Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chiapas Part 14b: Sumidero Canyon, its Cave of Colors and its crocodile-infested beaches

Immense canyon walls rise closely on both banks of the Rio Grijalva. In my last posting, I focused on the geology, flora, and fauna of the canyon. This week, we continue through Chiapas' second-most-visited tourist area (Palenque is #1)), but the focus will be the historical and cultural background of this great gorge. Until the second half of the 20th Century, the Sumidero was a mystery to everyone but the indigenous people of the area. Before the Chicoasén dam was built, a wild river full of cascading rapids ran through the base of the canyon. This was far beneath the water surface you see above. In 1895 a party of three Frenchmen drowned while attempting to run the river. Almost 40 years later, in 1932, an American made another attempt, but also drowned. Finally, in 1960, Sumidero Canyon was conquered by a Mexican Army unit called the "Red Handkerchiefs." The soldiers managed to complete a 20 km (12.5 mi) voyage through the heart of the gorge.

La Cueva de Colores

The canyon walls get steeper and rockier the higher they rise. The many twists and turns of the gorge restrict the view ahead and behind, leaving the blue ribbon of sky above as the only opening. The gorge forms the dividing line between the Zoque people on the western plateau called Meseta de las Animas and the Maya on the eastern plateau, known as the Meseta de Ixtapa. The Zoque are one of twelve government-recognized ethnicities in Chiapas. They occupy about 3000 square kilometers of the State. The earliest Zoque archaeological sites date back to 3500 BC, establishing them as a very ancient people. Some archaeologists believe that the Zoque are descendants of the Olmecs. After a period of peaceful trade relations with the Mexica (Aztecs), they were conquered in 1494 by the army of Mexica Emperor Ahuizotl. The Zoque language is related to the Mixe spoken in Oaxaca and Vera Cruz.

The sheer limestone walls are riddled with water-carved formations. When the Spanish arrived in 1523, the dominant group in the area were the Chiapa people. Their main settlement was at present-day Chiapa de Corzo, the town from which we began our canyon tour. The origin of the Chiapa is unknown, but they may have migrated here from Nicaragua. They were fierce warriors and resisted the Conquest for eleven years until they were finally defeated by Diego de Mazariegos in 1535. Rather than accept Spanish domination, the remaining Chiapa men, women and children threw themselves off one of the highest points on the cliffs in a mass suicide.

We paused with several other boats at La Cueva de Colores. The Cave of Colors gets its name from colored striations in the rock. Unfortunately, at this time of day the bright sun made it very difficult to photograph the colors. However, La Cueva also contains a small shrine embedded high in the wall above us. The only way of reaching it is by the ladder you can see at the upper right. Just getting to the bottom rung of the ladder would be a daunting task.

A shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe is tucked into a niche high above the water. The Virgin of Guadalupe is revered throughout Mexico as the special patron of the indigenous people and the poor. The sign next to the ladder says (in Spanish) "To the memory of the last of the living explorers, Dr. Miguel Alvarez del Toro. Tireless defender of nature. Creator of the Sumidero Canyon National Park." There are many shrines and holy places in and around the canyon, some of them extremely ancient but still in use. The Zoques believe that the spirits for water and fertility dwell in caves.

This interesting formation seemed to have been made by the same process as stalactites. The limestone face is covered with vertical grooves and tubes formed by dripping water containing dissolved minerals. These are deposited during their journey down the wall, creating the formations. In the 16th and 17th Centuries, the Spanish authorities attempted to stamp out the old religions and to punish those who continued the ancestral practices. At least five Inquisitions were conducted in this area during that period. The open practice of the old religions was abandoned, but people continued to conduct their ancient rites secretly in remote areas like Cañon del Sumidero. Some ancient sites have been discovered by cliff climbers hundreds of feet up sheer cliffs. These caves are only accessible to modern people using ropes and other technical equipment, so it is astonishing that indigenous people used them regularly for their religious rites.

