When the Caravan was traveling through isolated territory where we could find no accommodations between Huitxla and Juchitan de Zaragoza, Diane and I spent a few days exploring the Mexican state of Chiapas.

We arrived in San Cristobol de Las Casas Friday after a brief stop over in the state’s busy capital, Tuxtla. San Cristobal is surely one of Mexico’s most magical places. Sitting in a high mountain valley, it is home to a diverse community of indigenous people, colonial architecture, beautiful churches, music and great food.

Several of the outlying villages have special weaving traditions.

Made of macerated tree bark, this is the one that got away — a ceremonial shaman’s vest that I just know is a museum piece.

You can read more about what tourists do in San Cristobal at many sites but you probably won’t read about Taller Lenaterra, which we came upon by accident. Taller Lenaterra is an artists’ cooperative that makes wonderful handmade paper, posters, and books. We got a short tour of the paper making, which begins with “pulping” used paper and then mixing it with, in our case, macerated marigold flowers. The graphics are earthy and playful, combining modern designs with those of the ancient Mayans and indigenous groups.

We also spent an afternoon in the small town of Chamula where Catholic church traditions have been adapted by the indigenous Tzotzil community. We timed our visit to experience Sunday observances at Iglesia San Juan and what we found is difficult to describe. Inside the church, thousands of white and orange flowers and as many candles seemed to be floating in the fog of incense. Statues of saints lined the walls, men on one side and women on the other, except for St. Francis who was with the women because he didn’t perform enough miracles. The sanctuary did not have pews or chairs. Instead, the floor was covered with families of worshipers sitting on a carpet of fragrant pine needles. The congregation is permitted to sacrifice animals — although we didn’t see this ritual during our visit. There were no sermons but we heard some wonderful music that seemed related to jazz. Photographs are not permitted inside the church but we have a few reminders from outside.

Pine needles are sold in the market outside the church

The town cemetery is an ocean of crosses. The green ones are for children. Many of the grave sites were decorated with blankets of marigolds and pine needles in anticipation of the Day of the Dead.

We saw one more important “thing” in tiny town of Chamula. Walking through the church cemetery, I noticed a man who looked strangely familiar. And then I saw the woman he was with. Mags and Javier, my friends from Canada and Spain! Never doubt that it is a very small world.

We loved our time in San Cristobal but, while we were trying to be good tourists, we were thinking of the courageous people in the Caravan and feeling eager to rejoin them.













  1. Kim, the first picture is beautiful. Is that a portrait of Subcomandante Marcos? Whatever happened to the Zapatistas?

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