San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, is yet another stunning colonial city. With a population of 160,000 and an elevation of roughly 6300 feet (the central highlands of Chiapas), San Cristóbal is considered to be the center of one of the most deeply embedded indigenous regions of Mexico. We are learning there is a strong Zapatista culture here as well as strong support network for organizations that work with the indigenous people of Chiapas. San Cristóbal offers a blend of traditional and unconventional, ancient and new-age. The most touristic part of town is the centro, and it’s the loveliest part, in my opinion. Geared to the traveler-tourist, there are a plethora of restaurants, hotels, cafes, and bars. The cobblestone streets are lined with boutique stores and eating establishments, and the stone sidewalks offer pathways for the hundreds of indigenous folks selling their handmade wares.
Like with any Mexican pueblos touristicos, expect to be approached (if not accosted) by ambulantes (roaming vendors) every minute, 90 seconds at best. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting at an outdoor cafe or inside a restaurant. Their sense of private space is nearly nonexistent. Small children will come up and rub your back while asking you to buy their bracelets or stuffed animals or chewing gum. It’s hard for me to watch the little ones carrying big loads, like the 8-year old shoe shiner or the toddler carrying a makeshift stand for a box of junk food and cigarettes. But here, there is something different with the children, a unique approach. Here, the children are all practicing a similar selling style. It’s as if they all attended the same conference on how to reach sales quotas. They approach with mouths puckered and eyebrows furrowed, and on the verge of fake tears, they ask in a high-pitched voice if you would buy their goods, or, if not, give them just one peso. We called one little guy’s bluff, and he gave us a big, metallic cavity-filled laugh. Busted. Still, I am nearly in (real) tears watching this scene unfold and thinking about how little most of us really know about the harsh reality for so many others, and recognizing many times over how very fortunate I am.
Day 1 – We’ve Arrived
We arrived in the afternoon of our 3-day visit. We wondered if we would need more time to get the full flavor of this town as this has been the case everywhere we’ve gone. Our lodging is the Posada La Media Luna at #5 Hermanos Dominguez in the Barrio Santa Lucia. It’s a colorful and charming yet modest and rustic place with a fountain courtyard, fairly clean, friendly staff. We most enjoyed the company of Francesca and Roberto, the owners. It’s not easy finding dog-friendly hotels in Mexico, but those we find are really friendly places.
The best part of our posada is the location. That is perfect. We spent a couple hours checking out the environs and making our plan. Cool town.
Our first dinner on our first day in San Cristóbal was at a place called No Name Quesadillas on Paniagua 49B. Owned by the lovely Lupita, No Name is one of those comfy places where it’s fun to hang out. Lupita works with her baby boy, Sebastian, in a rebozo. Food is served on earthenware and unique salsas are waiting on the table to be devoured. They serve vegetarian only from Sunday-Tuesday. Our server was Andrea, soft-spoken, articulate (Spanish) and oozing with authentic sweetness.
First we ordered two drinks: Machacado de Granada and Machacado de Pina. Each, a fruit drink, containing a liquor called Pox (pronounced pōsh – long ‘o’) made of sugar cane. Pox is an ancient Mayan drink used for ceremonial purposes and not a pusy virus that leaves scars.
Then we went to the “cart” and ordered our gourmet quesadillas, which seemed more like tacos and can easily be made without cheese for those who want the full flavor of Lupita’s food sin queso. I ordered mushroom with peanuts and veggies with mole. Scott ordered veggies with mole and veggies with salsa. Aye dios bio! Muy delicioso. Not only were they filling, but the veggies were cooked so perfectly, and the flavors did the tango in my mouth. The three salsas were: Salsa de cacahuate, pepita, and simojove.
Day 2 – Hittin’ the Town
After the walk, we treated ourselves to a finger-licking piece of dark chocolate at Kokoa Natura. Then off to the coffee museum, Café Museo Cafe on 10 MA Flores, where we met Ana Margarita and her mother who were selling homemade textiles. I would only recommend the coffee museum for those who are interested in the history of coffee, particulary in Mexico. There are English translation on cards, but otherwise for 30 pesos, it’s a self-guided tour of three salas. The photographs were most interesting to me.
