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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

San Cristobal - Anyone up for insurrection?

MEXICO | Monday, 21 September 2009 | Views [1518]

Detail of embroidery, Zincantan.

Detail of embroidery, Zincantan.

After the long drives around rural Chiapas, we were glad to get back to San Cristobal and spend a week or so just bumming around.  There are worse places to bum, and it seemed that quite a few fellow europeans had chosen the same place to hang out in.  Oddly, there weren’t so many Americans and Canadians here – maybe they’ve been put off by the Zapatista rebellion…

We stayed cheap and cheerful in the Youth Hostel, cooking our own meals from veggies bought at street stalls.  San Cristobal, although it has a good share of expats and tourists, retains its charm and still operates as a city doing its thing – it hasn’t been knocked around by ill-advised 20th C re-development, so there are still avenues and streets of old colonial town houses, with cobbled surfaces and brightly-coloured facades.  There’s lots of graffiti too – even some banksyesque stuff – doubt the man himself, but some fun imitations.

The streets are paved with gold in San Cristobal...

Rachel and I spent a lot of our time just mooching around the streets, checking out interesting shops and the vibrant markets, investigating the luridly-coloured churches and eating a host of different food in the cosmopolitan restaurants.  There were plenty of vegie options, which meant Rachel was a happy bunny.  There was even some decent music – at the Casa del Pan we ate lovely locally-sourced food, whilst listening to a great local guitarist and singer.  This cultural centre also hosts a language school and cinema!

We went to a viewing of a documentary about the Zapatista rebellion, which was a bit of an eye-opener.  It turns out that the Mexicans are rather similar to their more southerly neighbours that they try to disassociate themselves from.  When the peasants start suggesting that it might be a bit unfair that a very small minority own all the land and pay them next to nothing, and the state gives them no education or services, it turns out the Mexicans used the usual fall back response of ‘send in the death squads’…  Yeah. Nice one.

Column detail, Santa Domingo church

We also went to our first bit of ‘cultcha’ since Granada, by going to see a show on Pakal, the greatest lord of Palenque.  The costumes were great, although the story interpretation, attempting to take on the myths and world view of the ancient mayans, made it a little bizarre – still, a fun spectacle.

The Na Bolom museum/cultural centre, had a great exhibition on the Lacandon people, furnished with loads of great black and white photographs from the Danish owners of the property, seemingly cast in the eccentric aristocrat role – they explored the Lacandon rainforest, surveyed Mayan ruins and also did an awful lot to try and retain the culture and independence of the native people.  Outside, a separate building had a really good exhibition showing fashions in Mayan ladies-wear over the last forty years. It seems that the women from each town/village decide on what patterns and motifs they are going to make that year, and then all make the same blouses, with their own variations.  The quality of the stitching is fantastic and the colours are very lovely.  The museum also did a really good tea!

We also did the usual tourist thing of visiting the nearby mayan towns of Chamula and Zinacantan.  The people are from different tribes and speak a totally different language (Tzotzil and Tzeltal respectively!), even though the towns are in neighbouring valleys, which I imagine meant trading was interesting.  Chamula is famous for its markets and the wonderful 16th C church.  Well, it was a church when it was built, but its been a mayan temple ever since.  The interior is ablaze with thousands of candles on the floor, which is scattered with resin-scented pine branches.  On the walls, boxes contain statues of ill-looking catholic saints, which have come to represent different mayan entities, which different families pray to.

The atonal chanting of praying couples, together with the scent of candle smoke and pine and the myriad of tiny flames really is quite moving.  It did feel a bit intrusive with groups of tourists wandering around, but it seemed everyone was trying their best to be respectful.  We then moved on to visit a traditional weaver family in Zincantan, where the ladies roam around in fantastic shawls decorated with blue and purple flowers.  We had black corn tortillas (cooked on a griddle over an open fire) with white beans, ground pumpkin seeds, cheese and salsa – really delicious.

Pine crosses at Chamula market - no, not christian

Our last trip out of San Cristobal was to the Canon de Sumidero – a gigantic gorge, which would be even deeper but for the dam at the end of it.  Our trip down to the canyon gave us our first glimpse of the drylands of Mexico, as we drove down the side of the (once) tree-covered mountains, looking out over an arid plain.  The temperature difference between the two was staggering.  We piled into a motor boat and cruised up the river to the gorge entrance – a titanic cleft in towering cactus-covered rock, with vultures wheeling overhead.  I’ve never been up a river with such huge cliffs on either side – the midday sun didn’t hit the bottom.

We passed flocks of vultures hopping around the river-edge, eating salt deposits.  Inaccessible woodlands on rock plateaux towered above us.  There were even weird formations of calcareous deposits made by dry waterfalls.  Eventually, the river widened out into a huge hydro-electric dam, with a vast wall 260m high.  The boat disturbed flocks of cormorants and duck that wheeled around us as we powered back to the canyon.  A great trip.  Later we had a drink in Chiapa del Corzo with its lovely 16th C zocalo centrepiece, in the shape of the spanish crown, before heading back to the welcome cool of the mountains.  A fine end to our long journey through Mayan lands.  Next up, a rendevous in the lands of the Zapatecs...

The towering canyon entrance...

To see more pictures of San Cristobal, the mayan towns and
Canon Sumidero, click here

Tags: canon sumidero, chamula, san cristobal, zincantan


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