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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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Recycling in Chiapas with Taller Leñateros – What a Great Idea!

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Taller Leñateros is a artist workshop located in San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. Here they recycle lots and lots of paper! They take catalogues, magazines, pamphlets and many other sources of paper headed into landfills and turn them into something really beautiful. The new and improved paper is infused with other natural products, such as corn husks and cut flowers, which otherwise could have also added to our waste.

At Taller Leñateros, artists also create their own unique designs that are carved onto wood blocks. With ink, their designs are printed onto the new, recycled paper. The paper is also transformed into colorful books and notepads.

In speaking with one of the artists, he told me that they are trying to do their part to help the environment. He also told me of an even bigger recycling need; Chiapas consumes an incredible amount of soda. This leaves behind a huge amount of glass bottles. Anyone Who has a great idea for recycling glass, this would be the perfect place to start a project.

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Before picture

Natural materials added to paper

Natural materials added to paper

After

After

Recycled paper with wood block printing

Recycled paper with wood block printing

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Amatenango del Valle – Meeting the Artist Juana Gómez Ramírez

Town square, Amatenango del Valle

Town square, Amatenango del Valle

Amatenango del Valle is a village in the Chiapas highlands famous for its pottery. The people of Amatenango speak the Mayan language, Tzeltal. The men are mostly farmers. The women began selling pottery to contribute to the family income. The art of making pottery has been passed down from their ancestors. In years past, the pottery was used to carry water or for use in the home. Now, the pottery is sold to visitors and ranges from pots to animal figures. Although the pottery has changed over time, the ancient techniques remain.

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Pottery is seen all over Amatenango

Here is the artist, Juana Ramírez Gómez. Her family members are also making pottery pieces to sell in their family run workshop

Here is the artist, Juana Ramirez Gómez. Her family members are also making pottery pieces to sell in their family run workshop.

I met artist Juana Gomez Ramírez, who was kind enough to explain her work. Juana was raised by her mother who taught her how to work with clay. She began making pieces when she was only 8 years old. The selling of their pottery was their primary source of income.

In the early 1990’s an artist named Pancho Álvarez visited Amatenango, he showed Juana and her mother how to make clay jaguar figures, a symbol of the nearby jungles. By age 11, Juana started making the jaguars to sell roadside to tourists. In 2004, her detail and mastery of the jaguar was discovered and her pieces were showcased in Mexico. In 2013, Juana was invited to Chicago and her work was displayed at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

The clay is gathering in the surrounding mountains, large pieces are broken down and water is added

The clay is gathered in the surrounding mountains, large pieces are broken down and water is added.

Juana shows how she molds the clay into the shape of a jaguar

Juana shows how she molds the clay into the shape of a jaguar

The outdoor kiln, this is a new addition and is more efficient and better for the environment. Before the new kiln, pottery was set in an open fire. Two large jaguars would use a truck load of firewood. With the new kiln, this amount of firewood will produce 12 jaguars

The outdoor kiln, this is a new addition and is more efficient and better for the environment. Before the new kiln, pottery was set in an open fire. In the open fire, two large jaguars would require a truck load of firewood. With the new kiln, this same amount of firewood will produce 12 jaguars.

This is one of her larger pieces, she showed how the crías, or young jaguars fit perfectly of the mother

This is one of her larger pieces, she showed how the crías, or young jaguars fit perfectly on the mother

A reddish rock is rubbed on the pieces to give them color, the clay is also made smooth with the use of a knife or spoon, here is where the pieces are painted after hardened in the kiln

A reddish rock is rubbed on the pieces to give them color, the clay is also made smooth with the use of a knife or spoon. The pieces are painted after they have hardened in the kiln

 

 


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Acts of Kindness in the Heart of Chiapas – A Visit with Don Sergio

A few years back, in my small town of Ketchum, Idaho, I watched a documentary about an amazing man who provided medical care to the poor in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. I remember feeling moved by his efforts and I haven’t forgotten his incredible story. During my visit in Chiapas, I was fortunate enough to meet this man, Don Sergio. He was so kind, he invited me to return the following week in order to gift me a copy of the documentary I had enjoyed.

Don Sergio shows how this stick is used for planting

Don Sergio shows how this stick is used for planting

Don Sergio started visiting the highlands of Chiapas as an agricultural engineer and veterinarian who began treating the cuts and burns he witnessed. Now he has a medical clinic in San Cristobal de las Casas and continues to provide treatment at no cost. Many of his patients are Mayans from the surrounding villages. He runs the clinic on donations. With the additional money he has gathered, he has built over 30 schools and 25 water filtration systems for the Mayan villages. Don Sergio has received many gifts from his patients. He has a beautiful collection of traditional Mayan clothing, that he displays in a museum next to his clinic. He gives tours of his collection while educating others about the Mayan culture. His tour is wonderful, I learned of the seven different Mayan languages. He explained the clothing in his unique collection and told of the traditions of the surrounding villages.

Clothing from Tenejapa used in ceremonies

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Wedding clothing, adorned with chicken feathers

Wedding clothing, adorned with chicken feathers

Indigenous clothing of children

Indigenous clothing of children

Gifts Don Sergio has received from patients

Gifts Don Sergio has received from patients

Photos of patients and articles written about Don Sergio

Photos of patients and articles written about Don Sergio

For more information on Don Sergio’s work, here is his website:   www.yokchij.org


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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.