Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Naturaleza

Indigenous women were washing clothes
 in the stream, but declined to be photographed.
These young men were delighted to have themselves
photographed swimming in their underwear.
What might be called Open-Space in the US is here called La Naturaleza. San Cristobal is surrounded by temperate rain forests growing on steep limestone mountains. From caves and springs come streams and rivers that are pristine until they pass through the town. From there, they continue on as open sewers.

On the tour in January, Arnulfo took us up one of the stream valleys, where Chamulan people squat on the land in what is supposed to be a bioreserva. It belongs to some government entity that either does not care or doesn't have the resources to move the people to a different location. 1100 years ago the Mayan civilization throughout Mexico, Guatemala and Belize collapsed. There were a lot of reasons, not the least of which was overpopulation and the inability to grow enough food. The indigenous population has been increasing rapidly during the last few decades. The villages expel anyone who doesn't follow the rules, one of which is adherence and loyalty to the village's religion. With the influx of Protestant missionaries, many families have converted and been kicked out. They go where they can find a small plot of land to farm and build a small house. They have no mortgage and few ways to make money. Their farms provide subsistence living. The women are engaged in various crafts and embroidery, or they wander about town loaded down with cheap rebozos from India, selling them to tourists. Their children are typically not in school as evidenced by the sheer number out in the streets selling animalitos, candy, gum, and shoe shines.

Graphic sign, pretty self-explanatory,
especially the last one!!
The man I saw at Oventic is a hawker who gives out flyers for the Argentine steak restaurant to people on the Andador. Cuahtemoc is an interesting guy with many stories, several children and a few ex-wives. He's multi-lingual from having been raised in other countries, so he's got the perfect job chatting up the German, French and Japanese tourists. He also volunteers to teach Spanish, reading and writing, to indigenous people in Oventic. For fun, he takes people up into the mountains for long hikes into La Naturaleza.

I went with him and four other women, around my age, up the stream valley I'd seen many times from the Guadalupe church overlook. We climbed up and over a little hill that had some nice views. The river runs wide, shallow and cold at the bottom, but near the top of the valley, the water gushes over large boulders and fallen logs. The forest is gouged with limestone quarries, some still being worked. We climbed up to a small cave still used for religious ceremonies. The ceiling was black from years of smoke. Chunks of copal incense were scattered on the floor along with many small red seeds and dried up pine boughs.

Guadalupe church hill with fields below
A real attempt has been made to create a park near the top of the valley, where people can come with families and picnic, play futbol on the wide open green field, and enjoy the river. On the day we went, a man was teaching his kids to drive. They circled the road and field in a small green car that burped blue smoke. Two privies and a little cafe shack sit next to a building that may be home to the caretaker. We met him after he saw us on the other side of the river. He walked across on a single log with a puppy in his arms to collect the five peso fee from each of us. An older man, his only "weapon" was a machete which he probably used much more frequently on bushes than hoodlums.

We walked back on the road. It was a whole different scene. Men with big trucks were loading up chunks of limestone from the quarry. A giant motorhome full of Aussies was camped by the river along with several backpackers they'd picked up along the way. That side of the river was full of trash, wine bottles, and discarded clothing.

Obviously they hadn't understood the sign.

The caretaker and Cuahtemoc

Hiking back on the road