Archive for November, 2009

November 4, 2009
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The main church in San Cristobal

San Christobal de Las Casas is in the state of Chiapas not far from the Guatemala border. As a matter of fact when we were in Guatemala several years ago the maps of Guatemala had the state of Chiapas included; Mexico got the land in a treaty with Guatemala—-you know how that goes. We visited San Cristobal several years ago for two days on a tour and in this city saw Mexicans wearing parkas. It does get cold here in the winter. Not Canadian cold or Minnesota cold, but you light a fire in the fireplace at night to keep warm cold.

a street in San Cristobal
a typical street in Centro

San Cristobal is a magic pueblo and rightly so. The city streets are clean, the air clean and brisk—the town surrounded by pine and oak covered mountains. As the saying goes—this place is a MUST visit. The ex-pats we talked too (not many) say the English speaking population is around 100. The place is off the American tourist map, the Europeans have found it, mostly Germans, Italians and Brits. When I asked one of the Americans if there were any organizations of ex-pats, he remarked most of the Americans don’t want to associate with others and come here to escape, not belong to organizations.

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The beautiful countrysideThe countryside around the city has a lot to offer including the following places that we visited: the dramatic El Chiflon waterfallsSan Cristobal 443 (Small)

and the Lagos de Montebello National Park where there are many small lakes that are crystal clear and breathtaking at every turn set in pine and oak forests.San Cristobal 511 (Small)

The only disconcerting aspect of the national park is every person, to include little children, as soon as they see you step out of a car will yell “Guia” or guide and want you to hire them. Arcotete is a lovely new park just outside of San Cristobal in the mountains and when we were there several city officials talked to us and explained all the improvements they were planning for this relatively small area. The Mayan ruins of Tonina are less known than Palenque, but definitely worth a day trip. Standing where the Mayans kings stood on a stone platform overlooking the fertile valley you can get a sense of this majestic place.

There are many restaurants in “San Cris,” maybe not quite as many as Lake Chapala, but not far behind. None of the restaurants we tried were FAB except one Italian restaurant. We ate Sushi, Lebanese, Thai and, of course, Mexican. One of the peculiar culinary customs here is every Saturday night you see red lights out in front of houses (No, not that!) and that means the houses have hot tamales for sale. At around 6 to 8 pesos per tamale they are a tasty bargain. The night life is jumping every night, our favorite club The Revolution had two bands a night seven days a week. We were really pleased to find jazz being played a lot. While we were there we also lucked out to catch the 1st International  Festival de Culturas and heard several bands from around the world playing latin jazz, Cuban salsa, avant-garde jazz and Mexican pop ballads. Unlike lakeside where the streets roll up at 9 p.m. the streets here are hopping and bopping into the late hourswith worldly backpackers, guys on stilts, hippies selling, what else, jewelry and affluent Mexican kids looking for a good time in addition to people like us. This area  of Chiapis is also one of the major suppliers of amber in the world. If you want amber anything this is the place. In the Centro there must be 50 stores with amber for sale and more at the regional market. There is also an excellent variety of embroidered and woven clothing and my favorite, little animals made of wool in designs a la alebrijes (the wooden fantasy animals of Oaxaca). The city is more than1/3 populated by poor indigenous peoples, mainly descendants of the Mayan. The good news is they rarely have a car; the bad news is that many families of men, women, and ALL the children (and they have many), no matter the age, are out in the street from sun up to late into the night selling their wares. Most of these children do not attend school. These are people who have left or been kicked out of their indigenous villages for whatever reasons.

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the cemetary in Chamula ready for Day of the Dead

It is also very interesting to visit some of these villages which are another world. You cannot photograph any of the people who believe the photos steal their souls. ( I know several people who went to Hollywood to make motion pictures and their souls were taken, but that is another story.)

The state of Chiapas has gone and is going through a transformation. Since the Zapatista uprising in 1994-2006 the Federal governments has built roads and generally improved the lot of the poor people (read indigenous people) throughout the state. There are still military bases outside the city or nearby and we were stopped frequently by the roadblocks, but the Zapatista rebellion is slowly becoming trivialized, as you can see it in the sale of Comandante Marcos dolls, T shirts, cute Zapatista posters and the likeness of the all-time, glamour revolutionary in the red star beret Che Guevara.

Prices for houses are still reasonable. Crime is very low. There is actually an increase in the number of jobs in the state. There are two negatives we encountered, one is when the garbage truck comes around (You hear some guy ringing a cow bell 20 minutes prior to the arrival of the truck) you have to be there and hand up the garbage bag to the fellow in the truck, they don’t pickup the garbage, you pick it UP. The other negative is a rather large number of AA meeting places for a city of 134,000. We saw, on many occasions, guys sleeping off a drunken bender on the sidewalks.

Finally let me add that we have a new dog, well, sort of. It seems when Mexican people ask the name of our dog, and we reply Lassen they either can’t pronounce it or say “Lassie?” So for San Cristobal I changed the name of our ROCK STAR dog to COMMANDANTE. It seems apropos for a city renewed by Zapatistas and the people loved it, the perroista.

The area was one of incredible beauty and I took over 800 photos which I will not bore you with. The following links take you to much edited down amounts of photos if you are interested in seeing some of the incredible beauty that is Chiapis Mexico. Although all these photos are on Facebook, you do not need to be a member to view the photos at these links.

In and around San Cristobal:

Tonina Mayan Ruin