Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A.T. or Bust ...

Spring has sprung, at least here in E. Texas - cool temperatures (52 degrees F when we left), strong, cold northern winds, green grass, trees in bud, and rivers and streams overflowing. Soon the flowers and tree leaves will soon be visible and ding to the riot of color that accompanies spring. As we drive down the road, heading east, we see and feel all of this plus more. Danny reviews his The A.T. Guide by David "AWOL" Martin as we discuss and finally decide exactly where we are headed. The final decision, Duncannon, Pennsylvania, we think.

His plan is to "flip-flop" the trail, but still hike it in its entirety. By "flip-flopping" he will not start at one and go straight through to the other end, but rather, start somewhere need the middle and go south to the southern terminus in Georgia, then drive back to the starting point and head north to the northern terminus in Maine. In this way he will hike a fairly flat area as he gets his hiking legs and in tune with the Trail. He has been hiking long distances since the first of the year but still feels that he has to "find" his legs.

The total distance is 1350+ miles to our detonation and we zero out our odometer.
 It will be interesting to see just how many miles we do with this trip. Our recent driving roundabout journey to Canada ended up having over 8000 miles in less than 5 weeks of travel. This time we are planning on being out  approximately 5-6 months but our actually driving will be less as it will be dependent on Danny's hiking. I will drop him off in the morning, locate the days stop for the night, then pick him up and returning to our stop for the night, each and every day.

We know what Danny will be doing this whole time, but what about me? What will I be doing? I have been throwing around the idea of going back to school to obtain my Master's Degree, just because I want to. Maybe I will take some classes towards that. Then I brought a very small rink-dink sewing machine and a couple of small projects with us. It is not just a matter of bringing the sewing machine, but with quilting there are the extras as well. So I also packed a travel iron, a rotary cutter and cutting board, and 2 projects and 3 ideas festering in the back of my mind. Of course, this will also require fabrics! I also brought a couple of needlework UFOs, of which Chrissy Cleo, Miss Cleo's alter ego, is the most important to be finished. However, reading, sewing, and introspection will be probably what I will be mostly doing for this segment of our life.

By the end of the day we had travelled 396miles which is more than we had expected and leaves around 1000 miles more to get to Danny's start ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All too soon things must end ...

Another day of sightseeing here in San Cristóbal. Took a small tram tour and saw some things that we would have liked to see but time was running short. Our main focus today was to see the Textile museum and then the orchidea place before going out for our last dinner with Ann & John before leaving in the morning..
 these families that are selling shawls, belts, handmade toys, bracelets, and trinkets are for the most part, displaced Christians from the Chamula area, or so the story goes. I am sure that they aren't all from there however. Apparently the Chamulan form of catholicism doesn't tolerate those who change to any other form of christianity and they are run out of town. 
Another intricately carved baroque church - this one houses a market on the grounds as well as a newly built museum of textiles. The church itself was closed for visitors but we sure could wander the market.
 Next up was a visit to the Orchidea Safe house.
 Here "Cisco", a gringo has spent quite a few years rescuing plants from deforested areas and housing them for reproduction. 'In this way he has saved some series from extinction and allowed for the revival of others. He has also discovered a new plant which he named after his daughter.
 this is his old greenhouse. He has a new on the drawing board and he encourages "way out" out of the box thinking in his architecture. He hopes to become known as an art/architecture area as well.  inside the greenhouse where we communed with nature in a hothouse environment. We were encouraged to touch and feel anything we wished as we explored the area.

Our last evening in San Cristóbal - and we are greeted by a myriad of lights as we walked into town. We finally discovered that it was a display against "violence against women" and each illuminaria had a woman/girl's name written on it who had suffered or died because of this violence.

The line of lights went on for blocks as people walked in and around them, stopping to read the names and looking horrified when they saw the likes of 7 years, 9 years, 72 years, etc. What a way to get a message across.

All too soon it was time to leave our wonderful friends and head out. By early morning bus we then headed over to Oaxaca to get a taste of what was there.

