All posts tagged: Chiapas

The nomads of Mexico: how to afford a life of travel

How can people afford to spend their lives travelling? It’s a question I’ve been asking ever since I experienced my first months’ backpacking and the wonderful, heightened state of existence they allowed me to access. Even now, out in the world again with my life on my back, the question is ever-present, seductive and unanswerable: how can I sustain this? It was only when I found myself staying at Junax, a small hostel in San Cristóbal Mexico exclusively for volunteers, that I began to understand how it could be done. There we found a very different kind of traveler – the kind you need to become to make travel a sustainable lifestyle. These were people staying in the city for long periods of time and working with charities, some of these placements arranged by the owner of the hostel herself. Most were also working on their own side projects – one author, a couple of PHD students – and this hostel, deliberately low cost to encourage volunteers, made a long-term stay more than affordable. Combine …

Lost in translation: linguistic challenges in Chiapas

A definition of intelligence: the ability to adapt quickly to new environments. I have never felt less adequate of this definition than last weekend as I sat for an hour in meditative silence beneath the impenetrable Spanish of my five new Mexican companions. Despite spending around £600 and at least five hours each week on my language learning effort to prepare for this trip, my Spanish level is still little more than inebriated toddler. And that’s when I can work up the courage to speak. Early last week in one of my rare moments of bravery I wandered into a torillaria in the beautiful city San Cristóbal where we’ve been helping our latest project. I wanted to establish whether they made tortillas with corn or flour, and therefore if I could eat them. My questions were met with amused bafflement and I ended up abandoning the mission and leaving the shop empty handed. Elliott turned to me wearily and asked if I wanted him to try. He returned with a stack of tortillas and the …

Giving working children the tools to protest: fighting for human rights in San Cristóbal

The children in Chiapas seem a lot older than normal children. They already have the weary weight of responsibility in their eyes. From as young as three they wander the streets of San Cristóbal till the early hours, selling bracelets and flowers and any number of miscellaneous objects. One girl heads straight for me in the wine bar where I sit with the evidence of privilege spread around me; my digital appliances charging on the table, my Harris Tweed wallet, my resounding European laugh. She must be about six years old. She can smell my oestrogen levels from the other end of the street and uses just one calculated expression to send me into broody fits of moisten-eyed sympathy. “Una Tortuga. Diez pesos,” she says – that’s about 40p. It’s very difficult to resist as she lines up her selection of little clay animals on the table, and I do buy the tortoise first presented to me. I even exclaim childishly, “dos tortugas!” pointing out the second small tortoise on the back of the first. …

Disorientation: our arrival in San Cristóbal de Las Casas

A bewildering fourteen-hour overnight bus journey takes us far from the relentless bustle of Mexico City and into the tranquillity of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, high in the mountains. Cars wait in lines to greet us, adorned with bunting and bright balloons. The sun extends their colours to dance in arcs through the clear air. Uplifted by this exquisite welcome, we stumble into a taxi and watch the sleepy streets pass. We’re staying at the artisan’s commune Kza Libertad, the House of Liberty, on the recommendation of a volunteer on our second project, and approach it with more than a little apprehension. We find a ramshackle and not altogether structurally sound building with hammocks in the open courtyard, friendly dogs and a bleary-eyed household, whether from the morning or the smell of marijuana permeating every wall and fabric, it’s difficult to tell. We drop our bags and leave for a more appropriate moment to explore our living quarters. San Cristóbal is just waking up. After some negotiation with the unfamiliar roads, their colourful houses, …