Friday, April 6, 2012

Chiapas: Lagunas de Montebello

View down into one of the larger lakes.
It's good to give yourself a few days to chill, get back into the routine of living somewhere after a very long trip. But after a week of renewed Spanish lessons, catching up with friends, wandering around San Cristobal, eating pizza at El Punto slathered in the Mexican version of Worchestershire sauce (called Salsa Ingles), and all the other fun stuff to do, I was ready for another little trip.

Laurie, me, and Holly about to take off. Then
the rower showed up to take us
across the lake!
Lagunas de Montebello hit the spot. Laurie, an American woman who has befriended me, organized a guide with a van and six of us proceeded to zoom south through Teopisca and Comitan to a land of sunken lakes. The Lagunas de Montebello National Park is an area of old volcanic calderas, judging from the rocks and the fact that none of the lakes have an outlet. Our guide, Alex, said the lakes hook to each other underground, and since they are high, more than likely the water flows out from springs at lower altitudes. From a satellite map, I can't see obvious evidence of the lakes having formed in a caldera, but it may have been a series of eruptions over time making small low spots within a much larger volcanic system. The lakes are incredible, surrounded by temperate rain forest that is loaded with bromiliads and orchids, and each lake is a different vivid color. The park is large and spread out. Communities "own" certain lakes in it, so the guide ended up paying small amounts for us to enter different sections. One lake had a large sign forbidding swimming, the water is the drinking water for a nearby village. Another much larger lake not only permitted swimming but had boats for rent. Holly, Laurie and I rented a row boat with the intention of rowing ourselves, but the price included a young man who expertly took us out to a small island, and then let us inexpertly attempt to row ourselves back. When Holly got us headed back to the island, he took over and we were back to shore shortly. Tom went for a swim in the quite chilly water, and the Israeli couple who were staying at Bela's B&B went for a hike. It's the kind of place you might want to spend a few days exploring. One can rent jeeps and horses for longer treks into the park, and most of the lakes can only be accessed that way, or on foot.
The cenote at Chinkultic, large and deep.

On the way back to San Cristobal, we stopped at the ruins of an old Mayan city, Chinkultic. It is the only city with a cenote in Chiapas, though cenotes (deep wells used for water and drowning-sacrifices) are common among the Mayan cities in the Yucatan. We were able to climb to the top of the ruins before getting kicked out at 5:30, closing time. It was not well excavated, though the main plaza with ball court and sacrificial altars were exposed and in good shape. Clearly it is a much larger city than it looks, as most of the buildings are still covered with vegetation.

After all that, we were starved and our guide took us to a lovely hacienda and coffee plantation. It is also a bed and breakfast, with an outdoor restaurant covered with a palapa. It rained, and then poured rain, then let up and sprinkled, then rained again over the course of our nice dinner of soup and guacamole.

The Hacienda on the coffee plantation

Surrounding the hacienda were coffee 'trees', fairly short bushes with red berries, interspersed with banana plants, some of which were heavy with green bananas. I had been told once, by a man from Hawaii, that the red coffee beans are tasty so I popped a few in my mouth. They look like small cherries. Inside the sweet outer coating are two half-round 'beans' we normally think of as coffee, and they were so pale they were almost white. It's a bit astounding that human beings over time learned to roast those beans to create a beverage that bears no resemblance at all to the taste of the red berries.

One lake was turquoise....

Another lake was sea green.....

Yet another was teal.....

And the last one we visited was the border to Guatemala.

Very odd triangular hole at Chinkultic,
about 2 meters deep.

Portal leading to the bedrooms
at the Hacienda.

Post-note: I'm less convinced now that the Montebello lakes have a volcanic origin (our guide didn't know about the geology). I think they might be limestone sinkholes. It's hard to find good information on the local geology, but treatises on the general geology of Chiapas talk of volcanic activity due to the nearby Pacific Rift, as well as  ancient Carboniferous limestone layers. We saw evidence in volcanic rocks, but the walls of the lakes would indicate some sinking activity, and certainly limestone formations are known to do that! And limestone does form underground rivers which might allow water flow from one lake to another. Also, the name of the lovely hacienda is Posada de Santa Maria. The rooms rent for about $200 US per night.

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