Mexico: indigenous cultures, Maya ruins and cool off in cenotes
Chamula and the church Templo de San Juan
Chamula is an independent and autonomous Tzotzil community located 10 km outside of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas. The inhabitants live according to their own laws and traditions, for example, they still live polygamous. The Tzotzil strictly defend their culture and religion against outside influences and have retained much of their culture despite the oppression of the Catholic Church and the Spanish.
Family members, almost every woman has 6 to 8 children, are involved very early in the daily work, including weaving. They live together in small houses. There is no compulsory school attendance.
There is no hotel in town and at nightfall tourists and other foreigners have to leave the city! Women who marry a man from out-of-ton have to leave San Juan - but in the opposite case men may stay if they marry a woman who is not a resident.
The church Templo de San Juan is the heart of the community. From the outside it looks like other catholic churches. Unfortunately, one is not allowed to take pictures from the inside. In the church, Christian saints are worshipped, but at the same time traditional rituals are performed. By entering the church, one gets the smell of incense, essential oils and thousands of burning candles into your nose. Pine needles are spread out on the stone floor, which are replaced every three days due to fire hazard. There are no benches and along the length of the church but there are glass cases with saints. The figures all have a small mirror around their neck. In the faith of the Indians the figure absorbs up a part of the soul through the mirror. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to take pictures of these figures. This would be tantamount to stealing the soul.
All over the floor small groups of people sit around lighted candles. Each group is attended by a shaman, who mumbles something to himself. Coca-Cola or Fanta is drunk to make it easier to burp and this is to drive out evil. Chickens are sacrificed. In a ritual the shaman circles the chicken twice over the candles, strokes it over the body of the owner and then briefly and painlessly twists its neck. Only if the chicken has no "damage" it is edible and "good!" We enjoyed the very special atmosphere in this church.
"We wonder how the Pope would react to that kind of Catholic?"
Flamingos of Celestun
Celestun is a fishing village located about 90km west of Merida on the Gulf of Mexico. Our starting point in the village was Villas de Mar with camping possibility, because here a tour with Tuk-Tuk to the flamingos is offered.
Between estuaries and lagoons surrounded by mangrove forests live here, depending on the season up to 30,000 pink flamingos. The frail-looking birds strut in the shallow water searching of food. The feathers of the flamingos are originally white and only by ingesting small crustaceans, which contain the dye carotenoids, they get the typical pink color.
Along the almost deserted beach at the village you see too much garbage - plastic bags washed up by the sea and which nobody clears away - ruins of buildings, abandoned restaurants, hotel buildings never finished - from times when people hopefully thought that Celestún might one day attract as many tourists as other places in Yucatán.
Jipijapa - PANAMA HATS
For more than 100 years, the hat production of the village Bécal has been the most important economic activity. Jipijapas (hats) are known outside of Mexico as a panama hut.
In Bécal almost every second family lives from the hat production. The raw material, the jipi palm, is planted by most of the producers themselves. The leaves are split and boiled with sulphur to bleach them. Almost every house has a cave in the garden, which is carved directly into the limestone. Only in the damp, cool cellars the jipi fibres are soft and elastic enough to weave it. The finished wickerwork is then pre-formed in a special hat press.
The last time we bought Panama hats in Ecuador was in December 2009. Now, after 10 years here in Mexico we have struck again and bought three different models.
Mayan ruins in Yucatán
Most of Yucatan is covered by rainforest and mountains are not found here.
Due to lack of funds, only a fraction of the known Mayan ruins had been excavated and restored from the jungle to date. Until today, they are many mysteries and myths about the way of life of the Maya. There are hardly any decoded traditions about how the former high culture of the Maya experienced its decline so suddenly.
Where it is still allowed, we climbed up some impressive Mayan pyramids. But we didn't visit the most famous ruins of Chichén Itzá because of traffic chaos, lack of parking at 09.00 am and hordes of tourists.
Cenotes, collapses in the limestone soil, huge drinking water reservoirs have played a vital role for every Mayan city and so it is not surprising that there is a cenote around almost every Mayan ruin. We visited some cenotes and stayed mostly away from the bathing fun because of screaming American groups.
Oh yes, here on Yucatán the foreigner pays more than 5 times for the entrance fee compared to the Mexicans. Maybe a little bit narly?