Diana’s trip to Chiapas:

My friend Betsy from Fresno has come to Oaxaca every year for the past 5 or so years. This year she wanted to also visit San Cristobal and other parts of Chiapas. One day, sitting in the Zócalo she mentioned having made an expensive agreement with Tomás, a tour guide she had frequently used in the past, who agreed to drive her and Bertha, a Oaxaca friend, for the week. He had a Suburban, and I agreed: that is, I offered to go with them – if she was willing to have me – and share a third of the cost. Betsy was very pleased.

I had not been to Chiapas for many years, and I was packed and ready to leave when they picked me up on Monday, 2:30 in the afternoon. Our first stop was Rancho Zapata, a restaurant and mescal (Beneva) factory on the road to Mitla, just before Tlacolula. We stopped there for comida.

[These guys hang out on the front patio.]

We went via route 190, which is part of the Carretera Internacionál (international highway, otherwise known as the Al-Can Highway, which stretches from Alaska to Central America). Now, there are also numerous signs designated it as Ruta 2010 in honor of the bi-centenial (Independence from Spain, 1810 / Centenial (Mexican Revolution) 1910) year. It has been widened and repaved, but shortly after the mezcal-producing town of Matitlán, the new road gives out as the old road snakes its way over mountains, almost all the way to Tehuantepec.

We were headed for Juchitán to stay the night. We bedded down at a cheap hotel a couple of blocks from the Zócalo. Bertha and I walked to the Zócalo. There was not much else to see and do. It was already about 9 at night and dark. But there was a lit-up statue adjacent to the Kiosko.

Tues. morning, after a quick breakfast, we continued. The highway took us through La Ventosa and miles of wind machines on both sides of the road. I estimate the drive through that area lasted 10 plus minutes, never without a view of propellers spinning merrily along.

[Stan: There is a lot of controversy surrounding the development of “wind farms” in this area. Some is ecological, as migrating birds, which have used this “flyway” for centuries, are getting chewed up in the blades of the wind generators; but the majority of the conflict centers around allegations of fraud and coercion in gaining access to the land, by agents of the foreign corporations that have the concessions to build the devices; and claims that local residents were promised more and lower priced electricity when in fact almost all of the units deliver all their output to large Mexican corporations like Bimbo, Cemex and Walmart.]

There was a sign on the road which, unfortunately, I was not able to photograph. With a picture of an Iguana, there was a warning to the motorists: “Reptile Crossing”. I liked that!

Tomás continued south, and I noticed that we had changed to Highway 200, the coastal route, heading for the next stop, Chapa de Corso, in Chiapas. We had lunch there, directly on the waterfront. Unfortunately the mariachis were playing, loudly, near to where we sat to eat and the food was fair to lousy. It was mid-afternoon, and too late to take the boat ride up the Sumidero Canyon; and we were concerned about getting to San Cristobal las Casas at a reasonable hour in order to get a decent hotel, and that is what we did.

[Ceremonial hats from various of the many branches of the Mayan tree of indigenous peoples in the highlands of Chiapas, on display in the hotel dining room.]

So our next stop was Sn Cristobal, and we did find a 4 star hotel within 2 or 3 blocks of the Zócalo, with a room for three and a parking lot for the van. Betsy, on reading a tourist book , chose a restaurant that had continental food and a fireplace. That is where we went and where we all enjoyed the food. I ordered the Greek plate with spinach pie, potatoes, hummus and Greek salad. The restaurant was owned by an American living in Chiapas. The menu also had Lebanese, Italian, and Mexican items.

[Stan: when I first came to Chiapas, there were only ceramic doves for sale, and ceramic jaguars, and only in muted tones. Now, there are ceramic roosters, brightly colored. This one is in the hotel patio.]

Now we had 2 days to see the city and some of the surrounding towns. After breakfast at the hotel, we went to the Plaza and walked down the Ándador (walking street). It didn’t exist when I was in San Cristobal years ago. It was narrow, with many restaurants and artesenia stores on both sides, and it led directly to a huge outdoor, mostly indigenous, market. The market was big and colorful but most of the booths contained the same textiles, from both Chiapas and Guatemala. There was also a plethora of beads made into bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. I bought two coasters that were woven and very pretty.

The next day, after another hotel breakfast, Tomás got the car and we drove to San Juan Chamula. I hadn’t been there in years, and that too has changed. There were more tourists, and the large open space in front of the church seemed cleaner and busier with peddlers, mostly young girls, who tenatiously followed you and tried to sell you the proverbial beaded necklaces, and woven belts. We did enter the church, which cost 20 pesos for a ticket. It still is sans pews, but with green fresh pine needles covering the floor and many, many people kneeling in front of burning ‘cake’ candles, or busily lighting more as they mumbled prayers. It was a depressing sight even without hearing their problems. No pictures are allowed within the church but outside was okay including the vendors and the views of the surrounding buildings.

We then got back in the car and drove to Zinacantán. There we paid another 20 pesos to get into the town, see the church, or whatever one wanted. The church was similar to the one in Chamula, with an abundance of candles, but there were a few pews and it was decorated with many bouquets of flowers, and tables with candle holders, albeit the floor was still used too. When we exited, we were approached by a couple of older indigenous girls who wanted us to choose one of them and follow her to what we thought was a place making posh, the mildly alcoholic drink of the indigenous in Chiapas; but it was another market for textiles, this time in someone’s private house.

