Chiapas, Mexico: San Cristobal, Mountain Town — Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

So here I am, without Amy, touring San Cristobal. According to the guidebook, for my own safety, I shouldn’t leave the center of San Cristobal. Gringos are easy to spot and often get mugged, sometimes putting their lives at risk. As long as I have a tour guide, though, I should be safe enough. Rather than traveling with a tour group, I want to find a guide who will take me on alone for the day so I can see some of the more unusual things in and around the city. I’m here for research, not tourism.

The city center is, like other places in Mexico, an interesting blend of old and modern. Colonial-era buildings are prevalent here, since the city was taken over by the Spanish when they conquered the rest of the area. Some of the buildings date back to the 1600s, including several churches. One of them, the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, was completed in 1560. As with many parts of Mexico, religion is important in San Cristobal; in addition to the church in the city center, another church includes an arch that essentially forms a gateway into the city, and still another has steps leading to a tower where you can see some amazing views.

In addition to the centuries-old buildings, an aspect of life before the Spanish conquest also remains in San Cristobal. Some of the natives still speak the Indian language that existed here long before Spanish was introduced as a language. In that language, the name of the city is Jovel. Some of the indigenous customs are still practiced too, and Indians in the area today survive by practicing agriculture as their ancestors did.

Although the main cathedral is one of the oldest structures in the city, when I visited San Cristobal, I saw something very modern in front of the cathedral. A large Christmas tree blocked part of the front of the church, and Santa Claus sat there waiting for children to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. Apparently commercialization of the holiday happens even here, where there’s a heavy focus on the religious aspect of Christmas.

In addition to Santa and the Christmas tree, one of the most blatant examples of modern life in San Cristobal is the Coca-Cola logo, which seems to be everywhere. I’ve seen it in the other parts of Mexico I’ve visited, but it seems particularly out of place in this remote setting. Coca-Cola is even the sponsor of Santa and the tree!

Johnny Monsarrat: This is the main square of San
This is the main square of San Cristobal. All the chairs and tables say 'Coca-Cola'. As you go further into remote areas, the last American cultural icons to persist are Bugs Bunny cartoon characters, and finally, only Coca-Cola remains. They must have a very persistent marketing budget.
Johnny Monsarrat: Shoeshiner. Spot the Coca-Cola
Shoeshiner. Spot the Coca-Cola.
Johnny Monsarrat: Off to one side is the main ca
Off to one side is the main cathedral, with a Mayan-style huge wooden cross in front. Here's some eerie imagery. Blocking the church is a USA-style Christmas tree, where kids come to sit in Santa's lap. The entire thing is sponsored by (you guessed it) Coca-Cola. Business blotting out Culture, both in this photo, and literally.
Johnny Monsarrat: Isn't this church great?
Isn't this church great?
Johnny Monsarrat: Indians come to San Cristobal
Indians come to San Cristobal by bus to sell handcrafts to the tourists. I bought some little 'Subcommander Marcos' dolls from the little girl. Marcos is the leader of the revolutionary movement. Can you spot the baby?
Johnny Monsarrat: There's lots of amber around h
There's lots of amber around here, and this guy wanted me to buy 'ambar con insectos' -- amber with insects embedded! Yuck! Instead, I offered him 5 pesos if I can take a photo. He holds out for 10 pesos. Merchants are very pushy here. Some little girls kept chasing me no matter how much I said, 'No, gracias!'. Of course I gave in and bought something. 🙂

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