The Struggle Goes On
San Cristobal de las Casas is a beautiful old colonial city at 2120 meters (approximately 7,000 feet) in elevation in the mountains of Chaipis. Once the Capital of the State of Chiapas, when it was under Guatemalan rule, it may still have been but for its reluctance at first to join union with Mexico. In 1892 it fell out of favor with the powers of the day and the capital was moved to neighboring Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
The indigenous people of Chiapas are among the poorest in Mexico. The Zapatista uprising occurred when seven towns in Chiapas were seized on the first of January 1994, of which San Cristobal de las Casas was the prime target. It was no coincidence that the uprising was timed to coincide with the beginning of NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) because the local indigenous populace felt that the treaty would destroy their way of life by allowing cheap American corn to flood the market. It was also their concern that the Genetically Modified strains would cause the extinction of many types of indigenous maize. As the treaty went into effect, the market for locally grown corn did collapse, while prices in the stores rose.
The revolution didn't last long. The government brutally put down the uprising. 15,000 troops poured into Chiapas, helicopter gunships attacked native villages killing 150 people and the Zapatistas melted back into the rainforests from whence they had emerged.
Now, Zapatista dolls, faces covered and dressed in black, are made and sold to tourists by the indigenous tribes on the streets and in the markets of Chaipis. It seems to have become a fashion, much like the sale of mugs and t-shirts with the face of Che Guevara has, and you can't help but wonder if the purchasers have any idea of the struggle behind the image or if they even care.
So, now San Cristobal de las Casas has become the home to many artesians, bohemians, and craftsmen as well as the indigenous population. Thousands of visitors per year are attracted to the fresh mountain air, stunning views and colonial structures. Many streets are stone or cobblestone and the sidewalks are tall enough to accomodate heavy rains, but extremely narrow.
It was winter but I never felt I needed anything more than a jacket while I was here. I stayed at the Backpackers Hostle where, behind the big wooden doors, there was sanctuary in a wonderful grass lined courtyard complete with fire ring and communal kitchen. I met many great people there.
One of the best meals I've ever had was on the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas where a taco cart enticed me with the fresh aroma of grilling beef, chicken and pork. Three men were working the stand: one at the grill, another chopping fresh cilantro, onions, tomatoes, peppers and such and the third was handling the money. Three of those lovelies on a bed of fresh tortillas only unleashed my desire, so I ordered two more, slathered them up with three kinds of salsa and went back to gastronomical heaven. Total cost: 10 pesos, the equivalent of $1 US !!!!
I was expecting San Cristobal de las Casas to be much smaller and more adventurous due to it's revolutionary history, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and would recommend it to anyone.