I was finally freed from the city of Tuxtla Gutirrez, drove my car over a mountain in the sky, and was spit out into the magical little town of San Cristobal de las Casas. San Cristobal is my new favorite place in Mexico thus far, maybe with the exception of Mexico City, although the two are so different that they feel like they are not even part of the same country.
Maybe because much of Chiapas state, was actually part of Guatemala until less than 100 years ago. Maybe because one third of Chiapas is made up of Indigenous people, many of whom do not speak Spanish, and govern their own land, much like our reservations in the United States.
I spent much of yesterday in two of these indigenous villages, San Juan Chomula and Zinacantan. These two villages are far from "normal" Chiapan villages, as they are relatively wealthy due to people like me, coming in for a visit from San Cristobal. You pay a small entrance fee to get into the villages, then buy all sorts of beautiful textiles, because, hey, when else are you going to be able to by an embroidered purse like this?!? Seriously, though, the textiles produced in Zinacantan are absolutely stunning, and I was told that it takes them over a month to produce a complete outfit. That outfit will sell for 3-4000 pesos, which is around $200. Right now, everyone in the village wears the color purple, as it's the "fashionable" color of the village. In a few more years, they'll change colors, and everyone will wear the new color.
Much like the United States' reservations, these villages have a high rate of alcoholism, and I was able to drink their local favorite, "posh," a strong alcohol made from sugar. And absolutely terrible. Much like I believed vodka was a good remedy for a cold while living in Russia, many natives believe posh to be medicinal.
We next visited the church of San Juan Chomula, which was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Sadly, photography is strictly forbidden inside the church, so you'll just have to use your imagination.
When Spain first invaded these villages, they saw how the natives worshipped, and gave them two choices: convert to Catholisism, or die. Needless to say, most chose to convert, but they incorporated their own indigenous beliefs with traditional Catholicism.
So on the outside, San Juan looks like your average church....
However on the inside, he floor is covered in pine needles, the villagers way of bringing the mountains inside. The smell of fresh flowers is overwhelming, as they cover every altar. Traditional Catholic Saints, covered in ribbons and wearing a small mirror around their neck, are encased in glass. They line the walls and the altars of the church and in front of each saint are hundreds and hundreds of burning candles- lit to thank and praise their patron saint, or to ask a favor. Families kneel in front of the saints, lighting candles, drinking posh, and praying. They ask for the healing of their loved ones, and light candles to keep the saints content. Many families have been sent here by a "doctor" to cure an illness of a loved one. The cure? They wave chickens over the candles, then in front of the saints, and finally over their loved one, whose soul has been "taken" from them. The chicken receives the illness that is inside of them, and is subsequently killed.
People praying in their native language, whistles calling for peoples souls to return to them, chickens trying to escape their certain death, these sounds overtake the church.
A truly incredible experience.