Enchiladas verdes - Mexico 2005

Travel time: October / November 2005  |  by Daniela Dohmen

Mayaland 18.10.05

The weather got a bit cooler this morning. We are still high in the mountains, of course. We´re wearing long sleeves at the moment but it is actually rather nice not to have the sun burning down on you. I noticed on TV that another hurricane is dashing into the general direction of Florida and that it *might* hit the northern tip of the Yucatan. We are still about a thousand miles away from that area and it does not seem that we will come close anytime soon. So, no worries, we´re fine.

This morning we did an extraordinary tour. Silke´s travel book had recommended to find two Mexican guys named Alex and Raul and take a tour with them to two Maya communities nearby. Her book even said where to find them around 9 a.m. at one of the cathedrals. So we did and Alex told us to meet him "at the cross in front of the cathedral" at 9.30 a.m. We were a small group with a few Americans, a German couple and one from Israel.

I don´t know what I expected - maybe people living in colourful tents with no modern technology. We parked the small tour bus and walked the rest of the way into the village which turned out to host about 8,000 inhabitants. The walk into the village was already interesting and Alex pointed out a lot of facts and told us quite firmly not to take any photos unless we asked for permission first. The community we visited was the tribe of the Chomulas. They have their own language and own authorities and land. Mexican law is not respected at all. Still walking by huge fields of corn and beans, Alex continued to explain that it was a tight-knit community and there was no "inter-racial" contact with other tribes, races or Mexican people. Of course, the Chomula go to work here in San Cristobal de las Casas but they marry only people from their own community.

Before we reached the actual village we learned that the average salary per day for these people is 40 pesos, which is a bit less than 4 euro. Can you imagine that? So, they depend on selling their arts and crafts on the mercados (markets). In Mexico, tourism is the 3rd most important income. The items you buy in the Maya villages are authentic and when you buy it you support that particular seller and not some whole-sale company. The money goes directly to the family. A good thing to know because later when we had a bit of time on one of the mercados in the village I bought a beautiful curry-coloured jacket with red/green/blue stitching on front and back. We learned also that it takes about three weeks to make a "poncho" and I do not want to know how long it took to make my jacket.

When we finally reached the village I was surprised to find real houses made of cement or adobe and cars and phone lines. There are certainly differences between "rich", "richer" and "poor" and "poorer", like everwhere else. Alex showed us one house where a family lived that had the franchise rights to Pepsi Cola and it was a rather big house with garden - however, still nothing compared to a Beverly Hills mansion.

Speaking of Pepsi, the Maya people rely on sponsors, so you find school yard or playgrounds with the respective sign of a brand. Pepsi, Sprite, stuff like this. These sodas, btw, also play an important role in their religious beliefs. More about that later. Remind me, if I forget.

Alex seemed to know many people in the village because many greeted him, some hugged him. I´m sure it was about making money for him, too, but it didn´t come across that way. He paid the "entry fee" for the church (for us as foreign people).

I have visited many churches but I can easily say that I have never seen such an amazing place like the Maya church we visited today. When we entered there was pine tree branches on the ground, a holy symbol for the Chomula. Colourful curtains going from one side to the other decorated the ceiling. On the left-hand side of the church there were many Catholic holy people although the Chomula do not really give a damn about the Catholic church. The altar was decorated in the same fashion. There was no priest (they don´t have one; only for baptism one comes from for away). There were no chairs or benches in this church. Instead, people sat on the floor and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of candles burning. Every person could bring their own candles, put them on the ground and lit it. Alex told us that each and every one person came here to pray for themselves, talk to "God" and do not mind the other´s business. There was also alcohol, a schnaps called "posh", and Pepsi cola. Part of their belief is that after you pray and talk to "God", you drink something that bubbles so that you can burb - this is considered a cleansing.

There were also shamans / healers and Alex told us a bit about their tradition. Oh! Part of the reason why you are not allowed to take photos is that the Chomulas are arrived you would take away their "animal soul", yes, their animal spirit. So, if somebody feels sick, they go to the healers first to see if something is wrong with the animal soul. Sometimes they even sacrifice live chicken because they believe - after rubbing the chicken over your body - with its death the sickness of your animal soul will leave. It is quite common to kill chicken in that church.

We then were allowed to visit the house of a Majordomo, who was the guardian of one of the holy figures in the church. (One Majordomo for each figure). It was a rather "run-down" housem, very dark, with pines tree branches on the floor. He was burning ... this smelly stuff... no sage but insence? I do not know how to spell it. Sorry. Also we got a taste of that posh schnaps. Silke liked it, I didn´t. No surprise

After roaming the mercado (and buying a strange looking fruit and a little figurine in the shape of a giraffe), we met at our meeting point and went to see the next village. It was similar to the Chamula village but the people were not as shy and their church had a priest.

Alex took us to a Mayan house where we could watch (and take photos) of a woman weaving a carpet. Not with a machine, of course, but by hand. She did not even have a loom but did it totally by hand. Threading one yarn string through, pressing down hard with a piece of wood and then the next string. I´ve never seen anthing like this and I really do appreicate even more the very little money I paid for my colourful jacket.

Inside the house another woman was making black tortillas for us. Alex told us that they tasted way better than the "Texmex" stuff they serve tourist. She made them by hand, too. There was a big fireplace (open fire!) and a squeezing machine (although it was *not* a machine) to flatten the corn cornmeal. She made tortillas for all of us - with pumpkin seeds - and they tasted delicious! Again, we were allowed to take photos (Silke and I asked Alex if we could leave some money for the food we ate and it was ok and no insult).

The tour ended around 2.30 p.m. - and my report is over now too. We´re hungry! No surprise either.

© Daniela Dohmen, 2007
You are here : Overview The Americas Mexico Mayaland 18.10.05
The trip
2 girls, 1 car, 4 weeks and 5000 kilometres
Start of journey: Oct 09, 2005
Duration: 4 weeks
End of journey: Nov 05, 2005
Travelled countries: Mexico
The Author
Daniela Dohmen is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 14 years.