San Cristobal: Another beautiful colonial city, similar to Oaxaca but a more manageable size. On our first full day we went on a tour to some surrounding villages which, overall, turned out to be about as weak as it sounds. Nonetheless, in San Juan Chamula we got to be voyeurs at a fairly unique church service. The entire floor was covered in straw and candles, and the place was packed shoulder to shoulder. One particular lady´s ritual soon caught my attention, mainly because it involved a large chicken. She was very short (as always), dressed in heavy traditional Indian garb and had that dark weathered look I can never quite put an age to – she could have been anywhere from 35 to 65. She held the chicken by the legs with one hand, moving it slowly back and forth over the candles in a careful pattern, every once in a while jabbing its beak sharply into a flame, clearly making the chicken uneasy, before finally turning it on the woman next to her and using it to hit all the points of the cross.
That seemed to bring us near the end of the ceremony as she then quickly turned, braced the chicken over one knee and yanked on its head with her other hand. I think the idea was to pull it right off but I guess this one was a bit too wiry, its neck stretching a good 6 or 7 inches but remaining attached. This left her with no choice but to twist and heave repeatedly until finally enough blood dripped out for her to make a neat little line inf front of the rows of candles. Apparently satisfied, she dropped the chicken into her bag, packed up her kids and shuffled out. I could still see her bag twitching as she left.
The next day we went to Sumidero Canyon, expecting some good views and interesting wildlife (presumably alive). Tremendous views – check. Peaceful ride on the river – check. Eagles, monkeys and crocodiles – check. Massive floating islands of garbage – check. Apparently when it rains heavily like it has lately garbage gets washed down from Tuxtla Gutierrez and the current pools it in a few particular areas. Really disgusting. One bright side could have been how easy it would now be to scoop it up, all bunched together like that, but unfortunately all we saw were a number of boats sifting through the debris for wood and ignoring the rest. I got about 40 pictures of crocodiles, though.
For the most part I´ve got nothing but rave reviews for the hotel I stayed at in San Cristobal, Posada Tepeyec, nice atmosphere, big clean room, cable TV (hello NFL).
However, there was one rough night when a couple of the hotel employees drank all night, talking and singing into the wee hours. Around 4am I could hear someone vomiting in the bathroom near my room (for at least the 3rd time), a little kid´s voice, then a sudden crash loud enough to wake the dead (although apparently not half-drunk Israelis – not important). Finally I got up, poked my head out and said something (can´t remember what exactly) which obviously startled the girl lying on the floor among the shattered remains of a sink since she suddenly jumped to her feet, flung the 3 yr old kid onto her back and scampered off across the courtyard, surprisingly quickly. Unfortunately by the time she reached the hallway the booze regained control and she started doing that thing where your body gets ahead of feet, tilting, tilting….smacking into the wall and once again going down like a sack of dying chickens. The kid ran off into the dark and I just shook my head and closed the door.
Then I went to Palenque for a few days, staying in the jungle village of El Panchan, and it couldn´t be more different from the cool mountain cities I´d been in until then. The humidity is off the charts (although that may not actually be possible). Wednesday I had ketchup for the first time this whole trip and, brace yourself, managed to get it on my shorts. So I semi-washed them and ended up wearing them with a wet crotch for a day and a half hoping they would eventually dry. No luck, but now I¨m actually back in Mexico City. I´ll be home tomorrow night, and I´ll be sure to fill you in on how I spent Rosh Hashanah this year.