Mexico

Chiapas, the forgotten state


Dear Reader,

One can never generalise about cultures and countries in general. Least of all those countries with such diversities as Mexico.

Mexico is BIG and ethnically very diverse. Migrants from distant lands and the already existing indigenous communities inhabit this country. In fact, the second article of the Mexican Constitution asserts that the country is a pluricultural nation originally founded upon the indigenous peoples.

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Indigenous people are located in many states of Mexico but the biggest concentration is found in the state of Chiapas, south border of Mexico with Guatemala, and Oaxaca.

With chilly pine-forest highlands in the north, sultry rainforest jungles, attractive colonial cities and filled with remnants of the Mayan civilisation, Chiapas nonetheless looks completely cut off from the rest of the country.

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It is the perfect off the beaten path destination for those adventure seekers willing to explore the frothy waterfalls and eco-indigenous jungle reserves. But we will explore this side on a second post.

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Overlooking San Cristobal de las Casas

Talking about the situation in Chiapas comes with contrasting versions depending on whom you ask. There is strong ongoing propaganda from both the government and the Zapatistas, whose claim on the government’s violation human and constitutional rights of community members eventually culminated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising, but I won’t get into that.

Instead, I will tell you why Chiapas seems and looks so isolated and distant from the rest of Mexico, both culturally and geographically.

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Cañón del Sumidero

It has significantly underdeveloped infrastructure compared to the rest of the country, and its significant indigenous population with isolationist tendencies keep the state distinct culturally.

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Children I met in Zinacantan, indigenous town in the central Chiapas highlands. In spite of San Juan de Chamula being the neighbouring, famous indigenous and very commercial town in the area, Zinacantan still doesn’t experience the touristic crowds that its neighbour does. 

Cultural stratification, neglect and lack of investment by the Mexican federal government has exacerbated this problem in several aspects. One of them, is the lack of telecommunication in the mid-south Chiapas where communication system is instead provided by Guatemala (when you book a hotel in south Chiapas don’t be surprised if the dial number starts with +502).

Another aspect concerns the condition of federal highways and cross-state roads.

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About road blocks. There are periodic road blocks randomly located throughout the state. It is common to find them on the road between San Cristobal and Palenque. They are sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes blamed on the EZLN (the Zapatista movement), and look like simple tree trunks cut off and thrown in the middle of the road (I was not able to take pictures of the one we experienced but Google offers many examples of it).

On the positive note, Chiapas does indeed offer spectacular landscapes, wildlife and the peace you’ll never have elsewhere in Mexico.

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