Avenida Vicente Guerrero 33
Barrio del Cerrillo
San Cristóbal de las Casas 29220,
Na Balom originally was a large hacienda built in 1898. It was purchased by Frans Blom, and archeologist, and his wife, Gertrude Duby Blom, a social anthropologist, in 1950. It has a small museum of Mayan artifacts, hotel rooms and a small restaurant. My step-daughter had spent a lot of time in México and suggested it to us. The Bloms supported the Lacondon Maya who were never conquered or converted by the Spanish. They still live in the Selva Lacondon, the Lacondon Jungle, much as they always have. The men typically have a “pageboy” haircut, wear a white shift, and hunt with stone-tipped arrows. The foundation the Bloms set up requires Na Balom to provide any Lacondon Maya that come into town with a room, meals and payment for any medical care. A guidebook I read commented that the long table in the restaurant might present you with a Lacondon Maya on one side and a European archeologist on the other. We came close enough. One evening two Lacondon Mayans were seated across from us, and I had a Dutch oceanographer and his wife beside me. They were on vacation from Indonesia.
Meals were delicious, and more Mediterranean in style. México’s hot food is found in the deserts to the north. Breakfast might be an omelet with cheese, scallions and chives. Dinner was served family style, with huge platters of meat and vegetables.
The building has two interior courtyards, and has two floors of rooms. The rooms are large, with wood beam ceilings and a pottery fireplace. The bathrooms are a bit antique but very functional. The local water is not. Bottled only, unless you like being very sick. Bougainvillea abound in the courtyard.
The front courtyard during the day is lined with natives selling embroidered fabrics. These pieces are done with ancient Mayan symbols, frequently with the snake circling the edge, representing the universe.
The natives of the town are also Mayan, but not Lacondon. The language is Tsotsil. The Na Balom library had one book on the language, written in very scholarly Spanish. I did manage to understand that they have several verb tenses that exist in no other language, and are difficult to comprehend.
The local Mayans are Roman Catholic, and there is a large cathedral on one side of the main square. The area is rift with conflict because the Mormons have converted many people. Mayan Mormons in the countryside have been driven out of their villages and are in resettlement areas on the edge of San Cristóbal de las Casas. In the countryside, in the small towns, many Catholic churches have been built but there are not enough priests to go around. Where no priest is posted, the church is usually taken over by a Mayan shaman. They wear a bearskin outfit, and the worship goes back to their ancient tradition. The church has no pews or anything in it. The floor is loosely covered with small pine branches. Families come to worship and kneel in some random spot. The father clears the floor and they affix several candles to the floor. There are several more modern beliefs that have crept in, much to the detriment of the Mayans’ health. One is a belief that intoxication is a sacred state. Alcoholism and subsequent wife abuse are a major problem. The other is that Coca Cola is a sacred drink. They even feed it to babies. There is competition by Pepsi Cola who is trying to get equal sacred status for its product. Neither company gives a damn about the effect on infant or child health or on dental and nutritional health in general.
San Cristóbal de las Casas is the site of a brief Zapatista takeover. They fled into the Lacondon Jungle and communicated to the world via cell phone and the internet. They were one of the major influences in the election loss by the Permanent Revolution Party that had held power for decades. They are still around, but are no danger to Americans. What they want is for the government to build the free schools that by law should exist, and do some land reform so that the Mayans have some valley land too. The valley agricultural land is all held by the beef industry. We saw people farming on hills that were much to steep to terrace, digging holes and planting one seed at a time.
Today, the area is not safe. I understand that the drug wars have entered the area, with murder as rampant as any where in México. It is too easy to get caught in the crossfire. We would love to go back. We got there in the evening (an 85 km taxi ride from the provincial capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez that cost about US$45). I remember waking up in the morning in our room, heavy wooden beams in the ceiling, pottery fireplace, bougainvillea outside the window, and deerskin rug on the floor. And I was really thrilled. But we will not return until things quiet down. I have no desire to be kidnapped or shot.
Getting there? By air to México City, and then catch a plane to Tuxtla Gutierrez. They do not speak English there. The only way to San Cristóbal de las Casas is by taxi. There is a lot of theft and fraud at the México City Airport, so be cautious.
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