Monday, March 01, 2010

March 1 - San Critobal de Casas

It was very cold when I arrived in San Cristobal at 6:30 am

I had reserved a room in Al No Bolom, a combination hotel, research center and museum. It was old, clean, and in need of rejuvenation, but the staff were kind enough to give me a room long before my check-in time, and not charge me for it. I toured the museum for a while before taking a nap, photographs of Lacandon people are everywhere.

In 1950 Frans Blom, a Danish archeologist and his wife Gertrude Duby, a Swiss photographer, purchased the house and named it Al No Bolom. By the time they bought the house their lives were devote to the study of Mayan, and in particular the Lacandon The Lacandon, who refer to themselves as Hach Winike (the true people) fled the Spanish and came to live in the rainforest of southern Chiapas. As late as the 1940’s they lived in isolation, but deforestation of their land began in the 1950’s. Once in danger of extinction, today the Lacandon population is rapidly growing, and when they come the San Cristobal they was welcome guests at breakfast, where they eat for free.

Tourist information in San Cristobal can be written in any number of languages, I saw Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Mayan and a language and alphabet I didn’t recognize.

I had lunch at a restaurant/gallery/library. Modern in design with a fine idea, take a book, leave a book. By the looks of the library there’s been more leaving than taking because there are plenty of books to choose form. In the restaurant I noticed an advertisement about an alternative health care practitioner. Since my shoulder is improving very slowly, I thought I’d pay him a visit.

I’m glad I did. The alternative care practitioner is a Spaniard who studied acupuncture, reiki, reflexology and massage in his native country. His office is in a plaza which I believe is owned by the Zapistas, the political movement that is quiet now, but in the past caused a great deal of havoc. They want more land for indigenous people. There’s a bakery, restaurant, language school and a cinema, as well as his office.

As I lay on a massage table incense and meditative chanting filled the air. It cost me $350 pesos, and I think he spent about an hour and a half trying to improve the movement in my arm and shoulder.

That evening, the cinema in the plaza was playing a documentary about the rise of Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, the campaign leading to his election, and the coca plant.

The U.S. tried as hard as it could, and failed, to rid Bolivia of coca. Recently I saw a brief internet news clip on how there is a beverage being bottled and sold in Bolivia that is made with the coca - named after the Colla people it’s called Coca Colla.

To the United States government, coca, once an ingredient of Coca Cola, is a problem plant used in the manufacture of cocaine, but to the Bolivian people coca is sacred. Always the campaign speeches of now president Evo Morales ended with the slogan “Death to the Americans.”

Unfortunately I was too tired, and left before the end of the film.

Each room in No Bolom has a fireplace, someone kindly piles the wood just right and quickly after the wood is ignited there is a blazing fire But the fire doesn’t warm me, the bed is piled high with quilts and blankets. Eventually my body heat creates a comfy bed. But what a shock to the senses getting up in the morning.

(The photo is part of the museum and was once Gertrude Duby's bedroom)


Chiapas is Mexico’s poorest state. In the main plaza I find myself surrounded by shoe shine boys. I gave one boy a peso because I thought that’s what he wanted to shine my shoes.

“Peso! No, cinco pesos!!” he said while holding up one hand, five fingers spread. I pull a five peso coin out of my pocket and indicate I want my peso back. He protests. I explain that if he wants the five pesos he must give my back my peso. He obliges, the deal is struck and I sit down to get my shoes shined.

The other boys were disappointed and asked, “Why him?” The boy shining my shoes thought he had the answer, “It’s because I speak English.”

“Where did you learn to speak English?” I ask.

“In school.” Obviously a quick learner and a fine shiner of shoes.

In the evening shoe shine boys came into the restaurant where I was eating. “I’ve already had my shoes shined.” I told them, as I hand each a peso. They ask if they can have bread from my bread basket. After I gave permission they grabbed all the bread out of the basket. I thought about all the bread baskets that have sat on restaurant tables where I had left the bread uneaten and wondered where the bread went.

At lunch the next day I couldn’t eat any of the salad because I ordered too much food. I asked for the salad to be wrapped to go. After carrying it around for an hour or two, I knew I wasn’t going to eat it, and began looking for a garbage. A girl scurried across the street, somehow she knew what I was looking for. She asked if she could have the package, she didn’t know what it was, but it was a perfectly good untouched cheese and tomato salad. I was so glad she had come to rescue the salad that was about to go into the trash.

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