“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcelle Proust
San Juan Chamula is a highland indigenous community located about a 30 minute bus ride from San Cristobal and populated by the Tzotzil Mayan people. The village provides a unique opportunity to see firsthand, the still thriving indigenous Mayan culture that once predominated in this region and stands out for its autonomous status, whereby all decisions are made on a local basis and there is no outside police or military allowed. The community has its own set of rules, its own police force and even its own prominently placed open-air jail cells-one for men and one for women.
One of the main draws is the cathedral, which is a unique blend of Catholicism and native Mayan beliefs, which lends the space a very distinctive aura. Instead of pews, the entire floor of the church is covered with a carpet of fresh pine needles, which are strewn daily and gives the church an extremely fresh pine smell. Scattered among this blanket of needles are soda bottles containing various flavors and lines of mini candles, with different colors representing various needs of prayer on the advice of the local medicine men.
The towns people, especially the women, still proudly dress in the traditional clothing of their fore bearers complete with black woolen skirts, and colorful blouses, while many of the men strut around town decked out in cowboy hat and boots. This clothing is still hand-made in the traditional manner and much of it can be seen for sale on the streets for very reasonable prices.