As the canyon began to widen, a knife-edge ridge along the shore appeared. This narrow ridge stands separately from the high wall behind it. It was created by lengthy geological processes on which I could only speculate. Just before the Chicoasén dam was built, archaeologists scoured the canyon for sites which might be threatened by rising waters. They found 53 caves, about half of them containing ceramics and other ancient material. Eighteen of the caves contained rock paintings. One of the largest of these was La Ceiba rock shelter. That cave is 10 m (32 ft) high, has 4 balconies, and contains more than 100 rock paintings. Also discovered at La Ceiba were eerie imprints of ancient human hands.

Crocodiles of the Rio Grijalva 

Some of the muddy beaches along the way are home to huge crocodiles. The cocodrilos like to partially bury themselves in the mud. At first glance, they appear to be logs washed up along the shore.  Someone idly strolling this beach might not have the opportunity to make this mistake twice.  Our boatman kept his craft at a respectful distance and I got this and the following shots with my telephoto. I wondered about boating accidents at a place like this in which people might be pitched suddenly into the murky water. Their frantic thrashing about would soon attract the attention of creatures like this guy.

This big fellow seemed to follow our movements with particular interest. According to my research, the crocs in Sumidero Canyon are the American Crocodile species (Crocodylus acutus). On the upside for tourists, this species is not nearly as aggressive as the Australian saltwater croc or the African Nile croc. Still, the American croc can be dangerous. A few fatal attacks by this species have been reported, mostly in Florida, but also in Mexico near Puerto Vallarta and in Costa Rica. However, it appears that the real danger is more to the crocodiles from humans rather than the other way around. The river crocodiles are presently under government protection from hunting or capture. Unfortunately, in Mexico these kinds of laws are sometimes weakly enforced.

Crocodiles are social animals and we sometimes saw them in groups. These two, lying in opposite directions, appear to be enjoying a snooze in the warm sunshine.  The larger one looks to be about 4-5 m (12-15 ft). They can reach 7 m (21 ft) and weight more than 907 kg (2000 lbs). Of the four croc species in the Americas, the American Crocodile is the most widespread.  They can be found from Florida to Peru, and on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Some live along rivers like Rio Grijalva, but they also like salty coastal lagoons and mangrove swamps.

A crocodile cools off by lying with its mouth agape. As a cold-blooded reptile, the croc has various strategies for maintaining its body temperature in a livable range. The open-mouthed posture cools off its brain. The American Crocodile feeds mainly on fish. small mammals, and other reptiles. However, they have been known to attack animals as big as a full grown cow. Although their jaws are extremely powerful and their teeth are razor sharp, they are unable to chew. When feeding on large prey, they must tear it to pieces that are small enough to swallow. In order to do this, the croc will grip the prey with its jaws and roll over and over in the water. This is called the "death roll."

Just makes you want to scratch him on the back and tweak his snout, doesn't it? Lying half buried in the cool mud is another way to moderate body temperature. Although they may look slow while snoozing, on land an American Crocodile can achieve speeds of up to 16 km/hr (10 mi/hr). His powerful tail can drive him through the water at speeds up to 32km/hr (20 mi/hr). Keep that in mind if you do decide to tweak his snout. Crocodiles are a very successful species and have existed on earth for at least 100 million years. Humans, by contrast, have only been around for about 2.5 million, and at the rate that we are destroying our environment, we may not make it through another million.

La Presa Chicoasén and the Eco-Park.

Emerging from the narrow gorge, we moved into a wide reservoir. The indigenous people use all available arable land, even steep hillsides like the ones above. They must do this because Chiapas is so mountainous and much of the best land has been owned by wealthy Ladinos since the time of the Conquest. The Maya, in particular, are very good at intensively farming the land they do possess.

