Where shamens and christianity meet

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Monday, January 4, 2010

My one liner on San Cristobal is as follows: A town in Chiapas with a cool country feel to it, where you’ll see plenty of indigenous people around and might even run into a Zapatista rebel.
So who are the Zapatistas? They came to prominence in 1994 by taking the town of San Cristobal and launching their revolution. They were campaigning for more indigenous rights for the locals and for more attention from the Mexican government. Up until then, they were a largely ignored area of Mexico as far as infrastructure went. The Mexican army expelled them in quick time and now they have little strongholds here and there.

We arrived in San Cristobal and dropped out bags off at the Hotel Vallarta. We made our way to the markets to buy some fruit. Great to see some fresh produce that was cheap and also presented in such a beautiful manner. No pictures of the indigenous people here because they’re not a big fan of cameras at all. Did the usual thing and walked around the city, checking things out and taking a few pics of the surroundings. It’s a nice little colonial town so the streets are stone, you can walk everywhere and the buildings are rarely over 2 stories in height.

Getting a little sick of Mexican food so we decided to have some Italian for dinner. It was great as they made their own pastas and tortellini. What I do miss when we’re overseas it how multicultural our food is at home and how accepting our mainstream food from other countries are. We would readily eat and cook curries, pastas, Thai, French or have kebabs any night of the week. But in our travels (past and present) we’ve found that the local fare is pretty standard. Of course you can have some spaghetti here or get a curry there but it’s more something that is done for the tourist on the side of a Mexican menu and it’s normally pretty bad. Each region has its own speciality but it’s still the same base food.

The next day, we went on a horse ride and visited a church that was a cross between local indigenous beliefs and Christian beliefs. The town is San Juan Chamula and the church is Templo de San Juan (Temple of St John). The people here are bigger fans of St John that Jesus because St John baptised Jesus. Makes sense I guess. There are plenty of things they do differently but still meld it in with some Christian stuff. They have a church but no pews, so it’s a big open floor that is covered in pine needles. They don’t have doctors, the people listen to shamans instead and the shamans will listen to their ailments and prescribe a remedy. Often it’s a special coloured candle that has to be lit in the church to help with sickness, love or business. Sometimes, you have to buy a chicken, hover it over yourself and then kill it so that the bad spirits are taken away. The church still has statues of the saints but each said has a different speciality.  No pictures of the church – a big no no.

The town itself isn’t governed by Mexico, they have their own security forces and they were one of the last places to be conquered by the Spanish, such was the might of their fighting force. They do suffer some health issues because they drink plenty of Coke (full strength, no diet stuff) and they drink their own distilled alcohol from a very young age. Hence, cirrhosis and diabetes are real problems here.

The next day, we take the windy trip to Palenque. The one liner for Palenque is this: You go to Palenque to see the ruins, not the town.

Through the mountains, we climb downward from the higher altitude into more tropical climes. Our leader tells us that we should be prepared for a long and potentially sickeningly windy road. Great! Nothing much to do in Palenque except the ruins that we are about to visit the next day. The weather isn’t great so we have dinner and go to sleep.

The next day it’s rainy which is ominous. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be a particularly photographically friendly day. We get to the site and it’s a steady drizzle. One that you know isn’t going to clear up all day. The locals are doing brisk business selling rain ponchos. Nic then brings out the ponchos she bought in Sydney that I teased her about. Thankfully she didn’t take the teasing to heart and brought mine along as well. There is a downside though, Nic’s mortified that our pictures in Palenque will be us in rain ponchos. Being this wet, the Nikon is staying under wraps today. We can’t really afford to have the Nikon out of action this early into the trip. That’s when Nic shows her legendary status again by pulling out the compact digital camera out of her bag. She does think of everything! With that we’re able to shoot some pictures of the beautiful Palenque ruins. The camera worked well considering how wet it was and we got some good pictures in spite of the rain.

Palenque is famous for being the home of Pakal, a famous ruler who built most of the city and lived until 80 (which is crazy long in those days).The place was abandoned and the frequent rains made ensured that the rainforest claimed most of the city until someone stumbled upon it nearly 1000 years later. Then they found Pakal’s tomb, dug some of the city up and now we have Palenque. There’s still plenty to dig up but they need cash for that.

The day also included a trip to two waterfalls, one called Misol-Ha and the other called Agua Azul. Agua Azul is usually beautiful and blue but the rains have given it a brown tinge. What you lose in colour due to the rain, you gain in force as the water flows hard. We head home to a warm shower, some dinner, a dessert of churros then bed.

The next blog entry sees us heading to Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula where we see some stunning ruins in Uxmal and find out that such a thing as drunk driving insurance actually does exist in Mexico.

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GshtM on

mein gott - those beans must be killing Nic via you Col...cripes!

Aza on

I always thought it was weird that Mexicans like that wrestling of theirs but I can see a relationship to that and those masks in the market.

News from Mascot; train tickets are now $48 of course and they've done away with Log books if you're over 25. Go figure. Was going to say at least there are no shoot outs in Sydney stations but there where cops in plain clothes with hipster revolvers at North Sydney on Friday in jeans and a polo. Looked like a scene from some vice TV show...

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