Guest guide Chip Morris, Mayan textile expert and author of Living Maya
Visit the ruins of Palenque
Jungle swimming holes and waterfalls
Mayan brocade, backstrap, and spinning
Net bag making
Visits to Mayan markets
Six nights in colonial San Cristobal de Las Casas
MAYAN FIBERS AND CULTURE FCP1203-HC
Visits to villages, weavers, and Mayan churches guided by Mayan expert, Chip Morris
. . . March 10-19, 2012 (For tour price and other information, please see the Trip Details sidebar on this page)
From ancient Mayan ruins in the humid jungle lowlands of Chiapas to the misty uplands and villages of highly skilled Mayan weavers, this is a journey woven of handspun threads and culture diversity.
There are few places left in the world where the clothes people wear are the clothes they weave. The Mayan highlands of Chiapas, Mexico are one of these rare places. Their weaving is gorgeous, without question some of the most exquisite traditional weaving in the Americas. These Mayan weavers are the ancestors of the great Mayan civilizations that ruled the Chiapan highlands and southern jungles 1,500 years ago. The great cities and temples of Palenque, Chichen Itza and Tikal lie in ruins, but Mayan civilization lives on in cool mountain villages. Our ten-day trip will focus on these highland weaving villages, and with Mayan textile expert, Chip Morris, as our guest guide in the highlands, doors will open to us that normally are closed to outsiders among these reserved people. Ours is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about Mayan weaving and meet the people who do it.
Much of the Maya’s ancient vision of the cosmos and their place in the world is told through symbols in their weaving work. The knowledge of the meanings in their symbols was nearly lost when Chip Morris first arrived in Chiapas in 1972. Through years of study funded by grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Smithsonian, to name a few, Chip did groundbreaking work in rediscovering the meanings of the weaving iconography. He also mastered the Tzotzil language, spoken by many of the highland Maya and has done important work in promoting highland weaving and cultural preservation. The author of Living Maya, a beautiful book about Mayan weaving, we are very fortunate to have Chip Morris along as a guest guide for our days among the highland Maya.
Our journey will begin in the sultry lowlands of Mexico and a visit to the legendary Mayan ruins of Palenque situated on the edge of the rain forest and plain. It is not uncommon to hear Howler monkeys as we explore the ruins (they are, after all, the loudest creatures on earth). Then we travel through the limestone mountains into the cool highlands of Chiapas. Enroute we will stop to visit the beautiful river and falls of Agua Azul with its stepped waterfalls and turquoise blue water. Bring a bathing suit for a dip in this most lovely of swimming holes. Finally we arrive in the highlands, leaving behind the humid forests and crumbling pyramids for the cool, misty Chiapan uplands, beautiful San Cristobal de Las Casas and a land of fabulous weavers. For lovers of weaving, travel and unique cultures this journey offers a rare opportunity to experience this land as few can.
Day 1, (D).Our trip starts in the city of Villahermosa, Tabasco. Today we arrive from our various necks of the woods and meet at the hotel to get to know each other and have dinner. There are many flights to Villahermosa from Mexico City, as well as some connections through Houston and San Antonio. Evening in Villahermosa..
Olmex stone head at Villahermosa
Day 2, (BLD). After breakfast we will visit the La Venta Museum and Park, which showcases several spectacular Olmec stone heads (one of which weighs over 24 tons) and pre-Hispanic stone sculptures. The park is also filled with examples of tropical flora from the region and there is a zoo with jungle animals such as macaws, lynxes, jaguars and boa constrictors. After a leisurely visit to the park and museum we will head for Chiapas and the town and ruins of Palenque. We will arrive here in the afternoon and, time allowing, we will visit the Palenque museum in preparation for visiting the archeological site tomorrow. Evening in Palenque.
Window in San Cristobal de las Casas
Day 3, (BL). Today we head to the amazing (and sweltering) ruined Mayan city of Palenque, ancestral homeland to many of the Mayans living in this area today. Archeologist Alonso Mendez will join us for a guided tour of the ruins. Alonso has studied Palenque for years, focusing special attention on the way the buildings relate to the stars and their movements, which were an integral part of Mayan science and religion. Evening in Palenque.
