Friday, January 3, 2014

Chiapas

Palenque

After a relaxing week in Tulum it was reluctantly time to move on. I took an overnight bus from Tulum to the state of Chiapas. First stop: Palenque, a Mayan city in the jungle. As far as buses go (and definitely night buses), Mexico has the best one's I've come across. Proper reclining seats for sleeping, working and clean toilets, free water, tea and coffee, and they are not tundra buses so you don't need to wear all your clothes at the same time. 

I arrived in Palenque in the morning, put my backpack into the luggage storage at the bus station, then crossed the road to hail a colectivo to the ruins. This is the cheapest way to get there. You just look for a colectivo with 'ruinas' on the front and it will take you right to the entrance. 

The day I went it was raining. Still hot, but raining. I think this gave it a nice atmosphere though.





















There was also a waterfall, which was quite impressive. I really like how many levels this one has.



There are still some areas which haven't been restored properly yet.




Palenque was definitely the best Mayan ruins I visited. And the last. I was pretty much done with Mayan ruins after these. 

You can stay in the town but it didn't look that interesting. That said, I didn't really investigate other stuff to do there. I did have some good veggie tacos for lunch though.




San Cristobal

That afternoon I caught a bus to San Cristobal. It was supposed to be 4.5 hours, arriving early in the evening. It took nine hours because of road blocks from demonstrators. Mostly teachers (which I'll get to). I arrived at 2AM since we basically took the longest route possible to get there. Thankfully another guy on the bus was staying at the same hostel and someone got up to open the door for us. I felt really bad waking the other girl in the room up at that time of the night. I hate arriving somewhere late at night.

Anyway, San Cristobal is really cold at night (and not overly warm during the day) so I slept really well under a doona! This was a novelty trust me. It's been ages since I've been anywhere cold (except for extreme air conditioning).

The next day rugged up in leggings and a jumper (brr, it's like winter in Brisbane!) I did the self guided walk provided by the hostel. San Crisobal is a beautiful city.






















On the Saturday I was there, it was some kind of weddings day. There were loads of brides at this church but none of them looked very happy considering it's supposed to be the happiest day of your life.

Maybe they weren't happy about all the other brides stealing their thunder.

Or maybe they just realised that marriage is an outdated institution and didn't like the idea of shagging the same dude for the rest of their lives.


Also, you can put a boy in a white suit but he'll still get dirty. I hope his mum has got some Oxi Action spray at home.


Hooray, it wasn't cold for the entire day. 


San Cristobal reminded me a bit of Cuzco, Peru (but way nicer) since all the Indigenous women are in traditional dress and everyone is trying to sell you stuff. Plus they are all really short. Like 1.4m or so. I felt so tall without even wearing high heels. How good is that? 

Check out these woolly skirts. They look warm.


The level of wealth is definitely lower here than Yukatan and Quintana Roo. There are loads of kids trying to sell you stuff. I kept thinking 'get in school you little shits'. However, all the teachers are on strike at the moment (for six weeks when I was there) so the kids are just running amok. This article provides a summary, however, the teachers are basically striking over reforms that would end union control of schools and introduce teacher evaluations. I remember when they were discussing teacher evaluations in Australia. Teachers didn't like it but they didn't stop work for six weeks! That is so long. Of course poor kids are the biggest losers in all this since private schools were still operating. I imagine most kids are quite happy about it though.

There is also a lot of opposition to the government selling off Pemex, the national petrol company. As an economist I think this is a good thing. Governments should govern, not run businesses.

This guy was collecting signatures against the Pemex sell off. I wanted to know where the pro sell off petition is.


On a brighter note, there's lots of good veggie food in San Cristobal. A lot of it is organic and locally grown. I like that. 

I had an awesome vegan lentil burger at this place. 


This place also does good veggie food and according the menu, they can pretty much veganise anything. I can highly recommend the vegan lemon cheesecake made from coconut milk. Yum, so delicious.

Moving on from food, this is why standardised plugs around the world would be a good idea.



