Suitcase and World: Mi tipo de ciudad. San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mi tipo de ciudad. San Cristóbal de las Casas.

We arrived into San Cristóbal late yesterday morning, went to San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán this morning and are leaving tomorrow so all we have is this afternoon to explore this quaint little town.  Not much time at all so must make the most of it. 

The beauty of tree resin.  On our way back into town from Zinacantán, Juan Jose dropped us off just around the corner from the Museo del Ámbar de Chiapas (Chiapas Amber Museum).  The museum is housed in what used to be the Convento de la Merced.

Just inside the front entrance was the ticket counter, a place where we could drop off our bags, a small gift shop, and a display that shows you how to tell real amber from the fake stuff.

One of the museum workers gave us our less on amber starting with how to distinguish real from fake.  One easy way to tell is that real amber will float a supersaturated saline solution while the fake glass or plastic versions will sink to the bottom.  Also, there is no chance that you will fnd a perfectly formed insect of any sort and if you do, it's worth tens of thousands of dollars because of its rarity.

She also told us, and I did not know this, but amber actually comes in several different colors:  honey colored which is the most commonly found variety, ruby red which is rare and the most rare of them all, green amber which she showed us by pointing to her necklace. Holy cow, she had a lot of green amber on!

We entered into the convent and whoa!!  I felt like we had walked into a Spanish colonial construction site.  It's in a complete state of disrepair but is being renovated to its former glory. You can see the beauty in the shambles.

We walked up to the 2nd floor.  That's where the entrance to the museum is.  The museum exhibits exceptional pieces of amber extracted from mines in Chiapas, in the rough state but most have carved, by talented artisans into various figures.  The amber dates back to the Mesozoic period otherwise known as the Age of Dinosaurs, going back as far as 250 million years!!  It was amazing to see the size of some of these pieces!

Then there were the two pièce de résistance - two small pieces of amber with the remains of pre-historic insects inside.  One bug looked like a small grasshopper and the other one was a scorpion - which is an extremely rare insect to find contained inside amber!

On the way out of the museum, we stopped at the gift shop.  Francisco had his eye on some unpolished pieces but in the end decided against buying anything.  Not so Ayşe who left with a pair of ruby red amber and silver earrings. :-)

Catedral de San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Back outside, we walked towards the plaza that fronts the town's cathedral, a small building with a beautiful mustard colored facade with white bas relief and bright red paint accents.  The cathedral was closed so we did not enter.  According to Francisco, the interior is not much to look at so I was not missing out on anything.  If there was something spectacular inside, I would haate to think I came all this way and didn't venture in.

Street walkers.  From the cathedral, we wound our way past the zócalo and down a street that had been blocked off to vehicular traffic. It was packed with towns people and tourists, all out enjoying the beautiful day.

What would a walk be through a Spanish colonial town without a charming building?

Looking down one street, I caught view of the Arco del Carmen.

And you cannot walk through a Mexican town without passing by a food vendor.  No, that's just not possible.  And it's not possible for my brother and Francisco to not buy something to munch on.  These were pan de elote aka corn bread.  Dry texture but very rich corn flavor.  We need to teach them the wonders of pork fat :-)

Templo de Santo Domingo. With munchies in hand, we continued our walk and it was not long before we found ourselves standing at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the ornate bas relief facade of a very small church.  I recognized it immediately - the Santo Domingo church!

The detail is astounding!!  Chicken wire covered large sections of the facade to keep nesting birds away.  Bird poop on an ivory white building is not good.

Four little piggies went to market. From Santo Domingo, we headed to the town's market. Chiapas may be the poorest state in Mexico but if the market in San Cristóbal is any indication, people here have plenty to eat.  The wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and meats is amazing!  I wish I this much selection to choose from at home.

The market also sells home goods.  We happened to wander through a section that sells candles.  Just candles.  Most stores here have a shelf or two for candles.  Here, they have a whole section of the market dedicated to candles of all shapes and sizes.....some for the home, some to take with you to church.

It was also in this market that I found my fried ants which are specialties of the region - Chiapas caviar, if you will :-)

Of course, the market also sells cooked food and as usual, my brother just can't resist - especially if it's tamales for 10 pesos.  Here they were selling versions that we had not seen elsewhere, presumably specialties of the region.  Francisco knew what they were.  I can't remember what was what but I do remember they were all really tasty!!

Not time to rest yet.  Done with the market, it was getting late in the day and we were getting tired but we weren't done for the day quite yet.

We headed back towards the hotel, passing by the cathedral once again.

The street vendors, who had occupied the plaza the night before, were no longer there.  In there place, street performers.  A small group of men, dressed in Indian costumes, captured my attention.  They were surrounded by a large crowd of people so it was difficult to watch the performance.  We only hung around for a few minutes.

Coffee! We walked through the zócalo and down a street.   Wait!  Didn't we do this earlier in the day?  As a matter of fact, yes but this time, Francisco has a mission.  He's going to a particular shop to buy fresh ground coffee.  Chiapas is known for its coffee and this store is Francisco's favorite.  Of course, we're just tagging along.  I love the smell of freshly roasted coffee and you never know what's for sale :-)

We walked inside the store.  There was just a small counter and area in the back that had table seating.  Underneath the counter top were containers of roasted coffee beans.  Francisco bought a kilo of beans which they ground for him.  Oh....the smell of that coffee was so intoxicating.  If I didn't think it would keep me awake all night, I would have bought a cup of fresh brew.  In retrospect, Ayşe and I could have shared a cup - she was craving a cup of joe.

After we left the store, we headed back to the hotel where we said goodbye to Francisco.  We agreed on a time to meet back up with him and Juan Jose for dinner.

Earlier on our walk, when we were near the Templo de Santo Domingo, we passed by a street vendor who was selling a wooden playset - it was a small square table with four ladder back chairs.  It had the look and feel of something that had been made by hand.  Ayşe wanted to buy it for her niece so we decided to go back and try and find the vendor. We retraced our steps but it wasn't our lucky day.  By the time we made it back to the church, it was early evening and vendors were packing up for the day.  Our vendor was no longer there.

Now, we get to rest! So, we headed back to the hotel.  It was a beautiful day; seemed like shame to go inside so we found ourselves some spots on the park benches in the zócalo and just relaxed and soak in the early evening sights and sounds of San Cristóbal.  We were captivated by a older gentleman walking his two doggies around - looked like a mama chihuahua (??) and her puppy.  They were cute beyond belief!  Everyone they walked by wanted to pet them.

Perfect opportunity to take photos of the ants that I had bought in the market.  I roped my brother in to holding them for me :-)


Lots of interesting people walking by - even a Chinese man who insisted on handing me (why me?) a flyer for a local Chinese restaurant. 

Just chilling in zócalo.  What perfect way to unwind from our activity packed day.  I'm going to miss these moments when I get home and return to my frenzied work days.  Ugh.

Tomorrow we leave San Cristóbal.  It's been much too short a visit as there was so much more of it that we did not have a chance to see.  I would like to come back, someday, to this charming town.

Next destination.  Palenque.