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EXPLORING SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS
 
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EXPLORING SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS

 

San Cristobal is has always seemed an isolated part of Mexico. Years ago we thought of it as the very appealing traditional town we stayed in for a few days on our way from where we lived in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, to and from Guatemala. The small hotel we always chose was built in a lovely old hacienda style and our room had a fireplace to take off some of the mountain chill. Nevertheless we always remember San Cristobal as the place where we got colds every time we passed through.

In those days the town was very small. There were book shops and exhibition spaces for photographs and drawings of some of what was happening across the nearby border in Guatemala. That more serious intellectual tone we remembered so well has seemingly all but disappeared. San Cristobal now is a city on the move with a vibrant night life and some of the hustle and bustle that is so much a part of other areas in Mexico.

HOTELS AND ARCHITECTURE
 

On this trip, now traveling from our home base in Guatemala, we were only going to be spending a few days and we tried hard to find the hotel where we had stayed so many years ago. We did, but it was as changed as the town itself. Instead of the family run small hotel with lots of charm, it was now an enlarged full service very professionally run hotel. It still had the fireplaces and charm, but now there was free wifi, a restaurant/bar, amber jewelry for sale in the lobby and a wide offering of local tours.

Ours was not the only relatively upscale hotel, but San Cristobal retains its character as an easy going and inexpensive place to visit in Mexico. There are lots of small hotels, many very charming and family run, and there are lots of hostels for students on the move.

 

 

 

Like the city of Oaxaca, the architecture of San Cristobal is very colonial. Progress here has meant restoration not replacement of the old buildings which gives the city much of its appeal to visitors.

The zócalo or town square is especially lovely with the ubiquitous band stand, but also with well tended gardens and beautiful trees. Graced too with lots of benches this is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and people watch. There are children and adults who may approach you for a shoe shine or to buy some trinkets, but they are more a delightful part of the experience than any kind of bother. A quiet "No, grácias," sends them on their way.

FOOD AND RESTAURANTS
 

San Cristobal has a great variety of bakeries, bars, cafes, snack shops and restaurants as well as a huge central market. In the photograph on the left is one of our favorite bakeries with great breads and pastries.

The Mexican state of Chiapas is renowned for its coffee and maybe should be equally well regarded for its use of herbs and spices in its food and for their medicinal benefits.

On the left is a photograph of a very special coffee grinder, a good example of the local veneration of coffee.

Below is a photograph of a wonderful herbal store, one whose scent lured me in and gave me a thrill just to be standing there.

Restaurants in San Cristobal have always been more exotic than in many other places in Mexico where traditional food reigns supreme. Here, with foreign influences you may dine on Thai, Vietnamese, Italian or Indian food to mention just a few unexpected cuisines. Of course traditional cuisine is well represented offering all of the Mexican foods we know and many that come as a surprise. Let it just be said that you will eat well in Chiapas!
The central market is just a short walk from the zócalo, just a block or so past the crafts market by the church on the left. The market in San Cristobal is especially crowded and chaotic. We didn't find it at all risky, but it probably would be best to leave anything you won't need for the day back at your hotel. The market here is a great indicator of the level of economic disadvantage that much of Chiapas suffers in relation to other areas of Mexico.

A WHEELBARROW FULL OF MACADAMIAS

FRESH CHICKENS COME WITH FEET

FIREWORKS ON THE LEFT/BEANS ON THE RIGHT

NIGHTLIFE AND MUSIC
San Cristobal has always attracted young visitors and that seems little changed. Mornings are sleepy times here, but when evening comes things get very lively. Some of the streets leading toward the zócalo are now free of traffic making them perfect for music and dining to spill out into the street along with pedestrians and very polite hawkers of all kinds of things. It is a great mix!

FIESTAS
Fiestas or celebrations can occur at any time and for any reason. They may be traditional Western events such as at Christmas or Easter, but they may have no discernable reason for being at all as with the little celebration we encountered in the photographs below. It seemed somehow to relate to children and many villages participated in some way, but what it was all about was a mystery to us and to every local person we asked about it. We speak fluent Spanish so that wasn't the issue though no one seemed to have more of a clue about it than we did.

