What you’re about to read is the last bit of the story about when I met a shaman in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, and the first part of it is to be found here. It took me more than a month to get this down on paper, as this first experience with a session of Instalaciones Familiares in a so-called spiritual retreat center was absolutely mind-blowing to me. Besides, in between of experiencing it a lot of things have happened, as I traveled throughout Mexico for another week after my time in Chiapas, and if you’ve been reading my post – ended up loosing my grandmother while on my way home in October.
However, despite of feeling far away from Mexico now, being back in Norway where the winter is around the corner, I’ve had this constant memory of my first meeting with a Shaman on my mind, and wanted to share it with you. So here it is. Please bare with me as I’ve written all of this in my second language.
When we finally found the twelve-cornered concrete house where the session was going to take place, we’d been walking outside in the rain for a couple of hours. Even my underwear was wet, and all I dreamed of at this point was that it was warm inside of the house.
As we approached it, the music from within got louder. Although it wasn’t exactly warm inside, we all forgot about ourselves as soon as we met the Shaman.
There he stood; a tall, handsome and young man with kind eyes, in a pair of bleached jeans and large loose hanging green sweater on. He welcomed us with a warm smile and a gesture of open arms. I couldn’t help laughing to myself having imagined all Shamans are old with long grey beard and worn out fabrics hanging from around their shoulders.
After we had left our shoes, wet bags and clothes by the entrance (without ending up naked that is), the Shaman signalized with his hand that he wanted us to sit in a circle on the floor facing each other. Candles were lid up and placed in two corners of the room, and two ladies in their thirties were already sitting in the middle of it. One older man and a younger woman came in behind us. When everyone were sitting down, the Shaman presented himself while looking at each and one of us before he lighted some incenses and started walking around us while humming to the background music.
Soon he sat down himself and introduced the session. His wish was that we´d contribute to the session with whatever topic that we wanted to talk about. It could be something we consider a problem, although we were not using such a word here he said, as problems don’t exist – only problematic attitudes towards them. Thus we should refer to whatever problematic topic we want to talk about as a topic (tema in Spanish).
I already liked him.
The lady to my right started sharing her story. I understood she has been coming here for a while as her story seemed known to the Shaman. She told about her extreme fear that something dreadful had happened to her kidnapped husband (yes, kidnappings/ disappearances are more common in Mexico than many other places); a topic she felt she had dealt with better the last month (he was kidnapped three months ago). Now, the topic had started haunting her again, especially at night shaped as awful nightmares, which affected her ability to be a good mother to her two sons.
She couldn’t stop crying while sharing her story and it was clear that she felt completely out of control over the situation. The nightmares, part from being uncomfortable, had also given her new hope that her husband is alive as she meant they represented his desire to communicate with her while at sleep. Note: I won’t go into too many details as it’d be disrespectful towards her, but with the mentioned you’ve got a picture. What’s most important from the session isn’t the topics people brought to the table anyway, but the solutions the Shaman came up with, and the things he made us do for one and another.
Everybody listened in silence to the crying lady’s topic. The Aussies where listening too with big eyes although they don’t understand much Spanish. The Shaman kept handing the lady tissues, and when she was done talking, he looked straight over to the younger woman sitting at his right side, and invited her with a small gesture to tell us about her topic.
The woman, perhaps in her late twenties, had shiny long black hair, big green earrings and beautiful black eyes. She looked at the Shaman while explaining how she couldn’t stop being angry at her husband after his event of cheating on her seven months ago. While she had accepted his mistake, she couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted help to let go of the pain. She was so angry at her self for not allowing love to win over the hate she felt. The only thing she wanted was to truly forgive her husband as he had shown regret, and start all over.
The old man by her side said he wanted to treat some fear issues, but didn’t want to explain further at this stage. When at the Aussies, the Shaman asked them in perfect English to tell about their worries, and so they did. The Mexican next to me, a cheerful young man that I actually got to know the first night I was out in San Cristobal, revealed struggling with huge doubts for his future in terms of not knowing what path to choose. Then it was my turn.
Surprisingly – considering I was sitting next to a bunch of people I didn’t know – the words just came out of my mouth on their own. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it soon being my turn to speak, but when it was, I felt like talking openly about my difficult feelings over the person I for long thought was The One, but that I’ve lately come to realise I need to let go. I expressed my awareness of having to trust my own feelings of not being happy with the situation, yet that I need to manage to free myself from the attachment to the relationship as it’s an illusion rather than reality. As emotional as I already was sitting in this special circle with so many open human beings around me, tears were falling down my cheeks only a few seconds after I began sharing my topic.
The Shaman nodded his head gently while constantly keeping my eye contact, and gave the impression as if he understood everything. The weird thing looking back at it now, is that while hearing my own voice in the room in front of these people I’ve never seen before, I realised I felt completely safe. I sincerely wanted to share with them, as I had enjoyed the way they recently had shared very personal things with me.
After another person had shared his story, the Shaman told the lady with the cheating husband to start the session, and welcomed her on to the floor. She was told to pick a person to represent herself and a person to represent her system; the latter representing all her emotions and reactions to the cheating. She picked me as her self and the Aussie girl as her system. Without none of us (the Aussie and I) knowing how a session like this actually turns out, we were quickly into it due to reasons I still can’t understand very well. The Shaman stood next to us and only communicated with the lady. At the same time he wanted her (me) to look at the system and allow all my (her) bad feelings to float.
