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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico
(Pronounced: Sahn-Crees-TOH-bal, Chee-AH-pas, MAY-hee-coh)

Currency Conversion Site 

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

After Raul di Blasio's electrifying free concert the night before in the capital city of Tuxtla Gutierrez, we continue our 105 Day Adventure and make our way to the picturesque and expressive city of San Cristobal de las Casas. Located in an assuming position in the highlands of the Mexican state of Chiapas, this mystical Mayan city is sure to enchant any visitor.

The 35 Peso taxi we grabbed in the streets of Tuxtla took us to the bus station where we got there just in time to catch the 10:30 a.m. bus. Tickets for the one hour ride cost 30 Pesos each. Panoramic vistas met us as we climbed out of Tuxtla and entered the fascinating city of San Cristobal.

 

THIS is San Cristobal.

Named after Saint Christopher and Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish priest who defended the rights of indigenous Americans and was the first bishop of Chiapas, San Cristobal is the third-largest community in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

 

Laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid, even I can navigate my whereabouts here in this town. On the lower left hand side, this map shows stairways to Iglesia de San Cristobal which will give you panoramic vistas of the city.

 

Brightly colored and well-maintained buildings line the walking streets, surrounded by verdant mountains. Our hotel was 3 minutes from the Andador, an area blocked from traffic where there are many shops and restaurant choices.

 

People stroll about taking in the friendly cosmopolitan atmosphere, maybe sharing a cappuccino or cerveza.

In the center of the photo you see steep steps leading up to Iglesia de San Cristobal, shown to you on the map earlier.

 

Charming cafes with fountains beckon to patrons: Stop and sit awhile...

Shops line this courtyard garden with free internet provided at the coffee shop in the top center of this photo. Temperatures are fairly constant in San Cristóbal, with warm days and cool evenings year around, allowing one to be outdoors any time of day.

 

Another cafe, a lily-filled fountain, and more shops to wander through.

San Cristóbal caters to a wide variety of tastes, with national, international and vegetarian cuisine available everywhere. Many establishments offer comida corrida at lunch time which is comprised of a three course set meal for about $2-$3 USD.
 

Outdoor seating is the norm and La Lupe offers tacos, Margaritas, mezcal and 2-for-1 beers. WiFi is available also.

 

We have written about Catrinas before, which are elegant skeleton-dolls found all over Mexico. This area of the world celebrates Death in a much different manner than in the U.S., Canada or Europe. A sense of humor and high drama accompanies this custom.

 

The city is Rich in indigenous culture and history with the Mayans making a strong presence. With the unique blend of Pre-Hispanic past and the conversion to Catholicism, the old gods are worshipped as much as the Saints.

This Mayan woman walks barefoot down the Andador in traditional dress. Her black 'hairy' skirt is wool sewn together in rows to make a rectangular piece of fabric. Authentic woolen skirts can cost hundreds of dollars each. Some indigenous people are wealthy by their own standards and values, but these riches are not recognizable in our eyes. We saw similar displays of material value with the Ecuadorianas who daily wore embroidered velvet skirts  and hand blown gold glass beads also worth hundreds of dollars per strand or per skirt.

Those Mayans who cannot afford the genuine wool skirt wear a copied version, most often seen on small children or younger women of no status or financial means.

In speaking with some young Mayan women, they claim the skirt is warm when they want it to be, is cool to wear on warmer days, and the wrap-around style allows ease for walking. They also shared with us that they didn't know their own age. One girl said she was either 20 or 22, she wasn't sure, and proudly shared that she had 2 children of her own.

Spanish was their second language as well as ours and we chatted away.

Asking if they could read or write, they responded: poquito. They didn't know where Guatemala is (the country that borders the Mexican state of Chiapas where San Cristobal is located) and had never heard of the United States or Europe.

We didn't bother to ask them about Elvis... !

 

Mayan children counting their treasure; A private moment between friends.

Smooth skin, shiny black hair, distinct bone structure and dark brown eyes make Mayan children beautiful. Foreigners have been accused of kidnapping them, so be careful not to make yourselves suspect.

Most Mayan children don't go to school. They might never learn to count or to read, and since they have no idea of science, geography or history, other than of their own neighborhood or tribe, moving elsewhere to find established employment is a difficult challenge. The Mexican government doesn't demand school attendance, and the Mayan culture places little value on having a standard education.

 

A Mayan child sells hand made stuffed animals in front of the main church.

Indigenous children grow up quickly in the ways of the world. You will see them carry younger siblings - not much smaller than they are - on their own backs all day long. They learn to live by their own wits and often work together in small groups for safety and companionship.

One must get permission to take a photo of Mayans. It is popularly believed that Mayans think a part of their spirit is taken from them when you take a photograph, but our Mayan girlfriends mentioned earlier had a more financial reason. They didn't want their faces to be in a magazine far away, unless you paid them first. And of course, they didn't know where 'far away' was...

Most of their information comes to them by word of mouth. Enough people say 'such-and-such is so,' and it becomes tradition or fact and is then built upon.

 

The gift of survival.

Although we might not recognize it, this child is attending a Mayan school. Carrying her sibling on her back, she brings a lone cabbage to sell at the market. What she receives from the sale of that cabbage will feed both her brother and herself for the day. If you want only half or a quarter of a cabbage, she will scramble to find someone to cut it for you. If you do not have the correct change, she will find it.

What may appear as harsh poverty to our eyes, this young girl, maybe 8 years old, is learning Mayan values: loyalty to family, determination, perseverance, ingenuity, the ability to sell product, physical strength - all necessities for survival in the world. Ten years from now she will bring value to her marriage from training such as this.