Village of Zinacantan. Photo by Jeffrey J Fox
Day 4, (LD). Today we make for the pine-clad highlands of Chiapas. On the way we will travel to Agua Azul, perhaps the most famous swimming hole in Mexico, where the mineralized, gem-blue water has formed step-like waterfall after waterfall, beneath which are inviting swimming holes surrounded by cool, green jungle vegetation. Being thoroughly cooled and rinsed we will travel on to the Mayan highlands and the colonial town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Evening in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Maya church warden's hat at Sna Jobil weaver's gallery
Day 5, (BL).This morning we are joined by Chip Morris, our exceptional guest guide for our visits to the highland weaving communities around San Cristobal. We will visit the village of Chamula, meeting with the weaver Maria Patixtan who spins and weaves a great variety, including the thick wool skirts and jackets worn in this village. We’ll also wander through the Chamula market, perhaps visit the home of one of the Mayan religious officials, where Chip will talk about the fusion of Catholic and Mayan religions. We’ll visit the otherworldly interior of the Chamula church, glowing with candles on a carpet of pine needles and filled with Chamulan Maya doing different kinds of ceremonies. Then we go over the mountain to the village of Zinacantan. Here we will meet Maya Tzotzil weavers who are cutting edge traditionalists. That is to say, they make their beautiful and ornate clothing on backstrap looms, based on ancient designs. But if those ancient designs don’t change in some way every 6 months or so, the Zinacanteco weavers are not happy. We’ll visit a personable family of weavers with many goodies to offer us, and a smoky kitchen where we are invited to eat fresh tortillas and salsa. We will also visit the church and learn about religious and ceremonial life in Zinacantan. Evening in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Along the road to the highland village of Magdalenas
Day 6, (L). This morning we will meet to get a lay of the land and have a tour of San Cristobal, visiting the local market and ending our morning with a visit to the Sna Jolobil Cooperative showroom. Prepare yourselves, for here you will see the very best of the best of highland Mayan textiles. Sna Jolobil is one of the longest lasting and most successful artisan cooperatives in Latin America, now in its third decade and encompassing more than 800 weavers from 20 communities. Then, the day is yours to explore and wander until we gather again at 6:00 for a tour of the Sergio Castro Museum of Traditional Dress. Sergio Castro is best known in the area for his humanitarian aid to surrounding highland villages where he has been responsible for building schools, water treatment systems and personally providing wound care for burn victims from the surrounding pueblos. Through the appreciation of the people he has served, he has received many gifts of gratitude, from local dress to tools and masks. These and many stories of his life in the highlands will be the focus of the tour. Evening in San Cristobal.
Traditions Mexico group at lunch in San Cristobal de Las Casas
Day 7, (L) This morning Chip will take us to San Andres Larrainzar, famous for its spectacular wool brocade. Today is a day of parading saints, which is an exotic treat. As villagers from neighboring pueblos come to town in full traditional wear, we will be engulfed in this ancient custom and will witness the deep religious connection of our surroundings. Then we head further into the highlands and to the village of Magdalenas where we will meet a Mayan gentleman who lives in a wattle and daub hut and makes refined and beautiful net shoulder bags out of agave fiber. In the evening we gather again for a visit to Na Bolom, which was the home of the renowned Swiss and Danish anthropologist/archeologist team of Trudy and Franz Blom. Chip will show us around this wonderful, musty museum rich in books, photos and the sense of another era and we will have dinner at the Na Bolom long table. Evening in San Cristobal.
In the village of Aguacatenango
Day 8, Sat, April 9 (LD). Today we travel into lower country to visit the small village of Aguacatenango where we will meet women who embroider white on white blouses. Then we’ll visit the neighboring village of Amatenango where we leave threads for clay. This is a village of potters and we’ll visit with a couple to see how they create clay bean pots, doves, tiny figures, jaguars. Evening in San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Master Weaver Maria Mesa Giron
Day 9, (LD). This morning is the time to get everything that you want to get done in San Cristobal because late this morning we head to the lowlands again, but this time to the town of Chiapa de Corzo, where it will be warm and dry. We will visit mask makers, a woman who does traditional embroidery and possibly dance to the sounds of marimba as this is one of southern Mexico’s hotspots for marimba. In the later afternoon, we will board a lancha and go down the Grijalva River through the Sumidero Canyon. This canyon is known for its diverse wildlife and canyon walls, which rise an astounding 2400 feet off the river. After a quick rest back at our hotel, we will meet to have our final dinner together and say our goodbyes.
Day 10, (B). After breakfast it is time to pack our bags and move on, back to our own neck of woods. Those traveling home today will want to transfer to Tuxtla Gutierrez, about 1.5 hours, where flights can be booked to Mexico City.
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Publications, Australia, get most recent edition.
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