The Mountainous Country of Chiapas

Since we had taken more time everyplace than planned, it took us longer that thought to arrive at San Cristobal de las Casas, the most interesting city in Chiapas. San Cristobal is located in a high valley at an altitude of more than 6,560 feet (2000m), and the road from Tuxtla rises slowly, but steadily at first until you can finally look down at the flat region around Tuxtla and even at clouds. As you drive, the vegetation changes from palms and tropical vegetation to meadows and pine forests, and it gets really cold at night again. Due to its location high up in the mountains, San Cristobal has always played a special role. It was the first city which the Spanish built to assert themselves against the Mayas since the highlands of Chiapas was one of their last places of retreat. Later, the city became a strategic hub for demarcating Mexico from Guatemala, and, in recent history, San Cristobal was the center of the Zapatistas. This action-filled history led to the present lively, cosmopolitan city which took us by surprise. There are lots of small cafés, lovely shops, and an international clientele. In the highlands, there are a lot of traditionally dressed indigenous people who preserve their cultural traditions. In the city, they sell their products on the streets in front of boutiques with international clothing brands, and you can spend forever at their markets.

Lots of items offered on the streets are handmade and come from the surrounding area. It is striking that it is only the women, and unfortunately also many children, that are involved in selling the goods – the men apparently sit around at home and spend the women’s hard earned money hand over fist. For the first time since we have been in Mexico, we saw a lot of children begging on the streets, and some of the women selling were clingier than we had experienced up till then. This was no reason to spoil our good mood, however, because the atmosphere on the streets was so light and laid-back.

In order to see some more of the Indios, we took a colectivo (collective taxi) to San Juan Chamula, a small village nearby. Unfortunately, a lot of other tourists had had this idea before us, and could see it in the village: there were the usual selling booths and unfortunately pretty penetrating children begging. We were pretty disappointed in our excursion, but then the visit to the church made up for everything. The church was built by the Spanish and is filled with indigenous customs: there aren’t any chairs or benches, 10,000 candles seem to be lit, and the entire floor is covered with pine needles. Families sit spread out throughout the whole room and set up small altars with all sorts of sacrificial offering and innumerable thin candles which they set up on warm wax directly on the floor. In between, there are chickens and little children running around through the church and sliding on the pine needles. While we were looking at the goings-on, completely overwhelmed, a procession with guitars and whistles came into the church, and the smell of incense filled the whole room. The atmosphere was incredibly moving and unbelievably festive. Meanwhile, fireworks were being set off zealously outside in order to drive away the evil spirits. Carla didn’t want to leave the church and all the doings there, and this started conversations with some locals – in the end, we were very happy after all that we had taken this little side-trip.

Very much to the delight of Carla and Robert, I took another little excursion with them by taxi and colectivo to Grutas Rancho Nuevo, an extensive system of caves, some of which can be visited. We had fun in the 1,300-foot-long (400m), very high entrance area, but the highlight was the gigantic slides in front of the cave where the two of them could scamper around and ran up the mountain the whole way several times in order to slide down again.

After our eventful days in San Cristobal, we drove on together with Andreas and Carin’s family, which had meanwhile caught up to us. On the way through the wild Zapatista region to Agua Azul, people in a car passing us not only gave us thumbs-up, but also passed over an ice-cold beer – what a fun surprise, especially since the people here are considered to be pretty reserved towards travelers. The Cascades de Agua Azul are big waterfalls in the middle of the jungle which flow over wide cascades into turquoise-blue pools. The nearby village is committed to tourism, and the river is bordered completely by booths selling goods. We slowly wondered who should ever buy all this, but then some tour buses actually did appear. Thanks to the terrific location of the beach, we had a lot of fun with a slack line with the perfect background and lots of dives and jumps into the cool water.

The next day, we drove on further to the next waterfall, Misol-Ha, which is in the middle of a wonderfully think jungle. There were a lot of deep basins for swimming and jumping into. In addition, you can also run through a high waterfall. An entire day of fun in the water in the jungle made us fit for the up-coming marathon of ruins, which had its beginning in Palenque.

Here are private pictures from our time in San Christobal for family and friends (please email us to get the password if you do not have it yet).

One Thought on “The Mountainous Country of Chiapas

  1. Lieber Max und unbekannterweise rocata,

    vor 30 Jahren habe ich den USA- und Mexiko-Teil eurer Reise gemacht. Allerdings allein und per Autostop und mit öffentlichen Bussen. Beim San-Cristobal-Artikel wurde ich jetzt ganz nostalgisch, die Stimmung, die Ihr beschreibt weckt Erinnerungen. Ich bin mir damals dort schon so vorgekommen wie in Tübingen, mit Studenten-Cafes und Bioläden. Und San Juan Chamula war auch vor 30 Jahren schon das Ausflugsziel der Wahl, wenn man eine Kirche mit indianischen Heiligenbildern sehen wollte.

    Viel Spass noch und eine sichere Weiterreise.


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