We often find ourselves just eating one meal a day – a late lunch (with some snacks in between). Today’s breaklundner (breakfast, lunch, dinner) was at La Casa del Pan Papalotl located on Real de Guadalup #55, vegetarian restaurant that I highly recommend. The only word I can find at the moment is YUM. While they have a veggie buffet from 1:30-4:30, we opted to get something from the menu. I ordered a Chiapas-style tamale (tamal) with mushrooms, mole sauce with mumo which is another name for Hoja Santa (we had this recently at our former landlord’s house in San Miguel). Scott ordered the black bean soup (with cumin and cilantro) and a tostada de la casa. The tortillas are made with traditional maize. Some may find that to be an acquired taste, but I love the hearty, earthy, taste.
Still in a food fog, we visited Casa No Bolom on #33 Calle Guerrero. Na Bolom means Jaguar House. With a vibrant garden (flowers and food) and courtyard, this house/research center was once owned by photographer and environmentalist Gertrude Duby Blom and her archeologist/explorer husband, Frans. The Bloms took a real interest in Mayan culture and preservation. Their house/museum is filled with photographs and artifacts that from their origins help preserve the Lacandon Mayan culture as part of a non-profit organization dedicated to protect these Mayan peoples and preserve the Chiapas rain forest.
They offer tours in English at 4:30, but we decided just to check it out on our own.
Day 3 – Soaking it in all over town
Breaklundner (Breakfast, lunch, dinner) was at TierrAdentro at #24 Real de Guadalupe. Lonely Planet (my guide of guides) piqued our interest, because it described the place as a popular gathering center for political progressives and that it is run by run by Zapatista supporters.
TierrAdentro is the perfect lunch venue with an inviting courtyard, captivating photos of Zapatistas, and small rooms with goods made from indigenous people. I liked the energy of this place immediately. It had an air of tolerance. The food was fabuloso. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that San Cristóbal is somewhat of a mecca for vegetarians. My meal got kicked off with a hardy Sopa de Lentejas (Lentil Soup) and Scott had Sopa de Azteca. My main dish was Barquitos de Calabaza con cebolla, ajo, orégano, y salsa de tomate (Squash “boats” with onion, garlic, oregano and salsa). Scott had a colorful veggie baguette with vibrant beets. Yum.
We asked our waiter about the language spoken here. It sounds very different from anything I’ve heard before. He said there are two languages: Tzotzil and Tzeltal both belonging to the indigenous Mayan people of Chiapas.
On our way to Museo de la Medicina Maya we stopped off at two recommended churches by Lonely Planet: Templo y Ex Convento de Santo Domingo and Templo d la Caridad (this was closed). Then we got a bit lost and found ourselves in the “real” San Cristóbal what some may call the projects.
This is the same dog I saw two days ago at a different mercado. I feel a total sense of powerlessness when encountering so many dogs in need, particularly in a strange city where I don’t know who to contact for help (I did some research online but to no avail). This little one is clearly sick and starving. My heart is terribly pained knowing what kind of life this pup has and will have. How can we as a global society let these things happen to animals (human and nonhuman) who are in such grave need?
A vendor “ssssssshh’d” away this sweet baby, and I had nothing on my person to leash her, or I would have otherwise taken her back with us. Instead, I went back to the posada feeling desperate and defeated. The owners of our posada are Francesa and Roberta, an Italian couple who settled in San Cristóbal. They are dog-lovers, hence the dog-friendly posada. I spoke with Roberto about her and showed him the photos. He planned to look for her and take her to a vet he knows who helps street dogs. I felt instantaneous relief. But sadly, my relief was short lived. After several days of searching, that helpless, darling, hungry, ill, and lonely little mutt was not to be found. Roberto was kind enough to stay in touch via email.
Let this be my lesson. The next time I feel the need to take action in the moment, I need to take action in that moment. I can only wish some kind passerby took her in and made her well. I am not hopeful.
Museo de la Medicina Maya
Eventually we found it. We watched a video on Mayan midwifery and while I didn’t understand much of the spoken word, the visual images were interesting and informative.
