Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chiapas Journal: Day One

Editor's note: I'll paste these as time allows, one day in Chiapas at a time.

I woke up this morning with - oddly - the theme song from The Great Escape in my head. Strangely fitting, though, since we´ve been wanting to escape the walls of the Lutheran Center compound for awhile now...

And get out we did. First we flew from D.F. to Tuxtla Gutierrez, then we took a taxi from the airport to San Cristobal de las Casas. As our taxi pulled away from the TG airport, our driver pointed up at the misty mountains: "That´s where we´re going." He wasn´t lying: we drove "up," the valley dropping quickly below us, until our view of even the cars in front of us was obscured by a spooky grey fog, before beginning our descent down into city of San Cristobal. After several hard looks at my Lonely Planet guidebook our driver was able to find our posada (a bed & breakfasty kind of Mexican hotel), and we were shown to our rooms. We had made it.

We ate a late lunch - tamales chiapanecos - and then split up to wander around San Cristobal for the evening. At that point we learned a very important lesson about San Cristobal: it's cold here. While the sun is out, it's just kind of chilly - a sweater and knit hat will probably do. But at night it's teeth-chatteringly cold. Making my way through the market after dark, I bought, almost involuntarily, a 50 peso (less than $5) sweatshirt and a knit cap with a Pumas logo on it. There was plenty to choose from; the streets are lined with sweater shops and the markets are full of all manner of winter clothes. I'm thinking the Chiapanecos know what tourists to Mexico are most likely to forget.

Which is not to say the frigid weather makes San Cristobal de las Casas any less charming. Like all the guidebooks say, this place has a flavor all its own, strikingly distinct from any of the other places I've visited in Mexico. It's quaintly cobblestoned like Taxco and indigenous-influenced like Oaxaca City, but San Cristobal takes aspects of those two pueblos magicos and puts them into a blender, adding, for good measure, an extra dose of color (see: the bright yellow-and-red-accented cathedral) and and a kind of rebellious tension (see: Zapatista graffiti everywhere), placing it all in a kind of mountainous mist that descends on the city in the early morning and barely leaves. As for all the people bundled up? In San Cristobal, it just adds to the mystique.

The market we wandered through was wonderful. Besides my sweatshirt, there were woolen stuffed animals clearly hand-stitched, of all shapes and sizes, Mayan masks and jaguar carvings, traditional clothing in a billion colors, and best of all: little stuffed Zapatista dolls, some sitting on stuffed burros, others holding a baby in hand and a wooden rifle in the other.

After exploring for awhile we made our way to the Bar Revolucion, a wicked cool place with photos of Zapata, Che, and Marcos on the walls, two different live bands every night, and drinks with names like "Sacrificio Maya" on the menu. Steve McQueen would be proud.

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