Wed-Fri Oct 31-Nov 2 - Day 5 to 7 - San Cristóbal

Published: November 9th 2018
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Wed-Fri Oct 31-Nov 2 - Day 5 to 7 - San Cristóbal

Ascending into the mountainous Chiapas region we arrived at the fascinating colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas after travelling overnight. It was 7.30 am when we arrived. After walking 10 minutes to our hotel Palacio de Moctezuma from the bus station, we found our rooms would not be ready until 12md, so we all walked to the Zocalo and found a restaurant for breakfast.

After breakfast, our guide did the obligatory orientation walk. Part of the walk was through the Plaza 31 de Marzo (Zocalo), and then through, probably one of the best artisan markets we had visited. It was massive. We noted the few Amber outlets and was shown how to detect which was real amber and which was fake (light weight, shine a black light and it turns blue, and it feels warm to touch = real). The bright colours were everywhere.

Tom and I then decided to discover the city with map in hand. We decided to walk up the many flights of stairs to the Church of San Cristobal. There was a great view of the city up the top. Even though we were a little tired we made it with no great effort. This climb was best done during the day as it is not safe to go up the top at night.

We had started to notice many of the churches were under repair, including the main Cathedral. Later we learned that 2 earthquakes last year had caused considerable damage to some buildings.

After checking into our rooms around 1.00pm, the shower was magnificent. After some laundry, we then headed back to the market and then onto see the finely carved facade of the La Caridad Church. Next door was Santo Domingo & Saint Jolobil museum, showing the history of the area and its surrounding native villages, including the beautiful colourful textiles which also added to the historical insights of some of the 136 cultures.

We then headed a little way out of town to visit the Casa Na Bolom Museum. Casa Na Bolom was the home of archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, Gertrude Duby Blom, the documentary photographer, journalist, environmental pioneer, and jungle adverturer. Today, Na Bolom operates as a hotel, museum, and research center run by Asociación Cultural Na Bolom, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Lacandon Maya and the preservation of the Chiapas rain forest. The museum includes a large garden with plants from all over the world. There are different buildings for different activities for both children and adults.

The name "Casa Na Bolom" comes from the Mayan word for jaguar, "bolom." The Bloms chose this name as a play on their own name, Blom. In the jungle, Frans Blom was often known by the nickname, Pancho Bolom, a great compliment comparing him favourably to the sacred jaguar. An ancient stone jaguar from a Mayan frieze (at right) installed by Frans marks the front door of Casa Na Bolom, House of the Jaguar.

We thought there was an English guided tour at 11.30am ND 4.30PM. We chose the 2nd option but the tour in English was only at 11.30am but they had a very interesting 15-minute video on the history of the work of Frans and Gertrude for us to watch before we went through the museum.

Tom was still worried about his forgotten insulin
San Cristobal - Day of the Dead celebrationSan Cristobal - Day of the Dead celebrationSan Cristobal - Day of the Dead celebration

Someone dressed their dog up as a spider
in Oaxaca, so we went back to our hotel to see if we could find out from Alfredo if he was able to arrange the transportation of the insulin to San Cristobal as we were to be here for 3 nights. Sadly, due to the public holidays associated with the Day of the Dead celebrations, it wouldn’t arrive until at least Monday and we would be well and truly gone by then. As usual I went into make-it-happen operation and said we should go to the pharmacy to get some more. Tom & I had already got some Humalog insulin but couldn’t get any long-acting insulin. Alfredo said he knew of a large pharmacy, so he took us there -and success!! Tom was a very relieved person. He was so relieved that he convinced Alfredo to have dinner with us, which he did.

Alfredo took us to the La Lupe restaurant for a lovely meal (our shout) and it was good to have some chats about Mexico and the tour in general. After dinner we went to see the celebrations in the City Hall and then took our tired legs back to the hotel for the night. Tom was a lot more relaxed even though he wouldn’t see his other insulin until a weeks’ time but at least he has a good supply with him in the meantime.

Next day we took the optional tour to visit the stunning Sumidero Canyon (300MXP) on a guided speedboat tour along a 10-kilometre section of the Grijalva river to the hydro-electric dam.

First, we drove in a minibus for an hour, viewing the valley below. We arrived at the wharf and 30 tourists boarded the speed boat. Luckily one of the tourists could speak Spanish and English so he joined the driver on the boat to do the interpretation work, which was lucky for us.

There are plenty of opportunities to photograph local wildlife such as birds, Spider monkeys and crocodiles. Our first crocodile we saw was a plastic one – everyone laughed after we had all started clicking our cameras. The cliffs towering over the river reach 1000 metres at the highest point, which provided a dramatic backdrop to my pictures. It was spectacular.

