Replies: 14 - Last Post: Jul 5, 2013 5:56 AM Last Post By: CascadeBob
Jul 1, 2013 10:49 AM
Jovel/Chamula/ChenalóAfter a gentle reminder that I've been mouthing off a bit more than contributing lately, I figured I'd report for a bit for penance.
Had a great two weeks out in the Jovel (San Cristóbal de las Casas) area. Weather was gorgeous for the first week with only light rain, though a steadier drizzle emerged last Friday which dampened things a bit.
My main goal was to attend the Fiesta de San Juan in Chamula, and this worked out great. I was able to get there on Sunday and Monday, which was the day of the actual event. Weather was great except for a brief shower, and everyone was out in their very finest. The big band was Tigres del Norte, who gave a good show (even if they're not my cup of tea), and I was especially impressed by the crowd control.
As you may know, Chamula is an autonomous area and police only show up at the entrance or very sparsely in an auxiliary role. The main form of security comes in the chuj (black wool) or jerko (white wool) clad local police forces, who would systematically show up at any sign of trouble with their long clubs (ahej) to put said troublemaker in an open-air cell behind the municipal building (where they were free to request drinks and snacks from merciful passersby).
I went into the church on both nights, and saw it in an amazing moment where hundreds of white-clad members appeared at once with huge candles and formed human wall in the first part of the building, accompanied by chanting and foot-stomping.
In general, I'd highly recommend getting out there next year for anyone who has a genuine interest in their culture. I saw a few other foreigners (maybe 20), all of them having a great time. Another beautiful thing was seeing the Zinacantan people dressed to the nines in their gorgeous purple duds, often 10 or 12 members of the same family, from grandfathers to young sons. Also members from other villages with distinct garb, creating a unique and potent sight.
One note, there have been a few "incidents" lately and some people from neighboring areas will warn you against visiting Chamula alone (as did a guy who works for the tourist kiosk in Sancris but has never actually visited). I don't think this is good advice, for a number of reasons, but it's not baseless. Anyone who goes should know it's a place to tread carefully and be aware of their surroundings. The chances of getting robbed are just about nil. Your chances of accidentally offending someone are a bit higher. Don't drive your own vehicle there. Learn how to say "thank you" and "sorry" in their language. These people are suspicious of outsiders for good reason, but at the same time they are also intensely welcoming if you approach them correctly and are quick to reward genuine interest in their culture.
I was also lucky enough to get out to another festival, that of San Pedro Chenaló. The rain put a bit of a damper on this, but it cleared up in time for Trono de Mexico. Again, a fun show, even if I usually can't stand their songs (especially those earworms like Te Vés Fatal). It was interesting to see the Chenalóan authorities on stage with their short white "skirts," black chuj and multi-colored tasel-y hats, often pleading for good behavior and no pushing. The vibe here was slightly edgier than Chamula, with no foreigners in site apart from two tall guys who disappeared before sundown, and there were very few women on the ground area (for good reason, the crowd did not behave well when one passed through). There were, however, many ladies, grandmothers, etc. on the edges and up on the balconies and roofs.
While I'd passed it in 2009 on the way to Panteló, I hadn't ever explored Chenaló itself, a fascinating little town with gorgeous, richly colored purple/red dress for the ladies (similar to that of Mitontic) and comfy white, "Roman-style" skirts and tunics for the men. Also saw some unusual dress from areas like Chalchihuitan which you rarely see in Sancris. The setting amongst jagged cliffs and peaks is superlative and the people were generally very friendly, though I got a lot more stares here. A few awkward moments when the drink started flowing, but I was able to diffuse everything with friendliness and some Tzotzil phrases. There was ample transport back to Sancris ("Jovel, Jovel!") which cost double the normal rate, so it was 70%. Got back in time to enjoy some live music in Terraza and watch the yuppies trip over themselves in front of Makia… what a contrast.
As for Sancris, there's not much to say that hasn't been already, but I was pretty struck by the increase in tourists in the Guadalupe backpacker's ghetto. Last time I was here, in 2009, they were just finishing the pedestrianization of the street, so the scene as it is feels pretty new. I wasn't crazy about it, but noticed how easy it was to get away from these people who seem to stay only in this area. Out in the Merced, Santa Lucia, even Santo Domingo, the number of foreigners dropped.
Saw some great live music in a spot called "Palicate." Revolucion was fun as always but, as always, too crowded. Good music in Terraza as I mentioned above, as well as Catarina. Caught World War Z in 3D at the Cinepolis for good measure.
Stayed at first in a place called "Hotel Antigua" on Madero in front of La Catarina. It was OK, but overpriced (550 for a so-so single). I ended up getting a reduced rate around the corner at Don Quijote and that worked out better for me, same level of comfort – though beds in both were pretty pokey – and less of a stuffy feeling.
Got lots of updated info on upcoming festivals if anyone's interested. Zinacantan is coming up in the first week of August and should be a superb one. They're also known for being a lot less… er, "wild" than the Chamulans so it should be a mellower experience.
Quick note on transport: personal taxi to Chamula was 80 (they usually say 100 first). Colletivo = 12 pesos. Taxi to Chenaló = 35 pesos. Double for the return trip. One very interesting thing about this trip: they take the brand spanking "new road" straight northeast of Sancris instead of the traditional roundabout way through Chamula. This route was awesome. Also visited Larrainzar, an interesting and remote little town north of Chamula, 30 for collective taxi (note that all of these vehicles leave from the area called Tivoli in Sancris, in front of Milano, right past the market). There are dozens of places which can be visited with these, and if you get stuck in a place you don't want to be, it's usually easy to get a private one back for 100-200 pesos.
