The leader of the uprising, Marcos, wore a balaclava which became a trademark of the Zapististas and now, wandering the markets, there are all manner of tacky souvenirs of balaclava-ed fighters with machine guns.
After a walk around the town and markets, the boys found a bar selling bottles of Sol at M$30, but 2 for 1 all day (so ~75p a bottle!), so we settled down here, sitting outside in the shade, watching the people going by. In fact, we ended up out drinking all day, and ended up back at the hotel at some late hour with a Mexican version of the late-night doner-kebab.
The next day, we had an optional trip through the Sumidero Canyon (M$200, ~£9). A one hour drive along a winding road through the mountains and valleys of the Chiapas brought us the boat station, from where we had a 2 hour speedboat ride through the canyon with up to 1,000m high walls. We stopped along the way for points of interest - strange rock formations on the walls, animals (eg. crocodiles), a cave, and plenty of birdlife.
We spent the evening in a "Wine and Tapas" bar, and very nice it was too, and then me and my roomie, Kaine, decided to carry on drinking till 3am!
The next morning, there was a 9.30am start to visit the indigenous villages of Chamula and Zinacantan, which Kaine decided to give a miss, and for which I was bloody knackered and hungover. The way of life in Chamula is unchanged from Mayan times (preHispanic). They have retained their own language, dress, religion, police force, leaders, etc. The church, built around 1524, was the most interesting part of the town (photos are banned in the church but I have downloaded one from the net).
Inside, there are no pews but the floor is covered with pine needles (bloody slippy too, I nearly went arse over foot a few times), there are thousands of candles on the floor, Shamans use eggs, live chickens and coke in healing rituals (the egg or chicken soaks up the illness, then the egg is broken or chicken killed and studied to find out what the problem is and a cure recommended). There are various statues of Saints around the church which the people worship have used to replace their gods. Another thing I notice in Chamula is people absolutely pissed up in the morning and passed out in the street. We also visit the prison, where the prisoners' cells face the street so they are publicly shamed. I ask my guide if I can take a photo, he says that the prisoners are suffering enough shame, if I take a photo it will only increase their shame, so sod it, if you do the crime, expect a load of gringos to take photos of you!
In the village of Zinacantan, we visit a couple of churches (Bible-bashers have succeeded in converting part of the village to Catholicism), a local house where they make brightly-coloured weavings to sell to tourists and corn tortillas, and are given a demonstration of Shamanistic Mayan healing techniques (without the chicken killing!).
I have a much needed sleep in the afternoon, then in the evening we visit a Bagel cafe where we have cocktails, bagels, and more cocktails! An early night though, only 11pm!
Our first taste of public transport the next morning, albeit a pretty high class type of transport, with a public bus at 9am to Palenque. The bus is A/C, has reclining seats, onboard toilet, and only partly filled with tourists so 2 seats each, better than National Express back home! The only thing Palenque is famous for is the Mayan ruins, and the town of Palenque has basically been set up to service the tourists. My guide book describes the town as one of the most unattractive in the state of Chiapas, and they're probably right - the town is very small and is just a construction site. Reminds me of Siem Riep, the town built to service the tourists who will be visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia. After exiting the A/C bus, the first thing that hits you is the intense heat - it is nearly 40degC with high humidity, and the sweat just pours off you.
Palenque was one of great Mayan cities, begun around 100BC and flourishing from 300-900 AD. After later falling into decline, the city was enveloped by jungle and re-discovered in the 19th century but not started to be uncovered fully until the 20th century. Only 24 structures have so far been uncovered, from about 1,500 in the original city. The structures that have been uncovered comprise pyramids and temples. Some of the temples are real Indiana Jones stuff, they contain hidden passages and tombs, the location of which has only recently been deciphered from ancient Mayan inscriptions. After visiting the ruins, we embark on a 2 hour walk through the surrounding jungle, walking over unexcavated ruins in intense heat. We end up at a small waterfall for a relaxing dip.
The next day, we arrange to spend all day by a local river, with a barbeque and beers. This turns out be great day, relaxing in the water (yes, even I went in the water), you can sit in the water drinking beer and you don't have to get out to go for a piss!, barbequed meat galore, and cliff-diving for those more adventurous. Heading back late afternoon pretty pissed, crash out, miss the meeting for the evening meal, so me, Kaine and Alex find a Burger King for dinner. Wanting a drink, we pay to go into what turns out to be probably the crappiest nightclub in Mexico - Shadow Nightclub, with DJ Shadow! It's dark (bring a torch), hot and sweaty, there are huge potholes in the floor, and the piss trough in the toilet is broken so the toilet is flooded with piss. Oh, and there are wet patches on the "dancefloor", maybe the locals just piss on the dancefloor instead of braving the toilets. There are only a handful of other people in there so we leave after one sweaty drink, the dirt oozing from our pores.
The next morning (Sunday), we have an 8 1/2 bus journey by luxury coach to Merida, the biggest city on the Yucatan Peninsula, at over 1 million people.
Our overnight minibus arrived in San Cristobal de Las Casas at 9am (Tues 20 April) after a not so very good attempt at sleeping. Still I wasn't tired enough to want to go back to sleep for the rest of the morning and some of us set off on an orientation walk of the town centre. San Cristobal is a colonial town in the state of Chiapas, on the tourist trail, and comprised of narrow cobbled streets (many pedestrianised), brightly-coloured colonial houses, cafes and restaurants, and a lovely square lined with trees. However, the town is most famous for an armed peasant uprising in 1994 when the Zapitistas took over government buildings and the town, fighting for rights of the indigenous peoples.