There are moments in life that I feel like my mind is open and I understand with absolute clarity that I am connected to the universe and everything in it. I am a tiny part of it, made up of even tinier pieces, likely from thousands of light years away. Each and every one of us, every animal, plant, particle, and atom all the same, yet making up very different beings.
On the five hour bus ride through Mexico to San Cristóbal de las Casas from Palenque I had one of those moments. At times, the view from my window was breathtaking. The hills, lush trees, bright blue lakes, and flora passed by and put me in a trance. A wave of emotion came over me.
I was gobsmacked by the beauty of nature and the feeling of true freedom. I felt connected to the planet, universe, and mankind. I don’t know why it happened that day. I’d seen beautiful scenery all over the world, in several continents and countries, but this overwhelmed me. I was brought to tears.
I was so happy I made the decision to travel for a year, to be in Mexico, and have all the experiences I had. In the past I’ve had a problem with being fully present. Always looking for the next thing to move on to, distracted by too many thoughts in my head. Perhaps I just felt a peace in my mind, body, and spirit that I had never experienced before.
As we passed small shacks and villages on the road, I got a brief glimpse of how people there live and I realized just how obscene our lives in the western world are. We rent ourselves out to employers, starve ourselves of natural beauty, isolate ourselves from one another, set ourselves into a mundane routine of meaninglessness activities, and consume, consume, consume.
The people I saw along the road live in structures made of concrete with tin roofs, maybe with electricity and running water but I doubt it. Even so they still manage to wear smiles as they move through their day. Small children play on the side of the road, not an electronic gadget in sight. I am sure their lives are difficult, but I sense that they appreciate life in many ways that we do not.
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San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
From the moment we arrived in San Cristobol de las Casas, I felt a connection to the town. It quickly became one of my favorite places I’ve come across in my travels.
The quaint and colorful little buildings, beautiful churches, friendly people, fresh air, delicious food and relaxed vibe was instantly intoxicating.
A few days after we arrived I visited what turned out to be the best market I have ever been to in my life.
Union Square farmer’s market in Manhattan is a joke, a tiny speck in comparison. This is more than a market, it is its own organism, a small city of sorts. Its stalls line up in rows one after the next to form streets, roads, and alleys. There is an energy here, motion, life, a community of sorts. The market has anything you could possibly want as far as food goes and a lot more.
As I made my way through the enormous labyrinth of stalls, I pass chickens feet, pork rinds, dried shrimp, fresh and dried herbs, fruit, vegetables, buckets of hooves and random animal parts, tripe, kidneys, liver, dried fish, crabs, fresh fish, old women carrying live chickens upside down on their arms, eggs, fresh cheese, mounds of vibrantly colored ground spices, shoes, bags, electronics, medicine, candies, stalls with prepared food, tamales, and more.
The vivid colors and strong, sometimes unpleasant, smells permeated the building and wait around every corner to be taken in whether you like it or not.
The overwhelming sights and smells were balanced by an strangely relaxed atmosphere. The people running the stalls seemed sincere. Some were eager to sell their goods but not in a pushy and desperate way. It was friendly and welcoming. So relaxed and natural that some of the women working in the stalls were even breastfeeding babies while they helped customers.
One stall in particular with baked goods made me realize just how special this place was. An old woman greeted me. I showed interest in her cake, a plain vanilla bunt with flecks of orange rind. She knew that I would buy one so she gently promoted other pastries to me. She explained patently, calmly, maternally, that one had queso inside, one was made with cinnamon, another with something I couldn’t understand as my basic Spanish failed me. I agreed to buy one, then another, and another. The total price for three delightful pastries, a mere 13 pesos (about $1).
At some point during the exchange I realized that she was not Mexican but rather Tzotzil or Tzetzal, the indigenous people of the region. Her frame was small, face beautiful, eyes round and big and bright, her hair smooth and shiny. When she smiled her face was magnetizing.
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
San Cristobal de las Casas is in the Chiapas region of Mexico. The region is home to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a left wing revolutionary group that was officially formed in 1994. The movement grew out of five centuries of hardship incurred by the indigenous people and was originally intended to create a revolution in Mexico. Their communities are based on cooperatives, equality, and nonviolence.
The town is filled with references to this group. Establishments like Cafe Bar Revolucion and Carajillo Café are a tribute to the movement. The colorful buildings in San Cristobol are covered in grafiti and posters. Women and children sell revolutionary dolls on the streets to those who pass by.
San Cristobal was not an easy place to leave. The only thing that prevented me from losing track of time and spending weeks there was the weather. After having just surviving a few harsh and cold winter months in New York City the beaches of Playa del Carmen called. I boarded the bus to depart and I looked forward to when I would someday return.