Chiapas has me spooked just a little, so I booked a package tour to the Sumidero Canyon instead of my usual cheapskate local bus effort. As the minibus twisted down 3,000 meters over 40-odd kilometers, I distracted myself from carsickness by interpreting the swooshy, swervy Portuguese improvisations of my Brazilian seatmate and the sturdy Spanish of the Zurich woman on the other side. With my brogue in the mix, we made a good study of how global communication might have turned out had the conquistadors been better than plundering brutes.
We were to take a boat ride through the canyon. This river, symbol of Chiapas, wasn’t navigable until a hydroelectric dam was built in 1980. Now a huge Soviet realist monument to the 20,000 workers who built the plant over eight years stands at one end. Presumably, many have not been workers since.
At one point the river is 100 meters deep and the walls of the are 1,000 meters high. It is spectacular. It is beautiful. It is hard to appreciate sitting in the back of a bright yellow fiberglass launch powered by two loud Yamaha engines. There were two dozen of us in matching yellow life-jackets, and if I were one of the many vultures wheeling overhead, I would have dive-bombed the boat in aesthetic protest. For my next trick: jet-skiing in the Galápagos.
The driver zoomed down the river loudly and efficiently, cutting the engine to show us spider monkeys and pelicans fleeing. We u-turned into caves that had oxidized into fabulous colors and did fancy snowboard stops to look at ancient rock formations that looked like a Christmas tree. There were too many vultures to be worth a stop, though our squeals at the first crocodile convinced the guide we’d tip more if he stopped at each ancient, basking hide. They looked happy enough, safe in a national park far from Hermés.
The cormorants reminded me of kayaking in New York’s East River and I wished I were paddling around the watchful crocs. Instead I felt as I always do on a guided tour, slack-jawed, passive, and preoccupied with the availability of ice-cream. Getting a view like this without hiking or paddling for it is like inheriting vast wealth: it makes you jaded and it’s bad for the soul.
What I really need, I decided, is a vast team of camouflauged porters and armed bodyguards who will trail me, hidden, through the untamed world. They will stash mountain bikes, maps, picnics, kayaks, tents, hammocks, horses, trail blazes, and clean socks and knickers along my route. They will also plant appropriately rustic local conveyances at strategic spots, renting chickens for authenticity if necessary. They will rearrange market days for my arrival, and organize DSL connectivity in every shack. They will coach old-timers to share fascinating stories, and ensure that all Internet café owners are fabulously handsome.
Only then can my free spirit move in peace.