Monday, January 19, 2009

Oaxaca to Tuxtla-Gutierrez

sorry about the sideways pictures...this is the Parachico celebration. it takes way too long to download pictures so that´s all you get for now.

These are from Monte Alban. Pretty cool, right?

I didn´t mean to include these two photos, but now I can´t take them off...look at them, but not with as much interest as the ones I meant to include.

These past four days have been very full. We were in Oaxaca for two days, Tuxtla-Gutierrez for one and a half days, a tiny ocean town called Puerto Arista for one night and now we are in a small town called Escuintle, really close to Tapachula, the border town just this side of Guatemala. It might be boring if I told you everything that has happened, but it amazes me how much can fit into four days, so I want to at least tell you the highlights. I´ll write each leg of the trip in a different post so that this one doesn´t get too long. Sorry if I say too much for those of you who like the short-n-sweet, and if I say to little for those of you who want all the details. Oh, if you´re interested in what Rolene has to say you can check her blog at
I didn’t do much on Thursday in Oaxaca because I have some sort of illness that involves a sore throat. It ended up not being the pollution in Mexico City because it got worse when we left and I was pretty worn out. I´m finally feeling a little better today, which is a big relief because I was getting tired of being in constant pain every time I swallowed.

However, Friday was pretty awesome even though I was still sick. I felt well enough to go to some ruins called Monte Alban, about ½ hour outside of Oaxaca. I’ve never been to ruins like this before and I was totally impressed. Monte Alban was inhabited for 500 B.C. to 850 A.D., when it was abandoned for unknown reasons. The Zapotecs built it and later the Mixtecs arrived and buried high status people in the Zapoteca tombs. I’ll include a couple pictures, but as you know, the pictures don’t really capture the whole experience. It was a very windy day and only mildly warm. I was there by myself because Rolene had already been there twice. I haven’t done many touristy things like this by myself, and I was surprised to find how nice it was to wander with only my own agenda and walk quietly with my thoughts, not needing to articulate them to anyone.

I pissed some Zapoteca spirits off and then saw a disappearing man. Enough said….
Just kidding, I’ll tell you about it. Before going down into the main plaza of Monte Alban, I walked through the surrounding buildings, some of which were ceremonial buildings and some were houses, and almost all buildings included tombs. I approached one house and read the sign outside that said it was an unusual home because it contained 4 tombs instead of one. I walked through the front hallway and as soon as I entered the first room, I got really uncomfortable and my mind kept saying, “Get out of here, get out of here.” I told myself to chill out and stop being so dramatic, but the “get out of here” continued so I left and apologized to whoever didn’t want me there. Then I turned to go back toward the main plaza and saw a little hill with a man in a white shirt sitting on top. I was a little freaked out by what had just happened so I thought I’d ask him if I could sit with him. I walked up the hill, practicing how to say, “can I sit with you?” in Spanish, but when I got there, he was gone. I don’t know how he could have gotten down except for the way I came up because it was all brambles and steep drop offs. I sat on that hill for a while until I felt normal again. When I got back to Oaxaca and told Rolene about my experience, she told me that when she’d been to Monte Alban before she’d had really bad feelings by the exact same house. Word to the wise: stay away from the house with 4 tombs on the far north side of Monte Alban--you are not wanted there! Or, I wasn’t anyhow, and I’m choosing to not take it personally.

That night Rolene and I got on an overnight bus, headed for Tuxtla-Gutierrez in Chiapas, where the support car was parked over the holidays. The bus was comfortable enough, but the ride was horrible. I had worn myself out going to Monte Alban so my throat hurt like crazy and I just wanted to sleep, but after the first hour, the road was so curvy I had to keep my eyes opened and keep all my energy focused on not puking. Rolene wasn’t so lucky, but I managed to make it through the hours of windy roads and we both got a couple hours of sleep eventually. We arrived in Tuxtla at 7am, exhausted, hungry and and zonked-out. After hooking up with the guy who had watched Rolene’s car for the past few weeks, we had to charge the car battery, get a new tire, get the brakes fixed and then finally we ate breakfast with Tony, a gringo friend who is living with his wife and her family in town.
Tony told us that we had come on a good day because not only was his family having a party to celebrate the day baby Jesus first sat up (oh, did you think that Christmas was over weeks ago…wrong!! Christmas is still going strong here. Yeah, maybe he was born on the 25th (though that’s historically debatable) but he apparently did a bunch of stuff after he was born. Christmas goes almost until Easter here. Bet you didn’t realize what a bunch of holiday slackers we are back home!), but we were also in town for the festival of the year, going on about 45 minutes away in Chiapa del Corzo. I have to say, though, that I think there’s about 15 “festival of the year”celebrations. In any case, Tony told us that we were required to go to Chiapa del Corzo for Parachico (para=for, chico=boy or more loosely, child). If we didn’t go, his family would be mad at him for not making us go. Rolene and I were so bone tired, but we had a couple hours to kill while the brakes were being worked on and nowhere to sleep anyhow so we got in a taxi and slept on the way to Chiapa del Corzo.

We arrived in Chiapa del Corzo right on time for the procession to start (or at least one of the processions. There are apparently more than one and the one we saw was probably not the biggest) and got a good spot for taking pictures. I have a rough understanding of the signifgance of Parachico and I´ll try to piece it together here. Back in the 1500´s there was a rich Spanish lady in Chiapas and her son got sick. The locals dressed up with masks and head dresses and danced to make the boy better. Since then, Parachico is still celebrated, but honestly, I´m not sure why. As I understand it, the boys who are involved in Parachico don´t just participate in the one parade that we saw. It´s more of a devotional practice in that they do a bunch of prayers and preparation before Parachico. One the actual day, they dress up in the costume (there´s pictures above) and do the march/dance for hours. Keep in mind that this is Chiapas, Mexico and it´s really hot. The costumes are dark and heavy and with all the dancing for hours, many boys reach an altered state of consciousness, according to Tony. The girls and women wear these incredibly beautiful dresses (also pictured above) and the effect of the whole things is generally overwhelming and beautiful. Parachico only happens in Chiapas, and I´m not sure if it is celebrated in all of Chiapas or just this region.

When we finally got to Tony´s house we had a few hours to sleep before the party. I came downstairs just as the religious part of the party was starting. We all had candles and the kids who had been chosen at a previous party also held figurines of baby Jesus sitting on the throne. They sang a beautiul song while we stood in the entrance to the house, then everyone went inside and they sang another song while they put the figurines around a little altar. People were lighting sparklers and the littler kids were running around. This was a religious ceremony, but it was also just fun and relaxed. After this part ended, it was just a party. There were about 60 people there and they were all from Maria´s (Tony´s wife) fathers side of the family, who come from the Zoque indigeonous group. Maria´s mom´s family is Zapateca and they live further away so they weren´t at the party. The families who were chosen as the baby Jesus holders at the last party are also epected to bring the food for the party. Tony warned us that Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico so the food would be made from ingredients that people could afford. I was really grateful to be included in this family party (it´s not every day that a couple of gringas get to go to a family party celebrating the day Jesus sat up...come to think of it, Jesus was pretty advanced to be able to sit up at one month old...). I can´t say, though, that I was very interested in the hotdog/mayonaise combination on top of a mini tostada shell or the other hotdog dishes available. But did I eat them? Hell yes, I did, thanking them profusely the whole time.

Ok, this post is getting REALLY long. I´ll stop now, and put the Tuxtla to Puerto Arista leg of the trip in the next entry.

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