Walking back to our posada…
We topped the night off at La Casa del Pan Paplotl with a documentary about the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas: A Place Called Chiapas. San Cristóbal was thrown into the spotlight January 1, 1994 when the rebels headed by self-made military commander Marco, made it one of their four places to start their revolution to coincide with the start of NAFTA. They seized government establishments and wreaked havoc before the Mexican army was able to drive them out just a few days after they began. Still a bit unclear, the rebels are trying to help the indigenous indians who have been under the foot of the Spanish ruling class (in power for 70 years). Their goals are to have control over their own lives and land, and to have Education, Justice, and Democracy. The Mayan Indians believed God called them the People of the Corn as opposed to Children of the Corn, a totally different thing.
The film was able to show three distinct perspectives, that of the Zapatistas (EZLN – Eiército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional), that of the paramilitary groups like Peace and
There is some good news:
Effective immediately, companies like Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer will no longer be allowed to plant or sell their corn within the country’s borders.
However, there is a dichotomy that, for some reason, seems more apparent here than in other Mexican pueblos and ciudads we’ve visited. Maybe I’m just more aware now. But to watch a 14-year old dressed in fashionable clothes and shoes texting while she’s walking past another 14-year old with 40 pounds of textiles on her back, wearing aging yet clean shoes and clothes, is a lot to process.
I picture the 9-year old boys in the US – playing video games, feeling bored when someone else hasn’t prescribed the use of their time, or maybe they’re busily playing sports and getting into shenanigans that boys their age should do; and then I compare that to the stark contrast of 9-year old indigenous boys here who are working until 11:00 at night selling roses or cigarettes or handmade crafts on the streets. Some are shining shoes. These boys are young working men. They are walking the streets and despite the obscene annoyance of being interrupted mid-sentence every minute, they are doing their jobs to help support their families. They are mature and cunning, adorable and persevering. They don’t likely know the joy of sleeping in on the weekends in their comfy beds or even the boredom of too much free time. They do this work because it commands their survival.
One night I was watching a little guy about 8 or 9-years old. He had a stationary job – manning a box of dry goods (Halls throat drops, cigarettes, lighters, and candy) on a stand. He was just across the street from a sports bar. Mexico was playing Costa Rica – soccer or football depending on where you live. It was busy – lots of drinkers and smokers. In between customers, he was lying on the sidewalk playing army with cigarette butts (that were discarded in the street and he’d run grab) and pieces of gravel from a nearby potted plant. Whenever he sold an item, he’d blow on his whistle, and an older man with silver teeth came to collect the money from him. At one of these interactions this man raised his voice with the boy. The boy seemed unfazed and continued to play with his army of cigarettes and dirt immediately upon the man’s departure. Who was this man? Was he the big boss of all the vendors? Or simply his father?
The body of a small boy, he had the years of an old man on his face. I notice that a lot here. The indigenous folks, I suppose they’re Tzotzils (making a sweeping generalization), the children and even the babies have a gloss of ancient wisdom on their faces. It’s as if they are born into this world as old souls. Born into a life of scrambling for a better existence, there seems to be little hope for those that don’t break the cycle of what appears to be slavery to to the job of street sales.
His name was Domingo. I gave him 15 pesos and needed nothing in return. We walked away. At the end of the block, I looked back and saw Domingo giving my 15 pesos to the older man with the silver teeth.
Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
This is Mexico Post #28
To see Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #3, Feliz Ano Nuevo 2013, click here.
To see Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia, click here.
To see Mexico Post #6, Mariposas Monarcas!, click here.
To see Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan, click here.
To see Mexico Post #8, La pintoresca ciudad de San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #9, Guanajuato, Guanajuato, click here.
To see Mexico Post #10, Back to Sayulita and Jaime Visits!, click here.
To see Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua, click here.
To see Mexico Post #12, Semana de Animales, click here.
To see Mexico Post #13, Semana de Amigos y Amigas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #14, Frida y Diego, click here.
To see Mexico Post #15, Adiós Sayulita, click here.
To see Mexico Post #16, Living and Grinning in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #17, Puddle Jumping in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #18, Guanajuato International Film Festival, click here.
To see Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here.
To see Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here.
To see Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here.
To see Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here.
To see Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here.
To see Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
To see Mexico Post #27, On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas: 50 Shades of Green, click here.
To see Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here.
To see Mexico Post #30, Veracruz, Tampico y Estados Unidos, click here.