San Juan Chamula is enclaved in the highlands of the Tzotzil Mayan communities


In the state of Chiapas, between the modern city of Tuxtla and the colonial town of San Cristobal in the Chiapas highlands are Tzotzil Mayan communities that have kept their traditional ways, musical and otherwise.

A must-see is San Juan Chamula with its bustling Sunday market. Women wearing shaggy black wool skirts sell everything from fresh produce and spools of yarn to cheap plastic toys and household items. Prosperous-looking Mayan men favor white wool, worn in long, leather-belted tunics over crisp white shirts and pants. 

Don’t overlook Chamula’s modest, white-plastered church built between 1522 and 1524. More Mayan temples than Catholic churches, thousands of candles flicker in the darkness and families sit on the floor praying and sometimes performing a mix of rituals. These involve drinking Coca-Cola (burping is believed to expel evil spirits), sacrificing a live chicken, and rubbing pox on their bodies (pronounced ‘posh’, it’s moonshine made from maize).

“They come to the temple when they have a problem,” explains Nichim tour guide Ramses Borraz Balinas. “It could be someone is sick, your sheep are sick, maybe you have a bad neighbor.”

From Chamula, it’s an eight-kilometer walk past sheep farms, fields of kale, and surprisingly large, modern houses to the Tzotzil community of Zinacantan, where women contribute to the local economy by weaving. Entering town, you’ll see colorful skirts and blouses hanging from shop doors. A tour here can include lunch in a weaver’s home, where you can watch young women kneeling at looms (girls start weaving at about age 10) and purchase some of their beautiful creations. 

Lunch includes pureed-corn soup punctuated with chunks of pork, along with endless stacks of tortillas. Washed down with pozol – a sweet beverage made with corn and cacao – and followed by a shot of the local pox flavored with cinnamon or hibiscus, it’s a satisfying meal.

With information from the Vancouver Sun

San Cristobal Post