Ash Wednesday and beyond

Once again we were on the move. This time we went to Zinacantán where I hoped to see some backstrap weaving in progress, without realizing the consequences of it being Ash Wednesday.  We were under the impression that there was going to be music and dancing in the plaza so off we went. Upon arrival, yes there were many, many people outside and in the church "waiting for their ashes". Inside the church was covered in artfully arranged flowers, again in all colors imaginable.  What a sea of brilliant and beautiful colors. The designs on the huipils and faldas (skirts) are brilliant renditions of nature and readily identify what year they were made in. The falda that the young mom is wearing is the latest design: embroidered pleats with a metallic thread running through while this years colors in the huipil are the blues, turquoises, magentas, and purples. Some of the shirts/blouses that were seen are also intricately cross-stitched. Beautiful.
 and yet the older women seem to wear more plain renditions of the same design.

 the men are colorfully decked out and the children wear miniatures of the same.

I had wanted to see the actual weaving going on but it was not to be. I certainly don't begrudge this, I respect it - Ash Wednesday is a truly special day to these people here and I believe the whole town was at the church.

Later that evening Danny had arranged a beautiful dinner for my birthday. We went to a restaurant that served a totally local food from an area outside of Chiapas. They also had 2 men playing a marimba. Danny went up and asked them to play happy birthday, either the English version or the Spanish version, made no difference. The one fella knew kinda how it went and hummed it to the other and then they played, and played, and played. Just as John was going up to say "enough" they stopped. It was wonderful. 
L->R, Janine, John, Danny, Shirley, Jim, Ann

Don't think however, that I have ever had a meal that was totally meat with the exception of the melted cheese on top of the plate. All served on top of a pot that had hot coals in it to keep the food warm. Delicious!
Then back to the B&B for scrumptious, decadent chocolate pastry from a bakery down on the pedestrian walk and coffee/tea.

Fat Tuesday, the Mayan Way

Our experience continued. Today, Tuesday, we were heading to San Juan Chamula, a site of the true mix of catholicism and local ancient beliefs. Here the ban on photography was taken to extremes - DO NOT get caught with a camera. It has been known, and witnessed, that people that disregard this are beaten and their cameras taken away. In fact, all through out the zocolo they had locals with walkie talkies watching very closely. One instance a sudden rush of hordes of men behind us surrounded 2 older gringos. It was scary to watch. Don't think they got beaten but have no idea if they lost their cameras, their disc in their cameras, or naught . After all was said and done, however, they nonchalantly walked off towards the church.

When we arrived in the village after a fascinating taxi ride, we had to walk down into the zocolo, the area where the festivities/activities were going on.
 a view from the top with the church in the main plaza

 ...we weren't the only ones coming in, people from all over Mexico were here, including members of other villages in their local costumes as well as a few gringos like ourselves. We were definitely in the minority. 

The village was nestled in a valley with spreading of the village going up the mountainsides, as are most of these villages or pueblos that we are visiting. Very picturesque and very Mexican in flavor. Yes the people are Mexican, but they are also proudly Mayan (indigenous). the colors were brilliant, the dress unique, in many instances similar yet different. Each region is know for their unique textiles and it was observed today as they came into town. On both sides of the road, from the top of the hill to the main zocolo, were vendors and shops of all flavors, all vying for the next sale.  and not all from the pueblo of Chamula.

We arrived in the zocolo as the festivities were getting started. People were milling around an area identified by yellow paint, while around the perimeter every square inch was taken up. 
These people, as we did in the zocolo, sat out in the sun from who knows when in the morning until the festivities were over. Don't kid yourself, darker skinned people burn just like we do and many had shirts, t-shirts, sweaters, shawls and the like over their heads to keep the sun off. We had hats but it sure didn't prevent us from getting a pretty good burn.  It may be hot during the day, but when the sun goes down, so do the temperatures. 

