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San Cristobal & Cancuc - Day Eight

Breakfasted and Chip Morris came by at 10 to start our day's exploration of Mayan Indian villages. Had awakened early with a dreadful sore throat and all the signs of a wicked cold coming on so was hoping not to crash during the day while we were miles from home. We took a taxi to the colectivo taxi rank on the outskirts of town; colectivo taxis, are one step up from the colecctivo minibuses that we took from Palenque. They are not allowed to pick up or deliver to any destination other than to a colectivo taxi rank and ply their trade carrying people from one town to another. They carry four passengers, so if there are only two of you and you want the car to yourself, you pay for four seats. They are more expensive than colectivo buses but less than a standard taxi. So the three of us set off having paid for four seats.Large crosses approx. 5 metres high in a cemetery outside Cancuc, Chiapas, Mexico. November 2013. Original size 5412x3840px. (Gerald FitzGerald) We had about an hour and a half's ride ahead of us, climbing up the surrounding mountains, down into valleys and working our way across the mountainous plateau to Cancuc. The town was on the summit of a rocky ridge, on the side of a larger mountain, surrounded by forested highlands. The market that we were to visit ran along the main street of the town which was unpaved with very rustic shops along one side of the road, all in need of a coat of paint and a thorough scrub, faced on the other side of the road by itinerant merchants stalls.

We were the only non-natives at the market and we all viewed each other with mutual interest and curiosity. Chip was worth his weight in gold, particularly once he realized that his passion for textiles was shared so we looked at everything, poked through stalls of materials while Chip, who had a working knowledge of the dialect, chatted and kept everything low-key and cheerful. Family group, Saturday market in Cancuc, Chiapas, Mexico. November 2013. Original size 3840x5760px. (Gerald FitzGerald)

I believe we were the source of some distrust and picture taking was a process that needed to be handled with care. Many of the Maya were very shy and hid their faces while others were much more direct in their antipathy to photography. However, many set aside their concerns and let me take some wonderful portraits.

Chip had wanted us to begin our village exploration with Cancuc because their market is on Saturday. The two villages that we will be exploring tomorrow both have their markets on Sunday. Additionally, the three villages that we will be visiting over the next two days are excellent examples of how different the textiles, decorations and designs are between one village and another. While Chip and other experts may see subtle changes in textile and costume design from one year to the next within the same communities, the striking and most noticeable fact for me has been the marked difference in the costumes from one village to another and, as in Bhutan, the realization that these costumes are not for tourists or ceremonial occasions, but the everyday wear of the communities. Equally interesting is the fact that there has been so little homogenization in textile design between adjacent villages and the pride that each community takes in their local differences.

Also important to realize that these are not tourist handicraft markets but the weekly opportunity for the locals to buy needed household supplies, so everything useful being sold ranging from fruits and vegetables to medicines, to kitchen utensils, to cloth and made-up clothing, tailored to that community's particular style. Mayan mother and daughter, Saturday market in Cancuc, Chiapas, Mexico. November 2013. Original size 2889x2353px. (Gerald FitzGerald)

We were very much the animals in the zoo in Cancuc and were watched very carefully to see how we behaved and what we did. Whenever Chip struck up a conversation with one of the locals at a stall or on the street, people drifted in to see and listen and very soon we would be at the centre of a circle of curious, but extremely quiet group, watching and listening intently. Lunch in the only canteen in town, and while a little nervous-making at first glance, we stuck to ordering cooked and hot dishes so we were fine.

After lunch our colectivo taxi drove us about a kilometre further up the mountain to the ruin of a magnificent church. It seems that the town was originally built around the church but a local uprising took place about 300 hundred years ago centred around the church. Troops had to be brought in from Guatemala to quell it and once done, the authorities wrecked the church and moved the town to its present location which is at a lower level of the mountain and therefore less easily defended, with the high land then available for the military authorities to more easily deal with future troubles.

Church is roofless, with rough stone and mortar walls about a meter and a half thick. It would have been completely stuccoed originally and on the interior walls there are still traces of stucco with barely discernible designs. Because the door and window frames were finished with cut stone, these have all been appropriated for building materials, so the effect is quite remarkable . Massive walls still rising to their original height but with ragged holes where the doors and windows would have been. Eerie sense of place even on a sunny afternoon. Ruined church on the mountainside  above Cancuc. Church was destroyed after a peasant revolt in the 18th century and church and town rebuilt where it was more easily accessible by military. November 2013. Original size 5760x3840px. (Gerald FitzGerald) Mayan mother and daughter, Saturday market in Cancuc, Chiapas, Mexico. November 2013. Original size 5504x3669px. (Gerald FitzGerald) In the taxi on our way back down the mountain, Chip stopped at a local weaver and clothing maker and V and Chip spent a very pleasant hour going through all of her stock of clothing, watched interestedly by people who drifted in and out to watch the event. A number of purchases made which will end up in the Textile Museum and great satisfaction had by all.

Long drive back and feeling pretty beaten up with my cold and sore throat. Asked Mario, the manager of the B&B and an extremely nice and helpful man, for some honey, hot water and a lime and with a good shot of rum from they B&B's liquor cabinet, built my go-to cure for anything cold or flu-like. Sat in front of a roaring fire and let the elixir do its work. May live after all. Young girl with her brother in a backsac outside Cancuc, Chiapas, Mexico. November 2013. Original size 4674x3675px. (Gerald FitzGerald) Dinner at another restaurant which had been recommended. Disappointed once again. Wonderful city, beautiful people, great margaritas, fascinating history, interesting handicrafts, lousy restaurants.

Zinacantán & Chamula - Day Nine

San Cristobal - Day Seven