Amikúu Ecological Park is accessible only by boat from Chiapa de Corzo. The park is devoted to eco-tourism and extreme sports. We didn't stop here, and the only part we could see from our boat was the landing dock with a large palm-thatched palalpa, which shelters a restaurant and a gift shop. There are three areas in the Eco-Park. In one, tourists can take part in a program called Discover the Canyon which includes a video. The Colors of Chiapas section includes a museum demonstrating the traditional dress and musical instruments of Chiapas' indigenous people. The Area of Adventure has a tour through the rainforest and animal enclosures where jaguars and crocodiles can be viewed. Some of the extreme sports available in the Area of Adventure include mountain biking, kayaking, rappelling, spelunking in the local caves, and a 300 foot zip-line.

La Presa de Chicoasén stores water and produces a large quantity of electricity. The rugged mountains of the Chiapas Sierras rise over it in the distance. The presa (dam) was built between 1974 and 1980 and is one of several along the Rio Grijalva. It marks the northern boundary of the Parque Naciónal de Cañon del Sumidero. The water in front of the dam has a depth of 243 m (800 ft). This is the deepest part of the whole Rio Grijalva. The reservoir created by the dam covers 2193 hectares (5419 acres), and the dam complex employs 600 workers. The hydroelectric operation here contains 30 generators which can produce 3928 megawatts, amounting to 30% of the electricity produced in Mexico.

Our tour boat's two powerful motors raise a large wake as we make our return journey. These Yamaha V6 outboards moved a large boatload of tourists at such speed that I had to hang on to my hat lest it blow away. Our tour of the canyon was a spectacular experience and one I would recommend to anyone visiting Chiapas.

This completes our tour of Cañon del Sumidero and Part 14b of my Chiapas series. I always welcome feedback, questions, and corrections. If you would like to do so, please use the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chiapas Part 14a: Cruising the spectacular Cañon del Sumidero

Massive cliffs frame Cañon del Sumidero, one of Chiapas' two most-visited tourist areas. The canyon's breathtaking walls rise as high as 1000 m (3281 ft) along its 13 km (8.08 mi) length. The park itself extends out on both sides and covers 21,789 hectares (53,841 acres) in four different municipalidades (counties). Carole and I came to the canyon on a tour from San Cristóbal de las Casas, about a 45 minute drive away. However, boat trip tickets can be purchased right at the docks of Chaipa de Corzo, the town that lies along Rio Grijalva at the south end of the canyon. The outward leg of the boat trip ends at the Chicoasén Dam and the round-trip takes about 3 hours.  For a Google map of the area, click here.

Launching the adventure

At any one time, there are several boats like this cruising the river. The craft appear sturdy, are driven by powerful outboard motors, and everyone wears life jackets. The captain sits on an elevated platform in the rear to keep an eye out for obstacles such as rocks, floating logs, or other boats. In 2009 and 2010 a series of accidents occurred involving decrepit boats and underaged or unqualified captains. The accidents resulted in six deaths and sixty-two injuries. The authorities cracked down because the incidents caused serious harm to the local tourist industry and apparently no problems have occurred since then. Our tour boat seemed safe and its captain was very competent and efficient and I had no qualms about the trip.

Shortly after leaving the docks, we passed under the Pan-American Highway bridge. This is the only vehicle bridge that crosses Cañon del Sumidero. The rather flimsy-looking wire suspension bridge in the foreground was originally for vehicles but now carries only a pipeline. The Pan-American Highway stretches from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America. The only break is a short stretch of 100 km (62 mi) in Panama called the Darien Gap. About six months after our Sumidero adventure, we passed under the Pan-American Highway again when we took a boat tour through the Panama Canal.

Bright sunshine bathes the western canyon wall while the other wall is deeply shadowed.  The canyon is only about 1 km (0.62 mi) wide at its narrowest point. Our tiny boat seemed like a speck in the midst of this towering grandeur.  This view of the canyon is represented on the official Seal of the State of Chiapas.

Into the deep canyon

The canyon narrowed at this point as we headed into its depths. The Rio Grijalva bends as much as 90 degrees in places as it twists through the canyon. The walls seemed to grow ever higher as we chugged along in our little craft. Most of the tourists of the boat with us were Mexican, although a group of young German back-packers joined our tour in San Cristóbal. I am 5'10" and used to being one of the taller people in any group, but these slim, athletic Europeans towered over us. Even the women among them seemed like giants. Even so, we were all dwarfed by the canyon.