Sumidero Canyon is a deep natural canyon located just north of the city of Chiapa de Corzo. The canyon’s creation began around the same time as the Grand Canyon in the US, by a crack in the area’s crust and subsequent erosion by the Grijalva River, which still runs through it. Sumidero Canyon has vertical walls which reach as high as 1,000 metres, with the river turning up to 90 degrees during the 13-kilometre length of the narrow passage.

At the north end of the canyon is the Chicoasén Dam and its artificial reservoir, one of several on the Grijalva River, which is important for water storage and the generation of hydroelectric power in the region. There was also a memorial for all the workers who built the dam wall. We saw the results of the urban areas and logging industries upstream from the canyon which has caused serious pollution problems, with up to 5000 tons of solid waste extracted from the Grijalva River each year. This waste tends to build up in the canyon because of its narrowness, the convergence of water flows and the presence of the Chicoasén Dam. Our boat slowly navigated through the rubbish.

We then visited Chiapa de Corzo, the first colonial city founded by Spanish conquistadores, in 1528. The town is laid out in Spanish style, centred on a very large plaza. This plaza has several important features. The largest and best known is the La Pila fountain. This was constructed in 1562 in Moorish style, made of brick in the form of a diamond. The structure is attributed to Dominican brother Rodrigo de León. It measures fifty-two meters in circumference and twelve meters in height. It has eight arches and a cylindrical tower which occasionally functioned as a watchtower.

Another important feature is the La Pochota kapok tree. According to tradition, the Spanish town was founded around this tree. The last feature is a clock tower which was constructed in the 1950s. The town’s main structures are centred on this plaza, including the municipal palace and the former home of Liberal governor Angel Albino Corzo, for whom the town is partially named. One side of the plaza is taken by the “portales” a series of arches initially built in the 18th century, which contain a number of businesses.

On our 3rd day in the city, we visited 2 nearby indigenous villages. San Cristobal is situated in the middle of the highlands, so here we found Mexico's richest example of indigenous culture, as it is surrounded by 21 indigenous villages with distinct languages, dress and customs. This was where we were tempted to buy beautifully made local handicrafts, but we have 2 more months to travel so it was too early to buy extra weight. We did however, get a true feel for how modern descendants of the ancient Maya people live today. The tour gives us a fascinating insight into their pre-Columbian beliefs and their daily struggle to be heard in what is one of Mexico's most isolated regions. We visited 2 vary different cultures. One that was very much a free spirit from the Roman Catholic religion. They worshiped the saints they wished to worship. They decided what to worship, when to worship, they did not read the Bible. The commercialism was very pronounced and the rubbish in their village was also pronounced. This first village of ethnic groups were the San Jaun Chamula.

The second village, the Zinacantan, we were told and shown their beliefs in the life after death, the organic food style, the cleanliness of their homes, the history of their textiles all of which we very different to the first group. Each of the different cultural groups of the area wee very different. It was incredibly interesting.

The only disappointing aspect of the morning was that I could not take any photos inside the churches. The churches were the most positive churches I had ever visited. The images and ‘feel’ of the church were not of ‘fire and damnation’ but happiness and hope. He first church of the San Jaun Chamula had no pews as the community visited the church to pray and light significant candles. There was no funerals or wedding performed in the church but only worship and contemplation, The Zinacantan church had pews but considerable space for worship.

Both churches were uplifting rather than doom and gloom. It was a substantial difference for me.

We then drove in the mini busses, back to San Cristobal where we attempted to visit the Amber Museum. Unfortunately, we arrived their when is was closed for the 2 hours in the afternoon (from 2.00pm – 4.00pm). We then went back to the hotel, did some photo computer work before walking back to the main square to meet up with 7 other members of our tour group who decided to chare 2 taxis to the city cemetery. Here was the last day of the celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Tom decide not to come. The taxi driver dropped us off at the entrance of the cemetery. What hit us was mainly the celebration and the connection of the deceased with the live elations and friends. On multiple occasions, we saw the extended families around a fable in from of the family crypt, celebrating and reconnecting with their deceased family members. We saw several people who were very upset but on the whole, people were jovial and inclusive. Again, it was uplifting and positive. The locals wanted their deceased relatives to feel remembered and cared for. Some of the Catholic crypts were substantial and many of them were very colourful. They were decorated with pine needles, beautiful coloured flowers and a stack of food, alcoholic drinks and offerings. Mexico is the only country in the world that celebrated the Day of the Dead – and perhaps it is worth considering for our culture!!!!

We then returned to San Cristobal by taxi to our hotel. Our new friends from ex-London Sandra and Terry, who have travelled the world extensively also, we walked to a wonderful pizza restaurant, had margaritas and pinacolatos as well as a lovely bottle of red wine or 2 over wonderful conversation. We all went hack to the hotel very satisfied that we had learned and experienced the region of San Cristobal and were ready to travel to Palenque the next morning.

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