Now a week into my trip, this second Monday I was hanging on a possible cooking class. As it approached 10am, I decided that I might as well head down to the front of the cathedral and join the free walking tour, expecting to learn more about San Cristobal de las Casas and Chiapas and hear a different viewpoint. A crowd of about 50, some of whom expected a Spanish language tour, were divided in half, with my earlier guide Laura taking one group, and Carlos leading the rest of us. He talked about the post-colonial influences on the city’s architecture, which is how I came to label the zocalo “the French Plaza” and Plaza de la Paz the Spanish.
We proceeded down the pedestrian street towards the mercado, stopping at several street vendors’ locations as Carlos interacted with friends. One such, a naturalist “doctor”, was offering bags of mixes of herbs and forest things, all specific combinations to brew to treat aliments. I was interested, determined he’d be on that corner daily, and made the mental note to return. Carlos took delight in asking us to find symbols hidden in clear sight – the symbols for the 5 elements, the cosmos.
When we reached the entrance to the market, we were regaled with the origins and mystical potency of the local amber, which was offered as jewelry and small carvings at the trio of booths. As we progressed more deeply into the stalls, Carlos pretty much dismissed the clothing and woven goods offered, claiming many were from China, as we headed to the front el Cerrillo. More symbolism was pointed out, with crossed legged gods partially squatting, solar emblems, the Austro-Hungarian double-headed eagles. He cleverly tied these decorations on the churches and buildings to the current-day proliferation of graffiti, which I’d been seeing all over the city. He hustled a few tour members into buying several kinds of fruit, claiming to only have 35 pesos in change.
Similarly to the evening walking tour, we stopped at the café for coffee and pastries, and for samples of the fruit he had purchased, and then the pox tasting. Another eclectic group of international travelers, I felt Carlos had too much of an agenda, his cross to bare (homonym deliberately selected), than had Laura the prior week.
I split and headed back towards the Amber Museum to the west, to check out the Iglesias La Merced, which had come as a recommendation from Laura. Facing onto a plaza, I spotted some ceramic planters in the shape of large doves, and wondered how my HOA would react if I tried to decorate with them.
The Church of Our Lady of Mercy is white with the now-familiar red painted trim. Tall and imposing, it was in remarkably good shape, and lightly occupied. With two side aisles in addition to the “normal” center aisle, there was much better air-flow as I walked alongside golden-yellow half-columns delineating shallow arches. A single side chapel filled one arch to the right, with a statue of La Merced bracketed by a Christ from Calvary and St John the Baptist. At the far end, the high altar was behind a wonderfully carved dark wooden altar rail, a statue of Mary below a columned half cupola, and a pair of statues. These were of two bearded men, probably saints, in full white robes. A crest of their order was sewn into the garments over their chests, and they carried the symbols of their sainthood, which I couldn’t recognize. That crest appeared in some of the stained-glass windows. Any thoughts out there?
In addition, the celebrant’s chair was striking, looking almost regal, with gold leaf, red velvet, a crest with crown and armrests. I didn’t think it to be episcopal, however. Exiting out a side door, I came to a small lean-to building where penitents lit and presented candles, as an altar covered with votives and tapers, as well as a marble table top were being monitored by a young man. (He removed anything unlit – so if the candle went out, it was discarded.) The illustration on the wall over the altar is labeled Venerado Senor Justo Juez. From Google I learned this veneration is for the Just Judge, an aspect of Christ, from Guatemala.
Back to the cross at the cathedral, I decided to see if I could find the herbalist doctor, and perhaps even the candle vendors in the market. With my usual lack of success, I wound up walking up the Real Guadalupe empty-handed, and stopped in Sagrado for a dark ale. I hadn’t written anything all day, so I began updating my journal. Then I managed to tip my bottle of stout over on the small table, blurring my writing while I scrambled to lift my camera out of the dark brown fluid. Once we had it cleared up, I got a second – a milk porter “Barbicana” – to sip on while seeing if I could write in the book.
Two appetizers, tapas, were ordered, and the first, a chili relleno with chorizo, tomato and parmigiana was delicious. The second, with zucchini and portobello mushrooms (and I usually avoid all mushrooms,) was actually tasty and good. Having checked during the walking tour about the components of pox, I was able to clarify what I’d heard from Sagrada, and the third ingredient was wheat, not hops as I’d initially been told. The percentage for corn is 70%. My suggestion that they needed to offer a nibble with drinks apparently had been heard, as a small bowl of popcorn appeared, which I much appreciated. A fellow tourist, John, an Irishman now living in Vigo, Spain, joined me for the porter. He had been in Cancun seeing his son, where they were planning on a bicycle ride in Quintana Roo.
After returning to the hotel to put on long pants (the warm weather merited wearing shorts, as a tourist), I headed into El Argentino on the next corner from the hotel. A Michelada with Dos Equus Amber to drink, I asked for a starter of Empanada Crilla, a traditional Argentine dish: pastry stuffed with ground mead(sic) mixed with boiled egg, sweet red peppers and spices. For a main, not wanting to eat a steak, I ordered Choriqueso, which was described as sausage and cheese. Both portions came together, just warm. The empanadas were slightly sweet but more flavorful. The sausage dish appeared to be cut up hot dogs with melted white cheese. They were served with tortillas, but didn’t really rate as a decent meal. Trying to redeem the evening, I ordered Helado de casa artesanel, 2 bollas of dulce de leche a chocolat. The two scoops of deep chocolate ice cream seemingly had little milk or cream, more like sorbet, and were richly flavorful.
Probably a mistake, that chocolate dessert, as I slept fitfully. My bus reservation to Villahermosa in Tabasco was for noon, and the text confirming had suggested arriving 30-45 minutes prior. As I was ready to checkout at 9, I set off to get a banana and then see if I could find the herbalist doctor. I dawdled to make sure I’d cross paths with the walking tour, but he wasn’t on any corner. I picked up a coffee and headed back to the hotel.
After checking out and waiting a bit in the lobby, I took a taxi to the OCC bus depot. The deluxe bus had an eventual destination of Cancun, and probably a handful of back-packing tourist were boarding for Palenque, an important Chiapas archeological site I had considered visiting. Waiting area seating was adequate, but marked to separate passengers as Covid precautions. I had been impressed that almost everyone, even on the streets, had been diligent about wearing masks.
The bus departed full, and headed down the hill to Tuxtla. There we all debarked so the bus could be sanitized. Once underway, we continued without a stop north, and then east, through backroads (including one stretch with descending switchbacks for about a mile) before we pulled in on time to the bus station in Villahermosa. The sun was setting. I collected my bag, went out to hail a taxi, and soon was at the Hotel Viva Villahermosa.