So there I was, in front of the Aussie girl looking at her, considering her my system. Perhaps it makes little sense reading this, but I’ll try my best to explain how the whole session made a lot of sense to me, the Aussie and the others in that room. Interestingly I honestly started feeling as if angry at my system (the poor Aussie), and horribly let down – all on behalf of the lady I’d only known for fifteen minutes (but whose story seemed so familiar). So when I looked at the Aussie, I didn’t see the Aussie I knew from the hostel any longer, but someone who’s part of me. It felt for a moment like she was me, which probably was the whole point as she was supposed to be my emotional system, and I felt so tired of her hurting me with her constant negative thinking. I started thinking she had to leave me alone and let me forget the past. All this happened without anyone saying anything in the room.
The Aussie kept looking back at me, with her mouth trembling a little bit, and after a while I had to reject her with my eyes. I felt like I had to protect myself from her as she was killing me with her negativity. It might sound bizarre but at this time new tears came running down my cheeks, without me being able to stop them. The Aussie didn’t let go of my eye contact, but her trembling turned into shaking and one could see that she felt extremely uncomfortable and struggled not to cry. Then the Shaman – who had been moving slowly around us observing us in front of each other – asked the Aussie how she felt. She said it was indescribable, and mentioned ‘very empty’ and ‘sad’, ‘as if dragged down’ etc, while constantly attempting to keep my eye contact. On one (rational) side I did feel a bit sorry for her, but I also knew that she was aware that it wasn’t actually me, Jeanett, standing here in front of her right now, but instead the lady who had told us her topic. Somehow therefore, I suddenly came with all the energy that the lady was feeling in her life, as if this above force were controlling us…
We stood like this for a while until the Shaman started telling me what to tell my system. I had to repeat stuff like “I don’t need you, this doesn’t make any of us happy. I can control you to think otherwise. You are my friend, not my enemy” etc. Not surprisingly the energy changed dramatically after I had said those words.
Then the Shaman told the lady to talk to her self (me). She was supposed to face me as if I was her soul’s mirror and she was told to repeat the Shaman. I won’t go into details, but he said a vast amount of serious stuff about loving yourself and particularly that she is sorry for forgetting to love herself and that she will never again let herself down like this. It lasted for at least five minutes, and from the first moment the lady started speaking she cried so strongly – yet it only struck me as extremely beautiful – that I kept wondering whether I should embrace her or not. By looking into her eyes and having her this close to me, I could seriously feel her pain in my whole body, and got the feeling that my chest could explode.
It may sound crazy but I honestly felt that I loved her and really needed her, so when she told me all the beautiful things (which was her talking to her self), I started wishing the most beautiful things for her. Bff, I guess I can’t really express it all in words, it was so powerful. In a way, I felt like I was traveling through my own life, through my own heart and feelings of loss, but more than anything I felt for this woman and only wanted her to know that it’s going to be alright. I was like: It’s alright, just look at me, I’m here. I’m you and I love you.
Does any of this make any sense of all? Because what I just told you is really the essence of the whole point with instalaciones familiares. What the Shaman made us do was actually to transport ourselves into being pure emotions and portray pure love, for one another, through being close to one another and allowing the energies to flow between us. And the fact that we don’t know each other is also the point, I think. It was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and everything the Shaman made anyone do in that room – through different sessions – really makes sense when in the middle of it. In a way it was the closest I’ve got to acting, yet I can’t really say if this is how it feels for actors. But looking back at it, it makes me think so.
For instance, with no words at all, I went from feeling very sad to very strong on the lady’s behalf and by listening to what she told me (herself), I truly felt it in me as well. That I’ve forgotten about myself. And now I understood all it takes is something like this, to look myself into the eyes and tell me how much “I love me” and that I’ll take care of me. After the lady had promised herself to never let her down again, but to love and trust herself, take care of herself and always hold herself close, the Shaman told me to look at the system again. And so I did, and there she was, the Aussie, not looking scary at all. I saw through her, so vulnerable and loving, and understood her with a new strong awareness that she can’t let me down, that I’m in power here. That she’s nobody without me and I have to only love her and nurture her.
Throughout the next hour other people were invited to the floor, and picked their selves in other people present, and whatever other topic to be represented by a second or even third part. Most of the sessions were as strong as the one described. The last one however, was unique in its form, and made me sure I’ll never ever forget the power of human energies.
The Shaman waited with the lady whose husband is missing till the end, and I can see why. She had been crying most of the time throughout the session, while everyone else went through their topics. Outside it was now pitch dark, and still raining heavily, and the Shaman asked the lady if she wanted a session. She nodded, mumbled something and stood up. He handed her an incense and placed her in the middle of the circle in which we were sitting. He laid his hands on her shoulders, and she instantly burst into tears again, and leaned her head backwards onto his shoulder. I thought for a moment that the sound of her sobbing was dancing with the sound of the rain on the roof.
While watching them, I remember feeling like crying – again – but something else happened: As I looked around me, the presence of everyone sitting in the circle felt intensified to a completely new level. Everyone had their eyes on the lady and Shaman standing in the middle, and their were as filled with love as their faces were totally open. Then the Shaman went over to the CD player and put on one of the most beautiful songs I know of: Todo cambia, by Mercedes Sousa. On repeat.
With the music came a weird strong sense of hope and love and filled the room. It had been a while since I had heard that song, I thought, and awed to myself over the perfect selection and felt goose bumps popping up over my body. The Shaman handed each of us an incense while we were sitting down, and smiled to us without saying a thing. Automatically we all knew what to do. With the incense in our hand and without any indications, all of us got up and took a step towards the lady, as if embracing her with our bodies. The Shaman kept moving slowly around the lady and marked several areas around her head with the burning incense as if he was embracing her with it. Soon, the lady who was still crying, looked up and around her, caught eye contact with some of us, and smiled. I can only speak for myself of course, but the feeling of collective love towards her in that moment was out of another world.
