Just outside of San Cristobal is the little town of Chamula. Several people described it as an indigenous stronghold where people live by their own traditional rules. They don’t pay taxes and they don’t care for other Mexicans sticking their noses into their town. It sounded a bit like Colorado City, Utah. They don’t mind foreigners as they are willing to pay thirty pesos each to be allowed into a church that was hijacked from the Catholics to watch the locals get drunk and sacrifice chickens.
From the outside it might be the most unremarkable church in all of Mexico. Plain white walls with green trim, big empty plaza in front of it. Inside they have pushed all of the pews to the back and sides of the building. The floors are covered in pine needles. There are thousands of lit candles which create a haze in the air that has turned most of the surfaces black. As you walk into the center of the building you can feel the heat from them. Many sit directly on the tile floor and create little puddles of wax. A man walks around with a paint scraper and a five gallon bucket and collects the wax. I like to think that it is rolled into new candles before it has time to fully cool.
Old wise men chant in indigenous tongues with chickens hogtied on the ground in front of them. There is a strange ritual of passing shots of Coca Cola around to family members. Kids play and mimic the sacrificial ceremonies on each other. We didn’t stay long enough to see what happens to the birds. We did not eat any chicken in town.
In the streets you find a large craft market. Juan Carlos and Larissa, our Airbnb hosts, had told us that the indigenous crafts were facing stiff competition from Chinese knockoffs. They cost half as much and the locals will tell you that the quality is garbage. I find it sad, but also a bit comical. There might be an old lady pretending to weave the same dress all day long. She gives some line to foreigners about the ancient ways and then runs in back to resolve a supply chain issue over the phone with her local purchasing agent in Hong Kong.
For our last night we decided to relocate to a cyclist hostel on the outskirts of town. It was run by a guy named Omar who had started RAC, which is a support network for cyclists in Mexico. We had used it on several occasions to find a place to sleep or get advice on a route. It turned out that my friend Abril was staying there with her Dalmatian. It was nice to just take a day to sit around and not have to deal with the city.
On the sixteenth we left town. It was only a few days to the border with Guatemala.
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I’ve spent quite a bit of time solo and with others in “most” parts of rural Mexico. However, the more I read your blog the more I wonder if I’ve ever even been to Mexico. How may places and villages and micro-cultures (indigenous and otherwise) populate that amazing country? Grit, the relentless blaring of boom-boxes & topes & honking horns aside, just when I thought I put Mexico behind me, you spark enthusiasm for a return visit.
After five months in Mexico I feel like we barely touched it. I could easily go back and spend another six months exploring.