 

Colorful painted wooden masks for sale.

Two indigenous symbols of spiritual life are the tiger and the jaguar. Masks are used in ceremonies and in carnival activities, which is the festival honoring all-destroying, all-renewing Time. Birth is fraught with death, and death brings new birth. Resurrection, the principle of the return of life after death, continues the cycle.

Powerful ceremonies, powerful masks.

 

Amber is considered a gem stone and has been traded since earliest times. Believed to be a mystic and religious material, in Central America, the Olmec civilization was mining amber around 3000 B.C. There are legends in Mexico that mention the use of amber for stress reduction as a natural remedy. This precious substance was thought to bring divine protection to the wearer.

Although much of the more highly prized amber is of the translucent variety, many people in Chiapas prefer the darker shades.

 

Ready for some handmade pistachio ice cream? A vendor wheels his cart around La Caridad Church. This market sets up daily in front of this church and you can find artisans selling woven cloth, beaded bracelets, pounded copper jewelry, woven macramé belts, amber, other gemstones and more.

What we found peculiar here - and we did not encounter this anywhere else in our travels - is that these artisans expected payment for many things. If you had a conversation with them, if you watched them make their creation, if you photographed their art, stones, jewelry or blankets, if you looked at their items too long, or if you asked for too many prices, these vendors expected some sort of payment for their time.

It seemed just the slightest bit cynical, and they viewed tourists as wealthy beyond imagination. After all, we left money on tables after we ate a meal, and children could come up and ask for money any time and receive it.

Who in their right minds would throw money away like that?

Therefore, they too, wanted in on this action. Perhaps this view has changed, but don't be surprised if you brush up against this attitude yourself.

 

A closer look at the decorative face of La Caridad, the church behind the daily artisan market.

 

A sign in the window advertises the Tzolk'in Mayan calendar. This calendar combines 20 day names with 13 numbers to produce 260 uniquely named days. Among other things, this calendar is used for divination.

The exact origin of this particular system is not known, but there are several theories. The numbers 13 and 20 were important numbers to the Maya.

 

A very curious baby, a very proud mama.

Around San Cristóbal, the native women sell their goods: brightly colored straps, belts, cloths and little dolls with their little wooden guns - representing the Zapatista conflict.

Around one million Maya inhabit the Mexican state of Chiapas. Each of their villages tend to be distinct, with their own laws, and dialect. In many ways, Chiapas appears more like Guatemala than Mexico.

 

These Mayan women have just purchased poultry in the market.

Babies are kept close to their mother in most situations, either on their backs enfolded with these colorful cloths or around the fronts of their bodies. To readjust these wrapping cloths we have seen women place their children on their backs while they lean over almost to their knees. They untie and retie their cloths, scooping up the babe under the behind and legs in their skillful swaddling. They then jump and shake a bit to be sure the infant is secure and both the mother and child are comfortable.

The women here are from a different village than the ones who wear the woolen skirts. Most villages have their own unique dress codes.

 

A Mayan man in native dress.

Weavings, bright and colorful, are typical of this area and are worn proudly displayed. This man's loose tunic top, white shorts with striking red woven belt, his woven white bag and white hat are all native tribal clothing. His tennis shoes, however, are not.

 

A crowded marketplace.

Prepare to be jostled around when visiting some markets. Aisles are narrow and there is two-way traffic. As far as you can see in the center of this photo, the market continues, and wooden stalls on both sides are jam-packed. The items hanging up on the stall in the upper right here in this photo are colorful and decorated plastic bags.

 

Beans, beans, beans!!

Another staple of the area is beans. Easy to store, low in fat and a good source of both fiber and protein, beans have been favored by the local culture of Mexico and Central America for centuries.

 

The obvious opulence of the tropics.

Pineapples, strawberries, oranges, grapefruits, flowers, papayas, avocados, mangos, melons and more. Prices from an individual vendor tend to be less than in one of these shops, but either way, it's a bargain.

 

Friendly guides are here in the Plaza at Santo Domingo Church to help tourists who are lost or want to find something in particular. They will give you a map and help you find your way.

This large plaza is a great place to hang out during the day or the evening when the main Church, Santo Domingo, is lit up. Vendors cruise through and friends meet up.

 

Here we are in that same plaza, in front of Santo Domingo Church. It was in this plaza that we watched early evening goings-on and met our Mayan girlfriends who generously shared insight into their culture.

 

Hola! Another self portrait.

This plaza is right next door to the Santo Domingo Church. A little less large and a lot more green. There are stores that line this area too. Our well-placed hotel allowed us to visit these areas on a whim.

 

Here you can follow our travel route from San Cristobal de las Casas on to Comitan and to the border of Guatemala where our first city will be Huehuetenango.

Our next stop... Comitan!

For more information or to view different stories of places in Mexico click here

 

Traveling south down the Pacific coast of Mexico is a must adventure for any traveler. Our style is to go slow and if we like a place, we stay longer, ‘getting local’ as soon as possible. This means we scout out where the neighbors shop, the restaurants they frequent and we make friends along the way with store owners, the maids, and anyone who lives in town. These people know where the best prices and value can be found – it’s certainly not where the tourists shop.

The Adventurer's Guide to the Pacific Coast of Mexico details our route, the places we stayed, prices we paid along this adventure and history and culture of these locations. We also give you names of hotels in each area, the transportation available, useful information and the pros and cons of each place as we viewed it. To learn more, Click here

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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