Heading back towards Oaxaca at the moment but reminded of why I love this state so much… will be back soon.
Jul 1, 2013 11:14 AM
Jul 1, 2013 11:26 AM
2Thanks, I'll try to make it a habit!
I thought the same thing about Tigres! Funny enough it started as a rumor that I heard from Chamulan gum-sellers in Oaxaca, and even some people in San Cris were skeptical. They were there though and the organization was impressive.
One thing Trono needs to work on is the aspect ratio for its videos. They played at behind them compressed about 30% throughout the entire performance, effectively converting them into midgets. Pretty sure this was not altered for local height preferences but it did add a humorous element.
They both gave fun shows though and it's clear that these visits give a lot of pride to the community, especially the elders who viewed the proceedings in both towns in full traditional dress and enjoying Modelos and pox from the prime viewing spots (ie. the balconies and roofs of the muni buildings).
As with many indigenous festivals, there was very little dancing in Chenaló (not counting the "I'm fixin' to fall down" shuffle) and mostly just stationary appreciation. Chamula had a much bigger space to work with so there was a bit more action on that front. One other thing to note is that there was a lot of pushing in both towns, and anyone wanting to visit these should probably do so without valuables/cameras. Despite the stares though, I was never less than welcomed... well except by one guy, but that's another story and it had a happy resolution.
I may or may not have been put in a chuj at one point but I can promise that there are no photos... whew.
One other thing, I saw a pleasant enough posada in Chenaló for 100 pesos per night, and another one in Larrainzar for 80. Either one would be a nice bare basics option for exploring these towns. They're both easy to find on arrival.
(Also a correction, I said 35 to Chenaló and double for the return trip above, I meant it was 70 pesos coming back due to it being so late... it's generally 35 both ways. Sitting in the front seat = recommended).
Jul 1, 2013 11:49 AM
Jul 1, 2013 12:41 PM
Jul 1, 2013 1:15 PM
5Well, in general I think it's fine to go by car as long as you realize that it's autonomous territory and standard laws/insurance may not cut it. The reason that came to mind is that I've heard of two separate incidents over the last year, one from a Mexican and a foreign group where very minor accidents turned into 50,000 peso plus ordeals. Could be that I only heard one side of the story, though.
Some friends of the Mexicans involved swore they would "never!" go to Chamula because of that and you may hear anecdotal warnigns Chamulans are wild and unpredictable, even from their immediate neighbors. In a general way they are – it's what's helped them survive with their culture and traditions so intact – and their startling wool wardrobe symbolizes it next to the delicately embroidered Zinacantan garb. My experience is that they are generally very welcoming though, with huge furry hearts as long as you don't make them mad, and I only mention the car issue because it's also so easy to get a taxi.
I got into a bit of an argument (I'm sure you can imagine) with a guy at the tourist booth who strongly recommended that outsiders not travel to Chamula though he'd never been. He was referring to an already infamous instance of local justice-by-fire which took place a few weeks ago – the story even made it to CNN regarding a bootleg video showing the executions. Anyone interested can find the story online so I won't go into it, but it obviously has to be taken in context.
Jul 1, 2013 3:36 PM
Jul 1, 2013 3:43 PM
Jul 1, 2013 4:14 PM
8Yeah, when we were in Chamula we kept our cameras in our packs, even walking around town. There was a definite don't f-- with me vibe there which was fine with me and as enroute says, it was nice to be somewhere special where everyone wasn't reaching for their cameras. And yes, we were warned repeatedly and sternly not to bring a camera into the church by th efolks selling the tickets in Chamula.
Ironically in Zincantan some young Tzotzil mothers outside the church asked to be photographed (for 20 pesos of course) so I got a photo of me surrounded by them - I'm kneeling, they're standing, but we're all head to head (bien chaparritas ellas).
Jul 1, 2013 4:31 PM
Jul 1, 2013 9:32 PM
The church in Chamula is so unique, that the vision of it--and the smells--are seared into your memory without photographs. There are lots of postcards for sale in the town, which can help take the place of your own photos, of course I know its not the same,
We visited during Carnaval in February and it was quite the thing to see. The security men with the clubs scared me! Kinda like seeing our own police in their riot gear, only their vests were fuzzy.
Jul 2, 2013 9:52 AM
11A good report on Chamula and Chenalho. I live in San Cris and visit Chamula at least once a week. I think people judge Chamula to harsh. You can drive and take photos ( Just Ask first) in Chamula. No photos in the church but you can buy postcards of photos in the church During Carnival one must be more careful because of Alcohol use but most Chamula drunks are friendly Chamulans come across as unfriendly but in reality they are very friendly. Chenalho is different because they are not use to tourist and you can get yourself in trouble. Chenalho is going through some troubles between Evangelicals and Catholics (Zapatistas) with shootings. Anyway a good report and I thought I would just add some other information. BCMUM you should be afraid of the Chamulan police because they will gang up on a person and use their clubs.
Edited by: heyduke
Edited by: heyduke
Jul 2, 2013 11:02 AM
12Great report Enroute. I kinda enjoy a bit of the semi-nasty back´n forth on the forum so don´t count me into your penance.
Hilarious about the Trono videos. I think many times on tour groups just can´t bother to take a look at what they are doing, - and out there in the boondocks they can´t realistically make any tech changes. One thing I love in live performance is you just hope nobody notices...
And the Tigres are so emblematic, I dunno, its great they get out to many places in MX. So far from their base fans. As a crass entertainment industry biz type I wonder how much the festival paid them, probably got a killer good deal.
Jul 5, 2013 5:54 AM
Jul 5, 2013 5:56 AM
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