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San Cristobal de las Casas

Written on: Sunday August 16th, 2009

A journal entry from: Cycle Mexico - Panama

August 8th - 18th

San Cristobal de las Casas is a beautiful Spanish colonial town up in the mountains of Chiapas (2100m altitude). It's the first time we've felt cold since coming to Central America. It is a lively place with lots of artists and musicians, busking and playing in bars. There are over 25 churches and cathedrals and an abundance of different restaurants along the narrow cobbled streets. We found a nice and laid back hostel with a North African style, called Los Camellos. 

The town is known for the Zapatistas, who briefly took over the city on January 1st 1994, starting a revolution fighting for the rights of the idigenous people. The famous leader of the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN) is Subcommandante Marcos and can been seen everywhere here from t-shirts to posters.

The ideology is very interesting. Firstly as a left wing group they do not want to seize power. Instead they pressure the government into making life better for the indigenous people, trying to give them the same rights as the rest of the population. One important demand they have is reinstituting the rights of towns and communities to communally own land. The USA demanded that this right be removed from the Mexican constitution when Mexico joined North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. The present government still has not agreed to the demands of the Zapatistas, but awareness of the situation of the Mayan people has increased. Life is somewhat better now for the indigenous population in Mexico than in other Central American countries, but one can still see the injustice and poverty among the Mayan people. The struggle is ongoing, and we have to wait and see what happens.... Viva La Revolucion!! 

We have been on a 5 day Spanish course here which has been quite intensive but lots of fun. We studied at the school Tierras Mayas, with our teachers Romeo and Paco, who were both great. Romeo also gave us a few hours of private salsa lessons, so we are experts now :) The school had a small cinema where we watched a documentary on the Zapatistas: Cronica de una Rebelion. It was well worth watching and we learned a lot about the history of the revolutuion. We also went to see Paco perform in the show Palenque Rojo, which tells the story of the war between the Mayan cities of Palenque and Tonina. It also incorporates Mayan mythology about the gods and the underworld (Xibalba) and was spectacular with great costumes, characters and sets. 

This week Yasmin visited an organisation called Melel Xojobal, who work with indigenous children. They focus on education but also on various social issues, helping some of the huge number of Mayan children who live in poverty all around San Cristobal.  

Today we visited the Museuem of Maya Medicine which gave some interesting insights into the spiritual and herbal medicines and rituals used traditonally, and still practised today, by the Mayans.

We aim to leave on Tuesday morning and will head to Antigua in Guatemala, by bus.


From Jean on Aug 25th, 2009

Great that you have both been learning spanish - we will have to practice in Chile. There were some salsa lessons on the ship but I can't seem to get my hips to wiggle! I will look forward to your demonstration! Lots of love to you both.

From Andy & Yasmin on Aug 27th, 2009

Hola, Jean! Nosotros hablamos un poco de castellano... Was that right? Great to hear that you had a good time on the cruise. Were you able to practice any ballroom dancing? We are certainly not experts at salsa but we enjoy it. We must do some practice before we get to Chile if we are going to give a demonstration!