I remember looking at the others, smiling, feeling them, loving them, and looking at the woman and moving in a circle around her. The Shaman took our arms and put them on her head, her shoulders and back. Then he went over to the CD player and turned up the volume, and the woman started swinging from one side to the other. Her face opened up, almost as if her heart came through it, and she started laughing through her tears. We stood like this for a few minutes; swaying slowly together, looking at her and each other, smiling, someone holding hands, while others held their arms around the lady. No words were said; but everyone still seemed to communicate pure love and compassion to the lady. To each other.
Since we ended the session, got our shoes and clothes on and left the place, I’ve been thinking about the weird fact that none of us actually talked to each other about what we had just shared, before going home. As if it wasn’t necessary. Still, I’m confident everyone felt the same way about the Shaman’s brilliant way of dealing with this poor lady’s topic. What she was going through was of another level than the rest of us, and one should be forgiven for thinking no words could make her feel better anyway.
Part from the ones that came out of the speakers: Todo cambia.
Meet Shira, the oldest dog alive in Mexico. She lives in La Cigana, a cute little hostel in Tulum, where she spends most of the day sleeping in funny positions. Like in San Cristobal, one of the reasons I instantly liked this hostel when I found it was due to the way the staff treat their animals.
After getting to know the dogs and people in La Cigana, I went on a mission to find a suitable accommodation on the beach for the next three days. Thing is Tulum is a small town in the middle of the jungle. Downtown Tulum is said to be cool, but beachside Tulum is said to be awesome. Staying there however is very pricy, hence I biked my way to the beach to discover it, in particular looking for the camping sites.
Twenty minutes later I was there – a “there,” meaning “by the beach” because the Tulum beach isn’t like other beaches where you have a promenade alongside the coastline where you can bike or stroll down it enjoying the beautiful sea view while feeling the sea breeze. The Tulum beach is presented by a three kilometer long road in between gorgeous and lush gardens, which all are inhabited by gated resorts and restaurants.
This means you actually don’t see the sea from the road by the beach, but have to choose a place through where you enter in order to get to the actual beach. While biking down the road I couldn’t stop thinking about how this feels for local people in the area that would like to go for a day on the beach. I mean, although the resorts and restaurants aren’t closed to public per se, they definitely give the impression of more than anything welcoming money strong people who wants to enjoy a day at “this or that specific private piece” of the beach.
Far down the road I finally found Camping Chavez, one of the places I’ve been recommended to stay at as a budget traveler. Entering from the road it looks something like this.
The atmosphere is friendly, the tents and posts about community spirit and recycling many. But it’s not that crazy cheap: Camping in a tent is rated at 90 pesos and for the less sandy alternatives you can get a simple beach hut for 400 pesos per night (which makes it a perfect option for a company of two or more).
You reach the beach by walking through the camp, and from the other side it looks like this:
For a little while I was suddenly back to Burning man, and dreamed of continuing camping in the sand surrounded by free-spirited people. Also, a delightful difference is that at Camping Chavez you get the beautiful beach and sea straight on your door way.
Yes! In the picture is Daniela, the nice girl I told about yesterday that invited me to hang out today. She brought an Australian friend that also has fallen in love with Tulum and moved here for good. Good times!
After some time on the beach the Aussie took us to one of the hot spots in Tulum, what food and live music concerns. Puro Corazon. What’s funny is that the man in my hostel already had told me about the good vibes here.
And good vibes I found. Two Happy-hour cocktails lead to four, a delicious Mexican fusion dinner during a brilliant folklore concert with three young artists, followed by a round of Mezcal at the bar together with the super chill chef, Balam.
Naturally, I completely forgot about the initial mission of finding a place on the beach: Now, writing this I’ve actually just come home from a craaaaazy night out downtown with my new Mexican friends. The main road in Tulum is full of fun places, not to mention people and good music.
Quite strategical then living near by, so I may leave this place alone for now, though it looks wicked.
The best with reaching the Caribbean side if Mexico isn’t the climate, the hot turquoise weather and the cliche sandy beaches. It’s having all the coconuts I can only dream of managing to eat within an arm’s reach.
Perhaps it’s because I’m originally from Norway that I developed a passion for coconuts, as they’re so rare and exotic to people in the North. I can’t remember when I had my first coconut, so apparently it wasn’t a mind-blowing moment, but my fanaticism definitely grew stronger through traveling and possibly with some help of the popularity explosion of for example Thai food wherever you are in Europe…
Anyway, I’ve become a coconut fanatic and it’s been a while now that I’ve consciously planned my trips around the globe according to where they have delicious and locally grown coconuts. At least that’s where I’m heading..
Of course I knew Mexico is one of the hot spots in that regard, but as much as I knew it, the country is big and it’s not until you are in beachy regions that you actually find them everywhere.
The 24 hours I spent in Bacalar were rather boring, yet good for a break on the long way from Palenque to Tulum and to get a peak of the beautiful Bacalar laguna. But most importantly it was a perfect place to start consuming fresh coconuts. To my thrill the guesthouse I staid at had eight coconut trees in their garden and dozens of coconuts spread around the lawn, and the owner told me to pick and eat as many as I wanted. I took him seriously.
In Tulum (where I am at the moment), there are coconut trees and vendors on every street and I feel like in heaven with my new routine of cold coconut juice and flesh for brunch, evening food and night food. Also, since we’re in Mexico, you can only imagine all the ways they offer to serve you the coconut flesh. Coco enchilada, limenada, with tamarindo, or mixed with alcohol… And the best, they’re all natural, healthy, locally produced and not distinct.
