Ocosingo, Chiapas. More than any other region in Mexico, it is here in the densely-wooded hills of Chiapas that I feel like a guest. We're pretty much the only gringos, gueros, white guys. Here, I feel as though I am being allowed to visit. I am welcomed, but not altogether trusted.
Fourteen years ago, a group of Mexicans fought the Mexican government by taking over control of a variety of communities in the state of Chiapas. Most notably, they took the elegant colonial mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the most popular tourist destination in the state. The radical Zapatistas did not win all of their objectives of peasant land rights and the reversal of NAFTA policies, but peace has slowly returned to the area.
Pete and I arrived to Ocosingo, in the heart of Zapatista country, without a whole lot of information about the troubles that had occurred in the area. We were attracted to the more rural setting, some relatively unvisited ruins, and the possibility of a trip far into the mountains to visit the last of the Lacondon Rainforest--the most ecologically diverse area in all of Mexico(which turns out to be one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world). After arriving at the wonderful Hospedaje Esmeralda, and further exploration of Ocosingo and the surrounding countryside, we´ve learned far more about the Zapatistas, their cause, and the realities that the people in the area face today.
It turns out that before the Hospedaje Esmeralda, there was El Rancho Esmeralda, a macademia nut farm and ecotourism destination for gringos. In January of 2003, however, Zapatista-sympathizers threatened the US owners until they were forced to leave the ranch that they had been building and growing for the ten years prior. The Zapatista group took over the ranch, but since then, they have let it fall into disrepair and disuse. I can understand why poor peasants would want their own land, and I even understand anti-globalization sentiments(USAns being easy targets for such anger). But what a shame.
Tomorrow, Pete and I are planning on taking a six-hour bus ride via camioneta--a small van with benches that is crammed-full of as many people can fit--to Laguna Miramar, supposedly the best swimming hole in the world. An azul lake, without any developments on its shore except for an open air palapa and some Mayan ruins, and surrounding it, the Lacondon Rainforest. Sounds swell, huh? We were contemplating taking a plane there, but the $5600 peso pricetag was a little too hefty, and the ubiquitous consumption a little too, well, consumptive.
I don't feel totally at ease in this place, but I can´t say that I am scared either. In 2002, the US told USAns not to travel to the southeast part of Chiapas. But here, off the usual beeline track, I´ve found a vibrant, beautiful, and intriguing part of Mexico. I´ve also found some humility, too.