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Chamula and Goodbye Annette

Written on: Sunday May 18th, 2008

A journal entry from: North America in our Camper Van!

Sunday morning, Hector, Apurno and their son Bruno came to pick us up at our hotel. They were going to take us to some nearby famous indigenous villages.

Our first stop was the town of San Juan Chamula, a fascinating indigenous village, famous for their hybrid catholic-mayan religion and practices. We weeded through the large Sunday market and made our way to the town office, to purchase our visitor passes to see the church. Because it was Sunday, the busiest day, we had to slowly make our through the church entrance through crowds of indigenous and tourists alike. As we entered inside, the strong smell of incense, the thousands of burning candles, a pine-needle covered floor and the chanting made quite an initial impression. This was like no catholic church that I have seen before. Instead of pews, a group would find themselves a space on the floor. Lighting candles and then dripping wax onto the floor, the colored candles were stood upright in row formations. Chanting would ensue as the Chamulan family prepared their offerings, such as Coca-Cola or a chicken that was about to be sacrificed. Hector pointed out to us the ?curanderos?, the medicine men and women saying prayers or rubbing people with ointments. As we walked around the church, it was difficult to avoid stepping on someone. The church walls were also lined with almost life-sized bust statues of various catholic saints placed inside protected glass boxes. Inside each box was a mirror, the person praying to the saint would therefore also be gazing upon his or her own reflection. Also interesting was that Saint John the Baptist was the primary center-piece statue at the front of the church, while the Jesus statue took a secondary place to the side. Back outside, Hector took a few minutes to explain some of the things that we saw and also pointed out the Chamulan families, whom had just finished their prayer session, outside enjoying a picnic with the ?blessed? Coca-Cola mixed with homebrew.

Next, Hector and Apurno brought us to the nearby village of San Lorenzo Zinacantan. Ten years ago he was cycling through this town when an elderly indigenous woman approached him and offered for him to join her family for diner. He accepted the invitation, became fast friends with the woman and enjoyed a lovely experience. Over the past ten years he had returned numerous times with many of his guests to visit the old women and let his guests share the same experience. In recent years numerous families in the town have started doing the same, inviting tourists into their homes for a small meal with the hope of selling them some crafts and receiving a donation for the food. Sure enough, as we pulled into and parked in the town square we were nearly swarmed by a group of young girls inviting us to their respective homes.

As we walked up to the house, we were greeted by two young women who recognized Hector and explained to them that the old women was off caring for her mother, who was quite sick. One girl was the daughter and the other a cousin. The front of the house was covered in hanging embroidered clothes and cloth and the two women immediately asked Rob and I if we would like to try on the traditional wedding attire. Before we knew it I had my head stuck through the hole of a ?sarape-like? embroidered cloth which hung over my shoulders and down to my knees. A beautiful embroidered shawl with a bright blue flower motif was draped over me and a thickly folded embroidered cloth balanced delicately on my head. Rob was given a similar but dark blue embroidered sarape and the ends of the shawl draped over his shoulders were knot-tied with dangling colorful ribbon. His wedding hat was a shallow straw thing with more colorful ribbons attached to the center peak hanging down over the rim. I thought that his hat was certainly more practical as keeping the cloth bundle balanced was quite challenging. We were then offered some home-brew to make a toast to our wedding (and also to complete the photo-op).

Next we were invited through the house to the back-yard, where the kitchen was located in its own wooden building. Two of the women were kneeling beside a wood fire, with a large flat plan (called a comal) placed on top of the fire. A small table was set with four bowls: beans, tomatoes, cheese and ground pumpkin seeds. Taking handfuls of masa (ground corn) the women started pressing tortillas and placing them on the comal. When the women asked if we would like to try making tortillas, my mother eagerly offered to help. I was pleased to watch her thoroughly destroy the tortilla when she flicked it onto the comal, as I had done the exact same a month earlier when Candida was teaching me. We all got a good chuckle. We then feasted on the most delicious corn tortillas EVER. They were sooo delicious that Rob even requested to take some of their corn seed. I ate corn tortillas until my belly hurt. Now I only hope that Rob can manage to get those little seeds to grow once we get back home. I?ve even since picked up a corn grinder and tortilla press in preparation for our own home-grown indigenous corn tortillas?

And that was our last day with my mother Annette. We returned to San Cristobal and hit the campground for our last evening together. Arriving at the campground we found Chad, Ana and their camper-bus named Mango (whom we?d met in Oaxaca) and Jed and Lindsay, the organic farmers from California we met in Acapulco. It was quite the little reunion.

We woke up at 5 am the following morning to hit the road and drive to the airport, about 80 km?s away. We enjoyed breakfast at the airport and reminisced about the fabulous two weeks that we had just spent together before saying our goodbye?s and watching Annette go through the airport security gate.

Mom, thank-you so much for always being so supportive of Rob and I and of everything that we try and do. We really enjoyed your company for those two weeks and are so happy to have been able to share that experience with you. Big thanks also for lugging down all those automotive parts for us (Rob has been sleeping better knowing that we have some back-ups). We love you!!