Thursday, August 07, 2003
The NGO is Desarollo Economico Social de los Mexicanos Indigenes or DESMI, which in English stands for Economic and Social Development for Indigenus Mexicans. In the early 90's they broke off from the catholic church and now work in 16 communities in the state of Chiapas, helping develop collectives and offering small loans for community projects. They also offer support on Fair Trade issues and cooperatives.
They are funded primarily by international organizations like Oxfam and others. They accept no support from the Mexican government, although at one time they were approached by the state governor (Pablo Salazar) to work on a joint project. The project was later revealed to be an effort to divide the indigenous communities and was soon rejected both by the indigenous communities and DESMI.
In the afternoon, we attended a meeting with Amando Figueroa, lawyer, teacher and one time governor of the state of Chiapas, or at least he was elected governor by a majority of people in the state of Chiapas. Figueroa was supported by the Zapatistas and others had the election stolen from him and he narrowly escaped a government arranged assassination attempt.
It was truly amazing to get to meet this man who has been a critical part of the history of the Zapatistas since their public debut in 1994. In fact, Figueroa can be seen walking alongside Subcommandante Marcos in the first images captured by the national media. You can see his picture here. He was a charming and thoughtful man who has also drafted a proposed state constitution for Chiapas and another that would revamp the constitution of Mexico. It was remarkable to get to meet him, sitting in his home office.
He also extended the invitation that Marcos made to people all over the world to converge on the autonomous community of Oventik on the 8, 9 and 10th. We will be there.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
Then Cassie got sick.
That evening, a dinner was held at one of those oh-so-painfully hip vegetarian restaurants that are near the plaza. The dinner was arranged by the tour group for all the members of the tour to meet. Cassie complained of stomach pains and nausea and had to leave before the entrees were served. I walked her back to the hotel and then went back for my dinner. It was a difficult night for both of us, but far worse for her.
8/3/03 San Cristobal After breakfast, we reviewed the itinerary for the next 10 days or so. The most notable point of all of this is that the Zapatista rebels have declared that on August 8, 9 and 10 they will be throwing a party for the entire world to celebrate their transition from a miltary governement to a civil one. This marks a pretty crazy time for a number of reasons, but most importantly, they have announced that all the rebel leaders will be in attendance at the party, which will feature music, dancing and a basketball tournament in the autonomous community of Oventik, in the jungle. Also, the rebels have announced that they are breaking off all negotiations with the government, and that is a major question mark about the future of the Zapatistas, the villages and the people who are going to the party. Stay posted.
Today, we visited one of the many NGOs that work in the indigenous communities.
Monday, August 04, 2003
We made a couple of miscalculations about the culture today. First, this is not an early rising culture, so being the first people on the street at 8:00 AM-ish will make you stick out like a sore thumb. Second, this was an especially bad day to be out early since it was Sunday and EVERYONE seemed to be at church, except for the Eurotrash.
Today we found a cybercafe so we could be at least moderately plugged in while here, if only for narcicisstic (sp?) weblogs. This city caters to travelers, many who are on their way to Guatemala or Mexico City. In fact, many tourists appear oblivious to the rebels not far outside of town. Maybe they notice the governement soldiers with machine guns in the plaza (the site of the very first Zapatista action on the eve of NAFTA in 1994), but it does not seem to affect them. The first computer in the cyber cafe crashed hard in the middle of my first post, which set this weblog way behind. I am trying to catch up but I have promised myself only one hour online a day. This is too amazing a place to spend it in front of a computer, although cybercafes are like bars here. All the young Chiapans hang out here, mailing jokes across the room to each other and smoking cigarettes.
We made a trip to the Indian Market today. That was a serious market. Fruits, vegetables, and freshly slaughtered beef and chicken, all at room temperature. It made me think about how resillient people are. I am sure that if you took a chicken home from there and cooked it up into some chilliquilles, it would be just fine. Americans, however, have come to expect their food processed and packed into discrete, refrigerated packages, far removed from the place it was slaughtered. The funny thing is that all that processing and transport required a soup of antibiotics, hormones and waste, and the product approaches toxic, both to the purchaser and the world. This place makes me remember why we need to return to local markets and local producers.
We also walked to the edge of the Centro Districto (Central District) today to the Museum of Mayn Medicine. There were displays of indigenous medicinal plants used in their medical practice. I watched a video about Mayan childbirth, a disgusting process, no matter what the culture.
We have also moved hotels to the one that will be used by the group that we are meeting tonight. I hope they are not too freaky.
The indians that travel to the market place are dark, slightly built and very, very, very poor. Most still wear traditional dress made up of colorful wraps or thick, dark wool skirts. I hope to grab some pictures of them, but photography can be offensive to them. Understandable. This is their lives, not a display for the tourists.
If you are ever traveling through Latin America, give yourself a day at a Camino Real Hotel. They have beautiful facilities and truly outstanding breakfasts. I had a hearty couple of helpings of chililquilis and a few cups of excellent Chiapan coffee. The hotels are not cheap, but they are outstanding. Ok, enough of the commercial.
After breakfast, we took a cab to Tuxla Gutierrez Zoo. The zoo was slightly lacking in animals due to a remodeling, but since it was free we really didn´t mind. The tourists were all Mexican except us. The most interesting part was these rats that roamed the grounds freely. As large as your average house cat, they were at once cool and disgusting.
We ended up in frantic scramble through the bust terminal to catch the last bus to San Cristobal for the day. The bus was $3.80 USD to ride in a first class bus for the two hour trip, complete with a movie.
The bus went up high in the mountains to San Cristobal. When we arrived, the temperature dropped substancially as we entered the very lively city.
We had some bad luck as we found out our hotel was at a location very far away from the center of town. The hotel was nice, but we decided it was too far to be an easy trip back and forth between the central district and the hotel. After an excruciatingly difficult conversation in my rusty spanish we got the front desk to arrange a reservation at their sister location right on the main plaza. Of course, we still had to pay for the room we abandoned, but hey, so it goes.
After the hotel hubub, we had dinner at Fogón de Jovel, a cheesy tourist trap with excellent food and pretty good prices. The reason I call it a trap is the decor, which is filled with memorbillia of the Zapatistas. Clearly, it was built to capitalize on the interest in our rebel friends. It just felt so trendy. Plus, it was packed to the gills with the people everyone loves to hate -- Eurotrash. Just a note on the tourists here. There are few americans running around here. I suppose going to an area in the midst of a low intensity war is not high on most travel lists. ¿No?
We had drinks made with posh, a corn based liquor favored by locals. Pretty mild stuff after New Orleans.
This city seems like an awesome place to be an expatriate in.
Sunday, August 03, 2003
We left New Orleans at 10 PM and transferred in Houston to Mexico City. I think I would like to spend some time in Mexico City. It seems very cosmpolitan, or at least so by the looks of its airport.
We arrived in Tuxla Gutierrez at about 6 PM. After a quick swim in the very swanky Camino Real pool, we had dinner at a restaurant called Las Pichanchas, which specialized in native (Chiapaneco, or Chiapan People´s food). We had an awesome dinner of tamales and Bohemias, for about $13 USD. Tuxla Gutierrez is not a pretty town -- it is the business capiatl of Chiapas state, and it shows. We walked back to the hotel from the restaurant for about an hour on Avenida Central. It had the feel of one of the Mexican towns that borders the US, with many homeless and a little bit grungy. It also has a Sam´s Club, and Office Depot and other staples of Generica. We're trying to decide what to do tomorrow. We will either explore Tuxla a little bit more or go straight on to our final destination, San Cristobal de Las Casas.