Sometimes when you reach a destination I think it’s a good thing not having booked a room. Without it you find yourself much more alone and lost and quickly understand that you really have to just speak to people. Often – especially in countries like Mexico – this means you’ll quickly make new friends.
Like I did yesterday when I arrived to Tulum.
I won’t brag about being wild and crazy with no idea about the destination or at least the street I’m walking in. After the birth of the smartphone those things are sorted with a finger click as long as its battery is charged.
Still, I find it very exciting to just arrive in a place and take it from there.
After I had talked to a couple of locals and a lovely French couple on the street about what area of the main road was the best, I walked towards the side they meant was the most central. Walking down the main street I realised Tulum is a little bit like what we refer to as Syden in Norwegian. And Syden to us, predominantly means Spanish or Greek holiday destinations to where Norwegians flock each year for some beach and sun.
On the main street of Tulum – like on the main streets in Syden – you find shops, bars, restaurants, more shops and more bars as far as the eye can see. Though I must say that here many of the places look a lot more stylish than what I’d expect from a main street in Syden. In Tulum plenty of bars and shops already got my attention due to the mix of gorgeous textile products from the most popular Mexican regions like Chiapas and Oaxaca.
As I’ve just spend a week in Chiapas many of the products aren’t that new to me, besides they are pricier here than in for example San Cristobal. However a couple of new products stand out in Tulum though and that’s the coconut lamps. And the hammocks.
While I had my bit of hammocking in Bacalar the last 24 hours, I certainly can’t wait to drink and eat from the many coconuts around. But last night my priority was first to find some green food before sorting out my accommodation situation.
After walking down the main road I picked a tempting Mexican place because I find them to normally be quite good at offering green varieties although they might not have specific veggie plates for you. To my positive surprise the Tripadvisor reviews of the place were very good and so I sat down with a girl at my age that had a table to herself on the sidewalk.
We started chatting and one hour later we had each others’ numbers and an arranged meeting on the beach the following day. My new friend’s name is Daniela, she is originally Mexican, utterly beautiful and smiles a lot and I liked her style at once. She just moved to Tulum from Los Angeles were she has lived almost her whole life and recently married an American. Most of her family lives in DF, and now due to some residency issues in the US she had taken the tough decision to come here to work while her husband is “back home” in LA while they get some permits sorted. She spoke about him with such a beautiful tone that almost I fell in love with him too.
Que bonito el amor..
After dinner I decided to go for the nearest hostel to the restaurant and ended up in a vibrant little street that cuts of the main road called Calle Centauro Sur that holds lots of cool bars and restaurants and a chill local/international vibe. My hostel is called La Cigana and I first paid for only one night as I planned to go and find a place by the beach later, but today when back after biking around I decided today to likely stay here the week. They have bikes to rent and a really nice and chilled staff that helps you out with anything.
Ah, and the below bar chairs are another thing typical for Tulum as far as I’ve understood.
Hammock bar chairs. Amen.
and the Gipsy Giraffe is one heck of an unforgettable experience richer!
Remember I told you that San Cristobal de las Casas has a special spirituality to it, and that the city is surrounded by mountains where people live more unconventional lives and hold workshops in meditation, yoga, human energies and so forth?
Well, now I’ve been there. And it was amazing. It was mind blowing in a way I don’t know if Ill be able to explain yet, so for now I’ll explain the journey it was searching for the Shaman.
First I was about to go up there alone, but then through talking to people I’ve met in town throughout this week, three new friends came along. The Australian couple from my hostel, and a young Mexican guy that just moved here searching for meaning. All three very friendly, open-minded and adorable people.
Before going we had tried to find some info about upcoming events, and could only trust a Facebook page that mentioned something called Instalaciones familiares. By the time we had reached the city center to grab a bus, it had started raining heavily. Suddenly we bumped into Gustavo on the main street downtown, an older gentleman (standing to the right in the below pic) I met the first night I was out on a Mezcal riot in a very popular bar called Revolucion.
First Gustavo laughed at us wanting to go see Lauro (the main shaman of a spiritual community in the mountain) as he meant it all had become too commercial. Then he said Lauro has become an old man, besides that he supposedly is out of town.
Two of which statements I was already aware of through having talked to a guy in my hostel that had been to the mountain, and some random people on the streets (yes, Cristobal de las Casas is like that! Everybody speaks to everybody).
Furthermore he claimed that we should trust that we have all the spirituality we are seeking for within ourselves as opposed to finding it through a Shaman (yes, Gustavo is one of the interesting personalities whose beautiful saying I already told about here). I listened to him with polite interest, yet explained that we wanted to go there of various reasons and interests he might not have inside due to his specific life experiences and the fact that he is a resident. He seemed to grasp that.
The rain kept poring down and soon the soaking wet Aussies – that don’t speak Spanish – looked more and more inpatient while I tried my best to translate Gustavo’s well-meaning opinions. We thanked him and told him to meet us later to hear how our experience turned out. Arch, you can’t go walking in the mountain in this rain. Ill take you there. Vamonos! he said suddenly and pointed us towards the street where his car was parked.
Out of the city we went. Through narrow streets with more and more worn out houses the further we got. We passed a lively fruit and clothes market with cages of live hens, and soon went up the hills towards the mountain of el Señor Lauro. All the way we sat listening to Gustavo singing to Joe Cocker from beneath a big cowboy hat, with his grey curly hair dancing to the tunes.
Gustavo left us in the mud outside of the famous Lauro’s retreat haven, where two women welcomed us and confirmed that Lauro unfortunately wasn’t present at the moment. They told us we had thirty minutes to discover the site or walk up the mountain before the Shaman would start his session Instalaciones familiares. Despite of the rain and one of the Aussies being barefoot, we decided to walk up to the mountain to check out its famous energy and see the city from there. Everyone we met on the way greeted us with a smile and Buenas tardes. One man told us where we would get the best view.