[Selling small purses, in front of the steps leading from the square to the market in Zinicantan. She is blind…]

It was time to eat. Having returned to San Cristobal, we chose the Zapatista restaurant. It was called Tierra Adentro. We liked the atmosphere and feeling politically correct we even returned the next day. Although some of the food was good, like the fish comidas, and the lentil soup, other plates, like the pasta, were disappointing. The decorations and the posters inside the large atrium that was the restaurant were nicely done. There were stores with tourist stuff around the restaurant. Business appeared to be good. That’s it, pictured below.

Friday, we started back to Oaxaca after breakfast. The road to Tuxtla was mountainous witih intermittent low clouds but, when clear, great views. We went to the Zócalo in Tuxla to find that it was market day but it was a nice walk and we bought beaded work that seemed a bit unique. We also took pictures of the church and some of the people milling around it. Back on the road, with a stop for food whose only merit was its availability, we arrived back in Oaxaca about 9 pm. It is a long ride, and the S curves en route to Mitla seemed interminable. If Chiapas was only closer or I wanted to pay the expensive air fare, I would go again. However, the evenings are cold. This time of the year, November, it was tolerable. I don’t recommend travel to San Cristobal in the winter months.

AMLO wins, Ebrard accedes:

Once again, I am pleased to announce that my skepticism appears to have been unwarranted.

In the last Newsletter, I inferred that  neither Andres Manuel López Obrador(AMLO) nor Marcello Ebrard would be likely to abide by the results of the poll taken earlier this month, both of them being too ambitious and egocentric.

AMLO was the winner of the 2006 presidential election, but had his victory stolen in the counting house by “illegitmate” president Felipe Calderón.  Since then, he has been tirelessly criss-crossing the country, going from town to town (very few big-city appearances); Ebrard is the mayor / governor of the Federal District, an office which he has held since AMLO chose him as his successor in that position in 2005.

[The church in San Juan Chamula]

The results are in.  AMLO was favored to satisfy three of the five questions put to the people.  Ebrard immediately stopped campaigning for the presidency and threw his entire weight behind his rival.   While Ebrard’s popularity is declining, he still is a formidable ally, sitting as he does in the middle of Mexico’s most densely populated capital city.

There are many more choice points to come, and much is left to sort out in what promises to be a hard-fought  road to the June election.  The PRD, which nominated AMLO in 2006, is in shambles, mostly as a result of internal fighting over the reduced share of the spoils that followed in the wake of that contest; and because of a division in the party between those who see themselves as guardians of the old Cárdenas socialist  principles, and those – now in control – whom they see as opportunists.  Since 2006, the current PRD leadership has turned its back on AMLO, accusing him being responsible for their losses instead of dealing with the corrupt  practices both within and without the party.

[The hills above Chamula.]

Envisioning a divided, hostile and cannibalistic PRD, AMLO had been building a movement outside the party structure, which in it’s Spanish acronym is MORENA (which, as a word, is a brown-skinned woman).  Until a few days ago, nobody knew if he would attept to bring it into the PRD or not.  Normally, an established party is advantageous for a candidate, but the PRD has been on a long losing streak, culminating earlier this month with a trouncing in the elections for Governor, the large-city Mayors , and delegates to the state and national legislators (many states hold their elections in “off years”) in the Cardenista bastion of Michoacan.

In a surprise move, the leadership of the PRD held a press conference yesterday. They actually pledged “love and peace” for AMLO – literally – and made him their candidate. Now it remains to be seen if the many defectors from the PRD that have already pledged their fealty to AMLO will be able to stomach the “new” party, fulfilling AMLO’s vision for a united Left…

The general “wisdom” is that the PRI will return to the presidency, in the person of Enrique Peña Nieto, the ex-governor of the state of Mexico.  Mexico state is the traditional home of the “dinosaurs”, a group of  PRI apparatchiks that is said to be currently headed by much-reviled master-manipulator Carlos Salinas Gortari, and the largest state in the union.  He certainly does appear to be the man to beat in 2006.  The PRI has become even more tight-knit than it has been.  Party discipline, flowing as it always has, for the top down, just manifested itself a few days ago, when – coincidentally (?) – shortly after Ebrard pledged his fealty to AMLO, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, current party leader in the national House, renounced his own candidacy for the PRI nomination and endorsed Peña.


***IOHIO, the local organization that restores and promotes the playing of Oaxaca’s organs, has announced its upcoming Music Festival, to take place in February.  Lots to see, do, and listen to.  For a complete schedule, click here.

***In the last Newsletter, we provided a link to a page of kitchen terms and food names translated into English. By popular demand, we have lifted it from its original web site, and put in our “frequently asked questions” page. You can view it here.

[The view through our bedroom window, into the service patio. What a delight to wake up in the morning and gaze upon yet another of Diana’s works of art.]

***Close the doors, they’re coming in the windows: Ever inventive, and never sleeping, the elements involved in importing armaments into Mexico are now supplementing the downward route from the U.S. with a new “up from Guatemala” inflow. To see some of the details, check out the original article from Insight.