return, and I already feel it profoundly. I have no idea how the Oaxaca aesthetic and the cactus and agave covered landscape seeped through my skin and into my heart, but by the end of my first day back, I know they are there to stay.