Overlaps and hybridisations

May 24, 2007

Onwards we go, traversing Mexico on the backpacker conveyor belt, or thereabouts. Amazing country, a place of overlapping cultures, layers of history, crazy hybridisations. On a relatively benign level, this hyrdisation takes the form of stuff like me and Fran, being tired and hungry and not feeling like navigating another Mexican menu, instead going to get a pizza. In a place with a totally over the top Parisian theme. In the city of San Cristobal de las Casas. This town is itself a place of heavy hybrisation. This mountain area held out against the Spanish for a long time, and, in effect, much of the ancient indigenous culture lived on.

In time, however, some weird blendings took place. One of the most famous places thereabouts is the town of San Juan Chamula. Fran’s written eloquently about the cultural traditions there, which heavily oppress the local women. The town itself is very defensive about outsiders, even kicking out thousands of locals who they deemed ‘Protestant’, not followers of the unique local religion. This is a hybrid of ancient Mayan beliefs with a goodly dose of Spanish catholicism. The central church is chock-full of freaky effigies of catholic saints, but the main tenets of the local religon don’t involve mass or Christian scripture. Instead, they involve people lighting candles amid the pine needles that litter the floor and chanting in the local language to whichever deity in their blended Mayan-Catholic pantheon will heed them.

It’s a deeply bizarre place. And there’s a heavy irony to their contempt for outsiders when you consider their religion is the result of outside influences, as is their social structure, which involves polygamy – something introduced by the Spanish, who in days of yore brought down women from Mexico City and Oaxaca, taking them as concubines to build up a population with Spanish blood. (Though you don’t actually see that many European-looking people thereabouts, it’s strongly Indian still.)

Oh, and they also drink lots of Coca-Cola, which surely couldn’t be more alien. Our guide said the dark drink replaced a drink made from blue corn. Its function is to bring about burps; the belching is supposed to release sins.

All utterly fascinating. And San Cristobal was also utterly pleasant for the simple fact that it was cool. We left there for Palenque, a place of swelting heat down in the lowlands. I swear it was 38C and about three thousand per cent humidity. Still, it was great. A totally unpretentious little one-horse town, it’s only visited by tourists interested in the nearby Mayan ruinas. An amazing place, despite me feeling almost sick from the humidity.

We’re now in Merida, a town called the “White City”, which our Rough Guide talks about in glowing terms, for its colonial grace and tranquil air. So far it just strikes me as a bit scruffy and hectic, with absurdly overpriced stuff (like beer twice the price of everywhere else we’ve been, or internet at absurd prices. We’ve been paying 5 pesos an hour, but the hotel we’ve had a night at charges 5 pesos to get online, then 1 peso a minute thereafter! Weird place – only hotel we’ve stayed at so far where they won’t negotiate on price, despite the fact this 95 room establishment only seems to have half a dozen guests.)

Anyway, I’m ranting now. Think we need to cool off by the pool, before we move out tomorrow to another weird (but cheaper) hotel.

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One Response to “Overlaps and hybridisations”

  1. Meridano Says:

    Hi!

    To better take adventage of Merida, please check these sites:

    http://www.yucatanliving.com
    http://www.yucatantoday.com
    http://www.meridainsider.com

    Lots of good info regarding to Merida and surrounding area.

    Have a nice stay!.


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