Life will find a way, even on sheer walls such as this. The sloping lower parts of the walls were covered by thick forest, but most of the heights above were 90 degree vertical drops with sparse vegetation clinging to the cliffs. The canyon began to form 35 million years ago when tectonic movements cracked the earth's surface. Over the millennia, the process of erosion and the force of the Rio Grijalva cut through the soft limestone, leaving this stupendous gorge.

A limestone cliff on the west side of the river is pitted with caves. In the center of the photograph is a formation that caught my eye as we cruised past. It is a shallow cave with a stalactite suspended from the overhang. Limestone is very porous and water seepage can cut through it but also can make new rock formations. Stalactites are formed when water drips down from the roof of a cave. Stalagmites are similar formations, but they build up when the water hits the floor.

Cueva del Caballito de Mar (Seahorse Cave). This closeup version of the previous photo required the extreme telephoto setting of my camera. The cave gets its name from the stalactite in the center, which does indeed look like a seahorse. A number of other stalactites are also visible under the cave's ceiling. Fossils of sea creatures can be found all along Sumidero's walls. These were deposited when the area was under an ancient sea. Billions of tiny creatures died over the millennia and their calcified remains drifted to the sea bottom. Over time these became the thousand-foot limestone cliffs.

A small flock of black vultures suns themselves on a bit of beach. I was relieved to see that these fellows didn't seem to be feeding on the remains of any stranded tourist boat occupants. Black Vultures have a huge range, from the southeastern US to central Chile. This vulture has a 1.5 m (5 ft) wingspan and its plumage is black with a grayish-black head. It primarily feeds on carrion but includes eggs and newborn animals in its diet. The Black Vulture uses its excellent eyesight or keen sense of smell to find food. Vulture images have been found in the ancient Maya codices.

In some places, the canyon walls drop vertically into the water. This tended to magnify the effect created by the soaring walls above us. Previous to the construction of the Chicoasén Dam, the canyon was even deeper. In the area in front of the dam, the bottom is approximately 260 m (860 ft) below the water's surface.

At other places, erosion has created sloping walls that can sustain forest life. The Cañon del Sumidero cuts through a high plateau with the gorge running roughly south to north. It has created a natural boundary between the western side of the plateau (called Meseta de las Animas) and the eastern side (called Meseta de Ixtapa). You can see the rim of the Meseta de Ixtapa in the photo above. The canyon also forms the historical boundary between the territories of the Zoque people and the Maya.

Tropical rain forest lines some the shore and lower slopes of the canyon walls. The climate in the canyon area varies from hot and dry, to semi-hot and humid, to hot and humid. Temperatures range from the January cool season of 29C - 17C (84F - 63F) to the April hot season of 35C - 20C (95F - 69F). This, along with regular rain, creates a wide variety of both plant and animal life. The forests range from deciduous to pine and oak, depending on the altitude of the park.

Brown Pelicans roost in the tropical forest along the shore. The trees were full of them and they often launched themselves with a great flapping of wings as we passed close by. Due to hunting, logging, and other human intrusions, many of the animals in the park are endangered, including river crocodiles, spider monkeys, and ocelots. The biggest environmental problem faced by the park is trash, most of it generated by upstream municipalidades. A massive cleanup of the river removes more than 5000 tons of trash annually. Mexico's environmental agency has refused to act, claiming the responsibility belongs to the municipalidades. However, they are mostly poor and lack the resources to deal with the trash. When we visited, the cleanup must have been recently completed because we saw little or no garbage. 

Pausing for a break before entering another narrow stretch. Periodically, the boat captains paused, letting their craft drift with the current so that shutterbugs like me could get our fill of photos. A tour boat moving at cruising speed down the river can create large waves that violently rock other boats. This usually happens at a moment when stability is critical such as when setting up a delicate shot of wildlife, or a long-range photo of some interesting cliff feature. Still, I managed.