From the hostel, I did a couple of daytrips.

Zinacantan and Chamula Indigenous villages

Ok, so those who know me know I’m not religious and that I like to slag off religion in my blog. This will be one of those times. Since this is my blog containing my opinions I can write whatever the fuck I like. If you are a sensitive religious type and are likely to be offended then you should probably skip ahead to the canyon section.

There a couple of Indigenous villages near to San Cristobal, which other backpackers had told me about and they genuinely sounded quite intriguing. They can form their own laws etc. since it is recognised that these people were here before the Spanish invaded and the Mexican Constitution was written. For tourists, this means if you go inside churches you can’t take any photos or you are subject to fines and possibly jail time.

I went with a guide so I could better understand the history of these places and ask questions. The first place we went to is Zincantan. The bus had to stop at the entrance to the village so we could pay a 'tourist fee'. This applies to everyone that is not local, so all Mexicans and foreigners have to pay. Some drunk dude at 10am on Sunday morning that may or may not have been working there was trying to get more money out of our guide. Standing unassisted was slightly difficult for him as was counting the number of people in the van. Obviously the guide was not going to pay for the phantom people drunk dude was seeing.

Then we get to the church and instantly people including a lot of children start aggressively trying to sell us stuff. Scraggly, poor kids were also just trying to get money off you. I just kept thinking please don’t touch me with your dirty hands. And go to school!




Most churches look more or less the same to me these days. I don't even bother going in half of them anymore that's how uninterested I am after eight months of travelling. However, I was interested in these ones since they mix Catholicism and pre-Hispanic religion and I wanted to see what that meant and see if I could pick holes in their theories (not hard with religion).

This church was different in that there were a lot of fresh flowers everywhere. I mean a lot. It was pretty nice actually. Apparently they are offerings to the Saints to keep them happy. There was also a lot or ribbons draped over everything, mostly in gay pride colours. This intrigued me. Especially when Jesus was draped in them. Gay pride Jesus? Good for him. He did have two dads after all. 


You can also write favours on ribbons and hope you will get them. According to the guide, people wish for good crop yields, rain, no droughts, etc. Hmm, all the things that are impacted by climate change. Naturally the scientist in me perked up and I asked about how science, climate change and periodic changes in weather that are part of the natural system come into play. Fuck was that the wrong question! There's no room for logical scientific arguments in religion. He shot me down for even mentioning the 'S' word. Clearly praying and writing shit on ribbons and hoping for the best is how you get things get done around here. 

Moving on...

Next to the gay pride church was another church which we also went in. 


This one only had religious leaders from the community in it. Of course they were all men. As if women would be given such a high role in society! They were dancing and chanting to music as part of their prayer. This was a classic example of pre-Hispanic traditions adapted to Catholicism (in which praying is silent and generally movement free). 

Apart from the obvious sexism, it was mildly interesting and I liked their initiative for merging the two religions.

Here's one of the leader dudes coming in now while showing a bit of leg.



Actually, I think the whole shorts thing looks kind of odd.


The square behind the church was a hive of commercial activity since it's market day. Like people selling sticks (who doesn't need a big stick? So handy...)


This is one of the worst looking dogs I've seen. Very sad.


Then because we were on a tour, they took us to some place where we could buy traditional clothing, tablecloths etc. Let's face it, no tour would be complete without spending more time than necessary in souvenir shops.

The traditional women’s clothes are actually really interesting. A lot of embroidery work goes into them so from a creative aspect, they are quite appealing.



However, as a regular person if you rocked up in these clothes, you’d get pointed at and asked some questions.

They dressed some of us up in traditional wedding clothes.


No Vera Wang dresses and Jimmy Choos here!

Unsurprisingly, young women are ditching wedding smocks (the name is a giveaway) in favour of regular wedding dresses which have some shape.

Then we had some lunch which was free but you had to donate to. Some women were cooking traditional corn tortillas on an open fire and you could basically make your own vegetarian/vegan tacos. They were really good.


