Friday, October 31, 2008

A visit to Chiapas, San Cristóbal, Palenque

Last weekend I was invited to give an all-day seminar in Tuxtla Gutierrez, capital of Chiapas, for 40 journalists. This is the southernmost state of the country and is famous for Subcomandante Marcos, the Zapatista movement and its rain forests. So I asked Cindy if she would like to come along, and she said, Sure. (This church is in San Cristóbal de las Casas, about an hour up into the mountains from Tuxtla.)

This is the group I presented to. Although Chiapas is almost invariably described as poor and backward, these journalists knew a lot about online journalism. The university classroom where we worked was first class in terms of its technology.

The journalists always make you feel welcome and treat you like a celebrity. Makes me stand up straighter and feel taller.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristobal is famous for its textiles, and we took advantage of their availability. It´s also famous for Subcomandante Marcos, a leader of the Zapatista guerilla movement. When he burst on the scene in 1994, I was just starting to study Spanish. I wrote a column about him and Mexico and Nafta for Business First. His ski mask and English style pipe are part of his media appeal. (His true identity has emerged in recent years. See link above.) Subcomandante Marcos is protected by a special law and goes about giving interviews, appearing on magazine covers, etc. The Zapatistas are more of a political movement than a guerilla force these days.

Palenque, a political and religious center in the rain forest

About a five-hour drive from San Cristóbal, deep in the rain forest, are the restored remains of the Mayan city of Palenque.
The stone buildings you see here were covered with stucco and painted in magnificent fashion, some few remnants of which survive.

The Mayans were very advanced in astronomy and had developed the mathematical concept of zero, which seems natural to us but was a breakthrough. They discovered it 900 years before the Arabs introduced the concept to Europe.

The Mayans also had a sophisticated form of writing in glyphs that has only recently begun to be deciphered. Their writings tell the story of their civilization, which collapsed in Palenque around 800 A.D.

The city of Palenque was abandoned after that time. It was mentioned and noticed by Spanish explorers, was mapped in the 18th century and recorded in drawings by Jean Frederic Waldeck in the 1830s but was not excavated in a systematic way until the last century.

There is a book on Palenque online at GoogleBooks, and if you have an academic bent, this is for you. If you would like something a little lighter, Wikipedia has everything that the guidebooks will tell you.

The very impressive waterfalls of Agua Azul are on the way to Palenque. The Zapatistas have control of access to the falls, and they also are attempting to control all of the related tourist industries, such as sales of crafts and mementos at the site. However, other indigenous groups are trying to muscle their way in, and there is conflict about who can set up a stand, etc.

iPhone photographs

The photos of San Cristóbal and Palenque were shot with my iPhone, but not by choice. Each of the three times I´ve flown out of Guadalajara, the people who inspect checked bags noted that I had packed a camera and advised me not to do so. Once they said they were afraid it would be crushed in the baggage hold. The last time, the person hinted that it wasn´t wise to leave something so valuable in an unlocked bag. This time it was stolen. The thief took the digital camera and carrying case but left the lanyard behind. It must have occurred in Guadalajara or Mexico City, where we changed planes, because there wasn´t time for someone to do it in Tuxtla. Live and learn.

This photo is from a postcard image of the Sumidero Canyon near Tuxtla, which we viewed from a motor launch. The walls extend 3,000 feet up at the highest point, and wildlife includes big crocodiles (not alligators), iguanas, migratory pelicans, vultures and cormorants, among other things.

1 comment:

  1. Un gusto tenerte aquí, ojalá pudieras venir el próximo año y una verdadera pena que perdieras tu cámara.
    Recibe abrazos. Desde la Rain Forest..