El Salto del Arbol de Navidad

El Arbol de Navidad (Christmas Tree Falls) was created by the same process as the stalactites. Near the top of the photo, water shoots out of a spring and drops vertically down, finally splashing on the slope below. Where it hits, and then cascades further down, minerals have been deposited. These create  scoop-like outcrops, giving the appearance of a spreading Christmas Tree. Hence, the name. The tour boats at the bottom give a sense of scale. The falls, high on the cliff, are still a hundred feet or more below the Meseta de Ixtapa.

By using maximum telephoto, I was able to capture a closeup of the spring. Notice how the water turns to mist in the open air a few feet below the spring's mouth. The mist drifts down until it finally strikes the outcrops below, where it re-liquifies.

Looking directly up the falls, you can see the spring and the Christmas Tree outcrops. It must have taken millennia for the tiny mineral particles to settle and accumulate, finally forming the scoop-like shapes you see above. The telephoto effect has created a compression where the distance from the outcrops to the spring seems far less than it actually is.

Water delicately drips and flows from one set mineralized outcrops to another. The moisture has drawn moss and other water loving plants to the surfaces and edges of the outcrops.

Flowing from the smaller "branches" to the larger, the water finally reaches the river. This side view shows the lovely shapes and colors that have been created by the action of the water. 

The tour boat captains couldn't resist making a run under the shower. Fortunately, I could see it happening with other boats so I had time to protect my camera before passing under the deluge. It had been a warm day and the spray was welcome, as long as my gear was safely tucked away. I got so many wonderful photos of Cañon del Sumidero, and there were so many additional spectacles, that I decided to make this a two-part "mini-series" within the over all Chiapas series. Next week, we'll continue through the canyon to visit the Cave of Colors, the riverbanks full of huge crocodiles, the Eco-Park, and then finish at the Chicoasén Dam. Stay tuned!

This completes part 14a of my Chiapas series. As always, I welcome feedback, corrections, and comments. If you would like to do so, please use the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chiapas Part 13: Zinacantan, center of Maya weaving & embroidery in the "Land of Bats"

A mother and her two young sons pause for a photograph in ZinacantanCarole and I visited Zinacantan on the same tour that took us to the pueblo of Chamula (see Part 9 of this series).  It is ordinarily difficult to get the Maya in Chiapas to pose for a photo, but for a small fee, this woman agreed. I am glad she did because she provides a wonderful example of the day-to-day clothing of local Maya and how they wear it. Her beautifully embroidered shawl is called a tzute. Her son, standing in front, wears a jorongo (poncho) similar to those worn by the men of the community. In addition to the embroidered flowers, it has fringe along the bottom and long tassels on either side.

The Pueblo of Zinacantan

Low clouds drift over the pine-covered hills surrounding the small agricultural community. Zinacantan means "land of the bats," although we never saw any durng our visit. The town's elevation is 2558 m (8392 ft), so it gets plenty of precipitation and everything is lush and green. The area reminded us of Oregon, where Carole and I lived for 20 years. While there are almost 30,000 people in the municipalidad (county), the town itself has only about 8,500. The remainder are scattered in the hills in tiny hamlets and individual farms. Of Zinacantan's population, 98% are Tzotzil-speaking Maya, and they jealously guard their culture and traditions.  For a Google map showing Zinacantan and its relationship to Chamula and San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.

Greenhouses line the slopes of the Zinacantan's small valley. The area's climate makes it ideal for the growing of flowers, making it one of the three pillars of the local economy. The other two are textiles and maiz (corn). As the town has grown, and more land has been devoted to flowers, there has been less land available for maiz cultivation. Local men often have to walk as much as a day's journey to their milpas (small fields) in Chiapas' lowlands. There, they live and work for weeks at a time. Why not just grow flowers and import the maiz from other areas? The answer lies in the deep connection between maiz and culture. The Maya have been growing maiz since at least 2500 BC. Their famous calendars were originally developed to pinpoint the correct times for planting and harvesting. The god of maiz, Hun Nal Yeh, also known as Yum Kaax, was one of the most important deities in the Maya pantheon. The cultivation, harvesting, preparation and consumption of maiz are woven into every aspect of the traditional Maya life and worldview.

