travel

¡Hola, Mexico!: Zapatistas, Tattoo, Quinceañera

One of my best friends, Veronica, is an intrepid Mexican girl that has just fight away cancer! I’ve been to Mexico in September 2011, three years before we met. One day we were talking nonchalantly about food. We barely knew each other by then, and I said: “I love mole poblano”! Instant friendship! The stomach is, indeed, the highway to the heart! In this great travel, I met Zapatistas, Mayan descendants, made a new tattoo and attended a Quinceañera Bal (Fifteenth Birthday Party)!

Admiring the Piramide del Sol, in the background, in Teotihuacan

The “mole poblano” that I ate at – yes, you guessed – Puebla!

I arrived one day after Mexico’s Independence Day and the city was still festive. The next day I discovered the populous Ciudad del Mexico and hit the road to Palenque, Oaxaca, Merida, Puebla, Teotihuacan, San Cristobal de las Casas.

I was fueled by chapulines, the fruit of the cactus, lots of tortilla, mole, tamales, Rompope, churros, Corona and Tequila. Sometimes I wonder if my primary goal in this trip was to eat. As I write these lines I feel an urge to chew something.

Post-it mental: Mexican cuisine…Spicy, colorful, bright, fun…exquisite unknown flavors, even when the ingredients are ordinary… Fajitas, burritos, guacamole, tacos … are specialties to try absolutely! But also the chapulines, crickets fried in oil and seasoned with garlic and lemon pepper. They have an interesting texture of raisins: chewy, not crispy. Its taste is citric-acid, and salty. The description is weird, but it’s delicious.

At San Cristobal de las Casas I met some Zapatistas who told me the story of Subcomandante Marcos and the revolutionary movement going on at Chiapas, the region where San Cristobal is located.

I consider myself very refractive to these leftist ideologies, but later those Zapatistas (who happened to manage a cooperative whose income was destined to support the movement) told me about two pueblos nearby, San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan, where direct descendants of the Maya people (!) were sovereign: they had their own laws and were insubordinate to the Mexican government. 👊💪🤙 Fascinating, I thought.

The rules were so strict that if a youngster wished to study in the “outside world” he/she could never integrate the community again. I frowned.

“Please understand”, one of the Zapatistas said. They’re a very small indigenous population struggling to survive, to keep their traditional ways. If those who leave the community are allowed to come back they’ll bring another culture with them, and that will certainly supersede the pueblo’s.”

He was right.

The next day I went to visit San Juan Chamula and Zinacantan. I was surprised to discover that in Zinacantan everybody wore the same clothes, in shades of blue, violet, pink and a pinch of red. They were self-sufficient, producing and consuming their own goods, and the prison was in the middle of the pueblo.

The barred windows were huge, thus exposing the prisoners. There was no place to hide. The guide explained that they were there mostly for one day, only. It’s was a correction for some small infractions. In that village going to prison would probably mean civil death. It was not with surprise that I learned that alcoholism was epidemic there.

I write these words very carefully to avoid being judgmental, but…how does it feel to be responsible to keep alive your heritage, so fragile, almost at the breaking point, when you know that this responsibility means the sacrifice of your individuality and self-determination?

And for real crimes? I asked the guide. “We apply the capital punishment here”.

Zero tolerance.

Then something happened: I visited a small house where three generations of Mayan women lived. I sat on the floor and they resumed their chores, exchanging kind glances with me from time to time, gently nodding to express that I was welcome.

In the beginning I was unsettled, the silence was awkward. Then I understood that quiet communion, it meant that I was accepted as one of them, and I felt at home.

Here they are, my hosts:

Delicious tortillas with roasted pumpkin seeds! Later we had « frijoles verdes ». Good food in good company, that’s it 🙂
Traditional Mayan weaving

Blue and Red corn! The guide explained that the priests used to drink a fermented beverage made of blue corn, that resulted in a black liquid that caused burping. Burping was important to purify the spirit. Later on, Coca-Cola was introduced (you’re betraying the old ways, Maya!) and the priests replaced the old fermented corn drink by “the dirty water of capitalism”. Something is off, isn’t it?

The blue corn can also turn into these cool “denim tortillas”:

And these are the colorful multipurpose embroidered fabrics weaved by the women that you can see working in the previous photos – oh my Pantones!:

San Juan Chamula was also very particular but in a totally different way. But again, the fierce Maya were living on their own terms: the Catholic Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, built by the Spanish, kept its normalcy only until we crossed the portal: inside, on the floor,  there were “personal altars” created by the arrangement of candles, pine needles and other objects. Everyone was doing their own shamanic rituals and I even watched one of them, which involved the sacrifice of a chicken.  I tell the whole story about this experience in this post.

The facade of San Juan Chamula church
Inside the church in San Juan Chamula. Note the pine needles covering the floor. The dim light, the herbal and flowery odors, plus the smoke from the burning candles is an invitation to introspection.
Candles all over the altar – San Juan Chamula church

I was totally taken by San Cristobal! When I love a place sometimes I tattoo an homage to it. So there I went to the tattoo shop, btw the ONLY in town, to create my Mexican sweetheart.

It didn’t take much: I’m an big fan of Frida Kahlo and I like the “calaveras” and I like cats. I put all that in the mixer and the result was that:

Me and my Tattoo artist, that has only one eye. Yeap, this eye patch isn’t only a fancy accessory. Later I discovered that the tattoo was super crooked 😳 but who cares, I had lots of fun!

And a lot more surprises waited for me!

My Calavera in my favorite color.
Me at the Piramide de la Luna
Pocket Beer, la Coronita
A cozy cafe at San Cristobal, to recharge, to think, to be grateful.
Puppets to celebrate the ‘Dia de Muertos’, the Day of the Dead.

I was hanging out with some other travelers in a bar when the owner approached and joined us: “Guys, I like you! Listen: tomorrow is the Quinceañera of my daughter, would you like to come?”

We were aghast! We were invited to a real Quinceañera!!!  We went, of course! And it was so interesting! First, a Thanksgiving Mass (father and daughter are posing in front of the church in the photo below), then the ball. Perla Estefânia, the gorgeous birthday girl, was interpreting the Disney Princess Belle, whereas her father was the Beast. They danced a valse, they embraced. I was touched by the innocence and beauty of the celebration!

Perla and her Father in front of the church were the Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated. Sorry for the bad quality of the photo! I had to use my battered phone because by the time of the party (around 8pm) there was no battery left in my camera (I’ve spent the whole day shooting), so I had to leave it at the hotel, charging. The photos bellow suffer from the same ‘illness’.
Me at Perla’s Quinceanera.
A ‘recuerdo’: a souvenir of the party!

And so we left San Cristobal.

And Mexico.

I’ve left the country with a delicious feeling of accomplishment. I changed.

Indeed, a tattoo and 3kg that weren’t there.

See you in the next destination, Bonjourists!

XOXO

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