The last few weeks in Mexico all we had been hearing about was Semana Santa or holy week. “Utter chaos; Go somewhere and don’t move;” was the consensus of travelers and locals alike. The busiest travel week in Mexico, something akin to a national spring break for everyone, not just students, we decided to wait out Semana Santa in San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cris, as we now call it, is far away from the beaches and other nice vacation resorts, so we hoped to find fewer crowds, less chaos, and the Mayan ruins of Palenque.
San Cris seems to owe much of its fame and fortune to a series of ‘unfortunate’ events. The day NAFTA went into effect, many of the indigenous peoples of the State of Chiapas donned black masks and took over San Cris as well as several cities in Chiapas. These rebels were soon repelled by the Mexican army but the rebellion continues to live on throughout the state. Since this rebellion has played so much into San Cris gaining its current tourist status, we tried to learn about it. Aside from learning the day the rebellion began, we also learned the rebels are still fighting and they’ve yet to attain their goals. What we were unable to learn while there was what, if anything, the rebellion had to do with NAFTA, what injustice had been done to drive these people to war, and what they want the outcome to be. I write this because San Cris has been placed on the map by the Zapitista’s movement (indeed, you can even buy little Zapatista dolls to bring home for your friends) yet many people really do not understand what the movement is about. Sure, this information is readily available online via Wikipedia, but the actual meaning of the movement seems to have been largely forgotten on the streets of San Cris.
Since the beginning of the revolution, San Cris has turned into somewhat of a tourist town (with the prices to prove it!) we enjoyed being able to eat Italian, Thai, and Falafel for a change…as well as take in a yoga class or two. Beyond the land of the tourist, we spent a great deal of time enjoying the neighborhood markets and especially the holy week events. After coming out of a shop on Good Friday we were blocked by a procession of Roman Soldiers. Yes, Roman Soldiers. Unbeknown to us, San Cris reenacts the death of Jesus with live action. The fun continued that afternoon when we attended our first crucifixion: romans, scaffolding, horses, whips, and….Jesus.
Besides a crucifixion, we were looking for a little adventure. After our last ‘mountain bike’ ride in Oaxaca, we were hesitant to sign up for another guided tour; this time however, we had an amazing time. We rode through small (8-10 family) indigenous villages where the spoken language was a Mayan dialect, not Spanish, through cloud forests glistening with dew, under limestone bridges, and saw the most amazing countryside. Not a ride for the feint hearted, we climbed a number of hills in high altitude (higher than Denver) and had an absolutely fabulous time. Besides the exercise and scenery, the reason this was so special was that it gave us a chance to see the plight of the indigenous firsthand. Unfortunately, we have no pictures of the trip because cameras were not allowed as many religious Maya believe cameras are used to steal the soul.
After our ride, we managed to make it into the Mexican Barrio where the $75 peso gourmet pizza meal was replaced with the $20 peso Mexican dish of spicy meat and rice where we were by far the only gringos and the proprietors were only too proud we chose their food stall. Strengthened by the meal, we headed further out of downtown to find the Mayan Medicine Museum, only first we found a Zapatista camp. Seriously. Luckily the men at the gate were wearing all black and carrying big guns so we put two and two together BEFORE walking into their camp. The museum detailed the cooperative of Mayan healers that work throughout Chiapas even today. In addition to explaining the customs and the healer traditions, the museum educated us on the herbal and natural medicines used by the Mayan people. Under the picture of each plant was a description in Spanish. Translated in English, we just had to take a picture of our favorite medicine to share with you.
Our Mayan education didn’t end there. Back in the downtown area, we found that both of us are born on the same day in the Mayan calendar; the day of Tz’i, or the day of the perro. Significant in Mayan tradition as a Shaman guide both here and in the afterlife, we Jill decided it was fate and bought matching pendants. 🙂
Our time in San Cris came to an end. After 5 days and a short trip to Palenque we were ready to move on and more importantly had to move on if we were going to start Spanish classes on Monday in Guatemala. Although touristy, we were sad to go after spending so much time exploring the outer areas of the city and enjoying the comforts of a tourist town during a big holiday (hot water AND tons yummy food, what could be better?)