Day 25: San Juan Chamula

Chamula Travel Blog

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our little horse riding group
 

We booked a trip to go horse riding today. Not that I really had any urge to spend another day on a Mexican beastie, but Robbel really wanted to do it.

Around San Cristóbal are several small Mayan villages, which are worth a visit, so to combine the two we booked a tour which would bring us to one of those villages, across the mountains, on horseback.


Perhaps now is a good time to explain a little about Chiapas. They say that the Mexican revolution of 1919 never happened in Chiapas. In other words, they completely forgot to abolish the Spanish hacienda system with landowners, social classes and the systematically repression and exploitation of the indigenous Indian population.

The church in San Juan Chamula, where Coca Cola is considered a divine gift

The latter escalated slightly back in 1994 when the 3.5 million Mayan people living in the state and their militant group Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (aka Zapatistas) occupied San Cristóbal and demanded equal rights. It took the Mexican army only a few days to recapture the city and execute some 150 Zapatistas, which in its turn caused that Amnesty International and other human rights organisations got an increased interest in the region. This in turn has resulted in that every white person travelling to Chiapas is considered a potential human rights activist or journalist and is subjected to a lot of harassment and nagging and rigorous checking by the Mexican army. Not particularly good for tourism, and that while Chiapas might be the state with the greatest diversity of touristic sights in the whole of Mexico.


But the bottom line is, it all comes down to.

San Juan Chamula
.. oil. Chiapas lies on top of a huge oil field, which the Mexican state would prefer to keep to themselves, which would be inevitable if they would give the land back to their rightful owners. And so it happens that the Mexican state with the most natural resources is also the state with the most poverty. More than 70% of the people in this state lives of less than a few dollars a day, and improvement is nowhere in sight.


And throughout the country people look down on Chiapas. David, Miryam's boyfriend, was full of it as well, continuously making jokes about the Chiapa people. A bit like the Dutch make jokes of the Belgians, and the English make jokes about the French. Anyway, if you are interested, have a look at this site, which chronicles the Chiapa conflict and sheds some light on the history: http://www.

Anyone for some chicken?
sipaz.org/crono/proceng.htm


Things have calmed down a little bit in the state, and since last year the military checkpoints have been dissolved, which has had a positive effect on tourism. However, apparently only three days earlier some 20,000 Zapatistas had marched into San Cristóbal as well, breaching the peace accord, but we noticed very little of that.

The Mayans still idolise their Zapatista leader 'Marcos', who always wears a balaclava. Pretty much at every street corner you will see a Mayan lady selling little Marcos figures to tourists. Many men also honour Marcos by wearing a balaclava while walking the streets. This looks a bit weird, just as if there are bank robbers anywhere, but for these people it is simply a way of honouring their hero.


Anyway, apart from the fact that tourism is a good means for the Mayan people to gain worldwide attention to their problem, it is also a major source of income.

local girl in San Juan Chamula
So it should not come as a surprise that upon arrival in the village of San Juan Chamula we were overwhelmed by local people selling clothing, wood carvings, Marcos figurines and whatever more. And in the most irritating way imaginable. Though perhaps not as bad as, say, Bali, but bad enough for us not to want to buy anything of them.


In the centre of San Juan Chamula stands a church, which is no longer accepted by the Mexican catholic church because the Mayans have some rather alternative ways of worshipping their gods. They don't want a priest or anything, no, they prefer to talk to God directly. And Jesus? Maria? Holy virgins? No way, John the Baptist is their main man! And with hundreds of candles, incense, mirrors and straw they sit on the church floor praying to their favourite saint.

somehow she scares me...
And all the while groups of tourists are walking in between them, looking. They don't mind tourists visiting at all, as long as you don't take any pictures of the people. Like so many indigenous people they fear photography, because it takes away your soul.


In total we spent about an hour and a half in the village, and three and a half hours on horseback. Just enough as far as I was concerned, but slightly too much for Robbel. What I had had at Paricutín, she had now. She could barely walk from the muscle ache and both her knees were badly bruised from the weird saddles and stirrups they use in this country.


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our little horse riding group
our little horse riding group
The church in San Juan Chamula, wh…
The church in San Juan Chamula, w…
San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula
Anyone for some chicken?
Anyone for some chicken?
local girl in San Juan Chamula
local girl in San Juan Chamula
somehow she scares me...
somehow she scares me...
setting out on horseback
setting out on horseback
kids in San Juan Chamula
kids in San Juan Chamula
local kid
local kid
Robbel showing some skills
Robbel showing some skills
Chamula
photo by: Biedjee