A week in San Cristobal de las Casas
Trip Start Feb 14, 2009
24Trip End Dec 20, 2009
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We decided to finally use the tent that I had lugged along with us for 6 weeks and put it up in a designated camping area in Glady´s back yard, for 80 pesos a night (US$6). Clare wasn´t feeling so good on the second day so we moved into a room, which was still only 160 pesos so we stayed there for the rest of our week in S.C. There was a lady there running the hostel and a hair dressers next door, we thought she was Glady´s, however after a couple of days we found out that she was Claudia, and we didn´t see Glady´s until our final day. Using our broken Spanish, we both managed to get haircuts from Claudia, who did a top job.
San Cristonbal is a Spanish colonial style town of about 200,000 in the Chiapan highlands of Southern Mexico, S.C. is 2200m high. Many of the surrounding villages are even higher in the mountains and are home to many idigenous Mayan tribal groups who speak different languages, a lot of them don´t even speak Spanish. Out of all the Mexican towns we had stayed in, we found the people in San Cristobal and friendliest, and we felt completely safe the entire time. All the streets are paved with large stones, the buildings and churches were colourful. We were told that there are over 150 churches in S.C.
I explored the streets and bought food from the local mercado and found a Spanish School on a hill overlooking the town. We booked ourselves in to do a five day Spanish course in four days. It was strange going to classes and doing homework on holiday, but the fairly intense course was worth it, mainly because we can now understand a lot more Spanish, even though we can´t speak fluently ourselves.
The Spanish teachers insisted that we also watch a documentary on the Zapatista uprising, when an idigenous rebel army took over San Cristobal and surrounding towns on in January 1994. They demanded better support and services from the government, especially since when the Mexico-USA-Canada free trade agreement went into action, the price of food, fuel and other daily needs went through the roof. Although it seemed a lot of the issues are still unresolved, we heard another side of it from one of the other Spanish teachers who said that the idigenous have the same and even better opportunities than everyone else. She said that she is a solo mum and cannot get a benefit from the government, but indigenous solo mothers get benefits which are higher for the more children that they have. She also said she knows of an indigenous person who drives a Hummer around the narow streets of San Cristobal. The Zapatista still run some "autonomous areas" of Chiapas, where they have their own government systems. This is not seen as a threat by the Mexican government, the army has many posts in the area now.
We went on a horse trek to a small town called San Juan Chamula for a day, which took about an hour on horseback. Before we got on the horses, the tour operator gave us some local alcohol, she called it Porse, it was potent and seemed somewhat unrefined, which would be true because you can fill up a plastic drink bottle for 5 pesos. We had a look around the Chamula market and visited the unique church. The church was full of families siting around talking and drinking fizzy drink, mainly coca cola. They believe that when you burb from the carbonation of soft drink you release evil spirits from your body. Something different alright. The church floor was covered in pine needles and people were burning candles straight on the floor. We were not allowed to take photos inside the church or of the indigenous people, they believe it takes part of the soul (do you see any abordigines modelling?).
We left San Cristobal early on a Saturday to take a tour up to the Palenque ruins.