Some houses and dogs later, we had to cross a hill on a tiny path covered with trees and huge cactus plants before we finally reached a good spot to see San Cristobal from another angle. A tiny cliff revealed itself in front of a huge rock and the four of us agreed this has to be the best offered view over the city. We lined up together and agreed without a word that the rather dangerous way up here was worth it. We stood there for a while in silence, yet in awe, and it seemed to me we had one wish in common: To stand here forever and let the pouring rain wash of our faces. It might have been placebo of course, but I´d argue one could feel something in the air up here. I felt as if I saw faces of this place´s ancestors painted on the mountains and got a weird sensation of all the destinies I don´t even know of whom exist in between the buildings on the ground. I got high on nature and high on a feeling of being united with a place I didn´t even know I needed to unite with.
But we couldn’t stand forever. We were on a mission to meet a Shaman, and the lady had told us to be back in thirty minutes. On the way down to el Lauro, the Mexican guy told in our group me he has never met a Shaman either, but that he has dreamed about it since he arrived to the city. He´s the kind of guy that loves experimenting with anything spiritual and recreational, and told me about an epic journey on Cayote he recently did while we where on our way down. Oh, Mexico.
Down at Lauro’s place we walked around in silence in the beautiful garden, all soaked wet and rather cold. Then we were told the Shaman was ready to see us in a wooden house well hidden behind some enormous trees.
Our relationship is in its early stage and yet, San Cristobal de las Casas fascinates me a lot.
There’s something with the energy. A special, like an increased spiritual one, energy. These things are difficult to define, let alone to explain, but it’s as if you can sense spirituality in the peaceful, awake and smiling local people, and on the streets among the old cars and worn out, colorful houses.
Perhaps indigenous history is responsible, or perhaps it’s the surrounding nature. Maybe even the bohemian expats living here does their share? Either way, it’s been a long time since I sensed so many kind and interesting personalities around me, overall good energy around any corner and knowledge in every wrinkly face passing me on the street.
There is undoubtedly an extra touch of spirituality in the many foreigners here too, many of which seem to be unable to leave this place. Most of the foreigners I’ve met in San Cristobal call themselves artists, yet aren’t interested in talking about anything related to ambitions in that regard. They’re simply into the making love, making art sort of lifestyle, as well as making sure to detach as much as possible from the capitalistic world view out there.
By the way, defining spirituality I like to think that:
it’s an individual practice that has to do with achieving a sense of peace and purpose. It also relates to the process of developing beliefs around the meaning of life and connection with others.
What’s inspiring with people like this, is that none of them know where they’ll go from here. It’s just not a topic. They rather show you how much they’re in love with this very moment of life, focusing on what happens here and now around them. Which – hands down – isn’t an attitude people overwhelm you with when closer to societies highly impacted by the rat race mentality.
So, why does some places have this effect on people? Or why does some places attract these people? Or even; how do people’s attitude towards life effect a place or society?
Pondering over these questions quickly opens for the chicken and egg argument, I guess. And as always there are several factors to take into consideration when reflecting over subjects like these. Walking around in San Cristobal, and even while writing this, I often ask myself if the ‘spirituality’ is something everyone senses. Like, as something presently stronger than in other places?
When out traveling, I often sense it in places where nature is more present and important to people’s lives. And we all know nature is full of the purest energy. But so are human beings. And personally, I’ve always been more people-oriented than nature and landscape-oriented.
Thus, for some reason I assume the kind and relaxed energy I sense in San Cristobal is put in place by the people living here. But again, it’s obviously also adopted by the many visitors, and perhaps that’s how the place has been shaped over time. Various residents Ive talked to also claim that the mountains surrounding the village represents important spots where influential and spiritual individuals have lived for decades, perhaps centuries.
Apparently there are a couple of places where people arrange energetic and spiritual events open for all to attend. I’ve always wanted to try something like that so I’ll definitely go up there one of these days, hopefully to find interesting ways to treat whatever topics that concern me. Maybe it can be a good way to find the tools to stop worrying about some things, and be more confident about how I feel. A helpful way to enforce a beautiful inner journey, which I always find equally important as the outer journey we’re constantly on when traveling.
Because although we tend to forget, a journey is much more than seeing things and ticking of destinations. It’s equally much about being on an inner journey, developing as individuals and moving on with more knowledge, reflections and tolerance about the world and people in it. Though that’s not always something all places we visit evoke in us.
When traveling solo I think the above concept is even more predominant. Due to the simple fact that one has to trust strangers even more in addition to learn how to spend time with oneself. Both of which are good lessons for self development.
Honestly, I didn’t expect anything special from this place, but quickly got that wonderful feeling that sneaks up to us when living now and then: that this is the place to be. There is no other place I’d like to be, right here, right now.
It be a coincidence or not, two beautiful souls I’ve met in San Cristobal by now have said things to me about this very topic without even knowing me or whatever I struggle with. Separately they’ve told me they think I’m in the right place to find out of things. Quite randomly they´ve both even claimed that people like me has to confidently live more through the feelings, as opposed to through the thoughts.
Fair enough. But what does that really mean?
I´ll continue thinking about that for a while, and hopefully Ill get more input on the matter as time goes and Ill get to know more people with more views on it. Right now Ill run out to grab some tortillas in my spiritual neighbourhood. 😉
Edit two months later: If you started reflecting about the advice the two men had given me as mentioned above (regarding living more through our feelings), I´ve now written something about it here.
