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Remembering Chiapas and San Cristobal de las Casas

Back in the states and thinking about all the wonderful things Chiapas had to offer. Before I head to South America, I had to share more of the highlights of the Southernmost region in Mexico. Bordering Guatemala, Chiapas was full of old traditions, culture, art, Mayan ruins and wild jungle!

Where I stayed, how lucky to have my bedroom door open to our own garden. Many of the homes here have inner courtyards.

Where I stayed, how lucky to have my bedroom door open to our own garden. Many of the homes here have inner courtyards.

Cobblestone streets, San Cristobal de las Casas.

Cobblestone streets, San Cristobal de las Casas.

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My neighborhood. I absolutely loved this town, San Cristobal de las Casas. Cafes, music, bakeries and great restaurants are right around the corner.

My neighborhood. I absolutely loved this town, San Cristobal de las Casas. Cafes, music, bakeries and great restaurants are right around the corner.

No traffic, pedestrian streets... San Cristobal has three of these!

No traffic, pedestrian streets… San Cristobal has three of these!

The Zócalo or town square, full of entertainment.

The Zócalo or town square, full of entertainment.

Mayan medicine museum

Mayan medicine museum

Na Bolom or house of the jaguar, a museum/research center that was the home of the Bloms, an archaeologist and photographer who worked to protect the jungles.

Na Bolom or house of the jaguar, a museum/research center that was the home of the Bloms, an archaeologist and photographer who worked to protect the jungles.

Every neighborhood in San Cristobal has a church.

Every neighborhood in San Cristobal has a church.

People come from neighboring villages so San Cristobal, so you'll hear a variety of languages and see different indigenous clothing.

People come from neighboring villages to San Cristobal, you’ll hear a variety of languages and see different indigenous clothing.

An excellent museum on weavings, including a wide range of the Mayan communities.

An excellent museum on weaving from all of the Mayan communities.

VW one of the more popular car choices.

VW one of the more popular car choices here.

The daily market was one of my favorite experiences!

The daily market was one of my favorite experiences!

Daily market

Daily market

San Cristobal sunsets

San Cristobal sunsets

 

Other incredible Chiapas experiences outside of San Cristobal de las Casas …

Visiting weavers in Zinacantan, the town that grows flowers

Visiting weavers in Zinacantan, the town that grows flowers

Not only do the people of Zinacantan grow flowers, but the women wear them.

Not only do the people of Zinacantan grow flowers, but the women wear them.

While visiting the town of Tenejapa, we were welcomed to enjoy an amazing spectacle of worship inside the church. The men were wearing the clothing pictured. Taking pictures of religious ceremonies is a sign of disrespect. This photo is from the museum.

While visiting the town of Tenejapa, we were welcomed to enjoy an amazing spectacle of worship inside the church. The men were wearing the clothing pictured. Taking pictures of religious ceremonies is a sign of disrespect. This photo is from the museum.

The simple life, Amatenango de Valle

The simple life, Amatenango de Valle

Chiapas is known for its amber, a fossilized sap that is used in jewelry.

Chiapas is known for its amber, a fossilized sap that is used in jewelry.

The people of this area are amazing! This lady was so funny, she had a pet chick, when she needed to use her hands she placed the chick inside her blouse!

The people of this area are amazing! This lady was so funny, she had a pet chick. When she  needed to use her hands she placed the chick inside her blouse!

Incredible Mayan ruin, Tonina. Fewer tourist visit this impressive sight.

Incredible Mayan ruin, Tonina. Fewer tourists visit this impressive sight.

Cañón de Sumindero

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Once Upon A Time in Mexico – Celebrating with the Parachicos

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In mid January (4-23) in the town of Chiapas de Corzo, there is an incredible display of culture, tradition and pure fiesta. I was lucky enough, on my birthday (the 17th), to find myself celebrating along with the welcoming people of this town.

It is known as the Fiesta Grande de Enero or the Great January Feast and it is so amazing (and I completely agree with this) that it was recognized for its cultural significance by UNESCO in 2010.

 

 

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The legend claims that many years ago a wealthy woman from Spain, Doña María, came to Chiapas de Corzo in search of a cure for her sick son by one of the town’s local healers. During this time, to entertain the sick boy, the men dressed and danced in masks. They were know as the parachicos (translated as “for the boy”). The boy was cured in Chiapas de Corzo and when Doña María heard of a plague that troubled the town, she returned with food and money, grateful to the town that had cured her son.

