Traveling from Cambodia to Vietnam by bus is like going from Three Oaks, Michigan directly to Times Square without everything between. The minibus is packed with a mix of foreigners with their legs crammed against the seats in front of them and locals. We pick up and drop off several people along the way as the bus swims through a sea of motorbikes like a shark through a school of minnows, honking the whole way.
I am lured in by a chalkboard in front of a wine shop: Every additional glass of wine is five quetzales cheaper than the last. Tabacos y Vinos does not have an English name, sure, but it is a quintessential gringo hangout in a town full of gringo hangouts. I meet a retired archeologist (now expat), a schoolteacher from New England, a group of law students doing a two-week program, a group of guys from Arkansas in seminary school learning Spanish, and the lady working that night. There is a local on duty in case someone comes in and needs to speak Spanish. It is less a bar than wine shop in setup, with a large square table surrounded by wine bottles shelved on the walls, so it is hard not to talk to people while hanging out there.
Antigua has a ridiculous amount of language schools and lures droves of English speakers to learn Spanish the best way: cultural immersion. The only problem is that finding someone willing to speak Spanish to you is harder to come by than someone willing, or able, to speak English.
San Cristobal de las Casas was deemed a “magical village” in 2003 by the Mexican board of tourism and further recognized by President Filipe Calderon as the most magical of the magical villages in 2010. I’m unsure whether state agencies or presidents have the power or prestige of mysticism to make such designations, but one can see what they mean. Here lies the cultural capital of the state of Chiapas, with many local villages, like San Juan Chamula, making significant contributions. Religious ceremony here is almost always accompanied by the local spirit, pox (pronounced poh-sh), distilled from cane sugar and corn. This strong ceremonial liquor augments that “magical” feeling Senor Presidente Calderon was talking about.