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Oaxaca - San Cristóbal de las Casas
9 - 10 April

We were determined not to have a repeat ordeal of the flight to Oaxaca so this time we got off to an early start.  Enrique Morán and Carlos Rosales were going flying early too so we bade them farewell and took off for San Cristóbal at 8.45 a.m.  Oaxaca's elevation is only 5000 feet, so no problem with density altitude. The flight was blissfully smooth and we landed two hours later.

The elevation of San Cristóbal's airport is about the same as Mexico City - about 7800 feet or 2380 metres.  The temperature was a pleasant 25 C when we stepped out of the plane.  San Cristóbal airport is the most attractive one I have seen in a long time.   Built in 1998, it has thick wooden beams inside.  Both Flemming and I are very partial to beams and chose our house in Geneva largely due to it being generously endowed with them.

After a safe and smooth flight, the taxi ride to San Cristóbal was pretty hair-raising as the driver must have been an aspiring Formula one champion.   He didn't take kindly to my request to slow down and only obliged when he was forced to by traffic or speed bumps.

Nevertheless, we reached our hotel (Casa Vieja) without mishap - another pleasant colonial-style house with rooms overlooking an inner patio.  And, just as important, we had direct dialing from our room so could send e-mails and update the website.

Thanks to our Lonely Planet guide book, we knew that a Danish archeologist (Frans Blom) and his Swiss anthropologist wife Trudi used to live in San Cristóbal.  Their rambling old house - called Na Bolom (the house of the Jaguar, also similar to Blom) is open to the public so, in view of their nationalities, it was a must for us to visit it.   And we weren't disappointed.  Frans and Trudi worked a lot to preserve the culture of the only Mexican indigenous tribe to escape Spanish domination and decimation.  The  Lacandón Indians live in the jungle near the Guatemalan border and were thus safely isolated until the early 20th century.  Also, Frans was one of the first team of archeologists to escavate the jungle-enshrouded Mayan city of nearby Palenque.  In addition, Frans and Trudi were committed ecologists.  Dismayed by deforestation of the jungle, they set up projects to replant trees and teach school children the importance of nature preservation.  Frans died in 1963 but Trudi carried on the good work and died in 1993 at the ripe old age of 92. Today Na Bolom finances the projects by providing accommodation to tourists and organizing tours to the surrounding villages. Trudi's last dog, named Posh after the potent Indian ritual drink, is still alive and can be seen snoozing in the shade of the inner courtyard.

The zocalo or central square of San Cristóbal was attractive in the Spanish colonial style but wasn't quite as pretty - nor as lively - as the one in Oaxaca.  We went there the following morning to meet up with a guide called Mercedes that was highly recommended in our guide book for tours to the surrounding villages.   Unfortunately Mercedes wasn't working that day and we were palmed off with a new girl whose English wasn't at all brilliant.  We were crammed into a taxi with a young Canadian couple, Rick and Maggie, who are even more adventurous than us.  They are cycling their way down to the southern tip of South America.

The two villages that we visited - San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán - are home to the Tzotzil Indians.  They both worship in Catholic style churches but their religion is a mixture between Catholicism and indigenous rituals which, surprisingly enough, was tolerated by the Spanish. There are no seats in the San Juan Chamula church.  People kneel and pray in front of  San Juan Bautista. They brew an alcoholic drink called posh from sugar cane juice. Mixed with Coca  Cola this drink plays an important role in their religion as it helps them to burp which they believe expels evil spirits.

We enjoyed a pleasant hour's walk over a hill to the second village.  Our young guide Victoria took us into the home of one of the local families where we were able to taste posh and witness the making of tortillas. These ones could be stuffed with either cheese or sesame seeds and were delicious.  The women produce colourful and beautifully embroidered shawls which look too good for everyday attire, but we were surprised and delighted to see most women in the street wearing them. Of course we were encouraged to buy some of their handiwork but couldn't see any useful purpose for them. We were more interested in taking photos of the women and children.  We hadn't been able to take any shots of people in the streets as that is tantamount to robbing them of their souls (unless one pays for the privilege!).   Fortunately for us, our Canadian friends bought a beautiful shawl and there were no complaints when we took out our camera.

On our return to the hotel there was a message waiting for us to call the airport.  We were concerned for a moment that something untoward had happened to Honey Mooney. But we were relieved to be told that the President of Mexico was due to arrive early the next morning for a meeting in San Cristobal and would it be possible for us to move our plane out of the way to make room on the apron for his private jet.  We assured them we would be leaving before 8 a.m.

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The inner patio of Na Bolom

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San Cristóbal cathedral
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We had to pay this Tzotzil girl to pose for the photo
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In a San Cristóbal street
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Wool spinner in San Juan Chamula
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Tortilla maker in Zinacantán
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Tzotzil girls
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One of the hand-embroidered shawls
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