Sunday, November 30, 1997

This border crossing was easy. In fact, people were just walking across as if it weren't there. There were no lines to wait in to take care of the formalities. I paid my 80 cent exit tax on the Guatemala side, turned in my tourist card, and took a 5 peso collectivo to the Mexican customs a few kilometers away. In and out in minutes.

The next city of any size is Comitan, and the collectivo cost 15 pesos for the hour drive. The landscape here was suddenly much different than in Guatemala. Much flatter at first, but changing a few more times in that short distance. The van was stopped a couple of times by people who strung a cable across the road and I got pretty nervous. Apparently the Zapatistas stop vehicles and collect a "tax" from the drivers to help fund their cause. The driver contributed a few pesos, and we moved on. Whew!

Comitan seemed to be a pleasant little city, and it was clear we were no longer in Guatemala. The streets were paved and had sidewalks, and everything just appeared to be more modern and organized. My objective was to get to Palenque, and there is a road from Comitan, but a collectivo driver told me I would be much better off going there via San Cristobal de la Casas. I wasn't sure if he just needed another passenger, but I paid my 15 pesos and waited until his van was full. He then stopped for gas and chatted with the attendant for 20 minutes before moving on.

The van was stopped at a military checkpoint, and I was singled out to have my luggage inspected. They were very polite about it, and even smiled and thanked me when they finished. A genuine attempt was made to put things back in properly rather than just stuff it all in. I didn't know having my privacy invaded could be such a pleasant experience.

I got a special feeling about San Cristobal even before I was out of the van. The city is set at an elevation of 7,000 ft. and surrounded by hills. The temperature was perfect, and clouds shrouded the mountains around us making it feel as if it were separated from the rest of the world.

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This is a view from my hotel roof.

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  A walk around town revealed some truly beautiful buildings, well maintained compared with other places I had seen in Mexico. There were surprises around every corner. This town was so much more prosperous than I had imagined, and coming from Guatemala, it almost seemed like Europe. There were restaurants of all types, tons of cafes, artisans everywhere, and everyone here just seemed to have an upbeat attitude.

 

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Iglesia de Guadelupe

There was a funeral or something going on today, so I was not able to get a closer look.

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This cathedral dates back to 1528.

I like it and think it deserves a name, but it is just known as the cathedral.

The weekend I was in San Cristobal, there was a major rally for the Zapatistas. Had I read about it before I got there, I might have expected a lot of tension, and felt some fear. The media seems to portray anyone who challenges the government as a radical group of lawless gangsters. This was not the case; the mood was very festive and hopeful, and people from all over the world came to show their support for them.

I'm not going to pretend to know exactly what the Zapatistas stand for. Among many things, land reform is an issue, just as it is pretty much everywhere in Central America. You see, here in The States we simply killed off enough of the natives that they really aren't too difficult to manage. The Spanish, however, were more resourceful and used the indigenous as slave labor. It was cheaper than importing them from Africa. The natives are still treated as a lower class, but this Spanish plan that worked so well for so long is now backfiring. In this age of information, it is much more difficult to keep injustices from the rest of the world.

The State of Chiapas is the poorest in the country, yet is the wealthiest in resources. People are exploiting these resources and putting nothing back into the communities. This is but one of their complaints, and all things considered, they really didn't seem like radicals to me. I'd be a little ticked off, myself. The U.S. considers land reform communist, regardless of how the land was obtained, especially when we stand to make a buck from it. We have a bad habit of bombing people when they challenge the way we exploit their resources. Therefore, I doubt Chiapas will see any radical change any time soon. Can't blame 'em for trying, though.

The people of Chiapas are really cool. Nobody travels to Mexico or Guatemala to hang out in the cities and watch the plastic people in their European sports cars zip around like hot shit while yapping on their cell phones. We can do that right here. It's the poor majority who welcome us so warmly, share their stories, their history, their culture, and their art. I never met a single indian who was in too much of a hurry to have a chat. You just cant get that in the USA anymore. We have a lot of things they will never have, but they have something really special, too.

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  One thing I never got good at during my trip was saying "no" to the kids. They are so adorable, and always have something good for sale. There comes a time, though, when you have no more room in your bags for souvenirs, and no room on your arms for another armband. Since I had become addicted to the cashews and pistachios that are so cheap there, I always had a bag with me and I found that when I had to say no I could still get a big smile from the kids when I offered them a handful.

Continue to day 15.

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