Honestly I can’t remember what I actually imagined about this place before coming here.
I was excited about it yes, as everybody I know that’s been to Mexico told me San Cristobal de las Casas is a must-see. Together with the smaller village San Juan Chamulas, it’s supposed to be one of the Chipas region’s hippie-like and colourful mountainy villages, I was told.
Well. CHECK CHECK CHECK!
Besides, Oventic – where the Zapatistas live in their own demanded autonomy – is a neighbouring village, reachable for specially interested. I’ve indeed been especially interested in the Zapatistas since I first learned about the movement in University. (I´m very into social movements, but that´s another story).
Before arriving to San Cristobal de las Casas, I hadn’t worried about accommodation as Id seen online that the place was full of decent hostels. After three hours of traveling on roads of various standards, away from the weird little place Bacalar, the bus left me and my metall-seat-tired-bum at the station downtown. As I started walking with my overweight backpack towards the center I was quickly moved by the look of the place.
Welcoming me were old, narrow streets full of small cement houses painted in all kinds of bright colors and busy working women on every corner dressed traditionally with cotton blouses tucked inside wide woolen skirts. Already on the first block I walked down I’d seen a blue house with yellow door frames, two neon orange houses with turqoise window sills, a pink house with grass green borders and numerous worn out balconies with ceramic flowerpots and painted chickens on them.
From the look of the people in the streets I felt much closer to the pre-colonial history of this country than in Mexico DF.
A closeness that comes with a price I’d say, because the streets are full of seemingly deprived indigenous people (including kids) working as street vendors. Everywhere I’ve gone till now, most indigenous people (out of whom only the women are dressed traditionally as mentioned above) seem to be selling textile, sculptures, fruits and cigarettes, or polishing shoes. Fortunately Ive spotted some shops and cafes managed by indigenous people as well.
Another blast from the past that visualizes on every corner are the functioning Volkswagen Beetles. They are everywhere, exist in all colors and seem rather popular. I mean, they even serve for driving classes:
I asked a man in my hostel what’s up with all the Beetles.
Oh, el bocho, he said, referring to a beetle in Spanish. It used to be a very popular car when it first came to Mexico. Since then we’ve produced our own Volkswagen cars, therefore we have so many. I think the last bocho was made only ten years ago.
Now that I think of it, one could assume it’s due to the fact that I LOVE old beetles that I love it here already, and for sure it definitely has something to say with my instant good feel in this town. It took me a day to start dreaming of living here for a period with an old beetle to take me around, with a small flat in a pink-painted house whose balcony is perfect for my morning coffee hour and where I can create art in the evenings.
One day maybe. Why not?
Regarding my hostel, El hostal de Paco, it’s perfect. I found it as a result of many coincidences, which of course adds up to my awe for everything here. As it’s located quite far away from the other hostels I had spotted on booking.com I realised upon arrival that my backpack was too heavy for me to get there walking. So I started walking towards a sign saying “we got rooms” on a random street, when a taxi driver stopped next to me and the driver asked if he could help me. After I had mentioned the name and address of El hostal de Paco, he confirmed it was in close distance to the town center and I jumped in.
When driving down the two main streets however, I understood the hostel was further out of the center than a couple of the others Id found, and got a little annoyed with myself never having booked a place before my arrival. Still, I decided to trust the driver and also knew that whatever is called town of San Cristobal de las Casas, is within small distances.
Words can´t explain how happy I am today that I didn´t go for that tiny gut feeling in that taxi! The welcome committee in the El hostal de Paco was beyond imagination and made me realise in a second that I’d chosen the right hostel. I think I have to write a story one day about all the personalities I´ve met here, but for now these features are worth mentioning:
- The owner (Paco) is the perfect chill host with a big C and H. He´s as weird, funny and occasionally annoying as can get , but since I tend to like odd personalities, I think I almost love him. His way of yelling WELCOME HOME! YOU ARE ANDREA RIGHT? WE´VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU!, actually made me feel a bit awkward in the moment I entered the building with my huge backpack on (and admittedly a bit annoyed after the long journey), but after finding my place here Ive realised that that one glimpse of a feeling like WHO THE HECK IS THIS MAN AND WHAT KIND OF A PLACE IS THIS? WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME? only were products of my own realisation of Gosh-Jeanett-you´re-outside-of-your-comfortzone-now-travelingsolo-on-top-of-everything-feeling-a-bit-insecure-about-it-all kinda thing. I even forgot about my potential allergies to the two adopted (former stray) dogs living in the hostel who jumped at me when I arrived, and decided to trust Paco who assured me that they never enter any of the guest rooms. Honestly though, seeing how he treats the dogs was another reason I was convinced this hostel is the best in town! I´ve made it clear right? I feel at home here.
- I’ve been placed (for my self) in an authentic old fashioned 7 people’s dormitory that must be over three meters tall, with the walls painted in sky blue.
- A German retired man with a US citizenship has lived here for 2 years (!) and the first thing he did when I came was to show me his German museum: his room covered with miniature castles and train stations from Germany made out of paper or plastic. Yes, he is another oddy that´s for sure, but I also already love him! The story about his life and reasons to be here is to be continued, but to give you a picture I’ll share this picture I took of him this morning while I had my breakfast in the kitchen. He always starts his day like this:
He sits there, in the middle of the hostel´s patio, which he calls his office, for an hour or so with a book, coffee and beer.
- Then there’s a young, beautiful Australian couple – that’s been traveling in Mexico and Guatemala for a year – renting a room for two months. Due to having adopted a dog (that they had seen in a small cage in a pet shop and felt sorry for) on the way, they’ve now planned to work in Canada for 6 months over winter season in order to save up enough money to get the dog with them overseas back to Australia.
