If you have the good fortune, like us, to return to your favorite places again and again, you might experience what I call the “evolution of travel.” For us, one of those places is San Cristóbal, Chiapas, one of Mexico’s most interesting cities.You can do a lot of research about a place, maybe call a friend of a friend who lives in that destination, but more than likely you are a tourist when you first visit. You might have “guide book” familiarity, but you are still a tourist or, at best, a traveler.

With luck, each successive visit reveals new discoveries at this favorite destination. If you are really lucky, you will befriend a resident who shows you their secret spots and introduces you to their circle of friends.

Now, you are a visitor and a friend, no longer a tourist.

A chance meeting on top of one of Calakmul’s pyramids in Campeche last year furthered our evolution with San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. Kraig and Kathy had recently sold a business in the U.S. and were following their passion for travel, bird watching and for exploring other cultures. Their base for several months of travels around Southern Mexico was San Cristóbal. They were quickly smitten with the city, as are we.

Before they returned to Seattle in the Spring, they had purchased a lovely old home in the historic district of San Cristóbal.

We were their first house guests, and we were invited to a local gathering of expats and Mexicans for a Thanksgiving feast. It is a fifteen-year tradition begun, coincidentally, by the couple who had sold them the house.

Thanksgiving pies from the owner of La Casa del Pan

 Not only did we enjoy furthering our friendship with Kraig and Kathy, but they introduced us to an interesting, eclectic group of people who have made a home in Chiapas. Great food, great wine and wonderful conversation were the highlights of one of the most memorable Thanksgivings in years. It will be hard to eat turkey in the future without mole.

Our “Black Friday” was spent at the amazing Orchidea Moxviquil, part of the 100 hectare Moxviquil Reserve on the north side of the city. The gardens and greenhouse were established in 1994 to rescue and preserve the flora of Chiapas. At the moment, they have more than 600 species of orchids, bromeliads, ferns and cacti native to the state. You won’t find this hidden gem listed in your “Lonely Planet”, and that’s unfortunate.

During our visit, there were thirty different orchids in bloom. The beauty of the delicate orchids was staggering. Many of the blooms were so small, several slow walks through the greenhouse were necessary to see most of them.

Lucky for us, the director, Cisco Craig Dietz, was our personal tour guide. He not only explained the history and the biology of the orchids, but added a lot of details about the amazing world of bromeliads and ferns. We left with a better understanding of our failure to nurture our orchids on Cozumel.

Later that day, we did our part for the local economy by walking along Real de Guadalupe at sunset, buying a few gifts in a couple of shops. We finished the evening at La Viña de Bacco, which is a favorite spot for small plates and wine.

But earlier, our evening stroll was different. Instead of joining the evening promenade as strangers, we walked with residents and chatted with new friends we met along the way. Just another small thing that makes us feel like we are a part of the community that is Mexico, and not just tourists.