Finally we made it to Chiapas! A fascinating region of southern Mexico that we had been looking forward to discovering; a place where many different indeginous cultures continue to live their traditional style of life, where the rich displays of the folkart and textiles are produced by hand, where dozens of native languages are spoken true, and the diverse heart of Mayan culture lives on.
A river tour through Sumidero Canyon lead us to crocodiles, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations. We were able to camp at the embarcation in Chiapas de Corzo where all the boats were docked, adding to the anticipation of our upcoming boat ride. Joey was very excited- he has a deep love for all bodies of water and the vehicles that sail thru them. Yes, he has the heart of an old fisherman. And like the times before this, his excitement to be on a boat was not visible through his smile- actually he took it very seriously- as if he was combing through the memories of a past life at sea.
There was a lot of buzz around San Cristobal de las Casas. The cultural capitol of Chiapas is home to indigenous communities, some international expats, and a hub to backpackers- not to mention the home base of the Zapatista movement. The energy there was hard to describe- it was raw and radical, burdened with the heaviness of history yet also full of hope for a more progressive future, a conscious community, and a more harmonious cohesion of cultures and classes. Serendipitously, it was here that we crossed paths with many friends we had made through our earlier travels: a couple of overlanders we met in Baja and again in Nayarit, two different friends from San Pancho, and a guy we spent a few days sight-seeing with in Guanajuato. Two weeks flew by here as we shared stories and appeased our appetites for international fare with pad thai and falafal.
Old colonial architecture and churches abound from the period of Spanish rule.
The Museo del Ambar, located in a lovely old convent, displaying amber jewelry and sculptures from the Pre-Hispanic era, and offering a record of the evolutionary history of some scorpion specie, forever preserved in a sample of Mexican amber. For its therapeutic and protective properties, the native peoples have used amber for thousands of years.
The dense and winding markets are full of hand-made and hand-dyed textiles, from rebozos used in childbirth and for baby-carrying, to warm wool blankets and shawls, to small toy animals and decorative hearts and pom-poms, to bright-colored clothing with floral embroidery and strands of sparkly threads.
One day, I had an opportunity to visit a birth center in San Cristobal. Being a big advocate of midwifery, I am always curious to understand birthing practices around the world. I was able to make a small donation which I hope will help a woman and baby in Chiapas to have access to quality midwifery care.
We have now entered the cacao-growing region of Mexico! To celebrate, we visited the Museo de Cacao and indulged in some superfood decadence.
Street art ranging in style from the mystical to the political, protesting or celebrating the ins and outs of life in San Cristobal and beyond.
Then, one day, we set off for our next destination: to see the ruins of Palenque. About 2.5 hours into our drive, we discovered that the road was closed due to Zapatista blockages. We were warned that this happens reguarly and could encounter as many as four or five blockades at which we would have to wait and pay money to pass. However, after talking to some of the other drivers, we learned that the road had been shut down for five days already and would not re-open for several more. We were encouarged to camp on the side of the road until the road opened (four days) and buy food from the village kids. A bit sketchy! And just another example of the political and social tensions at play. Disappointed, and not wanting to camp there overnight, we turned around and drove back to San Cristobal to re-map our route. Unfortunately, the only other road would require an additional 500 km detour to reach Palenque. We didn't want to take any unnecessary risks- or undermine the delicate consciousness of cultural sensitivity, so back to San Cristobal it was!
A very long drive awaited us as we snaked back toward Tuxtla and through the mountains leading to Palenque- the ancient temples of the Maya jungle- and a place worthy of all the extra miles and also deserving of its very own post! Stay tuned...