Into the Chiapas

Posted by on Aug 30, 2014

Zipolite Beach is supposedly one of the world’s most deadly beaches, because of its strong currents. It’s also one of the rare nude beaches in Mexico. It has a relaxed, ‘hippie’ feel to it, with camping for only 70 pesos a night (about 5 USD!), a fun bar and people bringing you coconuts and food all day long. It was hard to leave behind…

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Red flags are posted daily to indicate dangerous swimming conditions.

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Our beach-front editing studio.

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All the essentials of beach living in Mexico!

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Then one day, the heavens turned against us, bringing a night of storm, lightnings repeatedly hitting the islands in the distance, illuminating the sky. The wind and rain got so strong, we had to pack up our home and sleep inside the truck dreaming of being washed away by the majestic waves. And so, the next day we left paradise…

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Our interest in eco-villages and intentional communities had led us to some research about places in Mexico. We decided to visit “In Lak-ech” in Mazunte and got to spend a few days with Bradley and his helpers Mike & Lauren to see what the beginnings of such an endeavour may look like. Bradley and his son Ky had bought land about eight or nine months ago. They are slowly building an ambitious project on top of the hill. Their dream is the creation of an eco village that does perma culture and hosts yoga and meditation retreats. We got a glimpse of how hard it must be to build such a project from scratch, as we were helping to put concrete up the roof to make it water proof. We are curious to see the further development as other people have already decided to join and build their habitats in plots around the central structure.

In LaK’ech from Nonurbia on Vimeo.

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Erdem displaying the catch of the day.

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Brad displaying his self-made accessories including his patented underwear.

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Arriaga, our first night in Chiapas, was certainly the weirdest stop so far on this trip. Right across the Chiapas border we needed to find shelter for the night and decided to camp at an auto hotel. We noticed several Federales standing outside and decided to check into a room rather than camp since it wasn’t too comforting and also a bit loud right next to the street. At dinner in the restaurant we asked about the two tour busses outside since we had not seen anyone besides us and a few guards. We were told that they were transporting busloads of illegal central american immigrants back across the border south. If that wasn’t reassuring enough, they were about to have a reunion of the Federales in the very restaurant we were having dinner at. Indeed, by the end of our meal we were sitting there, two grinning slightly tense gringos, in a restaurant full of men in uniform with their machine guns on their laps and iron faces. Hurray! We politely said “Buon proveco!” to everyone and retreated to our room, washing the dust of the day off, and chilling out on the bed, until Sarah feels something tiny crawling over her face. Great. Bedbugs!

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We had no idea what adventures we were missing out on by avoiding hotel rooms all the way since Baja. After talking to the receptionist he offered us another room, but not the kind one would expect. This one had obviously been rented and came all inclusive with a used bed, belongings, and dirty clothes. We asked for a refund and went back to our own bed, camping in our car outside while the Federales were walking around all night holding guard. We had probably found the safest (or unsafest?) place in Mexico to spend the night. The next morning we woke up early, and quickly departed, slightly sleepy, after another meal surrounded by machine guns. Hello Chiapas here we come!

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This gold colored beetle was hiding behind the toilet paper.

A beautiful windy mountain road brought us up to San Christobal de las Casas where we immediately got windshield-cleaning-raped by two young guys trying to make a peso, and finally ended up in a beautiful camping spot that felt like we are in the Swiss mountains. We were warmly welcomed by a lovely couple from Colorado, Katie, Glen & Chaco the dog, who had seen our truck in Zipolite beach and were happy to encounter us again. Our other neighbors, a French family of five, traveling the world, joined the party and we spent a lovely evening with each other.

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Chaco and Lue

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Fernando lives in this small cabin and trains dogs for living.

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Erdem and Fernando had a tailgate party that lasted almost an entire day, drinking wine, eating grilled chicken, talking about camping equipment and sharpening axes.

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Sarah attended a few yoga classes at the campground. A much needed practice she had been missing for a long time since we left Los Angeles.

San Christobal is a nice little town with colourful markets. It’s a rare mixture of indigenous villagers and hip youngsters displaying their creativity in handcrafts and graffiti.

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The mayan tradition of herbal healing and medicine is still traceable in today’s markets.

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This one turns lovers into a Roy Lichtenstein Xerox.

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This one makes you find answers to long sought answers.

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This one is made out of burned fireman ashes.

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Undesireable bad person depicted wearing a blue tunic.

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Pick your poison! There are more varieties of chili than one would want to experience.

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A poster warning men to behave on the streets.

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Chamula is a little mountain village outside San Christobal. It has an extremely interesting church, which is catholic for Sunday mass, but most of the day it is home to a mixture of ancient and modern rituals that worship catholic icons as well as the sun, the moon, the stars and mother earth. The Chamulas are Mayan descendants and practice a colourful mixture of catholicism and ancient beliefs. The church floor is covered in pine needles (believed to be the plant of God), rows of candles, and everyone sitting in small groups. Some people come to pray, some bring healers, some play music, share soda and alcohol, or hold incenses over the holy figures along the walls. There is a beautiful warm and at the same time eerie mood in this place.

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We watched an enchanting ritual where three women would treat a baby by holding some branches over the candle smoke and brushing over the babies body, then hold a live chicken above the candles and move it over the child repeatedly until they eventually kill it. (The chicken, not the child!) People here believe that the chicken will remove evil spirits from the body. Photography is not allowed inside the church, but here is a drawing to inspire your imagination.

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Corn in grown in symbiosis with beans and squash.

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We also learned how to make thread from sheep’s wool.

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Erdem trying the traditional wool coat.

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The cemetery of Chemula is full of trash because people bring their loved ones things they liked. But the concept of non-bio-degradable materials like plastic is rather new to this community, and they are used to leaving them on the ground like all the organic things they are used to.

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Zinacantan is another mountain village specializing in weaving and similar artisan crafts. We were allowed to film a little moment of this labor intensive trade.


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We also got to experience the Temazcal, a Mexican sweat lodge, similar to a sauna, with hot stones in the middle that are heated in a fire outside and then transported inside. This particular one was called Warrior Temazcal, and was held in conjunction with one happening in Germany at the same time for several days in a row. The glowing rocks are called abuelitas (grandmothers) and are welcomed one by one with a song. The dark, muddy, steaming hot interior, filled with ritualistic chanting, drumming, singing and talking, created a mind-blowing experience for several hours, and was only interrupted by a kitten that hopped around on the roof trying to find a way into the warmth.

1 Comment

  1. Israel
    August 31, 2014

    Sitting somewhat nonurbia in our living room in Idyllwild enjoying your exquisite travelogue. Thank you for a window into so many worlds.


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