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San Cristobal de las Casas is in Chiapas and is the real beginning for us of Mayan lands, and the difference in the people was immediately noticeable. Many of the Mayan descendants still wear traditional clothing (well, from traditional as in "not current"), and quite strangely to me looked extremely similar to clothes worn by some Dzo and Hmong tribes in Northern Laos, Northwest Vietnam and Southwest China. To add to the strangeness, some of the women and girls in particular had amazingly asiatic features. They also had the wet, woolly smell of Tibetans and Ladhakhis. I was formulating migration theories with each new encounter! Current theory revolves around thousands of Chinese brought over by the British to Belize as laborers, many of whom escaped. Many Mayans also resent foreigners being in their land, both Mexican and gringos and aren't overly friendly as a result.

San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico Chiapas typical colour decoration door houseMexico San Cristobal de las Casa girl with child young indigenous Chiapas

From San Cristobal we visited the Sunday market at San Juan Chamula, a short combi van ride away through tall jungle, slash-and-burn small cultivation lots and houses with chickens scratching in the dirt, pigs finding things to eat and dogs doing what dogs do.

The market at San Juan Chamula was stunning. We were the only gringos there when we arrived and roamed amongst the colourful locals selling fruits, clothing, vegetables, poultry and other market goods. One thing that continued to strike me was how many children there were, and how young many of the parents were. I don't know what the birth rate is, but many woman seem to be looking after several grandchildren by the time they are in their late 40's.

San Juan Chamula jungle market San Cristobal de las Casas Mexico

At one end of the market stands a church. It is a church unlike any I have ever been to or heard of. Inside there were thousands of candles on the ground amongst a carpet of fresh pine needles. At one side a quartet of musicians were playing beautiful but very unusual music on what I can only describe as modified harps, accordion and lutes. Instead of the usual statue of Jesus found in other churches in Mexico this church was dedicated to St John the Baptist, who the locals revere above Christ. Amongst the candles were bottles of Coca-Cola, which after praying the men would open, drink and belch, apparently believing that this purges evil spirits.

Outside, by the forecourt of the church men let of massive, home-made fire crackers in their hands. The crackers must have been made to especially not blow sideways causing finger loss of damage, but these went off like stun grenades with an almighty explosion. I suspect you would hear the singing of Angels for a few days after that. This is a religion that would have greatly appealed to me when I was 10.