Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chiapas: Tuxtla Gutierrez, and San Christóbal de las Casas

We arrived in Tuxtla Gutiérrez on Sunday afternoon, which is the capital of the state of Chiapas. Chiapas is the next state south of Oaxaca and also the southern-most state in Mexico, bordering on Guatemala. Adjacent to the city of Tuxtla is the National Park of the Canyon of Sumidero. The canyon was formed by the Grijalva River. The canyon walls are as high as 3,200 feet.

The next day, we went to the city Zoo. The state of Chiapas has the highest concentration of animal species in North America. Of over 1, 000 species of birds in Mexico, 600 of them are found in Chiapas. About 180 species here are in danger of extinction. Mexico is among the top 15 most environmentally threatened places in the world.

Tuxtla Gutiérrez (miscellaneous shots):

One-stop shopping for pastries & vehicle lubrication.

Downtown San Marcos Cathedral.
San Marcos cathedral, is a stark white structure that extends more than a city block. The long narrow nave is flanked by gold-painted relief arches, in which oversize paintings (in equally oversize frames) portray dramatic religious scenes. The altar has large-scale paintings as well, and there’s a small shady plaza outside the main doors.
The cathedral’s German-made 48-bell carillon chimes hourly, with a large repertoire of international tunes, while carved figures of the 12 apostles trolley around a short track in the bell tower.
San Marcos was originally built in the second half of the 16th century as a Dominican convent. Today only the central section of the front arch remains.

Tuxtla's tallest building: Tour de Tuxtla.
(No, it's not leaning.)

Our hotel's pool.

Street vendor pouring fresh coconut juice into a plastic cup.

Side trip from Tuxtla to Chiapa de Corzo cute but not very special nearby "Pueblo Magico" (Magic Town) touts a "Government that complies," but with what?

Breakfast for one on the plaza.

Tourist (Pattie) walking towards town's (16th Century) fountain.

We made two separate day trips to San Cristóbel de las Casas (SCdlCasas), 7,200 feet above sea level, a colonial city set in the mountains above Tuxtla, an hour's drive away. Founded in 1528, it has retained much charm with its beautiful, old cobblestone streets and colonial neighborhoods. That said, we felt the town was too touristy. We saw lots of Hippies, of various ages and ethnicities, making us feel like we had time-warped back to the late 60s and early 70s in the USA.

We thought SCdlCasas, a city we have long wanted to visit, would be a highlight of our trip. But even though we are glad we saw it, it was somewhat disappointing. We're posting lots of pictures because having heard so much about SCdlCasas and its beauty, we want to keep these images alive on the Blog. Because of the elevation, the road up the mountain to San Cristóbal is usually shrouded in fog.

Misty road from Tuxtla to SCdlCasas


We saw this woman sitting here for over an hour.

Two competing street performers. 

These boys were busy organizing and reorganizing their loot in this alcove just off the street. 

Pattie befriended two indigenous girls.
 They wanted 5 pesos (40 cents) each.

After we bought little trinkets from them,
they let us take their pictures.

Then, we talked a little with them
and they seemed to warm up to us.

Looks like a happy family, but . . .

. . . after the pictures were taken, with their obvious permission, they wanted 10 pesos each, one of them hit Richard, and they ran away laughing.

BTW, that is not a stretch taxi above but a distortion caused by a panoramic shot!

High class chocolate.

Look closely and you will see individually wrapped chocolate rats (ratones) with shiny red eyes at 6 pesos (48 cents) for each rat.

More pedestrian fare, but yummy.

Fancy French restaurant, unfortunately not yet open for the season.

Courtyard of a very nice veggie (hippie) restaurant.

Bulletin in veggie restaurant with notice of alternative activities, just like home. 

An hour above SCdlCasas, on a very winding, narrow mountain road; around misty mountaintops; over hill and dale; dodging domestic animals; avoiding lunatic, suicidal, and/or homicidal drivers; scraping the underside of our little car on topes [road or speed bump; word derived from the mound in the ground left behind a tunneling mole (= el topo, in Spanish)]; circumnavigating road washouts, et cetera, et cetera, etc, we arrived in the town of Tenejapa.

