Last night, we said goodbye to Oaxaca and took an overnight bus to San Cristobal de las Casas, an unbelievably beautiful small city in the southernmost state of Chiapas. The 12 hour ride through the mountains was treacherous, but well worth the pain when we woke to a pink sunrise peeking through clouds hanging over the mountains.
In what could be considered very good or very bad timing, we left Oaxaca right before Guelaguetza, the biggest fiesta of the year in Oaxaca. The festivities were kicking into high gear yesterday - just before we left, we watched a parade of all the different pueblos near Oaxaca City. Each delegation had its own distinctive colorful costumes and marching bands, and I may have taken over 200 pictures. Most impressive were the women in traditional costumes balancing heavy baskets of fruit and flowers on their heads, all the while doing intricate dances. Right before we headed for the bus station, we hit the mezcal fair in the El Llano park. For the uninitiated, mezcal is a very strong alcoholic drink made from the maguey plant, and is the lesser-known cousin of tequila. To me, both tequila and mezcal are entirely undrinkable, but, for reasons that still have not been explained, Josue couldn't resist buying a bottle. For the weak (i.e., me), the shot of mezcal may be accompanied by a slice of lime and either grasshopper salt or gusano (worm) salt.
Truth be told, we were glad to escape Oaxaca, which is much busier, dirtier, and overall less enjoyable than we had been led to believe it would be. Arriving in San Cristobal was literally a breath of fresh air. This morning after showering off the bus grime, we took a taxi to San Juan Chamula, a small pueblo outside of San Cristobal. Many of the people who live in this part of Mexico speak a native language in addition to, or instead of, speaking Spanish. This only adds to the feeling that we have entered another world here.
The most interesting part of our excursion to San Juan Chamula was our trip to the church in the center of town, right next to a sprawling market. Photography is not permitted in or near the church, and, for the first time, we had to pay to see a church. As we learned from our trusty Lonely Planet guide (thank you Sylvia!!), in a seemingly blasphemous move, the worshipers at this church revere John the Baptist more than Christ. Nothing in Lonely Planet prepared us for the spectacle inside the church. The floor is covered with hundreds, if not thousands, of glittering candles, stuck to the floor by their own wax, or encases in multicolored glass vessels. In the aisles between the candles are mounds of pine needles, which the worshipers use as pillows on which to sit and chant. The scent of candles and pine needles mingles with incense, which is burned at various stations around the church. Both Josue and I got the feeling that this was definitely Catholicism-plus. It was, by far, the most amazing thing I have seen in Mexico yet.
After San Juan Chamula, while Josue scoped out language schools, I went to the local market and bought giant yellow squash blossoms, onions, quesillo (string cheese), garlic, poblano chiles and fresh tortillas (about 6 for 1 peso, which is less than a penny). We then christened our new kitchen by making delicious squash blossom quesadillas. Bienvenidos a San Cristobal, indeed.
We are very much looking forward to the arrival of our compadre Ben Adair
, who will shortly be shlepping from Los Angles to Chiapas.