After visiting Palenque, we set out for San Cristobal de las Casas in the Central Highlands of Chiapas. It is not too long a drive, about 300 km / 220 miles, but… Oh geez, that was one winding mountain road! Picturesque, yes, but winding…
You need to know that I get motionsick very easily, and so I spent those looong hours that it took us to get through the mountains clinging to the next truck’s bumper with my head out the window praying it may soon be over.
Mexican friends from Chiapas had warned us in advance about people in that area “having very bad habits”. The bad habits show in mild roadside ambushes which you should be prepared for. Whenever you enter a little village, there will be plenty of speed bumps next to which there are people (very often women and children) waiting to sell their goods. They tend to tighten a rope over the street hoping you might slow down and buy some oranges or pineapples. If you actually stop, they will jump on you, trying to get their hands inside your car, but if you just keep on driving, they will most likely let go of the rope and you can continue on your journey. Nevertheless, this is quite a peculiar situation.
Of course, you feel sorry for those people who are so obviously poor. However, I read (and believe that it also shows) that these Indians (mostly Tzotzils) do not have the slightest desire to be like us. Our possessions don’t seem tempting to them, nor does our lifestyle, and the closer you get to a city, the more independent those people strive to live. Quite a comforting thought, I find.
Phew, finally, we arrived at San Cristobal. Here, our GPS gave up. And I don’t blame it, it is too painful to find your way around town. We are used to numbered checkered streets, right? I had forgotten what it’s like to have curvy streets with actual names! And then there didn’t seem to be a system as to what street you can enter in which direction. We drove around and around, hit dead ends, entered the pedestrian zone, got lost again, until we finally found our very charming little hotel.
Upon leaving the car, something very unfamiliar hit me right in the face: Fresh, cool, crisp air! What a treat! The air actually smelled fresh, unlike here where it is just very humid and sticky. I just had wished I had brought a little vial to bottle the air!
And then we went for our first walk through the city. Oh, how charming it is! All those beautiful old buildings, the colourful fronts, queer little shops and cafes – if it hadn’t been for all those indigenos wandering the streets in their colourful dresses, I would have believed to be in Europe.
In the evening, it appeared to be freezing – we hit the 50 mark (10 degrees celsius)! For the first time in months, I put on jeans and a sweater and socks and shoes other than flip flops, but nevertheless, my teeth started chattering. Needless to say, that our hotel room wasn’t heated. Nobody prepares for some silly people who are used to be sweating all day long. And then the next morning, we didn’t have hot water, uh, what a nice surprise!
Nevertheless, I loved being cold, and I loved the fact that we could actually walk around for hours without getting all sweaty and tired. We did a tour of the city in a lovely little tram, we climbed the stairs to the Iglesia de San Cristobal, we enjoyed plenty of coffee for which Chiapas is famous, found a quirky little Indian restaurant run by two Americans who served us the best Baba Ganoush I ever had and enjoyed every minute of our stay.
The second day, we drove to the remote mountain villages Chamula and Zinacantan. Chamula is a very poor village famous for its unique church. You cannot enter Chamula by car, but you have to leave it in a parking lot by the village entrance. Of course, you have to pay a parking fee that is higher than anywhere in Playa del Carmen, and on top, you have to pay someone who will make sure “nobody scratches your car”. Right. Upon getting out of the car, we were again surrounded by people trying to sell us highly desirable objects such as embroidered ballpens and crocheted bracelets. One little girl was exceptionally persistent and followed us all around town.
The church wasn’t hard to find since there is not much to see otherwise, however, it was very hard to get into. We had to find the tourist information to get a permission (and pay an entrance fee), then we were allowed in. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures, but I have never seen anything like it in my life. The floor is covered in pine needles, and there is no electric light but only candles everywhere. Does that sound a tad dangerous to you? Yeah, to me, too. But anyway. On the walls, there are mannequins incorporating saints and you see people kneeling in front of them praying. Otherwise, people are sitting everywhere on the ground, chatting and praying. I read that very often shamans are present who will crack eggs over sick people’s heads, but unfortunately, I didn’t see any. Also they still do offerings of either living or dead chickens. In this case, I wasn’t sad I didn’t see that either, I only was aware of some chickens kept in plastic bags outside.
After leaving Chamula, we drove to Zinacantan, a wealthier village – if you want to use the word “wealth” here. Again, we had to pay an entrance fee, then we were allowed to park downtown. It is prohibited to take any pictures in this village much to my disappointment. Zinacantan is famous for its embroidery, and everywhere you will be approached by people inviting you to their homes to show you their craftsmanship. You are not bound to buy anything, they are just a very friendly people. Unfortunately, Mr. R. wasn’t up for this kind of adventure, so we just had a look around and drove back. I have to admit that for us it is quite a strange situation to have people clinging on to you all the time begging you to buy something, but hey, different countries, different customs, right?
We spent another night at our beautiful hotel La Casa de Guadalupe before we made our way to the city of Comitan. But that’s another story for another time!