Monday, July 27, 2009

San Christobal de las Casas

June 21st to 26th

Nestled in a dip in the mountains is the Joval valley which is the beautiful setting for the cobbled stone streets of San Christobal del Casas. Replete with impressive old colonial buildings it's a pretty place to spend a few days surrounded by the pine covered ring of mountains. A typical street scene....

Despite the Spanish architecture, the streets ring to the tune of Mayan dialects - 'Quiche' is widely spoken here. Locals wear traditional Mayan dress of black sheep skin skirt and colourful tops as they hawk their wares in front of the cathedral....

San Christobal briefly stared on the world stage in 1994 when masked 'Zapatista' rebels took over the city. Apologising to tourists for any inconvenience caused, they calmly announced 'this is a revolution'. Rather than trying to topple the Mexican government, they fought to close military bases set up in the area, free prisoners and to enforce previous accords granting control of land rights to the Maya. In 1994 the government acquiesced, but land control has still not been granted to this day. The movement lives on despite media attention moving on, and parents buy zapatists dolls for their children in support....

The Mayan Medicine Museum has displays of herbs and candles used in traditional medicine over the centuries. There is a graphic video showing birthing techniques where a woman kneels before her husband with the midwife taking the catch behind. Oh how England would benefit from such a safe pair of hands in the current Ashes series.

Rituals are carried out to ensure safe delivery including passing an ominous looking, rusty old axe over the abdomen. This gentle symbolism apparently disuades the baby from needing a cesarean....

In a 16th century convent building there is a museum of local history depicting land use over the last 500 hundred years and the mix of tribes occupying this area before the Spanish. There are many distinct tribes, each with their own separate language. This is one of the major factors that helped the Spanish to invade so successfully with so small a force. Many tribes were at war with each other and some even aided the Spanish to defeat their enemies before being turned upon themselves. Other tribes could not unite due to the lack of common language. Taking account of language problems, this catechism shows spanish bible texts translated into 'Quiche', but also makes use of pictograms. It was used to convert the conquered Mayans to the new religion....

Outside the museum is a local 'artisans' market selling everything artisanal, including hand made Mayan clothing. In a system akin to Scottish tartan, tribes identify with a traditional style of weave and each has their own unique design. This is of the gringo tourist tribe....

There are flower markets with impressive, if slightly surreal displays....

The fruit here is incredibly fresh, juicy and abundant. There's even a delivery service....

Either side of the city centre is a hill, and each is a high perch for a church building, 'Iglesias' San Christobal and Guadalupe. God it seems, hears those closest to him. Brief climbs are rewarded with ordinary churches and extraordinary views of city and mountainscape.

We are again beset by another dose of the lurgy and Sue's world shrinks to a 4 metre radius around the bathroom. A 3 day stay turns into 6 and takeaway pizza becomes the staple diet. Outside the rainy season begins to tighten it's grip, and late afternoon heralds a ferocious deluge accompanied by awesome displays of lightning.


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