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  • Day8

    Canyoning, wildlife and weirdness.

    March 2, 2018 in Mexico ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Well, we left Chiapa Do Corzo this morning much as we found it i.e. totally untouched and unexplored, It literally was an overnight stop, although we did learn why the state is called Chiapas. It means the 'Place where Chia Grows.' So those of you who have the trendy chia seeds on their breakfasts and in their smoothies, this is the place they come from. Nevertheless, it did serve one purpose in that it is the gateway town to our first stop and adventure of the day - the Sumidero Canyon

    Originally a wide canyon with the Rio Grijalva, a raging torrent of a river carving its way through it, since the building of a dam further upriver in 1981 it has calmed down and is perfectly suited to being explored by speedboat. So this is what we did.

    A natural haven to local fauna and flora, our expert captain guided us up to the Gate of the Canyon (the three cliffs in the first picure that have now become the emblem of Chiapas State). Once these had been broached, we entered the Canyon properly and the native wildlife introduced themselves to us. Firstly was vulture beach where the small Black Vultures go to rest and dry off. We were told that they are essential to the area as they deal with all the carrion in the Canyon and keep it clean.

    We were venturing further downstream when we suddenly veered off as our eagle eyed captain spotted another inhabitant of the river - a crocodile. It was a big one and knew it was being watched a filmed. It hung around for about a minute, long enough for pictures to be taken and then with a flick of its tail, glided off into the depths of the river.

    Off we set again so that the captain could introduce us to the Canyon's celebrities, two Spider Monkeys called Panchito and Alondra. Pictured is Panchito, the male, having a relax in a tree and taking it all in his own time. They both know they're famous and turn out time and again to entertain the tourists.

    We also spotted grey herons, white herons and even a night heron. We were also hoping to see pelicans but they proved elusive.

    After a good couple of hours speeding up and down the river, we stopped for a quick and early lunch, and then boarded our trusty bus for the journey to San Juan Chamula. This was a very strange and mysterious place. Firstly, on arrival, there is a huge sign outlining what you can and cannot do in the village, the main one being that you can't take photographs particularly of the inhabitants as they believe it steals their souls. The main reason for visiting, however, was to see the Templo San Juan dedicated to St John the Baptist who the locals revere above old Jesus himself. And this is where it get interesting. They have rejected traditional Catholicism and have come up with their own mix of Christianity, mysticism and indigenous Shamanism. They do allow photos of the outside but the inside is fiercely protected, so the white building is the Templo.

    On entering, the first thing to notice is that the floor is tiled and covered with dried pine needles. This means it is as slippery as anything to start with before you get used to it. The walls are festooned with cabinets featuring creepy (in my opinion) models of all the important saints but Jesus was only to be found in a couple on the right hand side of the building. There is no priest and no real main cross laden altar. The worshippers come in, find a space near the saint they want to pray to and clear a space on the floor. They then add to the space a number of thin candles, both tall and short, which they then light and start chanting. The chant is possibly in the local language or possibly speaking in tongues and, apparently it can go on for hours although while we were there it seemed that when the candles go out, the time is up.

    As we were leaving, men dressed in white headscarves, wearing a sleeveless jerkin made of white wool, white shirts, 3/4 length white trousers and special ceremonial sandals entered followed by women dressed in black shawls carrying large open cauldrons/censers burning a heavily scented local wood called Copal. Our guide informed us that the men were the local village police force and that it was a special ceremony. They party advanced a bit, stopped, chanted for a bit and then moved on. This was repeated twice more before we left, so we guessed they had a very important prayer as they were edging towards the sort of altar at the back wall.
    It was all very strange but hugely atmospheric and absolutely fascinating if a little bonkers.

    Our last stop for the day was San Cristóbal De Las Casas, where our hotel was and where we'll be staying for 2 nights. Our orientation walk revealed to us a lovely town, slightly akin to Oaxaca City, but unlike OC it felt both touristy and local at the same time. Unfortunately, we can't see inside any of the notable buildings as there had been a strong earthquake in the region in September 2017, and they are currently being repaired and restored after some extensive damage.

    We had a group dinner in a local restaurant where I got a touch of the Pox... Fear not, no illness here, but Pox (pronounced Posh) is a local sugar cane based spirit brewed locally. I can't say it tasted of much but at around 60% alcohol, you certainly had a warm feeling as it headed down. Dinner was another local dish of a mixed meat platter called Parradilla - a generous mix of beef, chicken, pork, chorizo, pineapple and potato, all grilled and served on a hot plate. We shared it amongst 4 of us but only needed to order a two person portion, such was the size of it.

    After dinner, the a group of us headed to a local bar where we consumed a couple of buckets full of a bottled oscura (dark) beer and listened to the latest R&B and dance hits in both English and Spanish. We all rolled back to the hotel happy, full and merry,, looking forward to our free day in the town where we can explore and shop to our hearts delight. Happy days!
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