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San Cristobal de la Casas

January 24, 2012

San Cristobal de la Casas is an isolated mountain town that forms the centre point for the indigenous communities throughout the mountains.

Our first challenge on arriving in San Cristobal was to get to Rancho San Nicolas where we were going to camp for a couple of nights. The route that we had to get there involved going straight through the middle of town and we had met someone who had advised us not to go that way. He’d given us another way which avoided the smallest roads. We were halfway down this route when we got to a road that was completely dug up. We’d gone too far to turn round now so just ploughed on through and ended up on a small town road which led to the Campground – about a 15 minute walk from the centre of town.

Its worth knowing that there is a back way into Rancho San Nicolas which is on a big road and could take a vehicle over 30ft in length. The only downside is a about 200m of dirt road at the end – but it should be in decent condition. The turning from the main road is at N16 42.751 W92 37.086. Follow this road until N16 43.975 W92 37.153 where you turn right down the dirt road. (Google Earth shows the route really clearly). This is the one remaining campground in town – others that we met had got stuck right in the middle of town trying to find another !

At Rancho San Nicolas we bumped into Nancy & Drew, 2 canadians, we had previously met in Patzcuaro. They filled us in a bit on the local scene !

We decided to stay for two days in San Cristobal – not least because of the nice climate of hot days and cool nights.  That’s what you get at over 2000m.

San Cristobal feels a lot like San Miguel de Allende but somehow feels more authentic – there are less tourists here and there are a lot of indigenous people on the streets and particularly in the market. There are the usual selection of churches in San Cristobal.

There is one old church that stands out (the Templo de Santo Domingo Guzman). The inside is incredibly ornate and covered in gold. In the dim light inside it looks like the whole of the church is made from solid gold.

There is one church that stands on hill to one side of the town and is accessed by a steep flight of stairs. We climbed the stairs for the view only to realise at the top that the church is ringed by trees and you can’t see the town at all !

There is a really big market in San Cristobal (Mercado Joe Castillo Tielemans) in a network of small streets covered over with tarps. All the standard things like chicken, fruit etc are sold here but also more esoteric things like sheets of dried fish and cow’s faces. There were of course the obligatory  live chickens and turkeys. Lots of the people in market were the indigenous peoples from the surrounding mountain villages – the women wear brightly coloured tops and fluffy skirts while the men wear Panama hats and fluffy sheepskin ponchos !

San Cristobal is the central stronghold of the Zapatistas movement which is most famous for an uprising in 1994 where the town was seized by the rebels. They are less active these days but still in existence. At one market stall they were selling DVD’s of Zapatistas action – the cover showing men in Balaclava’s – a bit like buying The Best of the IRA in Oxford Street (If you could!).

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