Monday, September 18, 2006

Mayambichos: Being Careful in San Cristobal

San Cristobal de Las Casas is one of the homes away from home for many foreigners who come to the mountains of the Mexican South East to work with Zapatista communities, who participate in community projects or who cover Zapatismo for the media. The city is also a popular backpacker stop and ends up hosting many long-term tourists who study Spanish, relax or otherwise enjoy a small Mexican town filled with a mix of local indigenous and mestizo "coletos" as well as youth from all over Mexico who come to work and enjoy themselves.

With such a transient environment, one has to be very careful with health and hygiene. In my stays here I have had to leave two hostels because of the sight of bedbugs or "chinches." Other hostels and homes can cause serious respiratory problems because of the prevalence of black mold that takes hold in many of the dank rooms in the often cold and wet San Cristobal.

The Magic Hostel was one of the "chincheros" I had the misfortune of noticing. The other is known as Mayambé. Their restaurant is one of the most expensive locations to eat in San Cristobal and advertises Arabic, Thai and Indian food. The middle eastern dishes are tastey, but they have a reputation of bad sanitation, and on one occasion gave the author a case of acute food poisoning.

The hostel is even worse, though it is important to note that the hostel is owned by different persons, apparently Canadians. Though the staff is friendly, there is no care for the cleanliness. Old filled sacks seem to serve as matresses on some of the beds, including one that was crawling with bed bugs. When staff was informed that we were leaving because we wouldn´t sleep with bugs, the response was a shrug and "that makes sense."

Others that I know had experiences where a staff member (since fired) sexually molested them in their sleep. In short, its worth asking around to find a place with a good reputation, and closely inspecting the cleanliness of the beds, kitchens and bathrooms before laying down in any San Cristobal hostels.

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