Inside a greenhouse, hundreds of pink cosmos bloom. The tour guide was sympathetic to my photographic instincts and she stopped our van so I could peek inside one of the greenhouses. Once harvested, some of these flowers may be loaded into chrome-encrusted, red pickup trucks and transported to the Mercado Municipal in San Cristóbal. Others may be driven hundreds of miles to Mérida in Yucatan or other distant locations. As you will soon see, the presence of beautiful flowers in Zinacantan has led to their incorporation in the designs of the textiles produced here.

An eclectic religious tradition

At the edge of town, we encountered a small cement altar set with three crosses. These were very similar to the crosses we saw at the plaza in Chamula. In both places the crosses had a similar appearance, with green paint and circular tips. In both places, the crosses were decorated with pine wreathes. One difference was that the Chamula crosses had small circles containing 8-pointed crosses carved on the cross pieces and tips. The crosses above lack this decoration. During ceremonies, a statue or picture of a saint is sometimes placed in the niche below the crosses. In the ancient Maya religion, a cross represented the Ceiba, or World Tree. The Ceiba can be found in Chiapas' lowland areas and grows as tall as 70 m (230 ft). The huge buttress roots can be taller than a grown man, and the canopy spreads over the jungle. The Maya's World Tree has its roots in the underworld, its trunk in terrestrial life, and its canopy (represented by the cross-piece) in the heavens. A carving of the World Tree can be seen at Palenque in the ruins of the Temple of the Foliated Cross. As at Chamula, the Maya of Zinacantan seem to have retained much of their ancient beliefs, but incorporated elements of Catholicism in order to keep themselves on the right side of their Spanish overlords.

A family altar. Flowers, pictures of holy figures, statues of various animals, and numerous candles were incorporated into this elaborate altar. We found it in the entrance hall of a shop selling textiles. Many traditional Maya homes contain similar altars.

A row of clay animals stands in front of the altar. Included are dogs, a horse, and a giraffe. Each has a lit candle on its back. The animals are totems meant to protect the house.

A visit to a textile shop

A back-strap loom, ready to use. The loom's leather back-strap is clearly visible, as are the shuttles used to weave the thread. The far end (out of sight) is usually attached to a post, tree, or other upright support. Backstrap looms can be used to create brocade designs as well as plain weaves, unlike treadle (foot-powered) looms. Ixchel, the Maya moon goddess, was the patron of weaving. She was the consort of Iztamna, the father of the gods. In ancient times, Ixchel was often depicted using a backstrap loom to weave the universe. Various kinds of products can be woven on these looms, but one of the most common is the huipil (blouse) worn by Maya and other indigenous women.

Male poncho, called a jorongo. Men, as well as women, wear colorful, flowered garments with fringe and tassels. The jorongo worn by the little boy in the first photo of this posting is a small version of this one. The garment is worn over other clothing, sometimes including blue jeans and other non-traditional items. Women, on the other hand, seem to dress traditionally from head to toe.

Woman's wedding huipil. The wedding huipil is called a k'uk'umal chil il.  White chicken feathers are woven into the embroidery. This wedding huipil is longer than the ones used for daily wear. It is worn with a dark, embroidered skirt.

The feathers of the k'uk'umal chil il symbolize the attributes of a good marriage. Chickens are part of the daily life of the community. They do not fly, even though they have feathers, and they stay close to the home.

A red jorongo hangs beside a blue and white tzute. The little shop was packed with beautiful clothing like this, as well as wall hangings. tablecloths, and other woven, brocaded and embroidered textiles.