Children and adults alike wandering aimlessly, dressed in 1 of 3. The one set of costumes was very colorful: yellow/orange or tawny leather/simulated leather britches in the style of the Spanish: white trousers under them. What was odd was that some had heavy, stiff leather backs attached to their sandals (see on the man on the left with the guitar). They were ungainly and looked to be hard to walk in, somewhat like a ski boot. Danny likened them to something that he had seen somewhere that would prevent the backs of their ankles (archives tendons) to be slashed in war, thus loosing the ability to walk again. The tops were multi-layers covered with a facsimile of a waist coat but in black and red stripes and this covered with a zarapa-styled shawl, tied together with colorful strings and pompoms. They also had a face covering that was reminiscent of a bandana covering but one that was shaped to their lower face, usually in black. Could this be where the Zapistas got their balaclava-like face covering? Then their hats - high, conical and covered with brilliant ribbons and held on with another chin strap, all in leather. They carried a carved/ornate stick and a polished bull horn. Their sandals were homemade and had very think soles.  Borrowed...
 These men seemed to be the guardians or the elders, but then there were some who were very young. Who knows.

Then there were the ones in country dress: jeans, shirts, big belt buckles, cowboy boots/regular shoes, with a white lambs wool tunic over that and a white straw cowboy hat. They carried a bag of sorts as well. Often these men also were the police and acted as such.  Borrowed ...
And then there were the ones dressed in everyday clothing. They too had their functions, some carried walkie-talkies and acted very suspiciously like undercover cops at times.
The young boys all were dressed in similar fashion as the adults and that included in the local dress from the other villages. The women were dressed in either their local dress, which was a varied as any style of clothing and just as colorful, in regular western-style clothing.  Borrowed ... Some of the greatest people-watching that I have encountered in a long time. I could have sat and watched them all day.

So what were we waiting for: 3+ hours of standing and milling around, baking under the direct noon-day sun, ferociously holding onto our spot by the highlighted part of the zocolo? We were here to witness the celebration of Fat Tuesday, the Mayan Way.

Chamula is an unique blend of catholicism and Mayan traditions, but definitely heavy on the Mayan side. Their church, a traditional mission-style early Spanish church, stands proudly and majestically on one end of the zocolo.  The church is different in so many ways.
~the outside decoration is definitely tied to the traditional ways altho the bell towers are distinctly Spanish
~ there has not been a traditional mass said in the church since 1968 but once a Mayan month a priest comes to perform baptisms which are singularly similar to Mayan custom
~ you are not allowed to enter the church wearing a hat - this is the first time and place ever that I have had to remove my hat as a woman. You can, however, carry an open can of bear and a lit cigarette, one in each hand, when entering.
~ the floor is covered with pine boughs and needles and smells heavenly, until you catch a whiff of something else - a mixture of burning candles, copal, liquor, and body smells. 
~ there are no pews, instead family groups sit together on the floor, in front of traditional statues of saints in non-traditional garb and totally surrounded and infused with candles. The family groups are drinking a form of probably the traditional drink, pox (like posh) or coca cola which is revered in the belief that it cause the evil spirits to leave the body with the belching (from the gas).
 borrowed from someone braver than I as photography is NOT, and I mean not allowed in the church. You go directly to jail if caught.
~ there are cascading fabric pieces, like a tent, throughout the church starting in the alter area 
~ the cross is in the form of a corn stalk 
~"police" or community members patrol the church and gently remind those of us that forget about the hats and any other infringements
~ in front of the church on the steps is a 5 ice band utilizing home-made instruments playing the same plaintive tune heard through the plaza/zocolo.
~ the community goes to the church to be healed as opposed to the Christian way of gaining salvation with healers performing their rites at the alter.

Oh yes, I have gotten off tract here a bit - the outdoor activities in the zocolo. We were here to see the celebrations of the fire walking and the bull run, both Mayan activities related to some form of traditional belief system. In order to fully understand the significance of each activity would take far more than an day's visit to an area. 

