The two Chiapas 2007 "Fungal in the Jungle" Mushroom Adventure Tours were both indeed exciting, memorable and rewarding events. Some natural rivalry developed, but everybody ended up as winners.
On September 21 and October 5, two separate groups set out on essentially the same routes to experience the color, culture, countryside and exotic charms of this southernmost state of Mexico, while investigating the local fungi, including some tropical delights. It was perhaps no surprise that after "team 2" had followed in the wake, things evolved into a friendly competition where tallies later determined: most mushrooms collected, edibles cooked, army ant invasions survived, speed of climbing pyramids, number of howler monkeys spotted and other jungle and field events.
It all started when we gathered in the warm, sedate, charming town of Chiapa de Corzo, located on the central Grijalva River, where majestic Sumidero Canyon walls rise to skyscraper heights. Team 1 began aggressively with a tough trek along a dry riverbed that Team 2 somehow avoided by touring the canyon by boat. The next day we all did the view from the top. By van we drove to several overlooks "miradors" that also gave a chance to see flora and fungi at the cliff's edge, including some remarkable black flowers no one had ever seen before.
The next day we vanned up the new highway to the higher elevation San Cristobal de Las Casas area. First stop was a cool (temperature) hot (from climbing) foray in the Huitepec cloud forest bio-reserve. We had special permission to collect mushroom specimens and were well-rewarded with a variety of finds. Then it was down to the nearby village of Zinacantan where a friendly, simple eatery served us a lunch feast of mixed grill meats "anazafre".
On to the mystical village of San Juan Chamula, where its landmark "church" is a once-catholic, now more indigenous/shamanic center of rites and rituals. No pews, just pine needles scattered all over the stone floor with spots cleared for clusters of burning candles. People sitting in the candle-glow chanting, holding a live chicken, invoking the spirit of ancestors. The eerie flickering pockets of light, the sound and the scene are memories. Photos strictly forbidden.
Our evening was spent back in colonial, but cosmopolitan San Cristobal, at a famous small inn/museum called Na Bolom "house of the jaguar." Established decades ago by the late Franz and Trudy Blom, the rooms and facilities are treasure-houses of their anthropological work and photography aimed at preserving and documenting the culture of southern Chiapas.
The next day, our van took us to the Lagos de Montebello, a scattering of 58 lakes, from small to tiny, near the Guatemala border. Lakeside mushroom hunting yielded good results overall. In the village of Tziscao, we enjoyed a lunch of fried lake bass in another rustic, nice "comedor". The next van stop was the rather remote (15km dirt road) but imposing spot "Las Nubes" (the clouds.) This is a community-run eco-preserve with cabins next to the roar of the Santo Domingo River, as it gushes between boulders and cascades down, swelled with rainy-season water. Here we suffered through a humid, muddy jungle trek foray, finally reaching a point high above the river. (It is also at Las Nubes where Team 1 had to jump a battalion of army ants that covered our pathway and a number of our participants. Team 2 had a closer encounter - the ants invaded 3 of our cabins - at night. When we pointed this out to "management" we were told, with a glistening gold-tooth smile, "Oh, it's no problem. The ants don't live here, they are just passing through.")
After a long highway run, passing several military checkpoints without incident, we arrived for lunch at the Escudo Jaguar, in Frontera Corozal, on the banks of the Usumancinta River, with Guatemala on the other side. Then it was a half-hour boat ride to the secluded Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan. Late in the day, it was basically us and the monkeys, families of which swung in the trees high over the temples and buildings.
A short drive the next day brought us to the Lacanja Chansayab jungle community where the remaining, barely 400, Lacandon Indians live and survive on producing unique handicrafts and running tourist lodgings (but only 3 cabanas per location, so we were quite spread out.) The archeological feature nearby is Bonampak, which has rooms of very ornate, prized murals. In the afternoon, we did more challenging, slippery, jungle treks into the old Lacandon environment, found more mushrooms, crossed gurgling creeks and returned for a simple jungle dinner with well-deserved wine.
Palenque was the big stop the next day. In this large, complicated archeozone, we were helped by guide Victor with informative, if controversial views. "From the evidence, the people here had long ago traveled to India and Egypt!" Or vica versa. Our relaxing nice lodge, the Aldea, was a comfort at day's end.
Saturday was the home stretch back, passing Misol Ha waterfall and the Ocosingo Zapatista revolutionary centers on the way, with lunch and a last shopping stop in San Cristobal. By evening, we were in La Ceiba Hotel again in Chiapa de Corzo, where we had started out a long, exciting, week ago. A final dinner, more mushroom talk and everybody agreed that the region, the people, the mushrooms and especially mycologists Felipe Ruan-Soto and Alejandro Kong Luz -- with a special 1-day accompaniment at Montebello by Joaquin Cifuentes Blanco and Rosalva -- (team 1) plus Arturo Estrada Torres with a guest-visit again and presentation by Felipe! (team 2) made these two fungi excursions remarkable, rewarding experiences.