San Cristobal

San Cristóbal de las Casas Travel Blog

 › entry 29 of 166 › view all entries
We arrived at San Cristobal around mid-afternoon and walked from the bus station to our hotel. Todd showed us around the city centre and we liked what we saw. The town has a stunning colonial look that is clean and well-kept. It was one of those cities, like Cusco, where restrictions on shop-front displays means that a common theme for the place can be maintained.

In the evening we came back out and had dinner on a busy street near the big church. There was a theatre across the road that was promoting a show about a Mayan king, which got us interested enough to check it out after dinner. The show was really well done, with great costumes, enthusiastic performances and great sound to back it up.

The next morning Gary, Vicky and myself walked around to a couple of sights including a church at the top of a big staircase hill, and another church that was brightly coloured sky-blue and white.

In the afternoon the whole group of us went on a village tour with a local guide. He took us to a Mayan village which is essentially autonomous from most of Mexican law. They only allow full blooded Mayans to live there and strictly follow some very old traditions.

As they are very independent the church in the village is a strong mix of Catholicism and Mayan religions. Inside there is no seating and instead there is dried grass laid out all over the floor where people pray, light candles, and even sacrifice chickens to appease the gods. Another curious feature of their religious interpretations is that they fully embrace soft drinks like Coca Cola and Pepsi because the burping sensation is considered a release of evil from their bodies. This means it is not uncommon to see bottles of Coke lying around as if they were any other kind of religious ornament. We left the church after a ridiculously large tour group just all in came in at once and spoiled the atmosphere in the place. We got taken to another village where we visited a spiritual elders house which smelled strongly of a smoke they were releasing inside.

After our village tour we had also opted to visit a nearby Zapatista stronghold. The very simplistic summary is that the Chiapas state in Mexico, where San Cristobal is, has a modern revolutionary movement known as the Zapatistas that came about with the introduction of NAFTA and is at high tension with the Mexican government. They have stronghold camps in the area that are considered part of a ceasefire with the government.

We drove for about half an hour through the country side to get to the stronghold where we came to a big gate leading into the place. There were two men standing at the gate with balaclavas over the face and just generally looking pretty mean. The guide was still with us so despite our hesitation we went along up to the gate. They asked for our passports so we handed them over and they walked off with them into a nearby office. They came back shortly after and led us into the gate and into the office. Inside there were more men in balaclavas who didn't say pretty much anything other than to ask us what occupations we worked in. When Todd asked to take a photo inside they said he did not have permission.

By this point we were obviously feeling a very serious vibe about the whole place. It wasn't quite at the point of being scary, I think mainly because there were no guns from what I could see. We were led out further into the compound where there was another office. The guide knocked on the door and a woman in a balaclava answered and the guide said a group was here to talk with the Zapatistas. We waited outside for a while, by which time it was dark, until the door opened again and we were led in. Just before we went in a few other people had walked past but curiously were not wearing balaclavas and just seemed less serious faced.

There were a couple of long benches in the middle of the room where we sat at facing a desk at the end of the room where two men and two women sat with balaclavas. Just after we nervously sat down suddenly the lights went out, they turned on a torch and hurried out of the room. I wasn't really worried but I think some of the others might have been. They came back in not long after and said the power was gone so they had to do the rest with some torches.

After taking our names, nationalities and occupations the man in the centre of the desk gave us a five or ten minute talk about the Zapatistas struggle. It was in Spanish so the guide translated for us, but it was tough because the guide kept speaking over the man talking so they kept clashing. We got through it, though it was all just very general stuff like they are glad we were there and that they do exist and that they were just volunteers who did not get paid for being there. It wasn't very inspiring to their cause.

When the Zapatista representative was done talking we had the chance to ask questions. I asked in what way they were actually resisting against the government. All I got was a very vague answer that they were resisting by not taking subsidies from the government and by running their own school. The answer struck me as quite tame considering the whole visual image they were building up as a great resistance movement. I would have tried to press him more but the language barrier meant asking a question and getting an answer was too slow a process.

When we were done with questions they let us take photos with them posing in their blank-faced looks. We thanked them and went outside to leave. On the way out we came by a shop that sold Zapatista merchandise along with DVDs about Che Guevara and other political left icons. On top of their being a gift shop in the stronghold there were heaps of people around that area walking around happily with no balaclavas, leaving me with the impression that we had initially been presented with a fairly inaccurate depiction of what life is like in there. The first impression was that it was a deadly serious base for fighting the Mexican government and by the end it just seemed like a commune where people came to live their lives collectively in their own way. That's all great and power to them for that but in that case the balaclava thing seemed pretty disingenous. This was just my opinion though and I am fairly sure that most of the rest of the group didn't see it that way because they still seemed in awe of the moment after we left.

We drove back to San Cristobal, also picking up a couple of German backpackers who had been told a bus would be by the stronghold and then they had since found out the last one had gone for the night.

For dinner most of us went to an Argentinean steakhouse. The steak and other food I had there was absolutely superb, so with the red wine I was in a pretty good mood. We went back to the hotel where Todd was doing drinks in his room. We drank rum in there for a while and then headed out on the town.

The night can be summarised by very heavy drinking and lots of dancing and general drunkenness. I would add more detail but other than incriminating myself I don't remember much after the first bar. I think we got home at different times but mostly around 5-6am.

The next day Gary and I were intending to go to some canyon to see the views but we were too hungover and ended up sleeping until about 2pm. I was in all sorts so I hung around in the hotel room all day, so other than going out quickly for dinner the day was a write off.

The following day we were done with Mexico and off to Guatemala to see Lake Atitlan from the town of Panajachel.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
San Cristóbal de las Casas