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.
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
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.
the center of the photo you see steep steps leading up
to Iglesia de San Cristobal, shown to you on the map
Charming cafes with fountains beckon to patrons: Stop
and sit awhile...
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
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
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.
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.
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
hand blown gold glass beads
also worth hundreds of dollars per strand or per skirt.
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.
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.
didn't bother to ask them about Elvis... !
children counting their treasure; A private moment
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.
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.
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
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'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
closer look at the decorative face of La Caridad, the
church behind the daily artisan market.
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.
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.
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.
women here are from a different village than the ones
who wear the woolen skirts. Most villages have
their own unique dress codes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another self portrait.
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.
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.
next stop... Comitan!
more information or to view different stories of places