I´m glad fate brought Nick and me together because I was planning on spending the night in Tuxla, which seemed to be an urban town with not much happening. San Cristobal is up and over the mountains from Tuxla. It´s setting provides for beautiful views of the cloud-enshrouded, Mayan villages encircling this old Spanish colonial town. The air is clean and brisk and I needed to break out the long sleeve shirt for the first time since Nevada. The quiet cobblestone streets are wonderful for exploring and the daily market in front of the pink-facade Templo de
Santo Domingo was my first experience with the beautiful Chamulan people. Mostly women and children (some as young as 7 or 8), in their conservative, colorful dress, sell textiles, hammacas, Zapatista gear, leather crafts and delicacies like hot rice milk. They are have strikingly beautiful faces and it would be a photographer's dream to sit and snap photos all day here, but photos are considered taboo because a lot of Chamulans believe they steal their souls. Most of the photos I got were sneaky- from behind or Nick and I would pose like we were taking photos of eachother-but point the camera in their direction clandestinely. Here's a few.
We stayed at the very quaint Backpacker's Hostel on Real de Mexicanas (just a small walk to the zocalo), for 50 pesos each, with it's large wooden, renaissance doors and nice outdoor courtyard for mingling with the international crowd of young travellers.
After a long night of partying at the hostel (there was a great mixture of dutchies, frenchies, germans, quebecois, mexicans, brits and swedes staying there and we all got along great), Nick and I made the 10km ride to the tiny, Tzotzile village of San Juan Chamula just north of the city. We had promised to bring some new-found friends the night before, so we each had a riding partner. Michelle, from Holland, rode with me and I got to practice a "klein bietje nederlands". Christine, from Canada, rode with Nick and I presume they discussed all things Canadian eh. The road left town, we followed a "colectivo" (private, cheap transportation, usually VW buses with as many people that will fit), up the slow climb out of town. I had no idea what to expect.
The verdant, rolling hills outside of San Cristobal are dotted with modest farms, where Tzotzile families grow corn, tomatoes, limes, beans and potatoes (to name a few) on little plots. Chickens pluck away in the same yard that children are playing, sometimes the chickens are the object of the fun.
San Juan Chamula is a real indigenous town. The market they hold in the town's center is the attraction and tourism is a side thought. As you make the right turn into town, one of the first things you notice is the simple graveyard which lies in front of a very old church. The crosses are painted either white (died young), black (died old) or blue (died powerful or very respected). Sheep graze on the green, untouched hills in the background.
We parked the bikes in the tourist "estacionamento" lot and we were immediately swarmed by children wanting to watch our bikes while we walked into town.
The market, in the tiny town's main square, is a bustling place where salted raw meat, colorful vegetables and fruit, bread, baskets full of beans, dried peppers, plastic toys from China, fireworks, artesan crafts and "ropas tipicas" (goat-fur vests, turquoise Cowboy hats, colorful animal adorned blouses, etc.) are sold. Around the fringes were the typical taco vendors, women with the steaming baskets of hot tomales and "pan dulce" and coffee (nescafe and hot water) and juice stands. The Tzotziles are such pretty people, especially the children. Women wear black wool ankle length skirts and usually bright blouses with ornate designs of butterflies, iguanas, flowers or gods, sometimes accompanied by warm wool shawls. Men wear goat-fur jackets and white, baggy pants with a colorful belt. The men in white fur coats who carried long wooden sticks were the police I learned. The men in black wool and orange belts were the "administrators". This was interesting because you get the feeling they don't really consider themselves Mexican, they govern themselves in their old ways while a Mexican "municipal" building overlooks their market. There were two charred government pick-ups without wheels or anything of value left on them amidst the market. Each person I asked told me they didn't know the story behind them. I asked if they really didn't know the story or they just didn't want to tell me the story and both times I received a sly smile and a laugh.
The highlight of the day was entering their colorful church that prominently stands at the end of the square. It was amazing to see such active worshiping. The floor was covered with pine needles and burning candles. Worshipers, on their knees, carefully unpacked their paraphanelia: thin candles, bottles of coca-cola or beer, chocolate, breads or whatever gift they could find for the gods. The candles would be stuck to the floor using hot wax and then lined up in three or four rows, each of about 10 candles. The flickering of candlelight was everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, in front of the 20 or so glass-enclosed deity boxes. There's a Christ box, but the Virgin of Guadelupe and San Juan Bautista are more revered and take up the center wall. Worshipers chant to themselves, some have chickens rubbed on them, some drink the coca-cola or beer to usurp evil spirits. At one point a man carried a 20 foot tall pine branch through the church forcing people to stand clear. The air is thick with the sweet smell of burning "copal" and sage. Women prepare the copal in pots and waft the smoke around the idols. I wish I had photos to share, but it's strictly forbidden. But I did find of photo that some jerk took and posted on the internet.
Here's a link http://www.ontheroadin.com/miscellasneouspictures/San%20Juan%20Chamula%20church.jpg
Leaving the hostel in San Cristobal, I realized something. Up to this point, I had thought of this trip as mine, I was the author of my journal and what I saw and heard were subjects in my story. As Nick and I packed our bikes outside the hostel a bunch of hostelers came out to take photos of us- some of which might end up in their own blogs or journals. I then realized that I was just as much a part of other's experiences as they were part of mine. We rode away, into the sunset, like two cowboys riding out of town. It was 4 pm, a little late to be getting on the road for 250 KM ride, but we though we could make it to Palenque before sundown.
Posted by Christian Burrows at December 21, 2006 11:44 PM GMT
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