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Exploring San Cristobal de las Casas

Friday was unplanned. So I slept in a bit, getting out of the hotel at 9:30 to head to the episcopal/diocese office to see about the possibility of there being a pro-cathedral. Getting to the Plaza de las Paz, I chased around the building looking for the door, all without success. Later?

During the walking tour, we’d heard that there were two vantage points that provide great overlooks of the city. And, of course, they’re on opposite sides of town. Heading to the southwest, I eventually began the switchback stair climb to the Iglesia de San Cristobalito. Remember, the mean altitude of San Cristobal is 2200m/7200ft and I live at 5m/18ft above sea level. At least 14 sets of stairs, I reached the small white chapel with brick-red trim just a bit winded.Inside, a single, central aisle of brilliant parquet wood flooring led to an ornate altar covered in floral arrangements. A small outbuilding was filled with burning candles, seemingly protecting the church from an accident.

The shrine is set within a circular road (which can be reached by taxi!) and sits overlooking an urban forest. Tall trees surround this outlook, including either side of the staircase, so those trees block a wider view, albeit there is seemingly always a level of haze cause by the protective ring of mountains surrounding the city. However, from the heights I was able to spot (and match to the map) several other church buildings that I then planned on visiting.

As I was coming to accept, the three churches were all locked. [San Francesco de Asis, the Carmen church and convent, the white domed Santa Lucia] There are some civil cultural functions that have taken over (for a museum, a theater, a recreation center) the convent and church spaces, which shows the positive reuse of space and structure. In the mid 1920’s, there was a rebellion and the government confiscated church property, and the Church became liable for taxes. Unlike in France where these buildings became cultural heritage sites (and government responsibility), in Mexico churches must pay their way.

Back to the Plaza de la Paz and the front of the cathedral. I again tried to breach the locked doors of the office, and finally followed another fellow in, once I had located the correct door. After assuring that my pictures are for personal use, I was allowed in. Surprisingly, the open courtyard surrounded by church offices had been covered with a waterproof canvas dome, with pews placed facing an altar in front of columns, and the bishop’s cathedra placed behind! Small shrines dotted the corners and rear office. I was able to confirm the throne as the bishop’s, and that no pro-cathedral had been established. A mission accomplished.

From there I headed down the pedestrian way towards the mercado. I was able to enter the church of St Dominic, with its baroque three-level gold altarpiece in the central nave, and simpler chapel with a royal blue cloaked scourged Christ figure and blue flowers at its altar. I chuckled at the statue of St James mounted on a horse (Santiago Matamoros) as I recalled the legend I’d been told in Spain.

Continuing into the mercado in my futile search for candles and the meat markets, I wound up on the street. Elaborate striking graffiti adorn many walls throughout San Cristobal, and I’d, for one, love to find out what the artist’s stories were. The “Three Monkeys” was across from a shaded wall where zapateros displayed their wares of sandals, shoes and boots. Onward to the square known as el Cerrillo, which has yet another twin-towered white church with dark red trim.

Reversing my roaming, I decided to head to the Amber Museum. 20$Mex admission, no photography, but well worth the half hour I spent looking at the bilingual explanations, as well as the extensive displays. There is a nice gift shop with quality jewelry and figurines, but I wasn’t in that market.

The “other” lookout shrine beckoned, so I began the walk along the Real Guadalupe, which is the pedestrian mall on the street parallel to the one the hotel is on. Once I got beyond where traffic restricted, I stopped at Jardin La Reserva for lunch.

Set off the street in a lovely garden, tables are well set apart, some under overhangs, some in tree shade, some in the sun. I ordered a Tonantzin smoothie (fresca, papaya, pina guineo y hierbabuena) and fajitas pollo con guacamole, papas frites, arroz, frijoles y ensalada. The smoothie was beige, but tasty. The fries, while thick, were hot and a bit underdone. The beans and fajita mix were also hot, so I was proven wrong? Good guac, but I didn’t touch the salad as I’d had an incident that morning.

Leaving the restaurant, the street slowly rose to the park at the base of the shrine. A continuous climb of white steps and yellow risers lined by trees climbed to the white church with yellow trim at the top. The altar sits below the dome, with statues in alcoves in the curved wall beneath. Stained glass and more representational statues of the miracle at Guadalupe were featured about the nave. I had a surprise: when facing the altar, to the right, was a chair which bore the markings of a bishop. On my to-do list is to determine if there’s an explanation? While there, I ran into the Brazilian/Oz couple, who were heading to Na Bolom.

When descending the stairs, off to the side was an outdoor shrine, which depicted indigenous worshipers watching a scene where in 1531 Juan Diego saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hill near Mexico City. He then collected roses into his cloak, bringing them to the bishop where an image of the vision was imprinted.

At the based, I decided to follow the couple and took a hill-based walk rather than the flat route they took. This is the final residence of twentieth century archeologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife Gertrude Duby Blom. Beginning in the 1920s, Blom had been exploring in Tabasco and Chiapas states, uncovering significant finds which led to a better understanding of pre-Aztec/Mayan cultures. The museum wasn’t crowded, is self-guided and bilingual. Weavings, pottery, carvings, and statues cover walls, while showing how life in mid-50s Chiapas passed.

Done exploring for the day, I headed back to the Real Guadalupe, and across from where I’d had lunch was a small bar Sagrado. I entered and began updating my journal, having a pox naranja with a side of ice water. Co-owner and marketeer for Alma Huixtega, a pox distillery, located in San Juan (where I’d be going on tour the next day) attended to my requests. I chatted with an Israeli couple who were seated across from me, exchanging stories about our times in San Cristobal.

I headed back to the hotel to change and freshen up, and then set out to find dinner. Nothing was screaming to me, so I wound up back at Sagrado to have a bottle of petite sirah and tapas of Carne Artesanales, Mexicano. And Chiapanecos: dos bolillo con queso aguacate, accitunas, cebollas y calabaza. [I’m copying my scribbled notes, so if there are misspellings, I apologize!]

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