January 30, 2010

San Cristobal de las Casas

Press HERE to see a slideshow
of San Cristobal.

The Cathederal of San Cristobal

IMG_0137: The Cathederal of San Cristobal

Nancy and Alejandra

IMG_0129: Nancy and Alejandra

Beautiful Embroidery

IMG_0148: Beautiful Embroidery

Mayan Shopppers

IMG_0157: Mayan Shopppers

Mayan Woman

IMG_0161: Mayan Woman

Up Calle Guadalupe

IMG_0186: Looking up to the Guadalupe Temple

San Cristobal de las Casas is a wonderful colonial city of 150,000 souls located in the center of the State of Chiapas. Some may remember the rebellion of the Mayan people, known as the Zapatista conflict, that took place here in 1994. Chiapas is in the far southeastern corner of Mexico on the Pacific ocean and borders Guatemala. The town is at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet. The effect is to keep the population cooler that surrounding jungles and costal areas. The nights have been in the low 40's and the days have been sunny and in the 70's, which is near perfect weather for a Minnesotan. The buildings are old and the streets are very narrow. Although not as old as Antigua, it has a very similar look and feel. The fame of the Zapatista rebellion put a spotlight on the region, and thus brought many more tourists and a welcome addition to the local economy.

Before leaving Veracruz on Monday, we tried to find some guesthouses online. Outside the US, Hostelz.com is one of the better sites for locating hostels, guesthouses and budget hotels. We select three that sounded good, located them on Google maps and save the webpages - so that we could find them when we got into the town. The capital of Chiapas is Tuxtla Gutiérrez and is 30 miles east and at 1,700 feet. The last 45 minutes of journey was from Tuxtla to San Cristobal was all up hill and and night on a winding mountain road. After a bit of confusion on our arrival we found our way to our first pick, Casa de la Vista, where we found a room in a nice guesthouse. We did not see the best feature of the guesthouse until the next morning. The view of the city is wonderful from the patio of the guesthouse.

Tuesday was not a busy day for us. We wanted to rest a bit after three, long, hard days of driving. We walked the half mile to the center. We looked around a bit, changed some money and headed back to our guesthouse. We just took it easy. Then in the evening the guesthouse tenants gathered to send off Alejandra, who had been a guest here for more than a month. The party for her was fun. We had a fire on the patio, wine and beer to drink and some food to quench the appetite. We had a good time getting to know all the other guests. We had gotten to know Jack Barnes earlier in the day. I mention him and his wife Nancy because they are so much like Betty and me. Nancy just retired and is in San Cristobal to study Spanish for two months. They started serious travel a few years ago and now plan to travel extensively - mostly in Latin America - during the winters. And yes, they come from a place as cold as the Twin Cities - that being the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Wednesday, we saw much of the town. After changing some money, we went went south two blocks to the Arcos del Carmen. At this location is the first, really public library that we have seen in Mexico. It was a regional library and was nicer that we had expected. We hope that over the years, it will get better and better. We circled to the west and stopped at Templo del Calvario and looked inside. Along side of it was the Amber Museum. We just check out their shop. We were not interest enough to see the exhibits. From there it was a short walk to the Museo de las Culturas Populares, which is a folk museum of low interest. We walked back to main plaza the turned north passing by the Cathedral of San Cristobal. We continued on several blocks until we got to walked to the Templo Santa Domingo de Guzman, whose exterior was stunningly beautiful. Outside the church are dozens and dozens of vendor stands selling handicraft from the neighboring villages. Attached to the church was an old convent that had been converted to another museum called Centro Cultural de los Altos. The most interesting exhibit was the museum itself and its wonderful courtyard. None of museums were all that good. We were pretty tired by now. We had walking and looking for hours. We noted that we could stop at one more museum on our way back to the guesthouse. Centro Cultural Na Bolom was a wonderful little museum. Na Bolom means House of the Jaguar. It was founded by and is in the home of Frans and Trudy Bloom. They came to this area almost one-hundred years ago to explore, map and research the region. The best part of the museum we all the old photos of Mayan people during the past ninety years. We returned totally exhausted late in the afternoon to our room to rest and recoup.

Thursday was for a trip to a nearby village. We went to Chamula. At midday the square in front of the church was filled with a market of food and clothing vendors. It was a totally amazing sight. I took some photos, which do not even close to capturing the spirit of the place. We explored the market and the main street, where we found clothing vendors. Betty bought two blouses made in the village. We also wanted to visit the village of Zinacantan, but at the last moment decided not to visit the town. On principle we won't pay to enter a town, which was the demand here. After our trip up into the hills we returned to the city. We stopped at the Mayan Medicine Museum. This was another museum fell flat, despite the recommendation. The best parts of the visit the folksy dioramas and 12-minute video on the Mayan midwife. The video took you through and entire delivery and was extremely interesting.
In the evening we went out to a show, Palenque Rojo. The show was about a Mayan war for Palenque, a fantastic Mayan city of old about one-hundred miles northeast of San Cristobal. The costumes and make up were beyond fantastic. The dance and drumming was marvelous. The only draw back was that we understood none of the dialog. The show's web page has a short video where you can catch a glimpse of the show. Check it out.

Friday did not start out all that great. Gas to head hot water had run out in the night. So there was no shower in the morning and we had to use the microwave to heat water for coffee. Not great loss, just a minor irritation. The day was reserved for people watching and hanging out in the town squares. Once in a while, it is nice to do nothing.

Well, we are winding down in San Cristobal. We did little today. It was a cool sunny morning. We had pazole for lunch. It rained midday. We have seen about all we want to here. And I took my final picture in the City.

We will leave tomorrow morning heading north for two days. Yes, Merida and Cancun are north of here. If it clears up we might stop at Palenque, the site of an ancient Mayan Ruins. In any case, we should be in Merida by Monday night.

Posted by bill at January 30, 2010 09:32 PM

I love that last shot.

Posted by: MIckie Turk at January 30, 2010 10:30 PM

i have enjoyed your travelogs. the mayan women in their dress and the way they braid their hair, look very similar to tibetan women. ciao luke

Posted by: luke at January 31, 2010 07:43 AM

How do you do it? I'm envious!!!

Posted by: Jeff at January 31, 2010 05:38 PM

Great photo of the braided Mayan woman and of the embroidered apparel. Keep up the travelogs!!

Posted by: Marty Christensen at February 1, 2010 07:10 PM

Loved the Chiapas slideshow. Years ago we hosted an exchange student from Chiapas. He was a great kid and we had always planned to go see him sometime. But, as those things go, we lost contact. Now I feel like I have been there. Thanks.

Posted by: Rochelle at February 4, 2010 10:29 PM