Fire-walking: the festivity begin as the various barrio representatives of the comity arrive in the zocolo amidst the sounds of the band playing the plaintive, repetitive music and the shouts of those present in the group. The ones dressed and carrying banners do use that, carry the banners, file the rest of the contingent carries sheaths of straw. They run around the zocolo having these sheaths cleansed and blessed (or so it would appear) at the cardinal points, in front of the church, and in front of the dignitaries. After doing this 3-4 times, they then lay the straw very thinly within the demarcated area of the square in front of the church, eat to west. 
This then is guarded by the brightly colored"uniformed" men and boys, waiting for the next group to do the same thing. After the last barrios has arrived and performed their "rites" the guards then start moving everyone back from the edge of the straw. The crowds grow in numbers and intensity the closer we get to the actual fire walking. At the sound of the horns, to the accompaniment of fireworks, the straw is lit and the ornately dressed run back and forth over the coals, carrying their banners. The heat is intense and the crowds move back with a few brave souls remaining close to the burning straw. They don't fire-walk in their bare feet - they wear their sandals.
 again, borrowed for illustration purposes.

As this activity comes to an end the crowd moves en masse towards the church. Having been forewarned, we move behind the barrier of the stone fence around the church. Here the bull running will take place. We can't see anything but a wave of people, moving and then running and screaming. So we move off to the side where there are actual breaks in the crowds. Where we end up is where the bus are being brought in for the run. The brahma bulls are roped around their horns, one stretching forward ahead of the bull and one behind, restraining the bull. What we see is an obstinant bull who lays his head down on the ground and refuses to move. The crowd roars, the runners bull, whip and cajole. Finally he runs as does the crowds. 

Not seeing much, getting definitely overheated, and having seen the works, we leave. To get around the square and wall to wall people we have to take the back streets. As we come back onto the main street, a few blocks from the square, a man suddenly gently pushes us over to the wall. Around the corner comes a team and their bull. We have front row seats as the bull snorts, paws, rebels and fumes past us, pushing the ones in front who are trying to steer him clear of the people and pulling the ones in the back who are trying to slow him down a bit. The people love it. Fascinating to watch but knowing the fate of the bull, I couldn't help but feel sadness for him. He acted as if he knew his fate.

And so ended our Fat Tuesday, a decidedly unique way to celebrate a Christian holiday in a way that will stay within our memories for decades to come. The colors, the smells, the sounds all intermingled to produce one big picture that is so hard to describe with mere words.

Carnaval the Mayan Way continues ... #2

The day following our visit to Tennajape/ Pocolum was a day of discovery within the confines of San Cristóbal itself. Here we wandered, gathering information for our future departure and then walked to a totally different part of town. We came upon a thoroughly modern mall with all the trappings of a modern mall. For me however, it was also the main Telcel center where I was able to try out the properties of my new iPhone. Yup, it works, dropped in a new sim card and voilà, I had prepaid cell and data service. Of course, it wasn't as simple a that - had to go to the information line, wait, ask questions, receive a number, go to the next line, wait, wait and wait. Then my turn. Requested a new sim card, reassured the agent numerous times that my phone is unlocked, filled in papers, hand in id, received invoice: Go to line for payment, wait, pay $$$, go back to other line: Wait, wait, and wait, get the same agent so I had to wait even longer, hand in my paid invoice, takes phone to back, wait, wait, returns with phone, plays with phone, hands phone back. Receive reassurance that it works. Receive another bill to go to pay for the prepaid minutes - why couldn't I have received this at the same time as the first invoice? Same process. Came back with receipt and receive my phone. Here you are. Next...
And out I go, only 90 minutes later. Yes this is truly Central America although it is really considered N America.