- More stuff worth mentioning about the owner Paco then; he´s extremely friendly with regards to longstay guests and seems much more into having longtime guest as opposed to random tourists just coming for a day or two. It´s as if he´s creating his own little community here where everyone is invited to come and live. Hah! He´s also constantly making jokes about the German man, and never answers seriously to any question about himself or the dogs, which can be a little pain in the ass attitude at times, but as for advice for where to eat and travel and what to visit however, he is the King.
- Last interesting guy around is a Mexican in his late 20s who came for a month to escape some love issues back home. He works on his computer and seems to be going through an interesting phase of life. I already consider him a good friend after having spent several days with him in the village, out on bars, chatting, drinking tequila, laughing and sharing life stories. There you have it: I already have a new person in my life I consider a good friend, only because of this weird little gem of a hostel (and random pick of it).
Today this new friend and I went to the neighbouring Zapatista village together. We´ve talked about sharing an interest in visiting since I came, and finally found a good day to go.
I honestly got some mixed feelings about the whole trip and need to reflect over it, but overall it was super interesting (for us at least…). When I get my head more around it Ill try to write a piece about it.
All in all: VIVA San Cristobal de las Casas!
Now I’m off for some delicious tacos in town. Adios!
Yesterday I told about one of my first encounters with Mexico, – the Mezcal, and that was pretty twisted. Something even more twisted however, happened before that encounter, already on the way from the airport to the two friends that house me in Mexico DF.
Picture a humid, dark night. There are no stars on the sky, it is slightly foggy and there is no fresh breeze in the wind what so ever.
Picture a blond, 1,83 meter tall girl arrive, hungry and tired after a long journey and with a way too heavy backpack on her shoulders. She has no phone that works, but an address of a friend of a friend living in the city. She takes the strict message of the friend of a friend to order an authorized taxi seriously, pays for it and realises she really needs to pee. But the taxi personnel is already calling for her and before she knows it has thrown her bag in the trunk of a white, old car that looks just like any other white, old car.
She gets in to the taxi and off they go into the dark night.
That was how I arrived yesterday.
Shortly after I find myself in the taxi of a young man, that at first glimpse didn’t seem as friendly as I imagined Mexicans would be at all. I try to initiate a conversation with stupid comments about the weather, the hectic traffic and that I’m stunned over being in a city this size. The driver answers in an extremely little interested tone and I start wondering why the hell I didn’t pee on my way out of the airplane instead.
After three minutes the taxi driver that has seen me concentrating on my phone, asks if I’m watching a GPS.
Yes, I say.. Im trying to loc… “In case Ill kidnap you?” he interrupts me and giggles.
Our eyes meet in the mirror.
“Uhm, well yeah”.. I say with a false ironic tone.
Thoughts run trough my head, my need to pee becomes stronger, and calmly I try to finish my initial phrase: “I’m just trying to locate myself in this massive city”…
He laughs out loud, looks at me in the mirror and asks where I’m from. We chit chat a little about his take on Europe (expensive, safe and far away) and soon we’ve become a bit closer.
Fifteen minutes later (me all the time secretly keeping an eye on that GPS) he is answering to all kinds of questions I’ve asked him. He tells me things like where to go for a dance in my neighbourhood, what areas not to visit never ever in the city, how I had to be very careful in general being a woman on my own and more interestingly inside info about how the authorized taxi system works. He tells me that drivers get as little as 12% of the fixed prices set up by the company and that using their own cars!
We agree it isn’t a very good deal at all, and I suggest that maybe other taxi drivers hold the same opinion and that they could go together and demand a salary raise (I know, a very Jeanett-save-the-world-move of me).. He tells me he thinks it would be impossible and admits fearing to loose his job. “After all to be a taxi driver is a quite popular position, and unemployment is high here” he says, and continues: “But luckily, working with tourists brings extra tip money”.
I tell him I agree with that, while at the same time realising I hadn’t withdrew any national money yet. The ride was paid for with credit card at the airport and as it already was midnight and we were approaching my destination, the last thing I wanted right now was to find an ATM…
So I apologize to the driver for my inability to tip him today and smiles to him through the mirror. He replies with a slight exhalation, gives me a smile that looks much more like a grin and says: “I’ll have to kidnap you then,” before stepping on the gas pedal so we accelerate rapidly down the street.
A little disturbed, sudden pictures from the movie Taxi driver came to my mind so I yelled: Dios Mio, que loco eres!! pretending not to sound too worried after all. Shortly after he slows down the car, giggles a little and says: We are here, honey. We are here.
As Ive never been to this place, I look out the windows onto the dark street thinking to myself what the F. was the door number again, is it really true that we are here? but before I know it he has already opened my door. I recognize the street name on the lighting GPS on my phone’s screen and decide to trust him. He puts my backpack at the front door and tells me this is a good neighbourhood, and that he hopes I will enjoy Mexico city.
I intent to pretend like nothing of the craziness Id just lived through had happened and walk over to the doorbell to find the right number to call, not sure whether to expect a knife in my back or a warm hug from the driver. My friend’s friend answer and tells me she’s coming down, and so I turn over and take the driver’s hand, saying: Im sure I will enjoy it here, muchas gracias.
I don’t know if it’s a personal record, but the truth is I’ve been in Mexico for two days and already gone drunk to bed twice. One thing is to blame for that: The Mezcal.
And I speak about good Mezcals. The ones that trustworthy Mexicans recommend are equally good to drink as Tequilas. The first encounter I had with Mezcal while in the country it’s from – Mexico – happened the night I arrived to Mexico DF.