We had been warned that if we took pictures, even surreptitiously, our camera or its memory chip would be confiscated and we could be severely punished, even jailed, so we refrained. [The web does have some pictures.]  We arrived on Thurday, market day, and walked down a narrow street with vendors on both sides.  Unfortunately, the goods that were for sale were almost entirely cheap, plastic trinkets from China. Alas, the beautiful weaving and needlework, for which the indigenous women of this area are well-known, is now being done mostly in garish colors,  on polyester fabric.

We also saw the bimonthly government subsidy being handed out in the main square where people were holding their identity cards and lined up to get their money.

We saw extensive evidence of slash-and-burn agriculture throughout our drive in the highlands and jungles of Chiapas. We skirted the Lacandón Jungle, Mexico's largest and best preserved tropical rainforest.

A note about the surrounding countryside of this area: the indigenous municipio is comprised of villages and the surrounding rural territory. Municipios are ethnically defined. The indigenous municipios of Chiapas are autonomous from the Chiapas (state) and Mexican (federal) governments and they resolve issues by traditional methods. Tourists are not allowed to be there after dark. Many different languages are spoken in this region. They also share the common languages of Tzotzil (or Tsotsil) and Spanish, which they need for trade outside of their community. All of the languages are Maya, except Spanish. There is great ethnic diversity among the indigenous population. The municipio we visited had a population of approximately 60,000 people, possibly the largest indigenous polity of the new world.

About 25% of the population of Chiapas is indigenous. While many of the churches in the indigenous communities appear to be Catholic on the outside, the interior is strewn with pine needles and is the location where indigenous rituals take place. We have heard that depictions of Catholic saints are often put in to glass cases, to prevent retribution (such as having their fingers broken off or their bodies stuck headfirst in the dirt outside of the church) when prayers to them are not answered. Priests (who only visit occasionally) are allowed in the churches only to preform baptisms.

Heading deeper into the mountains and leaving Tuxtla and San Cristóbal behind, we saw many indigenous women walking along the roadside, all in native dress. It was rare to see a woman over the age of puberty who did not have a baby slung over her shoulder, often hauling loads of firewood on their backs as well. We drove through beautiful pine forests and vast, green mountain ridges scattered with indigenous villages. We stopped in the village of Huixtian where we sat in the plaza surrounded by beautiful mountain vistas, breathing delicious, fresh  pine-scented air, and watched teen-aged boys lazily practicing basketball.

After a late lunch, we headed off to Ocosingo.

Ocosingo is at 3,000 feet on the other side of the mountain range from SCdlCasas. We are heading east across Chiapas, making our way down the mountains.

We are now in Zapatista territory. In January, 1994, the day NAFTA was implemented, a previously unknown  leftist guerrilla army emerged from the forest and occupied SCdlCasas, among other places. They were soon driven out by the Mexican National Army. The area around Ocosingo was one of the strongest bastions of support for the Zapatistas, and Ocosingo saw the bloodiest fighting during that uprising with about 50 rebels killed in Ocosingo by the Army and there was a brutal massacre of 45 Zapatista sympathizers--mostly women and children--killed by para militaries during a prayer service in 1997 near here. The Zapatista movement has challenged the traditional leadership hierarchy and is improving the rights of women.

We saw signs along the road proclaiming this to still be Zapatista territory. We were stopped along the road many times by small groups of people, who were holding a rope across the road and asking for money.

Our stay in Ocosingo was brief. The Hotel Margarita, 

where we stayed, looks are deceiving in this case, was the least worst hotel in the guidebook and situated only half a block, on a torn up street, from the Plaza. The desk clerk tried to withhold 120 pesos (~$9.40 US) in change from us hoping that we wouldn't remember that he said that he had no change available as we checked in. [This was a highly atypical experience for us. Way more often, people would come running after us when we had forgotten something in a public place.] A bare incandescent bulb hung from the ceiling in our tiny room and this was our first encounter with plastic bedspreads. The seat was falling off the toilet fixture. We left very early next morning for the Yucatán Peninsula.

Random shots of people in Ocosingo:

Next Post: off to eastern Chiapas and the Yucatán.


  1. Looking forward to more posts! Looks like you guys are having a wonderful time; take care and good luck with your adventures!

  2. Some fascinating images, guys. Good tour. ~eric.

  3. thank you for your blog. i learned a lot from your fotos and your descriptions, even though we have often visited chiapas! best wishes in your travels, don and paola, mérida