A day at the museum

Another full day to spend in San Cristobal. I think we annoyed our hosts because we did not take any of the tours they offered – frankly, after meeting Cesar our standards were too high for guides and tours. And we just stopped liking our hosts after seeing who they were worshiping. The lady kept asking us who did we go with on tours, how much we paid, why didn’t we take their tours, all on a tone in which I heard some resentfulness. Why did they care? Well, they did, because they wanted to make more money off us, beyond the 10$/night we paid for the room.

Today was museum day. We actually did some reading on San Cristobal early in the morning to see what was there to visit museum-wise. And we had plenty of options: Amber museum, Jade museum, Maya Medicine Museum, Museo de las Culturas Populares, wow there were lots of museums!

First things first, we had a nice and long breakfast and drank delicious coffee. Thus fueled, we headed to the Museo de las Culturas Populares in a part of town we have never been, south of the Zocalo. Even outside the tourist section (the center), San Cristobal retained its charm, with the same small colorful buildings, friendly people and many shops and restaurants.

Museo de las Culturas Populares had life size dolls dressed in different indigenous costumes. Although very small, the museum was very well organized and maintained. Next on the list, Amber Museum, located in the ex-Convento La Merced. I was surprised by the nice design of the room hosting the museum – a wooden interior, with a lit up wooden tunnel running through the middle with carefully arranged display boxes where we could see amber in different shapes and forms. On the outer sides of the tunnel there was an exhibit of amber jewelry, quite exquisite artwork. Although small, this museum was very well organized, with lots of explanation boards, even magnifying glasses to help us see the bugs captured in the resin. Agnieszka being from Poland had a special interest in amber and she was running around the stands happily.

We started walking to the Museum of Maya Medicine, which was the farthest away, beyond the local market place, almost falling off the map. We ended up on this slummy-looking dead end street, which still had colorful although a bit decrepit buildings. Two vulgarly made up women were standing on a purple balcony watching our moves. On the balcony it was written “shop”. Agnieszka immediately identified the place as a brothel, which made total sense. We walked through the indigenous part of the town, obviously more run down, with houses made of wood, but very clean streets busting with activity. Lots of street vendors and Peluquerias (hair saloons), as if getting a haircut was a mandatory daily activity.

I am fascinated about traditional medicine and the museum was the perfect place to learn about Maya medicine and how that ties in with religion and the natural world. We saw a 20 minutes video about Maya traditional birth – and I realized how unnatural our hospital births are. It makes so much more sense to sit or stand while giving birth, as opposed to laying on your back with your feet up – it’s anti-gravity, how do you expect the baby to come out?! If you think only our modern medicine can help a woman dilate or alleviate her pains … the Mayas have various teas which the midwife prepares to help with dilatation, help with contractions and stop bleeding. A great learning experience overall.

Lunch at a restaurant called Maya’e, a note on its menu said it is recommended by Lonely Planet. Usually I avoid these places for fear they are tourist traps, but this one was really a hit! After 8 hours of museums we were starving. The 4 course menu and fresh fruit drinks for only 60 pesos ($6!) seemed the best thing at the time. Not to mention the place had a charming interior courtyard, with trees casting a breezy shadow over the tables, a well half covered by ivy and purple flowers, the wooden colonnades, the artsy black and white photos with revolutionary theme (Che and Marcos were heavily featured), and finally the music – really good salsa!

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