Our first visit to this beautiful city will not be our last. Located in the most Southern state in Mexico, Chiapas was so much more than expected. Our goal was to find artisan handcrafted products made from the local resources: Amber de Chiapas, Coffee, Embroidered Textiles, Leather Handbags–even Wool Stuffed Animals. We Flew from Mexico City to the Tuxtla-Gutierrez airport late on a Friday afternoon.
The journey to San Cristobal de las Casas would take about an hour. Getting the rental car was surprisingly easy …so surprising in fact that while we had gone looking for the non-existent shuttle bus, to then searching for the car by tag number in the lot …the attendant had already pulled our Hertz rental car right up to the main door at the airport. What great service and unheard of in the USA. Along the drive the elevation changed drastically from 2000ft to 7200ft. The rain started as we entered the mystical cover of the low clouds. We soon learned to drive using the right shoulder as a lane and let people pass in the middle of the road as it was obviously part of the local driving habits.
Once we were close to the town, we arrived at a road block, where we were pulled over for a quick trunk check and “where are you coming/going”. People back home often ask us if we feel unsafe in Mexico and this is one of those instances where you always feel a little intimidation from the stern face of the migratory officer doing his job. In 1994, there was an uprising resulting from the Zapatista movement against the Mexican government combined with a conflict between traditional Catholics vs. the indigenous people’s beliefs.
It is no wonder that San Cristobal is one of the Puebla Magicas (magical villages) of Mexico. After popping our ears a half a dozen times and an hour later, we arrived to San Cristobal de las Casas. It seemed as though each narrow cobblestone street lined with colorful historic structures led right to the town zocolo. Luckily the rain stopped after we checked into the Hotel Jardines, now we would have a chance to explore on foot the artisan market outside the Santo Domingo Church. Embroidered Textiles, clay figures, leather handbags and ambar filled the market. All the artisan shopkeepers were extremely eager to sell us their wares. We were excited to discover new artisans and made it a point to learn more about them and from which small town they had come. They were a very interesting assortment of people from the surrounding villages who produce the crafts.
Day 2: Palenque National Park: The Park and archeological ruins are a World Heritage Site and the town of Palenque are about 4.5 hours driving from San Cristobal de las Casas. The drive is scenic and worth the time. Palenque National Park is so beautiful; magical; surreal. We actually drove there and back the same day, but it would have been less stressful to enjoy a night in Palenque, get a chance to see the Aqua Azul waterfalls on the way back, and discover some of the small villages along the way. Lots of speed bumps, lots of turns! At one point, children on either side of the road pulled up a rope across the front of the car as we were rolling over the bumps. It startled us and got my adrenaline flowing. They do it to slow you down so they can approach the car to sell you some fresh picked fruit or ears of corn, maybe Chiclets, or other day’s catch. While we wanted to help the poor kids, we were reluctant to reinforce their behavior.
We couldn’t resist a quick stop on the roadside to shop a small embroidered textile outlet. Once we pulled in, we were “greeted” by a heard of small children who were eager to earn a small coin. Needless to say, Steve made lots of friends as he joked with the small children and handed out candy and every last coin we had on us.
We met a Coffee Growing Cooperative called Cafe Organico de Altura 100% Puro de la Region San Pedro Paxila, Chilon, Chiapas on the way to Palenque. Jesus, the owner, was very nice and had a fair price for his coffee. He works with several growers and does the roasting at the warehouse prior to shipping. He offered us a sample of raw macadamias, freshly shucked–delicious. Shipping it to the USA would require a Commercial Kitchen (which we have) and registering with the US FDA for importing. It is a lot of effort, but lends to the authenticity that we have. We currently buy from a coffee grower in San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco but were looking forward to a Chiapas grower for coffee as well.
On the return from Palenque, we met Julio Encinos, an Amber miner from Simojovel who had a store on the road from Palenque to San Cristobal. He and his wife were nice to show us their amber and silver jewelry they had made. He explained that he was a supplier of the amber from Chiapas and sells to other jewelers. He even met us the next day in San Cristobal to deliver some additional pieces we had him make. He warmed up and showed us his catalog of other items he has previously made for other established clients.
Day3-5: San Cristobal de las Casas: Searching for the best quality and price for textiles, amber jewelry and coffee for ADios Cafe. We got to know many of the vendors and they were saying that there weren’t many tourists as it was off season. Many vendors said the tourists would negotiate for one piece but that no one was buying much. We met and purchased from several women, but, we were surprised that we had no way to reorder from them. They didn’t have phone numbers nor email addresses so the only way to reorder was to make a personal visit back to Chiapas. Oh well! We found several vendors, hand selected their products, and personally packed them in “costales”- large shipping bags used to ship within Mexico.
We met Guadalaupe Gomez Hernandez, whose family makes embroidered textile blouses on our third day. We were very satisfied with the quality and pricing, so we made a significant purchase for our hostesses and to sell in our store, No Mas! Productions.
Colorful handmade table runners were abundant at Lupita’s stand. She had the most variety and was a consummate sales person. She was quick to let us know that her prices were fair and that they were sufficient to feed her family and cover the costs of the raw materials and labor. In other words, don’t ask for lower prices! “Cual te doy” she repeated incessantly. Which do you want? Which do you want? She made such an impression that we actually repeated her words for chuckles while walking later in the day.
There was a great selection of restaurant options. We discovered a great wine bar and dessert place as well. (see Trip Advisor link).
Soon it will be back to work in Atlanta so we can sell lots of beautiful artisan products and come visit San Cristobal de las Casas again very soon.