A Quick Trip to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas: The Pleasures of Reading

When I sat down to write a series of Romantic Suspense novels set in Mexico and written from the point of view of American women travelers or expatriates, I had five, possibly six, locales in mind. Each one, I thought, would give a sense of the distinct regions of the country. Bird of Paradise—the one I’m revising now— was set on the west coast around Puerto Vallarta. Palace of the Blue Butterfly was set in the metropolis of Mexico City and The White City takes place in the Yucatan. That left Oaxaca or San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful and mysterious city in the mountains of Chiapas famous for the Zapatista uprising in the mid 1990s.

Many years ago, I took a bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal, a long, arduous trip, the kind of thing you can only do when you’re young, I think. I was alone because Dave had to go back to work in the Bay Area. I wanted to get to Palenque come hell or high water, so I went by myself.

Being alone, maybe especially being a woman traveling alone in Mexico, heightens your senses, which is just what you need if you want to write. Anyway, I’d never felt so far away from everything I’d ever known as I did in San Cristobal. Maybe it was the landscape, the Tzotzil-speaking Indians, the strange church service in Chamula, the light, the air, I don’t know, but it was intense.

Well just the other day, I bumped into a book— Let the Water Hold Me Down—set in San Cristobal during the Zapatista takeover. I found it by chance when it came up on that little series of book covers that Amazon runs under a novel you may have searched for.

Well, I downloaded the novel immediately, and once I began reading I was gone. I was back in San Cristobal very, very far away.

I always object to reviews that give too much information. I’ll make mine short. Read. This. Book. IMHO this author nails what it feels like to be a traveler in Mexico, the disorientation, the seduction of the place, the charm of the people, the menace that can sometimes appear.

The novel’s author Michael Spurgeon has been compared to Hemingway in that his writing reveals just the tip of the iceberg. The voice of the main character is so engaging, and his Mexican friend Cesar so charismatic and both are so economically and exquisitely rendered that you, like the main character, will be completely drawn into this world.

Here is Spurgeon’s description of a horseback ride through  Cesar’s coffee plantation.

“Outside of Alaska, it’s hard to find a place in the States that seems so for removed from civilization. Even the remoter parts of Montana and the Dakotas that I had visited hadn’t struck me as such ancient, isolated and impenetrable places. It was beautiful, but something about the vastness of the wilds and the impermanence of man that they signaled made me feel a certain emptiness.”

Exactly what it feels like. Go there. Read this book.

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