San Cristobal de las Casas is a compact, walkable mountain town filled with energy, cafes that seat 10 or 15 people at most, coffee and wine bars, and villagers from indigenous pueblos selling crafts in markets, street corners and along the foot-traffic-only promenades that criss-cross the center. Textile cooperatives abound and the city attracts an international artist-counterculture community of creatives.
The textiles here are extraordinary and I have spent the first two days exploring, looking, discerning the different quality in handcrafts and weaving. In the days to come, I’ll write about our visit to Na Bolom and highlight the visit we had with Sergio Castro in his private textile museum near the zocalo. Nearby organic coffee farms, locally owned and operated, offer a rich, tasty brew.
First impressions can always be a little dangerous because I have a tendency to jump to conclusions, especially after a long overnight bus ride with very little sleep. This town is growing on me. It is very different from Oaxaca which is an elegant, colonial city with wide thoroughfares and distinguished cuisine. San Cristobal seems like an outpost in comparison. It reminds me of Beijing hutongs — narrow winding streets, clay tiled roofs covering steep pitched roofs, weathered wood and adobe structures, ancient wood doors and windows kept shut with hand-forged metal. But, it is full of hidden treasures.
There is character here. And, it is an international crossroads between Guatemala and Mexico. San Cristobal attracts backpackers, artists, spiritual seekers and textile mavens. We have also come across university professors from the U.S. who research the indigenous languages, culture, social and political systems. It is rich, especially because of centuries-old resistance to oppressive government. Take your choice: Aztecs, Spaniards, and more contemporary varieties. Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas are revered here and have a presence in the city with an indigenous handcraft gallery. Every textile shop and street vendor sells a version of a Zapatista cloth doll with black hat and face mask.
The climate now is very chilly nights and mild, partly cloudy days that make it easy to sit at a sidewalk cafe during the day and snuggle up next to a fire next to the restaurant table at night.
It’s 8:45 a.m. and time for breakfast, so I will write more, catch as catch can.
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