7 Sep 2011

San Cristobal de las casas

A little bit higher (2200 metres) than Oaxaca but wo, much cooler and it rained and rained and rained...

And even though the hostel was excellent (managed to watch the Belgian GP at 7am with two damp dogs for company which cant be bad) being wet and cold with continued wet and cold with no way of drying things out properly, well it moved from being highland charm to a little bit sucky quite quickly.

the delightful hostel which unfortunately got very wet!

Of course one of the delights of this trip is that if we don't like it, we pack our sacks-of-ruck and move on, so adios SC and hello jungle - wehey...

blue corn at the market

Oh and by the way, SC is a beautiful little town with tres interesting stuff to see such as:

Casa Na Bolom - home of Frans Blom (archaeologist) and his photographer wife Gertrude (Trudy to her mates). Lovely place, great ethos and founding principles focussing on the protection of the Lacandon people (only Maya NOT to be conquered by the Spanish) and jungle.

Frans was obviously a bit of a raver in his day, sent off to the US in his twenties by his wealthy Danish family (clearly leaving behind a juicy scandal or six and no real direction) got a degree or two, went to Mexico, fell in love with the Lacandon people, settled in SC, carried out many expeditions into the jungle, unearthed and documented thousands of objet d'foret, built THE pre-eminent library on the Maya (still free to access for all) published many many books and articles, drank at least a bottle of local hooch an evening from what we could see and from one end of a looooong dining table hosted lots of fascinating locals and non local visitors.

At the other end of the table Gertrude was obviously no wall flower either. She died only a few years ago at 93 leaving 55,000 photographs of the Lacandons and other tribes of Chiapas, a lasting legacy in terms of the library, the institute and positive environmentalist action in the surrounding areas - all in all a beautiful place to visit and story to hear.

Chiapas is also home to many other ethnic groups, all of whom retain their individual identity, language, customs, clothes, food etc.  We spent a day with a guide visiting San Juan Chamula (small town) and  San Lorenzo Zinacantan (small village) both of which are populated by Tzotzil (cho-chil) people but are completely different and very independent.

The Chamulans were celebrating the fiesta of the day of 'Santa Rosa de Lima' which basically means the place just goes totally bonkers, loads of music/canon fire/fireworks launched from the hand/more music/gringo sacrifice, you know all the usual town fete stuff.

Thing is that although it might have appeared to all be to celebrate the memory of a catholic saint, this was not the Roman Catholicism that we know. Outside the church was procession after procession leaping and lurching and thrusting various animals in carnival fashion, whilst inside the church hundreds of candles, clouds of incense and soft chanting surrounded many worshippers who had their noses planted in the pine needle carpeted floor. And amongst each group (about 10) was one leader/shaman/medicine man who was there to rub eggs on the 'patient' to remove the evil spirits. Amazing sights, sounds and smells...

Despite all this sensory excitement, we had been warned by our excellent guide that photographs are strictly forbidden when within the town's limits, they literally incarcerate anyone (for a day and it definitely did not have en-suite facilitations) that brandishes a camera near the locals who do not want their souls stolen by the digital devil.

Inside Chamula church (courtesy of google)

The other two members of our tour group were a young Israeli couple who spoke little English, no Spanish, hadn't heard of Columbus or Cortes, didn't know about a certain conquest approx 500 years ago - I kid you not!  As our guide gave them the idiots highlights to the past few centuries both from a Mexican and European perspective and the pesos dropped regarding minor factoids like why people speak Spanish in these parts, why there are catholic churches everywhere and why people talk about pre and post Columbian history, I encouraged them to take as many photos as their batteries could muster.

Next stop San Lorenzo Zinacantan (with two spare seats in the minibus) only 10kms further up the road but a completely different world. The Zinacantans are very successful flower producers exporting all over the place. After the edgy slightly crazed and febrile atmosphere of Chamula, the Zinacantans are clearly the flower power mellow side of the Tzotzil family, all very chillisimo. 

We were welcomed into a family home, served 'posh' the local liquor, given the opportunity to purchase some textiles that the family had made - :) - and served some amaaaazing tortillas by Granny made from scratch herself, which tasted completely different to any other tortilla we have tasted in Mexico, beautiful.

And with that we got on a bus to Palenque which dropped through the highlands into rain forest into jungle, often rounding hairpin bends (no crash barriers) with a looooooooooooong drop and amazing views of 20-30 kms across wide wide valleys of junglely forests.

Still no news from the historically challenged photographers, but I'll keep you posted...


  1. Hi Guys
    We are following your adventures! Keep us posted, it makes us feel part of it all. And yes… we are extremely jealous, even if you are soaking wet and cold, sorry. Because we are soaking wet and cold here too, but we don’t have funky textiles to try on or tortilla baking grannies… enjoy the freedom en keep on sharing the fun!
    An, Igor, Lucas and Sander

  2. Loving the pics of YOU both! Even wet...Good to see Ben is putting on weight...must be all those tortillas. big love vx

  3. Love the blog. Keep it coming. The historically challenged couple made me smile. Would have been interesting to hear their take on the palestinian issue. Maybe there are not aware that there is an issue. :)