Thursday, March 27, 2008

San Cristobal de Las Casas

This morning I got up to walk around the town a bit in the bright and chilly sunshine. I don't think I have done this since may be Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The many beautiful churches shine brightly in the morning sun as well the colorful building in the central area. Unfortunately the heavy cloud moved in the afternoon, so no pictures of the church facing the sunset direction. I hoping it will be sunny tomorrow afternoon, before I catch my 10:45PM bus for Oaxaca.

The city was founded in 1528 and is a Spanish-colonial wonder with low-lying haciendas and cobbled streets. The city was made famous when in 1994, the Zapatistas briefly took control of the city to protest NAFTA and rights of the indigenous people. With a population of 120,000 there are many color churches that each with its own color, like the many colors of the houses lined its streets.

After the quick early morning walk through I went on a tour to the couple of the Maya village surrounding the city. One of them is San Juan Chamula, where they followed their own blend of Catholicism, they don't answer to the Pope. In the church, there are no chairs, just fresh pine needles, where people sit. Candles are placed on the table or ground. They worship the western saints, but with a mirror on the neck of the saints. The saints are corresponding to their Maya gods. They offer drinks like coco cola, eggs, chickens (killed in the church), to have their "priests" heal what ever trouble them. Outsiders like us are welcome to visit it, but photos are absolute no in the church as well outside photos of priests and religious objects and ceremonies. People's cameras have been smashed as result of not obeying the rule, and in some case, people got punched out as well. The outsiders are not allowed to live in their town. They bury their dead with crosses. But depend on the age of the person, the color of the cross will be different. Also they bury those that died of nature cause away from non-natural ones (like accident). In additional, they select their own leaders, when someone commits a crime, it is up to the leaders to decide the punishment. The maximum sentence is 3 days in local jail. If the person repeats, then there will be community service added as well. Some of the criminals become local policemen as part of their community service, looking for tourists taking pictures is one of their jobs. It was very interesting to see this kind of belief, almost like that of Amish community mixed with native American in the US.

After San Juan Chamula, we went to another Maya village of San Lorenzo Zinacantan that speaks the same language, but practiced different form of Catholicism. Not chickens, eggs, etc in the church. The inside of their church is more like that of Catholic we know. But they don't perform their Mayan rituals in it, instead they do it at a small temple on top of a tall hill. Anyway this village is known for their weaving and flowers. We visited one the house where they showed us their wares and try black tortillas with green onions, salt, salsa, very good (we were hungry). I tried to buy some cup mats to support them, but they don't have 4 of the same kind.

This was one wonderful tour with good insight into the Mayan culture that you don't see or read.

Tonight I am just to wonder around the city and checkout the festival and shops. Tomorrow morning if the weather is nice, I'll check the local market before my tour of Canon del Sumidero.

Although I am not into food, but I'll talk a little about what I eat during my trip. A lot of places (small city or towns), there are not many choices. Breakfast I usually brought fruits with pastries or bread. Bananas, oranges, and apples are common. Lunch and dinner usually similar, cheap local dishes. Sometime if I arrive hungry in a place, I might go for a "higher" priced meal. Couple times my lunch will be around 4 or so due to a tour, and dinner usually 2-3 hours latter. The #1 meal by far I had during my trip is chicken. Yesterday I was so tired eating more chicken, I went for 2 set meals in couple proper restaurants - fish filets! Luckily the price here is very cheap, the meals cost around $6, including soup, main meal, and dessert. One thing I am missing the most after Jorge mentioned is green vegetable! Central American don’t eat much green at all.

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