have a coke and a chamula..?

old iron gate at san sebastian

old iron gate at san sebastian

As you all know, I started drinking coffee when I was fairly young. And while my mother did doctor it up a bit, I was still drinking coffee. But it didn’t stop there, I also drank quite a lot of coca cola in my youth. Eventually, I migrated over to diet coke. The logical part of my brain knows I should really stop drinking carbonated sodas. But the illogical part of my brain just won’t let go. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that in Chiapas, coca cola is considered a magic cure-all..?!

coca cola billboard in san juan chamula courtesy of  trans-americas.com

coca cola billboard in san juan chamula courtesy of trans-americas.com

It first came to my attention when we were visiting Nuevo Yibeljoj. During the meeting, the residents conducted a small ceremony. There was chanting, candles and everyone drank a small glass of coca cola.! It was then that I learned, the Tzotzil Mayans believe coca cola has spiritual powers.! Boy, I wish I had known this information before so I could have used it on everyone and anyone who insisted I stop drinking diet coke.! But I digress….

praying inside san juan chamula church courtesy of mam.org.mx

praying inside san juan chamula church courtesy of mam.org.mx

Tzotzil Mayans believe that drinking coca cola promotes burping. And burping is good because it expells evil spirits. Prior to the introduction of carbonated beverages, the Mayans had to drink two to three times the amount of water to achieve the same cathartic benefits. Hence, the reason coca cola is considered a magical anodyne – you don’t need to drink as much. And nowhere is this ritual more evident than in San Juan Chamula.

iglesia de san juan chamula courtesy of wikipedia.org

iglesia de san juan chamula courtesy of wikipedia.org

San Juan Chamula is located in the Chiapas highlands and it is inhabited by the Tzotzil Maya. While there are several Tzotzil Maya communities in Chiapas, the Tzotzil Maya of Chamula stand out because they are fiercely independent. The town has it’s own police force as no outside police or military force are allowed inside the town. This independence may be attributed to the fact that Chamula serves as the center for religious and commercial activity among all Tzotzil Mayans. The church in San Juan Chamula is the main base for this religious activity. And this religious activity is interesting to say the least.!

inside san juan chamula church courtesy of tripwow.tripadvisor.com

inside san juan chamula church courtesy of tripwow.tripadvisor.com

The Tzotzil Maya have their own unique form of Catholicism. It is a blend of Spanish Catholicism and pre-conquest Mayan traditions. The first thing I noticed when I entered the church in Chamula is that there are no pews. Worshippers sit or kneel on the floor where they light candles and stick them to the floor with the wax. They also chant and drink cups of coca cola and posh, an alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane. There is no altar inside the church either. However, along the inside walls of the church are dressed-up wooden statues of saints. Most are enclosed in boxes and wear mirrors to ward off evil.

outside san juan chamula church with my professor

outside san juan chamula church with my professor

The other unusual thing I noticed was the strong smell. It is a mixture of burning copal resin incense and the pine boughs which cover most of the floor along with the empty coca cola bottles. Besides praying, healing rituals are also performed inside the church. Medicine men or curanderos diagnose maladies including medical, psychological and ‘evil-eye’ afflictions. Remedies include flower petals, feathers, eggs, bones and sometimes live chickens are sacrificed in the church. Thankfully, there were no chicken sacrifices when we visited.

courtesy of visitmexico.com

courtesy of visitmexico.com

I also took very few photos, as the Tzotzil Maya of Chamula are not very keen to have their photographs taken. Also, taking pictures was prohibited inside the church. I wish I had been able to take more photos because the Tzotzil Maya stood out even in terms of their traditional dress. The men wore black or white wool tunics or chujes that are belted around the waist. While the women wore embroidered blouses or huipils made of cotton or satin, shawls and long black linen skirts. The women’s skirts were amazing.! I had never seen anything like it.! I kept wanting to reach out and pet them, but of course, I refrained.

san sebastian cemetary

san sebastian church ruins and cemetary

We also visited the town cemetary and the ruins of the old church of San Sebastian. Even though the church is no longer in use, the residents of Chamula are still buried in the cemetary. Black crosses designate the elderly, white crosses are used for children and blue crosses are relegated for everyone else. It was a very haunting place because of the church ruins but also a very peaceful one.

memorial at san sebastian

memorial at san sebastian

Before we left San Juan Chamula, we also stopped at the zócalo. The zócalo is the main square or plaza in town. Lucky for us, there was an artisan’s street market going on in the plaza when we visited. The Mayans of Chamula are known for their amazing handmade and embroidered blouses, bags, blankets and scarves, among other items. You can also find Zapatista related items which I will discuss next week (spoiler alert!). They also bring their handiwork to the markets in San Cristobal. I walked away with a magnificent blanket and I bought some as souvenirs for my family.!