Next we went to Chamule, another Indigenous town. Half way there the road was blocked, which I assume this was part of the demonstrations. However, it seems to me these people are illegally blocking public roads since it was basically just some guys parking their cars across it. I don't understand. Roads are public property. You can’t just block the road cos you feel like it. Where were the police? Why weren't these troublemakers being arrested and their cars towed? See, this is the kind of bullshit that really annoys me about developing countries (not that Mexico is developing but you get what I mean). In a developed country you wouldn't just be able to block roads. Here, public mobs seem to rule and as such we had to take a long way around through back roads. 

Thanks fuckers for wasting our time!

More market activity in Chamule. Mmm, pile of cabbages anyone? Not that I'm anti cabbage.


The sale of Christmas trees intrigued me since it was October. But then it all made sense once we entered the church.



There are pine needles all over the floor. I mean literally covering it. Then there are banners hanging from the ceilings in an apex. Combined, this is supposed to represent the mountains, which is where the people used to pray before the Spanish forced them all to become Catholic. It is a pretty cool example of pre-Hispanic religion meets Catholicism. Except for the forcing bit.

This church has no pews and basically people come here to pray for sick relatives. They clear a space on the floor and light candles. However, the floor is covered in pine needles. Um, fire hazard anyone??? Obvious safety issues aside, the inside did look quite nice and it smelt like Christmas.

Apart from the praying, people also make sacrifices in this church. Apparently if you wave a live chicken over a sick woman or a live rooster over a sick man and ask God really nicely, the bird will absorb the sickness. Then you take it to church and slit its throat in front of whichever Saint floats your boat. As a vegan I obviously do not condone this AT ALL. Plus it's total bullshit not based on any scientific evidence whatsoever. 

If you don't feel like killing a defenseless animal in the name of God, the other thing you can do is drink soft drinks. Depending on the unscientifically tested theory you subscribe to, either the healer or the sick person drinks some kind of carbonised toxic sugar water (coke is drink of choice) in the church. Then the sickness comes out in your burps. Just like that. It's magic.

Hmm... Drinking coke to rid yourself/ a loved one of disease? Not fucking likely people! The over consumption of sugar and acidic effect on your body probably contributed to your illness in the first place.

Religion. It's a bunch of crap.

In a side rant, Mexico is highly addicted to coke thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns, sponsorship of community amenities, and pricing strategies that make it very affordable to even the poorest people. How coke is cheaper than water when water is an ingredient in coke makes no sense to me. The ABC (the Aussie one) made an excellent documentary, which you can watch here on how the US (in particular) is exporting its fatness to the developing world. Well done America, you’ve done a stand up job here in Mexico, which now has the fastest growing rate of obesity in the world. 

Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo

A less controversial (from a blogging perspective) day trip I did from San Cristobal was to Sumidero Canyon and Chiapa de Corzo. Once you go down the mountain, you're back to hot weather so wear shorts, a hat and lots of sunblock since there is no shade in the boat.

The Canyon is quite beautiful and well worth the visit. In some places it is 1km deep, which is a lot when you think about it.






Crocodiles live in it so swimming is out of the question.





About half way along you start seeing a lot of rubbish.


  



Plastic, plastic everywhere! 

Apparently they clean it up constantly, but you wouldn't know it. Basically it's just a couple of guys in a couple of dinghies pulling stuff out by hand. What they really need is some kind of industrial style skimmer to remove what's already there and a public education campaign to get locals to stop chucking rubbish in the water.

Anyway, after the boat plows through rubbish island, you get to this beautiful waterfall, which looks a bit like a Christmas tree.








Pretty amazing looking. And you get wet cos the boats go right under the spray. This is good since by now you are baking in the boat.

Next up they drop you at Chiapa de Corzo for lunch and a walk around. It is nice enough.


  




Then it's jumpers on and back to San Cristobal.

I'll end on something funny. For some reason in Mexico the road signs for speed bumps look like boobs. It was only a matter of time before I saw one with nipples added.



Next stop: Day of the Dead in Oaxaca.

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