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Ryan's Takes a Trip to a Zapatista Community and Rants About the Environment

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico


It's been a dream of mine to visit a Zapatista community for years now - ever since I studied them in uni. I learned of EZLN, their guerrilla army filled with indigenous farmers wanting nothing more than what Mexican legend Emiliano Zapata fought for: land and liberty. He was a man not unlike our own Louis Riel, if we chose to embrace him. As famous as Che Guevara here. The Zapatistas, dressed in black ski masks, annexed much of the state of Chiapas the moment Mexico joined NAFTA. They demanded land and rights. Years later they're still a thorn in Mexico's side, but the dust has settled much.

I hopped busses to Margueritas where I was packed into the back of a pickup with Cheetos and chairs, tomatoes and children for a 3 1/2 hour ride to Relidad - a remote Zapatista village of 80 families nestled in the clouds of Chiapas' jungle mountains. I should have expected it, but was surprised to see a fresh mountain river dividing the town with it's lifeline. All the houses are walled with wood planks topped with tin roofs, separated by streets of gavel or grass. Some homes have concrete floors. Some don't. None have electricity despite the powerlines.

When I jumped out of the truck the first thing that came to my eyes were the random chickens everywhere and the horses cutting the grass. I travelled in time to when Erna was a toddler running on the farm naked. Not really knowing what to do or where to go I asked around if there was someone I should see. They pointed down the road.

Walking down I saw little girls with babies tied to their backs with blankets and women washing their clothes or themselves in the river, which later I learned I would do the same. It was mid-afternoon when I found Sergio leaning on the side of a building. His job is to register the tourists who come by. Imagine that. Out in Relidad he's in charge of managing tourism. He really ought to have been more of a chatter, but we sat their in silence as he wrote in pen on torn paper my info. He says when he's not registering visiters, which is all the time, he takes it easy. Oddly he wasn't much of a chatter. I think he takes taking it easy very serious. Everyone's gotta have a hobby.

Several hours after arriving and sitting and waiting in silence Sergio shows me the building I can stay in. It's locked. None of the keys fit either. Plan B is to have me stay in a long hall by myself. The second night I pitch the tent to keep mozzies off my face.

Every morning the neighbour's girls come by to pester me. They come along, spit on the floor and wait for me to make conversation. Although they aren't really interested in my conversation so much as my crackers. My crackers leftover from a lunch of tuna n mayo. Mayo also seems to be the bees knees.

After getting settled in I asked Sergio about helping out the Zapatistas however I can. You know, teaching kids, working the fields or shooting guns. Turns out the ranks were all full. There was nothing for me to do, but read and play soccer. Thankfully I brought 3 books! In one short week I polished off 3 books and let in 7 goals.

One day Ryan got bored -okay, one day in particular when I was bored I decided to take a walk. Ya know, spice up life.

WHAT RYAN LEARNED FROM HIS JUNGLE WALK

  • Some cows have huge floppy ears. Ridiculously huge. I assume they're the donkey strain of cows - bred to be dumb and strong.

  • I have good hiking boots and walk a lot. I mean, sometimes there's not much else to do. Hence the jungle walk. Yet still old ladies in bare feet pass me. Does this mean in the animal kingdom I'm more of a Shitzu than a Labradour?

  • The distant sound of streams is the same as an approaching truck's tires on a gravel road. Especially when the sound from my own feet is thrown in the mix.

  • After hours of walking on a gravel road without a vehicle passing one becomes shy of trucks loaded with workers and seriously contemplates hiding in the bush.

  • Waving is a better alternative than jumping into the bush. It makes you feel good inside and doesn't scratch you.

  • Some Mexican jungle birds whistle just like construction workers do at the cute girls. A walk through the jungle can be quite good on one's self esteem.

  • No matter where you are there is garbage. Even kilometers from the nearest village in the middle of the jungle plastic bottles and foil wrappers stubbornly sit on the road not decomposing at any discernible rate. It's truly sad. These remote villages import little, yet these evil reminders lay on the road and will lay remain there much past my time. The banana peels and discarded paper break down and reenter the earth, but the plastic and metal stay. Only pristine national parks appear garbage free, but that's a happy illusion trucked outside park borders each day. If Relidad - a village that's as close to organic as most will get - is littered then the rest of us are seriously dillisional about the severity of earth's health.


  • I want to rant more, I really do. But I don't want to complain about where I point the finger and why. Or what finger. I'd rather be encouraging. So know that recycle, while valuable, is a distant third in the 3R's. Remember first to reduce and then to reuse. Plant a garden. Carpool. Buy secondhand. Buy local. Buy organic. You don't need to be a hippy to be green.


    permalink written by  ryanmyers on November 17, 2009 from San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico
    from the travel blog: Ryan's First Sabbatical
    tagged Environment and Zapatistas

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