The textiles came in all sizes, designs, and prices. The members of our tour group poked about and eventually picked out a few items for purchase. I didn't have much use for a jorongo, but I bought a few small items as family gifts. Many of the items seen above are available for purchase at the plaza in front of San Cristóbal's Catedral, as well as at the mercado surrounding the Templo Santo Domingo, and the crafts booths in Chamula. However, they are likely to be more expensive at those locations.

Eagles, egrets, monkeys, dogs and lions filled a box in the shop. While some adults might swoon over a tzute or jorongo, kids of all ages would enjoy these. These little critters show creativity and humor of the Tzotzil.

Templo San Lorenzo Martyr

Three green crosses, adorned with wreathes, face the Templo across a wide plaza. Prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1524, the town was an important commercial hub and was the center of the Tzotzil culture. A Mexica (Aztec) general called Tiltototl conquered the town in 1486. The Tzotzil were required to produce tribute items including salt, cacao, and tobacco.

A sharp, but heavily forested, volcanic knob overlooks the Templo's plaza. Strung across the plaza are banners put up to celebrate the August 8-10 Feast of San Lorenzo Martyr, patron saint of Zinacantan. San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence) was one of seven deacons in the early Church in Rome. He was born in Spain in 225 AD and martyred in Rome during the persecutions of Emperor Valerian in 258 AD. As a deacon, one of his jobs was to protect the treasures of the Church. Another was assisting the poor and the sick. When a Roman official demanded that Lorenzo turn over the treasures, he concealed them, including (according to legend) the Holy Grail, the chalice Christ used at the Last Supper. The deacon then gathered all the poor and sick and presented them, saying "this is our treasure!" The official ordered Lorenzo to be slowly roasted alive on a grille. The legend say he felt little pain because he was already on fire with his faith. After he had roasted for a while on one side, he famously said "I'm well done. Turn me over!" As a result, he is the patron of cooks and chefs, among others.

Templo San Lorenzo was built on the site of the first Dominican church. Dominican friars constructed the first church in Zinacantan church in 1546.  That early structure was made of adobe with a thatched roof. The bishop of Chiapas at the time was Bartolome de las Casas, the great defender of the indigenous people of  Nueva España. He donated a library, jewels, and two great clocks. The church has been rebuilt several times since then. The most recent reconstruction occurred during the 19th Century when the interior was decorated in its present Neo-classical style. Note the colorful banners, similar to those strung in the plaza for the August fiesta.

The entrance was lavishly decorated for the Feast Day. The words on the arch over the doorway say "Long live San Lorenzo Martyr. Welcome to Zinacantan." I have read there is a sign near the door prohibiting the sacrifice of chickens on the floor of the church during prayers. However, I didn't notice it when I visited. In nearby San Juan Chamula, chicken sacrifices at the church are normal practice.

The whole place was lush with bouquets of flowers. Apparently, like the church at Chamula, photography is forbidden here. However, our guide did not mention this, I had seen no signs, and nobody approached us about it. I happily clicked away, as I had done in so many other Mexican churches. Later, after reading the accounts of others who visited before me, I realized my faux pas. Fortunately, no one seemed upset about it and I escaped censure.

The side chapel was as large and almost as richly decorated as the main nave. Notice the row of lit candles along the rail across the front. Colored electric lights have sometimes replaced candles in Mexican churches, perhaps because of the fire hazard. 

Jesus, draped with ribbons containing messages, stands at the center of the side chapel's altar. It is often the practice in Mexican churches to leave a request or message of thanks on a ribbon draped over one of the sacred figures. I had previously identified this figure as San Charbel Malouf, but one of my blog viewers corrected me.

This concludes Part 13 of my Chiapas series. I hope you have enjoyed it and learned something about the wonderfully creative Maya of Zinacantan. I always welcome feedback, questions, and corrections. If you would like to do so, please leave your thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you use the Comments section and yours don't immediately appear, it is because I moderate all comments to eliminate spam and there is therefore a short delay.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim