March 10, 2016: Thankfully, there’s a lot more going on in San Cris (as the local hipsters call it) than auto repair.
San Cris is a colonial city, “founded” by the Spanish in 1528 (probably to the inconvenience of those already living there). It’s in the mountains at about 7200 feet, so we have exchanged shorts and sandals for jeans and long sleeves for the time being. Even sweaters and jackets at night. It’s almost like it’s winter or something.
Twenty years ago when we were here, San Cristóbal was a remote mountain town. It was an out of the way destination with relatively untouched Spanish colonial architecture set set in a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by pine forests, and featuring a unique density of traditional Mayan peoples coming into town from various outlying villages to trade.
Today, the city is home to over 200,000 people, and is vastly more cosmopolitan and prosperous, yet the architecture and the setting remain stunning, and the prevalence of Mayan culture has, if anything, increased.
As is typical with Spanish colonial architecture, most of the buildings have relatively plain facades, but open into courtyards providing pleasant oases from the city outside. For a quite modest example, here’s the building where we’re staying:
And that plain facade opens into this courtyard:
And our apartment:
Walking down the streets, you wonder what lies beyond the walls. Sometimes the facade tells you plainly who you’ll find inside.
But usually you’re left to wonder what’s behind the walls. Trees hint at beautiful gardens:
But you occasionally get glimpses into the private spaces in which the locals live:
Commercial buildings, such as restaurants, bars, even stores and museums, take full advantage of the colonial courtyard layout, and a temperate climate where a mix of indoor and outdoor only needs an occasional heater to be pleasant year round. There are no screens here. There isn’t a need.
Chiapas is home to a large number of indigenous groups sharing much common culture, but also having unique customs, language and characteristic wardrobes. You can see representatives from these groups in San Cris. They come to town to do business and the women are all wearing traditional clothing.
These groups create a big tourist draw, as people flock to the artisan market. This has become a much bigger draw than when we were first here in 1995. Then, the market consisted of just a few vendors outside the Santo Domingo church with goods set up on the ground. Now, the entire area around Santo Domingo is covered with tents rows deep.
Same sidewalk, 2016:
Front of church, 1995:
Front of church today:
Side of church 1995:
Side of church today:
The pictures don’t really show just how much area the market covers today.
While the main draw is textiles, there is also leather and jewelry, predominately amber, which is abundant in the area.
By the way, Michael’s sister Erika has an Etsy store specializing in vintage western wear, El Camino Vintage (or she’ll show you stuff in person by private appointment if you’re in MN), which is very cool in it’s own right. But soon it will add a small selection of items from this market, and hopefully in the future, some other Mexican markets we happen upon, so check it out.
The sights and sounds of San Cris are an interesting mix of old and new.
We don’t know if it’s the strong Mayan influence, the influx of hippy expats or some combination of the two, but there’s a lot of alternative medicine here. Stores like this one, selling botanicals, are all over.
You can also find folks who do aromatherapy, crystal therapy, will read your tarot cards and perform any other number of dubious new age and/or quasi-traditional remedies and treatments.
The city’s sounds include a lot of street musicians, some good, some not.
There’s also a lot of sound here coming from vendors on the street. These include home delivery services for gas and water. The gas trucks have chains suspending steel rings which make a distinctive clanging noise as they drive around.
And there are a few different companies that deliver water (Mexicans don’t drink tap water), each playing a distinctive song. We pity the driver who has to listen to “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” all day.
The vendors usually drive by twice, so you can come out and stop them on the second pass.
Remember all the car repair we talked about last time? Because of the location of the repair shop, we spent a lot of time in proximity to a Bodega Aurrera. Think Sam’s Club (it’s owned by Wal-Mart) where you can buy things in normal quantities. At about 10 one morning, soon after entering the store, the emergency siren went off and were told by employees that we had to go outside. We did, with items for purchase in hand, and stood in the parking lot in front of the store with all the employees for a half hour while a fire drill took place. Management photographed the event and local emergency officials showed up. In fact those officials took full advantage of the situation, giving a 15-minute speech about fire safety.
There’s also lots of good food here that we will talk more about later. But we couldn’t resist including this one:
And of course there are lots of dogs like this one who would be happy to be our friends.
But this one, not so much. He barks at us every time we walk by.
San Cristóbal has a really nice selection of things to do, especially considering the town’s size. There are several museums, tons of bars and restaurants, live music everywhere and to our delight, a burgeoning craft beer scene. We will talk about all of this in more detail in coming posts.
And because of all of this, pretty soon after our arrival on February 20, we decided that one week here wasn’t enough, so we added another two weeks to our stay. We will end up staying through March 15th, a record stint for us on this adventure. Meanwhile, our house is resting comfortably and safely in a local trailer park/parking lot.
Stay tuned for more about our adventures in San Cris.