A bus trip to the zocolo and we toured again. Of course we had to view and experience each and every church that was open along our route. Each was unique in its own right and not all are the ornate, ostentatious ones either. Still, I promised no more photos of churches, so ...
ok, so I lied - this is the baroque church just off the zocolo and is intriguing to view. Couldn't get in but we did manage to back away from an occurring protest. Would hate to just arrive nd get caught up in something like that.
Seems that I read somewhere that if there is going to be a protest for anything, it will happen in Chiapas. An added note: Danny was going to bring his black, light weight balaclava to wear if it was too cold. Guess what the Zaptistas wear as a trademark and identity cover? Yup, a black, light weight balaclava. One of the restaurants that we ate in had drawings and propaganda all over the walls with just this.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Carnaval the Mayan Way: #1

Carnaval, the Mayan Way, as observed in the outerlying pueblos around San Cristóbal, Chiapas, Mexico was a fantastic mix of colour, behaviors and cultural activities to celebrate both the Catholic and indigenous pre-lent beliefs – a real intermingling of both. Nowhere else that we have been has “cultural sensitivity” and understanding been more necessary. Here we were truly the guest, invited though we weren’t, and as such, subject to the rules and regulations of the local peoples. This meant NO PHOTOS, and breaking this rule and getting caught could lead to dire consequences. So my photos are in my memories and the question remains, will I be able to paint a picture for you to visualize or should I "borrow" a photo or two to paint the picture for you?

In the Chiapas area of Mexico, the Catholic holidays and saints are interwoven with the Mayan traditions and culture. They are a very devout people, and the holidays, such as Carnaval, Fat Tuesday and Lent itself, are but snapshots of this devotion to both cultures.

We happened into these celebrations when we realized that our planned and much anticipated journey to visit PC friends in San Cristóbal was during Carnaval time. Wow, we will have visited Carnaval in three different countries in 3 years: Las Tablas, Panama; Barranquilla, Colombia; and now Chiapas area, Mexico. That means we only have one left, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Our arrival in San Cristóbal was exciting yet we saw nothing that would indicate the current celebrations of Carnival. Oh there were lots of people walking and milling with lots of vendors in ethnic dress, but none of the gaity and party-like atmosphere that was witnessed during the previous 2 years. 
Of course we did arrive in the morning, not evening, and it was Saturday, a working day for many. Still, we liked the feel of where we were almost immediately. A town of much history, nestled amidst the rising green mountains, warm but not too hot, and friendly people, we found ourselves grinning ”from ear to ear” as we meandered the streets. It reminded us so much of Antigua, Guatemala, but then it is of the same era and built by the same people – the Spanish.

Our first day and later that afternoon we were off to a good start when we accompanied Ann on a shopping trip to a paper Mayan and mestizo women/men’s cooperative – Taller Leñaterus. Here the workers, once servants, washerwomen, wandering vendors and unemployed, produce handmade paper, artistic books, silkscreen and wood block prints, gansy graphs (embroidery patterns), natural dyes, and magic spells. Although they were closing when we arrived, they gladly and graciously gave us a tour and explained how they did things. Very interesting and yet I was transported back to our Tech week in Panamá where we taught paper making but on a much smaller scale. If only the entrepreneurial-minded of those kids could see where a simple thing such as paper making could take you.

The Sunday before Lent and off we went in a taxi with newly found friends, Allison, Bonnie, Jeff and of course, Ann. We were headed for Tenejapa, a pueblo in the mountains about 45 minutes from San Cristóbal. With a stop along the way at Romerillo Cemetary, we took the time to wander through the unique graves, all beneath the shadows of the many green and blue wooden crosses, intertwined with trees, standing atop of the hill. The simple grave sites were unique in that they are maintained in a mound shape with a plank(s) of wood or an old wooden door on top of the mound and the marker crosses in colors that indicate the age of the deceased. The story told visitors is that the “door” provides a means for the deceased to communicate with their families. In reality, however, it is to keep the dirt from blowing away. Me? I like the first story better as it adds a bit of mystic to the place.

Pageantry, costumes, music, defined roles: All confronted us as we wandered through Tenejapa. A couple of the activities actually insulted my sensibilities, but then I am but a guest, and uninvited at that.

