Tour of Chiapas

Lynn & Mike ..around the world
Mike Drinkrow & Lynn v/d Hoven
Fri 20 Apr 2012 04:56
Tour of Chiapas state
Mike and I have just completed an amazing and exhausting whistle-stop tour through the state of Chiapas.
We left the marina on Monday morning at 7.30 am with our tour organizer Arturu, for the 550km drive up to San Cristobal de las Casas. Tapachula is the closest city and we then headed to the capital of the state Tuxtla Gutierrez and on to our guesthouse, La Media Luna in San Cristobal. 
That afternoon we wondered around the delightful town, admiring the architecture and beautiful handcrafts. Being so high up in the mountains it was quite cool and for the first time in months we wore jackets at night. This town is the cultural capital of the state, full of musicians, artists and restaurants - and also very famous for the Zapatista uprising and violent repression in 1994.
Catedral de San Cristobel                                                                                        Courtyard at La Media Luna Guest House
The next morning at 6am we were picked up by another van for the trip to the ancient Mayan ruins at Polenque.  Although this journey is only about 250km, it takes over 5 hours to complete, as the roads wind up the mountain, and have lots and lots of speed-bumps.  Our trip up took a little longer as we stopped at two beautiful waterfalls along the way before we reached the ruins.
Agua Azul  waterfall                                                                                                                Misol Ha waterfall
In the mid-afternoon we reached the mayan site of Palenque, where it was as hot and humid as hell.  We decided against a guide, as we were sitting ducks for a major rip off, and instead, walked around at our own pace with our guidebook. What an amazing site - with about 20 major buildings & temples and many still uncovered!  Palenque is regarded as the best example of Mayan ruins - This "city" was built from 300 AD, at its zenith was ruled by king Pakal and then for reasons still unknown, deserted in about 900AD. There is still a lot of archaeological work being done and thousands of glyphs are still to be interpreted.
Temple of The Inscription; Temple XII & Temple of the Scull                                                                     One of many carvings
We then headed back down the winding road for 5 hours back to our guest house.
The next morning we took another tour .. this time to two towns close to San Cristobal, where the descendants of the Mayans still live a traditional life. The first town, Zinacantan, specializes in textile weaving and embroidery, as well as growing of flowers. We visited a traditional home where were shown how they make tortillas over an open fire and told stories of their culture. Whilst all the ladies wear traditional clothing and live like their ancestors, there are TV's and cell phones everywhere! We also got to taste "posh" a strong cane spirit used by the shaman, and our guide explained how they drink this spirit and then coco cola, burping to release spirits. Amazing how a modern product (Coke) has been totally integrated into a very traditional belief system. 
Making Tortillas on an open fire in the house                                                                        Traditional Weaving - her top is all embroidered
The next town was San Juan Chamula - part of a small autonomous region of 50 000 Indians. They have nothing to do with the government of Mexico - they have no taxes and their own police, and all outsiders have to be out of town by 6pm.  This stems from when the Spanish invaded, and were not able to conquer these people.  (This reminded me a lot of the way the Kunas are organized in Panama)  This group has a decent economy, as they grow most of the vegetables for San Cristobal and also control most of the taxi's and colectivos (shared mini vans) in the greater region. Again almost all the people are in traditional dress, which for the women is a thick black woolen furry skirt, with embroidered tops. The local policemen wear shaggy white tunics. 
We were then taken to the church, which our guide kept on insisting was not a church, but a hospital for traditional medicine... and things were about to get pretty weird!  We could not take photos but were allowed to wander around freely inside .. and this is what we saw: The building has no seating and the floor is covered in wet pine needles. On the edges are wood and glass cases with 30 to 40 different saints - and at the front is John the Baptist with Jesus as the second in command. Some of the saints have their hands chopped off and most have mirrors to reflect back the curses of the people unhappy with their plight, or the failure of the Shaman's treatment.  In between the pine needles there are various shaman, kneeling on the floor, consulting with people. Depending on how serious their issue is, the person would have lit lots of different candles on the floor. They also bring the shaman a bottle of "posh", some coca cola (for burping/  release the spirits) and often a chicken (Yip! they wring its neck right there!) The shaman all look pretty drunk and while some are chanting, others are smoking or talking on cell phones?!  Not your everyday church visit!
The church/ hospital at San Juan Chamula                                                        Getting ready to see the Shaman
After all that, we were happy to spend more time in the lovely town of San Cristobel, enjoying a good meal and a little bit of jazz guitar in one of the bars .. oh yes, and a margarita!
Tomorrow we leave Puerto Chiapas to cross the dreaded Gulf of  Tehauntepec - an area of fierce winds and rough seas! But we believe/ hope that we have a 36 hour clear weather window to travel about 250nm, and so have to check out with the Port Captain in the morning, and then get moving!