The Urban Wanderer

Crossing Borders ~ Bridging Cultures ~ Traveling Responsibly

Checkstops, Chiapas and Churches

This post is originally from February 15, 2023

I have a love/hate relationship with traveling by road. My love for it is that I get to see so much of the country. I love passing through towns and villages, but also the valleys and countryside is often magnificent too. The downside is the fact that I get car-sick far too often. To prevent any episodes of getting sick I always pop a pill before we get on the road. I have even gone as far as having my friend from the America send me anti nausea medication that’s less drowsy, since all that’s available in Canada could knock you for a loop. Needless to say my days spent on the road I’m slightly drugged and not all that quite there. 

Our 6 hour drive from Palenque to San Cristobal de las Casas had a bit of excitement along the way as we were stopped twice by a group of menacing looking local men. What they do is they have a wooden board that is full of nails and lay it across the road. Then, they all swarm the vehicle and demand money. Apparently this is a common occurance and the reason for groups to do their traffic stop varies. The reason for the first stop was that one of their relatives died and they needed money for the funeral. At first they only asked for 50 Pesos but when they thought our guide tried to take a photo (which she didn’t) a big arguement errupted and they upped the price to 300 pesos. Once we paid, they removed the wooden board and off we went. 

Later in the drive we came across another group of men.  This time they wanted money to help find two men who have disappeared while fighting the Mexican government. This group is the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, often referred to as the Zapatistas. They’re a far-left political and militant group that controls a substantial amount of territory in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico. Since 1994, the group has been  fighting the Mexican government. The Zapatistas have been fighting for the rights of the indigenous communities in the Chiapas region. Chiapas has 1.1 million indigenous people and many report having very little to no income at all (42% make less than $5/day). Throughout Mexican history the Chiapas Indigenous Peoples have been left out of government decision-making as well as from having basic human rights such as education and healthcare. This traffic stop was to raise money to either try to find these men or pay for their funerals. Not understanding Spanish, the whole interaction was quite confusing as it sounded like a lot of negotiation from our driver and the men outside. Once again, as soon as we handed over some cash we were free to go on our merry way. 

San Cristobal de las Casas is an incredibly unique and charming city. There are so many lovely shops and restaurants and around every corner there’s a mural adorning the walls. By day there are markets with artisans selling their gorgeous Mexican goods, and by night musicians play in the streets and the town comes to life. It’s such an interesting place that instead of going to visit the canyons nearby we opted to stay in the city and do a walking tour today. 

On our walking tour we zigzagged through the streets, visiting intricately carved churches and exploring the orderly chaos of the markets. The food market was mostly locals and we were told it was forbidden to bring out our cameras. The fruit and veggies were exploding in colours and they were placed so perfectly on the tables that the designs were like a work of art. The meat section was another story. Pig heads and hooves everywhere, I tried to just walk as fast as I could. 

We stopped for local coffee, lemon water with chia seeds and pox – the local alcohol made with corn and mixed with cocoa. During our tour we had a tag-along by a furry local. It was quite cute because this local dog named Poncho recognized our guide. He followed us wherever we went and waited for us when we were in the markets. He became quite protective of us and when anyone else walked past us, he barked at them ferociously. We literally had to make a circle around Poncho whenever someone would pass in order to keep him calm. 

Our guide did tell us an interesting story. She said that Coca-Cola has become quite a problem for the locals as some drink up to 3 Liters per day. She said thar in some communities water is incredibly scarce and it costs more for bottled water than Coke. This is another reason for the Zapatistas to fight for their communities. 

Tomorrow we will leave Mexico and head into Guatemala. I feel incredibly grateful to have seen all that we have so far. Mexico has defintiely surpassed my expectations! 

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