san juan chamula zocalo

san juan chamula zócalo

I have to say it was an amazing visit.! The church, the cemetary, the plaza and the coca cola.! Just when you think you have seen everything and heard everything along comes a new concept to make you go “wow!”. Coca cola as a magical elixir is one of those ideas that makes you take notice.! It also makes you stop to think about the religious rituals that are involved in your own daily existence and how those might be viewed by outsiders. I also wonder if the Coca Cola Company ever anticipated that their beverage would become part of a spiritual ritual.! But what I do know is the next time I pop open a diet coke, I will relish all of it’s spiritual powers 🙂

weaving a life…

central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico

central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico

The last two weeks I have been taking you on a tour of my initial visit to Chiapas, Mexico. We have visited Nuevo Yibeljoj, Union Majomut, Agua Azul, Palenque and Ocosingo. The reason for this tour is I wanted to contexulize my experiences during this phenomenal study abroad trip. I also wanted to share this amazing journey in the hopes that you would understand the strong connection I feel to this extraordinary country.! Sometimes, the decisions and experiences we choose weave a completely different life for us.!

church in Zinacantán

church in Zinacantán

We have a few more places to visit in Chiapas. But today, I want to talk about Zinacantán. San Lorenzo Zinacantán is a village in the southern part of the central highlands in Chiapas, Mexico. As with the residents of Nuevo Yibeljoj, most of the population are Tzotzil Maya, an indigenous people with linguistic and cultural ties to other highland Maya peoples. Zinacantán translates to “land of bats” and comes from the Nahuatl language. In Tzotzil, “land of bats” is spoken as “Sots’leb” which is what the residents call Zinacantán.

one of my classmates in Zinacantán

one of my classmates in Zinacantán

Our class took a bus up the central highlands to reach Zinacantán from our home base in San Cristobal. The scenery was breathtaking – blue skies, clouds and hills dotted our excursion. When we arrived, the beautiful church with streamers greeted our arrival. However, so did three very excited teenage girls.!! They were there to meet us and take us to three separate artisanal homes. The group quickly divided itself into three parts and each group followed a very energetic girl through the town’s streets. Mostly uphill, I might add.! hahaha….

artesanias alcatraz

artesanias alcatraz

My group landed at Artesanias Alcatraz. We met an amazing weaver who lived and worked out of her home. Unfortunately, I cannot recall her name. I wish I could remember it because she was a very interesting woman. She worked with other women in her village through Artesanias Alcatraz. Every week, the women would go into San Cristobal to sell their handiwork to tourists and stores. They managed to make a decent living, but far from what you and I would consider ‘normal’. The scarves the women made typically cost about 100 pesos which is currently not even $10 USD. I would have expected that they could have sold their scarves for more since they were unique pieces. But after bartering, $10 would usually end up being the negotiated price.

the weaver

the weaver

At the weaver’s home, we had two people with us who spoke Spanish and one person who understood Mayan. So we communicated with the weaver through translators. She had two daughters who we saw at the house. She was married, but her husband was working. I loved the fact that she asked questions about us.! Not because I think we were important. But because it was nice to be engaged in a reciprocal question and answer conversation with her. I remember her being confused about me because while she knew about the United States, she had never heard of Croatia. It was fascinating watching her absorbing the information about a new country. Similarly, to me finding out about all the different Mayans living in Mexico.!

modeling some of the beautiful handiwork

my classmates modeling some of the beautiful handiwork

After the question and answer session, we learned a little about weaving. We also looked at the finished scarves, dresses and hats. A few of us also tried on some of the traditional outfits.! The pieces were absolutely gorgeous.! I ended up purchasing a lovely purple scarf that could also be used as a mini blanket. I loved it.! The weaver, as busy as she was, also provided lunch for us. We sat around on the floor and some boxes eating tacos filled with ground meat and salsas. It was delicious.! It ended up being a great afternoon.!

a scarf

a scarf

When it was time to leave, we took a leisurly stroll downhill (yay!!) to meet the rest of our group by the church. This is when I noticed that I had lost the scarf I had been carrying around throughout my trip to Chiapas. It was a prettly little pink and brown piece I had picked up when I had been in Dublin the year before. In fact, I had initially been planning on moving to Dublin after my graduation. However, unbeknownst to me at the time, my trip to Chiapas would alter all those plans. But I should have known. Because while I was standing by the church feeling upset about my lost Dublin scarf, I noticed that I was still carrying the scarf I had purchased from the weaver. In that moment, my own life had weaved a different path.

Tecate take 17

courtesy of tecate.com

courtesy of tecate.com.mx

Buenas tardes mis amigos..!! Es viernes..!! It’s Friday..!! I had an amazing week and I hope you did too..!! I wrote my first blog post for World Spa and Travel which was very exciting. And I had my expat interview with expatsblog.com. You can check it out here – http://www.expatsblog.com/articles/1599/expat-interview-with-rose-first-generation-croatian-american-in-mexico. I hope you enjoy it.!

More importantly, I hope you enjoy your weekend. Sometimes life can be all work and no play. And when that happens, life is not as much fun. It can even cause people to resort to drastic measures to make sure they have fun.! This of course is the case in this weeks Tecate commercial, Tecate Epidemia or Tecate Epidemic. See what lengths our Tecate men will go to in order to have some fun and relaxation.! Hopefully, there is no thirty day quarantine in your future.! jajaja…
Enjoy..!! y Salud..!!