After a hearty pancake breakfast (sin refried beans!!) we set off on the Zincantan and Chamula village tour. Neil warned us that our guide for the day (Cesar) does tend to go on a bit about the 7th Day Adventists that come to their village and try to convert the indigenous people, but the tour itself would be really interesting and not to take photos of any of the villagers unless asking first, as they feel quite superstitious about it.
We arrived at the first village where a Mayan tribe known as The Chamula live and the first thing we found was a funeral taking place. Surprising enough at the head of each grave was a cross, some were green, some blue, some yellow and some white. Apparently each colour denotes the age of the person buried there, ie child, adult or aged person. However the crosses were nothing to do with Christianity, the edges of each were rounded and represented North, South, East and West. The higher the mound on the grave, the more members of the family could be found buried beneath. (Graves would be dug up each time someone new was to be buried).
The indigenous people don't actually practise Chrisitianity, In fact there religion is a cross between their ancestors original religion and Catholicism, hence the church at the end of the graveyard. However, when we entered we were surprised to find all the pews had been removed, the ground was covered in pine needles (also placed on the graves) and lit candles. The villagers were gathered in groups on the floor, eating and drinking and praying silently to statues of various saints adorning the walls. And when I say drinking I mean either coca cola or Tequilla! (And that included the young children). I looked around and saw a lonesome chicken running around. Cesar told us that if there were any chickens it mean there was going to be a sacrifice and that because no blood was allowed to be shed in the church, the Shaman would hold it by the neck and ... He then began to describe in graphic detail how it's neck was to be rung - we all stared at him with horror struck faces!
After we recovered from the images of dead chickens circling around in our heads, we quietly left just as a procession of mourners entered - there are no actual funerals (or in fact weddings) allowed to take place inside the church, instead the crosses are brought inside, blessed then taken back out again.
Cesar took us to the main square and explained each of the buildings and how the leaders were chosen. Basically the villagers gather in the square in front of the main building, the representatives step out onto the balcony and step forward one at a time. If the villager likes that person they cheer, if not they boo and throw stones at them. One wonders if that may in fact be something we should introduce into our electoral system? Could solve a lot of problems from the start!?
In the picture below you will be able to see the shattered clock and panes of glass in the windows.
Cesar told us all about the Mormons that come to town regularly and try to convert the villagers, telling them their beliefs were false and how they will go to hell unless they converted, apparently thousands have done in the past and have since been ostracised by the rest of the villagers. Then we were taken to the Zinacantan village, here the people were happy to have their pictures taken.
The church here was completely different, there were pews, loads of flowers, no pine needles and NO chickens! (Outside was a sign saying that it was strictly forbidden to sacrifice chickens in the church!!)
Nearby was a Shamans house, we were allowed inside and Cesar took us through the rite and rituals of this tribe. It was particularly hard to concentrate for the most part as a special type of resin was being burnt in a bowl on the altar, in order to keep out evil spirits. The smoke was quite consuming and those of us that managed not to run outside in the middle of a coughing fit, remained teary eyed as we were offered a sip of the holy Tequilla! Then Cesar told us again all about the Mormons that come to town regularly and try to convert the villagers, telling them their beliefs were false and how they will go to hell unless they converted, apparently thousands have done in the past and have since been ostracised by the rest of the villagers!
Next stop was a local weavers house were we were invited to also sample some freshly made tortillas with ground pumpkin seed - may sound revolting but actually quite delicious.
Outside one of the local women sat weaving, hanging all around her were the most beautiful vibrant fabrics, all hand made and tempting to take home - if it weren't for the fact that my rucksack was already bulging with colourful bags bought in the market I probably would have come back with enough table cloths and mats to put John Lewis out of business!
Later on that afternoon, after we returned to the hotel, we went out to watch a short documentary about The Zapatista - a large guerrilla group who took control of San Christobal and four other municipalities in the state of Chiapas on New Years Day 1994. They were mainly indigenous people that wanted to put an end to the terrible treatment of the indigenous people in Mexico, such as starvation and dying from lack of water. The bloody battle continued for many years, only resulting in a small change but highlighting to the rest of the world the terrible corruption going on in the Mexican government.
I wouldn't say I found the film uplifting in any way, in fact quite the opposite. I left the cinema feeling disheartened and saddened; yet again proof of how cruel and greedy man can be. I wanted to go back to my hotel room and just be alone, but TC persuaded me otherwise and dragged me along to a local restaurant where we met up with the others, everyone was feeling quite solemn, but after a couple of Quesadillas, tortillas and various other corn based dishes we were back in holiday mode, laughing and joking. Next thing I knew we were at a bar where I was downing a hot chocolate made with Mescale! (Well I was cold) and by the end of the eve my 'NBF's' Anne and Heather (the Irish girls in our group) had nick named me Catherine Tate!!
Following morning (yes I had a nose bleed) we set off on our five hour coach journey to Palenque! All getting excited that we were finally going to a warmer climate.
We climbed on the bus laden down with a few snacks to keep us going until we got to our destination that afternoon, only to be told there was a blockade along the route where a political protest was taking place, so we would have to be re-routed. TC started to panic about not having enough food while I started to have a flash back to India where TC and I had got caught up in a political protest crossing the border from Kerala to Tamil Nadu, resulting in our 3 hour journey become 24 hours and a picture of me on page one of the local paper! But I was drawn out of my reverie when Neil informed us that our five hour journey was now going to last eight hours without any stops - now I started to panic about getting travel sick and TC continued to panic about not having enough food.
Then on top of that we were driving into the tail end of two cyclones that were on their way out of Palenque - two cyclones called ... Colin and Ian!
We survived the journey, TC didn't starve and I didn't throw up and that evening we stepped off the coach in Palenque. Colin and Ian had been and gone and left behind the sunshine. We all looked at each other and grinned as we started peeling off our layers of warm clothing, finally we were out of the cold!