We have been having a great time in San Cristobal. Yesterday morning we switched hotels after I realised on top of the mold (which was a good enough reason to switch in itself), I had been eaten alive by what we presume is bed bugs.
We found a great hotel which is really nice for not much more. The bathroom was like one in a hotel back home (although my travel weary brain may be playing tricks on me) so we were in heaven. I am actually starting to worry how we are going to cope when we get home next month for a couple of weeks. The reverse cultural shock is hitting us really hard here, and this isn’t that much different from where we’ve been! It is also hard to properly compare here with home as everything seems so modern and fantastic but I wonder if I would have thought so a couple of months ago.
San Cristobal is a beautiful city and very orderly, clean and traveller friendly. There are quite a lot of tourists around which is something to get used to in itself. We very much like it though.
We spent yesterday updating this site and checking out the sights in San Cristobal. It is a great city for just strolling around. Lots of open areas, some beautiful churches and craft markets. Churches are a lot different here than in Central America though, in that you walk in and get them to yourselves! There were always lots of people in them in the other countries. They are still beautiful and well looked after. I spent the evening studying, I am determined to keep up the Spanish study this time. I bought a good text book too.
Today, we did a half day tour to some surrounding villages. We could have done this ourselves but they are very traditional and there are many rules about what you can and cant do so we went with the tour. This turned out to be an excellent choice. The tour was incredibly interesting and we learned a lot.
We started off in a small town called Chamula. This area has been the most resistant to change since the Spanish came and is a Mayan community. Going into their main church was an experience and the guide’s explanations of everything helped us to understand things we had seen in Central America as well.
Basically, it is a catholic church but the only time a catholic priest goes in there now is for baptisms. There are no masses, there aren’t even any pews. People were chanting and burning lots of candles everywhere. Usually there is pine needles all over the floor but Wednesday is the day they clean up and replace all this so we didn’t see that. This is to stop the floor from being cold as they think cold is evil spirits. There was also a lot of coke (as in coca cola!) because they see this as sacred and essential for good health!
In the church they prey for their souls. They would see a village shamen for a medical problem outside of the church but since they believe in black magic they prey for their souls a lot. They also often sacrifice chickens right in the church if they think there is black magic after their soul. This is seen as an exchange – their soul is left alone and the chicken’s soul is taken instead.
There are big icons of Christian saints all around the edges of the church but they don’t worship them in the way the Christian missionaries had wanted them too. For example, if they were shown a picture of the John the Baptist holding his sheep, they would start worshiping the sheep instead of John (who is the most important religious figure in Chamula). We also found out why there are so many gory pictures and statues of Jesus on the cross throughout this part of the world. This is because blood letting was a very sacred thing to the Mayans, so this is what these icons symbolise to them. They also already had a cross as a religious symbol – although the reason is quite different. The four points represent each of the elements on earth. The missionaries found it hard to change the local people’s way of thinking and in the end gave up and abandoned the church. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the church or basically anywhere in the town actually.
We also visited a home in this town which is solely for the worship of San Sebastian, another highly thought of saint as he is seen naked with wounds, similar to Jesus, Every year a different married couple lives in this home spending all their time praying to San Sebastian… I wish I could have taken some photos!
There was a craft market in town and for the first time i bought quite a few things. I feel bad but I am considering them birthday presents for myself, and now that we feel like we don’t have far to go (only a month and a half left till we have 2 weeks at home!) another bag doesn’t seem so bad.
We also went to a nearby town and got to look through a families home. It felt very strange doing this and quite rude, but I’m sure the family likes the money they get from doing this, and it was interesting. They had some great handicrafts.
Posada San Jovel (don’t be turned off by the name – pronounced hov-el!). This place is fantastic! 250 pesos for a double room. Tour is for sale everywhere in San Cristobel for 150 pesos.