Random Tales from Chiapas

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Yesterday was amazing to say the least. As we were riding from place to place we observed some very interesting social dynamics. We met Amir, an American guy from Colorado who proved to be very arrogant. As we were waiting for the guides to ready the van for our trip, we watched him approach some girls and introduce himself. By the time we arrived in Agua Azul, he and the two girls were all holding hands in the van. He came with Moises’ daughter Ariceli for free and promised to spend time at the falls talking with her about life. At the falls, the two girls encouraged him to ditch her. This caused some serious high school-like drama, but then again he and the two girls were barely over 20 years old. On the way back, he was sitting with yet another girl and was kissing her on the cheek very affectionately. I never thought I would meet a bigger “player” than one of my good friends back home, but I was wrong.

Such childish things deserve no attention from us especially considering why we are here. However, we were dragged into the middle when Ariceli asked Linda to help her write him a letter. The note was supposed to motivate him to visit her in her cabana after midnight where she intended to break his heart by turning him down. I knew he wouldn’t go and he didn’t. He was too occupied with one of the young girls from the trip to be interested in Ariceli, a 40 year old woman. Amir was a young man traveling the world, getting free things by charming women along the way. What a life!

We awoke around 7AM today after staying up until well after 1AM. We drank a lot of beer and tequila and had a chance to sit with Moises Morales for a couple of hours. I was unable to understand much of anything he said since he and Linda spoke primarily in Spanish, but at one point he told Linda he wanted to talk to the “guera” and started talking to me in English.

He had some interesting stories to tell. He talked about being from Mexico City and fighting in WWII. He flew over Palenque and decided to make it his home. He packed up his family from Mexico City and moved them into the jungle to live with the indigenous people for 4 years. National Geographic is even working on a project featuring him. He talked about all of the places he has visited in the U.S. many of them I have also been. I believe he said he had visited Flint, Michigan which is near where I was born and raised. He spoke of being a part of a 20-person team that decoded the Mayan language. They were labeled communists because the team leader was a Russian. He shared with Linda many more interesting stories in Spanish.

The bartender of the little tiki bar in El Panchan shared with Linda a story that to me describes the mindset of the indigenous people in Chiapas. He was traveling up North last weekend through many indigenous areas. On his way back home, he was unable to pass through an area without paying 20 pesos because the road was blocked with stones. Apparently, an indigenous woman was hit and killed by a car and the villagers placed rocks across the road in response. Now, no one can pass without paying for her life.

This is similar to what we experienced while traveling to Misol-Ha and Agua Azul. At various places along the road, groups of local girls often accompanied by a few men will hold a rope across the road forcing people to stop. Once the vehicles stop, they jump in the bus, car, etc and try to sell fruits or crafts. We were told in advance that sometimes they rob the vehicles instead. We were fortunate to be riding with someone who travels these roads daily and is not only aware, but is known to the locals. He never stopped and they would drop the rope when they saw him approach.

On our way too and from Palenque, we saw hundreds of fires that had been intentionally set in the mountains. On our way back through Ocosingo, the entire city was covered in a haze from the smoke. No one seemed to care or show any concern about the fires. They appear to be controlled burns of farmland considering they are contained to square patches of land. However, many of the fires were burning in areas where farming would be impossible. Some of the fires were on hillsides too steep to even create the ledge-like terraces for crops. It was also evident that most areas that were burned had once contained luscious plant life and large trees. It is unknown exactly why they burn the land since the stories we have heard range from the malignant to the benign.
Moises Morales told Linda the Zapatistas are responsible and are encouraging the destruction of the land. The bartender at El Panchan studies agriculture in college and said it was due to the ignorance of the indigenous people because they have not been taught the proper way to farm. The bartender in San Cristobal reiterated that sentiment and added that they do not know how to control the fires and many times they end up burning much more than they intend, including their homes. Regardless of the reason, I find it amazing that it happens with such frequency and no one seems to care or show interest in preventing it.

(After we returned from Chiapas, we researched the fires further and found a satellite image online showing the prominence of fires in that part of Mexico compared to the other Mexican states and even other countries. I am no longer able to locate that image online.)

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