San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, PART 2
SAN JUAN CHAMULA
A Mayan village in the mountains, San Juan Chamula is one of the more interesting places to visit near San Cristobal de las Casas. At first pass it looks like any other Mexican town – the same fruit for sale on the street, the same pharmacies and snack shops, pine forested hills all around. Then upon entering the Zocalo you see the difference: a bustling market day filled with Mayans: women in their superbly colorful dresses and men with hairy black jackets.
Entering the church is entering another world, and for only 20 pesos! There are no pews, but both sides are lined with statues of saints in glass cases with their facial expressions of supplication. If you don`t know the significance of saints in the Latin world, you can read a bit about them here, but basically you can choose a saint to pray and offer little gifts to according to your need or problem. All over the pine-needle covered floor are people kneeling and praying, with incense and charcoal burning in big urns and candles in rows all around. Most candles are white, which is a petition for peace, but other colors have other meanings: yellow has financial connotations, black is to prevent death in the family, green is to have good crops, and red is for love.
People bring in sodas to place before them as they pray. A few were even drinking beer! They do this because carbonated beverages produce gas, the expulsion of which represents the expulsion of bad energy from the body. Whatever the reason, people drinking beer in church surrounded by candles and incense smoke is a sight to see.
Two women kneeling on the floor have chickens wrapped in shawls. One rubs a chicken on her friend’s shoulders and then holds it out over the candles while chanting in a near-whisper. Not much Spanish is being spoken, and most people are either in reverent silence or loudly praying, with a few even weeping.
This is a fascinating, funky location – a glimpse into a bizarre yet beautiful mix between radically different cultures, the assimilation of the oppressor culture into the ancient.
Mayan villages are sprinkled throughout Chiapas. Many function separately from the government, a legacy of both tradition and the Zapatistas. For example, non-Mayans and non-Catholics aren`t allowed to live in San Juan Chamula. There are other nearby villages which I was warned against visiting, but without a doubt San Juan Chamula and San Cristobal are quite safe and two of the most worthwhile places to visit in all of Mexico.
This is where I got bit by the dog. It´s a nice place, but if you see a nasty little brown dog, throw a big rock at it.
La Canasta is a private park to the west of the center, about a 40 minute walk. Being a private park it is supposedly safe to walk around. The trails were good and easy to follow, and once over the valley walls, gave clear views of the city.
The free tourist map of San Cris. doesn’t show the right way to get here. Walk east on Francisio Leon. The road will fork in many directions – choose the straightest one, which will become dirt. You will pass a soccer field and then a major road. Take a right on the road, cross a bridge over a river, take your first left, and that road will lead to La Canasta. Once there you will find the many trails that lead into the forest.
If you get lost anywhere you go, asking for directions is one of the pleasures of traveling in Mexico and Latin America. People love to give them in elaborate fashion, though they are often wrong, so make sure you ask at least twice.
Just wandering around on my first day I ran across a Spanish school on the steps to El Cerrito de San Cristobal at the end of the street Hermanos Dominguez, a church on a little hill which is visible from the center of town. After talking to Romeo, the owner, on the terrace overlooking the city, I agreed to take my first lesson later that day. They are one-on-one lessons with excellent teachers and great views of San Cris.
It was called Tierras Mayas and I highly recommend it.
I visited about 10 hotels and hostels all during my walk from the bus station to the center and then to my ultimate choice. They all seemed to be in a similar range as those in Tuxtla – from about 100 to 300 pesos and up. I needed cheap, this being only the beginning of my trip, so I kept looking until I found Tata Inti around the corner (to the left) from the end of the pedestrian part of Real de Guadalupe where it meets Avenida Diego Dugelay. As I said before, it was the really friendly atmosphere and interesting people that made me stay. I got a private room with shared bathroom for 100 pesos, and they had dorm beds for 70. This place is great if you can find it.
Looking for more information about Chiapas? Please check out my guidebook Your Chiapas Adventure: San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque, Mexico. You’ll save the small price the first time you follow my advice for transportation, hotels, restaurants, or museums.
The book is also available in .pdf format from Unanchor.com or in kindle format on Amazon. Don’t worry if you don’t have a kindle, because you can download a free app to read it on any device, or join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial
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Posted on June 27, 2011, in Travel, Travel in Mexico and tagged chiapas, dog bite, la canasta, mexico, mountains, san cristobal de las casas, San Juan Chamula, school, spanish, travel, travel medicine. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.