A Norwegian friend of mine put me in contact with a Mexican girl she knows that offered me to stay in her flat for some days. Fortunate as I am with my friends, the welcome committee this Mexican girl put together couldn’t be better for a slightly nervous and emotional (after saying goodbye to everybody in Canada) girl starting the third big solo travel of her life.
Maria and her boyfriend were up waiting for me with big smiles on their faces at 1130pm when I arrived with a taxi from the airport. So was their tiny cat Fer, that welcomed me by running wildly from one living room corner to another, stopping only to look at me from behind the sofa. Considering I’m probably the biggest woman he has ever seen, I don’t blame her.
Maria showed me what was going to be “my room for as long as I needed” where I left my things before the couple insisted we had a beer and a Mezcal. We sat down in the brown sofa next to the wall covered with a full book shelf. I spotted mostly academic content in genres like politics, history, anthropology and human rights.
Part from books, shelfs in the living room was decorated with all kinds of ancient Maya sculptures and some old records. Maria’s boyfriend surprised me with a serious interest in Mezcal and showed me his selection. As if wine tasting, we smelled the different types while he taught me their attributes. Then Maria came back with a plate of chopped apples and three types of chilli powder to eat in between the sipping.
“Remember to only sip the Mezcal. What you guys do in Europe with the Tequila shots is something you’ve invented. … And it’s dangerous!” they told me.
I agreed to that and confirmed I also had some drunken-on-tequila-stories in the bag. I don’t know why foreigners started shotting Tequila or Mezcal, but it may have to do with the taste of the bad variants we use. Because quite frankly, a good Tequila or Mezcal doesn’t give you the chills every time you take a small sip.Besides the fruit-on-the-side trick is very smart. Mexicans are of world class with regard to mixing sweet and spicy, bitter and hot.
“Let’s have a beer and a mezcal” led to at least the triple meanwhile we spent two hours of intense chatting about their study times in the UK (from where the girl knows my friend), kidnapping in Mexico, Human Right issues, Indigenous people, the purpose of my journey, advices for the city and had plenty of quesadillas.
We went to bed and I remember they said that the best about it is apparently that a good one doesn’t give you a hungover…
Now two days later, I can confirm this is a fact that is 50% true.
Because although it’s true I woke up fresh as a cucumber yesterday (and bragged about it all day, which probably resulted in chugging it again on my second night), I woke up looking like this today:
At first it took me a while to memorize were I got that necklace…
Then I remembered it all! An elder gentleman (supposedly a bank director) gave it to me during a karaoke session we both ended up in yesterday night. Randomly I bumped into him, his colleague and another lady that were out for some after office drinks.
I was on my way to a Couchsurfer meeting in a bar when I passed by them and for no specific reason – other than enjoying random encounters – I accepted their loud offer to have a drink with them.
As all things in life: One thing led to the other, and here I’m sitting slightly fringed out with a cup of coffee, yet very happy to be two interesting Mezcal experiences richer.
Some might argue that I’m not being careful enough when I bump into people like this, but trust that I definitely take my precautions. Part of my nature since I was a kid is that I keep running into random people. And I love it. In this last case I could have just left the drunken bank men after a little while in order to make it to the Couch surfing thing, but as I had no commitment there either – other than getting to know people – I somehow felt that the meeting I already had with the loud Mexicans was interesting.
It was especially nice to hear all the stories from the oldest man’s life. He had the saddest looking puppy eyes in the middle of a very wrinkly face, and told me he had survived three marriages. After two kids and ten slightly dramatic years with one lady he went through a hard separation before he fell in love again with a much younger woman. Her dream was to get kids, but apparently she wasn’t fertile so they had to go through a long process of applications and agreements for adoption. When their adopted kids were 4 and 6 the mother got cancer and died within four months, leaving my old friend a single father of two at the age of 55.
He told me that to get through it he had to take one day at the time, and that now looking back, the experience has changed his way of seeing love and life. To the better. Now, twelve years older he is the proud father of four and step-dad of two. With glittering eyes he showed me the pictures of everybody.
Then we talked for another hour before insisted on adopting me. At least being here for me no matter what. He was like: If you ever need something in Mexico, Ill help you out. After all this I see you as a daughter.
True story. Though it might have been the Mezcal that spoke of course..
Anyway, meetings like this is what makes traveling so beautiful and interesting. It forces you to trust people and listen, to see the world with other eyes.. And even more so when you travel alone. Which is what I love about it!
And I say that without recommending that people drink too much Mezcal, of course. For Christ sake, CONSUME RESPONSIBLY guys. Ill tell myself that from now on too, as ever before.
Still fascinates me though… That the below plant can create what it can in people. 😉
To visit this country has been a dream for long.
The country of the pre-colonial Toltec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations, of ancient ruins, shamans, high mountains, two immense coast lines, turquoise waters and deep jungles. The country of the tacos that got rewarded the first place on the UNESCO heritage list of cousines. The country of the avocado, the cactus & magic mushrooms, tequila and a diversity of interesting musical styles and instruments. The country of latin lovers, the Zapatistas, cowboys, chaotic drug wars and corruption, surf tourists and a vast variety of indigenous cultures.
Since I decided some months ago to do the US west coast trip (I just started) I thought why not wrapping it up with a visit to Mexico when I’m first on this side of the Atlantic ocean.
From September 25th Ill have at least 6 weeks to spend or as long as my money reach – and that all on my own – so the journey will be different in an exploratory and self developing way.
The below are my two planned routes, set up after taking friends’ and travel blogs’ advices of must-sees. I’m planning to have 3 weeks for each route though they are subjects of impulsive changes.
And then Ill hit the road to travel the other way around. More or less..