 

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On the streets of Chiapas de Corzo everyone seems to be participating, even small children dress as parachicos. The women dress as Chipanecas, representing the wealthy Doña María. Also on the streets you may find a “chunta” these are men dressed as women who are acting as the servants or maids of Doña María. The parachicos wear beautifully carved masks made to look like a Spanish face. Their helmet like tops are made of ixtle, a fiber from yucca or agave plants. Parachicos dance in the streets playing metal maracas called chinchines and tap their boots.

During the fiesta, there are feasts honoring three saints. As Doña María showed in the past, gratitude seems to be the message here. The people of Chiapas de Corzo love to include others and share this experience, and I am grateful for a birthday that I’ll never forget.

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Small child as a parachico

 

 


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Once Upon a Time in Mexico – I haven’t seen anything like San Juan Chamula

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Chamula is a town in the Chiapas area of Mexico unlike all others. Upon arriving in San Cristobal de las Casas, we were told that our first excursion outside of town must be Chamula in order to fully experience the Chiapas region. I love a good recommendation, so on Sunday (market day) we headed to Chamula by the small local bus, or colectivo.

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One of the largest indigenous groups in Mexico, the Tzotzil Maya live in this area. In San Juan Chamula the Tzotzil are seen wearing traditional clothing. The men wear tunics made of black or white wool that are belted around their waists, these tops are called chujes. The women wear blouses called huipils and long black skirts made of black wool.

 

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One of the most incredible sights is that of the Cathedral San Juan Bautista, which is unlike any church I’ve seen. Photographs inside are strictly forbidden. When entering, there are no benches or pews and there hasn’t been a priest here since 1968. Instead, the townspeople follow traditional Mayan beliefs and use curanderos, or native healers, to perform ceremonies on the church floor. The floor is covered in pine needles and copal incense is burned. Wax is melted at the base of candles and they are attached to the floor in rows. The sight of numerous candles in a vast space is magical. During the healing rituals one can see the use of candles, eggs, CocaCola, a sugarcane alcohol beverage called Pox and at times a live chicken. These healing rituals are very important to the people; there are no medical clinics in town.

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Another interesting sight is that of the mayordomos, who are the caretakers of the saints that are found along the church’s walls. On Sunday, the mayordomos are seen on the plaza and are guarded by the nearby police. After care taking for several saints, or performing “carga”, they are seen as elders in the community and offer advice. San Juan Chamula has its own police force and set of laws. This is allowed by the Mexican government to preserve its unique culture. Women are not allowed to vote; and crimes, such as theft, result in a jail sentence.

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Chamula’s local cemetery, similar to the church, pine boughs are used.

 

 


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Colors of Sapa

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Sapa is a beautiful town in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. Here the landscape is incredible with terraced rice fields set into the hillsides. Vietnam’s tallest mountain, Mt. Fan Si Pan, is the town’s backdrop. The rice that is grown here is harvested once a year in September, when the green stalks turn to gold. Most of the rice that is exported to other countries comes from the South of Vietnam, because of warmer weather, the South can grow three crops a year.

Giang taking a break during our gorgeous hike

Giang taking a break during our gorgeous hike

What makes Sapa unique is its five different indigenous groups living in the surrounding villages. About 50 percent of the population is Black H’mong and about 25% is Dao. The other groups include the Yao, Tay, Zay, and XaPho. Many of these beautiful people still wear their colorful traditional clothing.

While trekking with my new friend, Giang, who is Black H’mong, I learned many things about her culture. The H’mong are mostly farmers and each village has its own dialect of the H’mong language. Giang said that if someone is H’mong and lives in the village next door, she usually is unable to understand them. Families live together to help with the farm. If a woman marries, she lives with her husband’s family. The H’mong also naturally dye their clothes in indigo. Giang showed me how when I rubbed the leaves of the indigo plant in my hand, they turned a deep purple. Tourists also support the indigenous people by buying their handicrafts.

Every Sunday, in a town called Bac Ha, about 80 km from Sapa, there’s an amazing market. Here many people from villages in the hills gather to sell food and livestock. One of the largest groups at the market are the Flower H’mong. The women of the Flower H’mong have the most incredible outfits. I enjoyed watching them shop for colorful new skirts and leg wraps. As I sat next to them with a bowl of Vietnamese soup called pho, I felt dressed rather boring in comparison.

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Indigo dyed cloth drying in the sun

Indigo dyed cloth drying in the sun

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Village school, I love their garden!

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Girls learning to drive a motorbike, a popular form of transportation.

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Flower H’mong

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Time to shop

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Pho for lunch