While Tuxtla Gutierrez is now its capitol, San Cristobal is the political and spiritual center of the local Mayan/Mestizo population, and an epicenter of the Zapatista movement that became a sensation for successfully revolting against the Mexican government in 1994. Images of Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Che Guevara, and Subcomandante Marcos are never far away and have even become an important part of the areas primary industry: tourism.
During the '94 uprising, the Zapatistas occupied four cities in the mountains surrounding, and including, San Cristobal. After a bloody battle in Ocosingo, in the mountains a few hours northeast of San Cristobal, they eventually reached an edgy compromise with the federal government ending outward hostilities, but tensions continue today due in large part to what international watchdog groups described as a brutal government repression of the uprising. Examples included aerial bombardment of indigenous villages surrounding San Cristobal, torture, summary executions, and mass graves with much of the violence perpetrated against the unarmed, indigenous population of the area.
Being there 17-years later, it was eerily common to see fully armed troops stationed at various points around the city, particularly El Centro.
Despite, or perhaps because of, very high expectations my first impressions were far from glowing and I'd wager very similar to those of most Americans—at least those free to admit it: dirty, congested, and overpopulated! It appeared filled with short, rickety, graffiti-tagged old dwellings held together with binder twine and duct tape and I wondered what about this city, aside from the shrewdly marketed Zapatista/Che angle, draws so many travelers, young and old, from all over the globe. It didn’t seem to transmit or resonate on any particularly remarkable frequency but I was also aware that I'm increasingly distracted from these things lately!
|Carrie (left) and her friends
Carrie, however, was entertainment enough for everyone. From the beginning, she displayed a high-energy personality and proved to be that rarest of rarities: a woman who makes me laugh! (Some people label that sexist. Fuck them; for whatever reason it seldom happens so when it does, I appreciate it!)
Apart from her sense of adventure and talkative, humorous personality, the first things I noticed about Carrie were her height, (5’10” if not taller) and dark, sympathetic, thoughtful eyes that made me wonder (beyond humor and sarcasm) what was going on behind them. She was briefly exposed to the easily transmitted Enrique Virus the month before, and it became clear in time that this episode had triggered an unnatural fascination bordering on a self-admitted obsession with Latino “photographers.” A horrific, Sally Struthers style affliction to be sure.
Also, I at first naturally assumed Carrie’s voice was hoarse from overuse but as it turned out she was exiting the same laryngitis ride I was just boarding. Whatever it was, our shared illness had pestered her in varying degrees for several weeks so it was clear that this was not vanishing in a day or two.
In San Cristobal it’s different. For the most part, few paid attention although I occasionally caught glances ranging from surprise (see: redneck spies unfamiliar black guy in rural Michigan) to disdain (see: redneck spies any black guy in rural Mississippi). Incidentally, if you’re offended by my barbaric “generalizations,” may I suggest we spend a week or two together in rural Mississippi this summer?
But first, there was the Galactic Station...