PLACES TO VISIT AND EXPERIENCES TO HAVE

Nearby to San Cristobal are very traditional villages where you may attend religious services or stroll through indigenous markets. For the most part these are not "tourist" experiences, so be especially respectful. Wear long pants or skirts and be sure to cover your arms as well. Flash photographs are always a bad idea and if you are going to photograph a person, always be sure to ask permission first. Because we had so little time during this visit we stayed pretty close to town and weren't at all disappointed in what we found.
A BOTANICAL GARDEN

Orquideas Moxquivil doesn't seem high on anyone's list of the "10 best things to do" in San Cristobal, but I was thrilled to find that the city has a botanical garden of sorts. We took a taxi to the edge of town to take a look and weren't disappointed. No one was there that could explain anything, but there was room to wander and many representative orchids and bromeliads from Chiapas.

The organization seems to be funded by some sort of combination of the area's agricultural department and foreign and domestic individual donors who are recognized in walkway tiles as you can see in the photograph below.

At the site there is a modern guest house with several units should you wish to stay a night or so.

To see many more orchids and bromeliads please visit my newest website,

GreenGardeningCookingCuring.com

HERBAL HEALING AND THE MUSEUM OF MAYAN MEDICINE

The Museum of Mayan Medicine is a curious place to say the very least. The staff seem very genuine, but it appears that funding has been uneven over the years and that is well reflected in the entire experience you'll have here.

Nevertheless, it is worth a visit as it seems to me to typify the great divide between western culture and many other cultures. On site there is a museum and a large herbal pharmacy. No English is spoken, so if you are buying herbs, you'll need to know the Spanish name for them.

HEALING BODY THERAPIES -- MASSAGE, REFLEXOLOGY, ACUPUNCTURE
Healing therapies of all kinds are very popular and widely available in San Cristobal. On the left is a photograph of a reflexologist working in a small shop on one of the most visited streets in the city.
SHOPPING
The quality of popular crafts overall in Mexico seem to have declined in quality over the last ten to twenty years, but there are some fine crafts stores in San Cristobal if you take a look around. One thing very popular in Chiapas is amber, so look for that as well.
 

CHURCHES
This is Mexico and, for good or ill, you are going to see many churches.

CONTRASTS
With recent political battles in the United States over taxing the wealthy many of us have become painfully more aware of the increasing disparity of wealth between rich and poor in the States and in many other countries around the world. In recent decades, Mexico made great strides in creating a thriving middle class often at the cost of an increasingly poverty stricken lower class. Now Mexico's middle class is struggling with the same economic difficulties that are encountered in today's modern world. In some parts of Mexico this is not evident, but in Chiapas the distance between the wealthy haves and the poor have nots is increasingly evident.
COMMENTARY ON CORN

I always take a farm fresh picked dozen ears of butter and sugar sweet corn home for the 4th. Shucked and boiled for a few minutes, slathered with fresh butter and served up with a lobster or maybe a hot dog fresh off the grill -- heaven on earth! Now and then all summer fresh corn will be enjoyed across the United States.

But corn is a daily staple in many other countries. Dried and ground it is most commonly found made into fresh tortillas, but it is an essential ingredient in tamales, soups and stews.

As you can see in the photograph on the left, Mexico prizes all sorts of corn as it has supported its people for thousands of years and still does today, but at an increasingly burdensome cost.

As we drive our SUV's up to the pump and fill our tanks, 10% of the fuel is derived directly from corn, the corn that used to be food for millions of people who have few affordable alternatives.

While we believe we are being "green" supporting energy independence, Mexicans, Latin Americans and others look on in hunger seeing us put ears of corn into our gas tanks while the price of their tortillas grows ever more out of reach.

We have lived in Mexico and now in Guatemala and have experienced this distortion of values first hand. Food for the poor vs. fuel for the SUV's. Its our choice now. We have the power to decide who will be hungry.

SAN CRISTOBAL ESSENTIALS

FOOD

Comida Thai, Real de Guadalupe #84

El Horno Magico, French Bakery, Av. General Utrulia #7

PLACES TO VISIT

Museo de la Medicina Maya, Clz. Solomón Blanco #10, Col. Morelos
Tel/Fax: 01 (967) 678-5438
Website: MedicinaMaya.org
Email: [email protected]
Entrance fee: $40 Pesos (2012) per person

Orquideas Moxviquil, Periferico Norte #4, Ojo de Agua
Tel: 52 (96) 678-5727
Open: Seven days a week from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Website: www.orchidsmexico.com
Email: [email protected]
Entrance fee:
$30 Pesos (2012) per person

PHARMACY

Farmacias Bios, Julio M. Corzo #3-6 Santa Lucia
Tel: 678-8888
Less expensive and more accommodating than other pharmacies in town, this one won a good deal of our business, especially when we were buying medicines to bring back home to Guatemala, medicines that are unavailable there.

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