The town is divided into the lower and the upper barrios and each has their own groups that are a part of the Carnaval festivities. The local outfits are filled with color both from the brilliantly colored ribbons that adorn their hats and the red and white woven costumes. The women also wear an indigo colored woven skirt. The men wear their brilliantly colored cuffed, woven white shorts under a tunic of black lambs wool, or simple white woven over-tunic. The shirt, like that of Guatemala, is a large round pleat-folded to size and held up with a woven belt wrapped round the mid-section, Even the very young girls dress similarly.
"Borrowed"photos from someone braver than me:

No photos –this is their celebration, their customs, and they don’t want people taking photos and then making money off of them with the pueblo not receiving any of the proceeds. I can understand this but then too, I have a suggestion for them. Set up a booth that people such as ourselves could go to and buy a pass for photos for a set fee. This fee then would be shared by the various groups in town and help offset their costs of the celebration. But then, who am I but a lowly tourist and one not privy to the inner workings of the pueblo, at that?

The ceremonies that we watched had many different aspects, and all seemed to include drinking. I am sure that as the day progressed there would be many a gent laid out in the park. Also a bull played a significant part in the processions. The representation was quite original and I would gather that it was an honor of some sort to be chosen to play the part during the festivities.

One group of participants wore masks representing a Latino or dressed a women and paraded through the streets portraying drunkenness and sexual acts. These portrayals were quite graphic and the crowds thought them very funny. I guess they are really no different than the he/shes with their baby dolls (with a large dildo attached under the skirts) who were purportedly looking for the baby's "daddy" in the parades of Carnaval in Barranquilla.

It was later suggested that we head over to Pocolum as their celebrations had already gotten underway and were, as we found out later, photo friendly. While waiting for all participants to gather to continue on our journey of discovery, we were randomly introduced to the artist of the mural found in the zocolo of Tenejapa. 

The man who introduced us to him was from Italy and was working with some local NGO to document local art and ????? The artist gave us a small interpretation of his piece – it is dedicated to the women of the community and on closer examination, yes all the things that the women do are represented either by stylizing, symbolism or reality. Very interesting. Also were told that he has a bigger mural in the Theatre down by the mall. Hmmmmm will we be going to the mall? [went later but were unable to gain entry into the theatre]

Off to Pocolum: Here we were definitely deeper into the countryside and the festivities reflected this. If I were to categorize it, I would say that it was more "cowboyish" but not in the general Texan sense of the word. Cowboy boots, big belt buckles and pickup truck contorting with the traditional, both holding the ever present bottled water.

Also, we were allowed free range with our cameras here, why I don't know but still, I tried to remain as inconspicuous and non-intrusive as possible. In that way, we could continue to take photos.
The dress was very similar to that of Tenejapa but the festivities were different. (At least that we witnessed). Swaying, chanting and drunken revelry ...

 he is carrying a stuffed fox

and the ever present bull 
 the colors and a mask


 these tops are more colorful than in Tenejapa

 the instruments were all handmade and rough but the sound was as it should be for their music

here you can see the shorts under the lambs wool tunic
The mid-day sun was hot and the crowds pushing and shoving and I was my usual self - attracting the drunks. Danny ran interference for me and wound up feeling somewhat intimidated by one of the drunks. I am sure, under normal circumstances, he was a very nice young man, but under the influence, menacing. With this and the fact that it was becoming more and more obvious that the drinking was settling in to be the norm rather than the exception, it was decided that it was time for us to go. It was a wonderful experience, one that could only be found in the mountains of Chiapas. 

Of all the photos then this day, I would have to say that these two are my favorites: As we waited in the car, these two young boys just sat and watched us, asking for nothing but yet, pleading with their eyes. Their smiles were beyond belief and no time ever did we feel at all threatened.

All this and we have only been here for one day. What could still be in store for us as we explore San Cristóbal and surrounding areas during this wondrous time of Carnaval and all that it represents?