The Road Is Life

A POLISH GIRL IN SAN CRISTOBAL

Monika's trip around the world came to a stop when this Mexican city made her –literally– fall in love

Monika Szyszlowska, guest writer

I am from Poland, and due to the long, cold, dark winters, which drove me close to depression, I always dreamed of living in an exotic and warm country with abundant vegetation and cheerful people. And so, I always dreamed of traveling.

   I took my first great trip in 2007-08, with the purpose of seeing the world and its wonders. One year with a backpack through thirteen countries. I wanted to find my place on Earth but, with that voracious pace of seeing the whole world and actually taking very little time in each destination, I didn’t give myself a chance to find it.

My second great trip, in 2009, was through Central America and it was going to be different. Without a time limit. I left with the ideas of polishing my Spanish, perhaps becoming a professional in tourism, maybe working in some NGO, perchance finding my love... I didn’t have to wait long for my life to change.

   I landed in Mexico. I immediately took Couchsurfing (a network of travelers that stay with locals) as an opportunity to meet the people and really get to know Mexico. This is how I arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas. When I got off the bus, Rudy, my host (and Couchsurfing ambassador in San Cristobal), was already waiting for me. He took me straight to a party where almost everyone were couchsurfers, and I loved it!

The following days Rudy guided me through the streets and corners of San Cristobal, and from day one I fell in love with this town. I was fascinated by the mixture of indigenous people, coletos (natives of San Cristobal) and foreigners walking around the same streets and the same places. I marveled at the market where fresh fruit and vegetables were sold in heaps. I was amazed by the many bars with live music of all kinds and roots. I was seduced by the vibes of San Cristobal, a multicultural city of artists and hippies, its simplicity, modesty and openness. The endless party. My eyes lit up at this beautiful town and everything that happened. Rudy and his friend laughed at me: "So you're staying here? The NGO in January? Crafts in February? Clowning in March?"

I didn’t become a craftswoman or a clown, but I did stay in San Cristobal. I still went around Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, but then I returned to Sancris. Why? Because of Rudy.

   From there, things happened quickly. As soon as we decided to try a life together, we began to turn our dream of a hostel into a reality. It took us a month to find a house to rent. The following month we transformed it into a hostel. Due to the bright green color of the house, we called it Iguana Hostel. That was in June 2010.

   After the investment, there were days when we didn’t have money to eat, but we were happy. That same year our first son was born. Two years later our daughter was born. For me at the beginning it was a big, difficult change: a change of country, of continent, of lifestyle.

   Meanwhile, thanks to my experience as a traveler who stayed in hostels around the world and Rudy’s immense hospitality, Iguana Hostel became a recognized place among backpackers, and positioned itself amidst the best hostels in San Cristobal.

   When our daughter turned two, we decided to open another hostel, and in March 2015 we opened Posada Mirador. Every day we meet travelers who fell in love with San Cristobal just like me. Several came to the Iguana years ago and keep coming back; some decided to stay here; while other old friends said goodbye, continuing their journey to other directions of the world.

"Do you like Mexico?" People ask me. "I love San Cristobal," I reply. Because yes, I still adore this town, which those who come call the true Mexico: with the indigenous people, so much poverty that we see every day; the street vendors, the flavors, and the colors. I see it as a bubble: with yoga classes, French bakeries, bilingual children, alternative schools, street musicians – that’s the offer that appeals to foreigners so much, makes the adaptation easier and makes us forget what is happening in the rest of the country and the world.

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