In Search of Mayan Ruins In Chiapas, Mexico
The second of two parts

March 8, 2018

Prices in the Mexican state of Chiapas are very cheap in comparison to the rest of Mexico, and in fact, compared to world travel in general. Taxis are about 3 dollars for anywhere in town, or for the “collectivo” bus, the cost is about 50 cents.

One of the special dishes in Chiapas is a regional “mole,” and it can come in a dozen different flavors and colors. It is made with a large assortment of ingredients, including chili peppers and chocolate.

Other than in the air terminals, there are no American style restaurants. Food is good and plentiful. Grand markets are held in every city, and they are full of every food imaginable … Everything is fresh.

Our first two nights stay was at a nice hotel in the center of Tuxtla Gutierrez (the capital of the state), and the place was called Del Carmen. The rates started at $25 a night. The room was clean, with air conditioning, but not as large as we are used to in the States. There was a restaurant in the hotel which served breakfast at a nominal fee.

While we enjoyed Tuxtla and the music in the central park (to which adults dance the Tango) our time plan did not leave much room for exploring the city. One very impressive visit was to the Botanical Gardens, dating back 100 years and with free entry. We also had to tour the Grand Market, and loved the sound of the marimba band which preformed at the entrance.

We chose to hire a taxi to take us to San Cristabol, the second largest city in Chiapas. The cost was only about $45 for 60-mile ride almost straight up the side of a mountain. San Cristabol is 7,000 feet above sea level, and the average temperature is about 10 degrees lower than Tuxtla.

Our hotel was slightly more expensive at $40 a night, but the Hotel Don Juan had much more character. Being a former residence that was only transformed into a hotel over the last four years, our room was huge, and the king size bed could have been used for a soccer field.

We made San Cristabol our headquarters for branching out to other cities. Some of these were day trips like the one to Comitan, and the ruins at Tenam, or in the case of Palenque, we stayed for three days just to take in all the sights.

Our visits included a trip to the Amber Museum located in the Monastery of the Merced monks. Amber is mined in this area of Mexico, and although it is not a mineral, it is a sap from trees which has hardened over a million years and is considered one of the most precious “stones” of Mexico.

Our trip to the Jade Museum, and its replicas of the ceremonial artifacts found in most of the Mayan ruins in MesoAmerica, was a must because it also housed a replica of the burial tomb of King Pakal.

In our estimation these ruins rate with those in Egypt and the tomb of King Tut, however, they have never received the kind of recognition they deserve.

The story of the Mayan people is still being told because it has taken so long to translate the language and to provide access to these ruins and their history.

Explorers have still not uncovered most of the ruins and there are many questions unanswered. For instance where did these people come from originally? Was there any connection with the ancient civilizations of Africa and the Middle East? Why are there similar pyramids and even burial chambers?

‘Merced’ has been in Chiapas for 500 years

A group of monks left Guatamala in the mid 1500s to form a new monastery north in Chiapas, where the town of San Cristabol now sits.

They were called Mercedarians, and they were something like a warrior monk as the Monastery they built was like a fortress which could be defended if necessary.

This monastery servered as the home for the monks for several hundred years and it is not known why it later became a military garrison and a convent, however, it saw many uses and with each use the buildings declined.

In the past century it was used as a prison and became so run down that it was falling apart. Then a group of local residents formed a society for the preservation of the Merced Monastery, and tried to get government help to restore it as a historic landmark.

Very little help was available so the society had to raise its own money and provide its own labor to restore the buildings little by little. The Merced Monastery is now in its latest phase of restoration, and when completed, will be almost as good as when it was originally built. Not all of the buildings are part of the original monastery.

The Merced Monastery serves as the home for the Amber Museum, a collection of the most precious of all stones found in Chiapas. These are not mineral but originally came from the sap of trees and over millions of years solidified often with insects as part of the stone.

Chiapas is one of the three or four places in the world where these precious stones are still mined, and the collection at San Cristabol is one of the finest in the world.

The Amber Museum in connection with the historic Merced Monastery makes this a special place to visit while in Chiapas.

Call (209) 383-0433
or (209) 358-5311

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