On the Road to Tenejapa, Chiapas, Mexico

Tenejapa is a Tzeltal-speaking Mayan village in the Chiapas highlands about 45 minutes by collectivo from San Cristobal de las Casas.  Though it is off-the-beaten-path and receives very few foreign visitors, Tenejapa is alluring because of its vibrant Thursday market and its fine textiles — among the finest in southern Mexico.   I heard that Maria Meza, one of the founders (along with Chip Morris) of the famed Sna Jolobil cooperative, now operates an independent women’s cooperative in Tenejapa.

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That was enough incentive to get me out of bed early on Thursday morning despite a bit of la gripa, walk past the San Cristobal de las Casas daily street market on Av. General Utrilla, up past the Santo Domingo Church and around the back of the giant local food market to search for the location of the collectivo to take us to the village.  

Along the way we were sidetracked by opportunities to shop and buy and oggle: lengths of skirt material from Zinacantan, sheared sheep from Chamula, medicinal herbs, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Fay was more than tempted by the Zinacantan assortment and succumbed to a rare impulse.

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And, at every corner along the way:  Donde esta el colectivo a Tenejapa?  There, tucked away on a side street was the taxi station.  Que milagro!

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Fay, my Canadian traveling companion and I were off on an adventure!  We eschewed the idea of hiring a private taxi for 600+ pesos and opted for the shared taxi ride to the pueblo that costs 25 pesos (about $2 USD) each way.  Amazing.  We climbed into the highlands along a curving mountain road with two other very friendly people plus the careful young driver and got to practice our Spanish along the way!

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The taxi deposited us just past the zocalo around 10:30 a.m.  The market street was bustling with vendors selling everything from tools, cooking and sewing supplies, yarns, back-strap loomed waist cinches to hold up the tube skirts, other traditional Tenejapa clothing plus imported jeans and t-shirts.  What I noticed is that the young people here are still adhering to traditional traje (dress), which is an indication that the culture is very strong.

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Tenejapa is noted for its integration of Chamula and Tenejapa groups.  The two co-exist, respect each other’s differences, and have their different religious practices in the same town — unusual in this part of the world.  Commerce on the market street was conducted by both Chamulans and Tenejapans.

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It is difficult to take photographs here in public places.  More than once I was reprimanded with some vigor and had to put my camera down.  When I asked Maria Meza if I could take her photograph after making a purchase, she quietly agreed but would not meet my eye.  Privately arranged photo sessions in the future will be on my list of what to prepare for when I return!

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The market place was patrolled by village officials doing their cargo (required public service) in full Tenejapa regalia — back-strap loomed sash embellished with red bordado, beribboned straw hat with dangling multi-colored blue, purple, red, orange wool ball tassles, white woven shirts and short white pants with cuffs ornately decorated with brocade weaving.  From their shoulders hung both ixtle and wool woven bags, practical and beautiful.

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I could not bring myself to even try to sereptitiously take photographs of the officials out of respect for local customs — and for fear of losing my camera! (I heard Internet tales about people being thrown in jail for taking photos!)  But, the vision is still imprinted in my mind.

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As we left town, a group of young women was entering one of the shops from the sidewalk.  They were dressed in extraordinary hand-woven huipiles.  We asked, Where are you from?  Cancuc, they replied.  I asked if I could take their photo.  They giggled and evaporated indoors.  Later that afternoon, a Cancuc huipil was on display at Na Bolom Gallery (see above).  The next best thing under the circumstances.  Fay saw a used one from Cancuc the following day in a textile shop on the walking street Real Guadalupe.  She bought it right up!  It was a beauty.

Now, I’m back in Oaxaca after the eleven-hour overnight bus trip, living in my little Teotitlan del Valle casita.  There’s no hot water yet, but one bathroom and the kitchen is functioning and the views are outstanding.  More about this next!




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