San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico,
November 2, 2002
Yes it was 20 hours to San
Cristobal de Las Casas and there was road construction
at some points. Overall the ride was enjoyable with
movies and stops every few hours. One of the onboard
movies was "Les Miserables" (in Spanish) with Liam Neeson
playing the lead. An exceptionally good movie I think
everyone should see.
The bus arrived in the early morning hours when the
the mist was still descending into the valley bottom
below. From the golden sands of the Caribbean coast
to a mountain ringed valley 2,000 meters above sea level,
San Cristobal is in stark contrast to Isla Mujeres.
The city sprawls out in endless one-way streets just
wide enough for one car. The sidewalks are just as narrow
with barely room for one person to pass. I love the
earthy, grass roots feel of the place. In some ways
the whole town looks as though it is ready to collapse
but there is also a very beautiful energy. There is
a warm, alive feeling amidst the endless renovations.
As Doņa Rosita says "we make do with what we have day
by day". (photo)
Doņa Rosita owns the Posada that I have stayed at
for the past several nights. She has a subtle, charismatic,
calming air that permeates the room. A well respected
woman in the community, she has a wealth of information
on local traditions, social issues and natural medicines
of the Mayan people. This, as well as breakfast, is
all included in the price of the room.
By mere coincidence, I arrived during the international
festival of Cervantino - Barroco. A week long celebration
of world music, dance, and art. The free event hosts
international artists who perform in the park, several
theatrical locations and on the main stage in front
of "The Church of the Ex-Convent". A modern dance group,
consisting of 3 men and 5 women performs on the edge
of the park. The only prop is an ornate, wrought iron
park bench. All the dancers have their faces smeared
with a light blue paint. They all wear various combinations
of white jump suits. The music is a stark but intricate
beating of rhythm sticks. It sounds Peruvian. Dancers
weave in and around each other, falling into open arms,
jumping over the bench, falling and rolling on the ground.
Smiles, blank stares, faces filled with fear, anger
and loneliness combine with the movements to create
an emotional ballet that keeps the silenced audience
That night the traditional folkloric groups gather
on each corner of the park. The costumes are brilliant
displays of black capes, black velvet, white silk and
sequined sashes. They sing full harmonized rancheros
and ballads accompanied by contra bass, guitars, mandolins
and accordions. Each group proudly wave banners with
their names and regional locations. I somehow feel a
strong connection to this as if it were my own culture
singing songs I have known for years. (video)
The music festival this year also coincides and concludes
with "Dia de Los Muertos" the biggest holiday in Mexico.
No one seems to know how but recently Halloween became
included in this celebration and the children trick
or treat for the entire 3 days of festivities. I am
sure children in Canada, where Halloween is celebrated
for only one day, would be interested in acquiring this
part of the tradition.
October 31 is a raucous, no holds barred, firecrackers
and drinking 'til dawn party, for some people. Most
people lock up early and put ear plugs in to muffle
the din. November 1 is in remembrance of the children
who have passed on and according to tradition, have
immediately become angels. On November 2 relatives of
the deceased proceed to the cemetery where various rituals
and celebrations continue all night. The patron saint
of the Chiapas's is the Virgin of Guadeloupe or Lupita
as she is affectionately known. During the Day of the
Dead it is tradition to set up a shrine in her honor
and light candles in front of it for deceased relatives
I did not attend any of the cemetery vigils but I understand
that food, drink and the deceased relatives' clothing
are placed on top of their graves for the spirits to
use. This is the one day of the year that they are permitted
to return to earth. For me, this is a quiet time of
reflection as I have also suffered personal loss recently.
Over the next few days I discover other parts of San
Cristobal. Further removed from the main square, down
a picturesque cobblestone street where cars are not
allowed, is another park and the Church of San Cristobal
de Las Casas. The park is home to many artisans and
hucksters. I am under the impression that "hucksters"
are not a bad thing in Mexico. One man is selling something
similar to "CLR" or "DD7". He makes
a big display of natural remedies and talks of how important
it is to keep things clean. All the while there are
some mysterious bags off to the side. At one point he
reaches into one of these bags and pulls out a snake
halfway. The crowd moves in closer. The small plastic
bottles of clear liquid are good for everything from
removing stains to cleaning the eyes. Suddenly one man
on his left says "I will buy one" and another
man close to his right said says "I will take one
too." The crowd starts to reach into their own
pockets. That is when I left, trying hard not to laugh.
I never did get to see the whole snake. (Video)
Behind the church is the traditional Mayan market.
What a place. It is a city in itself. Row upon row and
aisle upon aisle of tiny stalls beneath tarps and makeshift
tin roofs. Anything you can imagine is here, clothing,
leather goods, candles, herbs, breads, chickens, tacos
and on and on. The display and variety of vegetables
and cut flowers is astonishing. So many perishable items
and all gathered fresh each day.
We meet a friend, Antonio, who lives close by and
he guides us through the chaotic flow of people. The
smells are incredible, marigolds and beeswax mixes with
fresh cured leather, fresh herbs, lilies, chicken fat
and wool. Antonio leads us to an almost hidden stall
and we squeeze onto some tiny stools right there in
the middle of the aisle. It is breakfast time. In the
back of the stall cooking pots bubble and fill the isle
with fabulous aromas. In the front lay an assortment
of breads and cakes piled high. The lady pours each
of us a steaming glass of milk, rice and cinnamon sticks.
Wow! So rich and thick and delicious. With this drink
we have some sweet corn bread cakes. This is an incredible
moment for me. There in the cramped, aromatic aisles
of this endless market I first get a sense of how daily
life begins for most people in Mexico. I am humbled.
So many more things have happened while I was here.
I met many wonderful people and I learned a lot about
myself and other travelers. One fellow from Canada,
Basil, runs a bike tour company called "BikeMexico.com"
during the winter here. He is just getting started in
the business. What a great guy. He solved a major photo
upload problem for me on the Internet. Check out his
site if you are into biking through the Mexican countryside
with a small group of people.
Well, my stay here is almost complete. I am on my
way to Guatemala on Sunday night. We travel south to
Tapachula on the Mexican border and then to Quetzaltenango
in the central highlands of Guatemala. The trip is 10
or 12 hours in total. So I will see you in Guatemala.
May your spirit guide you where you want to go. Ciao.
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