After we dried out from the visit to Cascada de Misol-Há we continued southbound along Mexico Highway 199 into the mountains; deeper into Chiapas. The road narrowed and became more twisted. There was a different feel. Almost like a presence was watching.
Then, there it was; the sign that let me know where we had crossed; Zapatista country! We had heard all kinds of stories about this ancient area including 500 years of uprisings, the autonomous zones and most recently the conflict in 1994 where the Zapatista guerrilla army seized control of the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and five other towns in the surrounding Chiapas highlands and he we were, in the thick of it. Mustering up resistance to fear we soldiered on. We were anxious to see for ourselves this scary part of Mexico.
It was rainy season and in spots, the road had worn away and plunged into the valley. Huge boulders perched precariously overhead and there was abundant evidence where others had fallen and crashed across the road. A beautiful mist drifted through the forests which were starting to change from palm to pine.
The air was fresh and had that appealing fresh aroma of pine needles and earth. We had the windows down and music playing. It was necessary to drive slower and pay more attention but being in a different landscape was invigorating. Then in a clearing up ahead, we spotted it; a roadblock.
It was hard to make out from the distance but someone had constructed a rope with small flags on it and they were holding it loosely across the road. As we approached I could see three figures on the right and two on the left operating out of a casually constructed shelter. As we slowed and approached further I could see they were colorfully dressed. As we got closer I could see they were small. As we got even closer I could see; . . . they were children about eight or nine years old with their grandmother.
I rolled down the window and asked one of the small girls in broken Spanish what we must do to pass. With a coy smile and a proud smirk, we were shown beautiful fresh picked fruits, fried plantains, and bunches of tiny bananas. It seems the toll today was going to be ten pesos (about 90 cents) in return for some delicious fruit. Ten pesos it was going to cost for passing unmolested through this section; with lunch. Okay, we can handle that!
On it went. We passed through Ocosingo, site of the heaviest fighting during 1994 the conflict. There were numerous military vehicles, many pollo asado places, a few grocery stores and many children going on their way home from school. I didn’t see anything that caused me concern but it has been a few months since we were told what to think in situations like this by the “fear machine” of mass media. Maybe we were missing something.
Past Ososingo the road got even steeper and more luscious. We were now in a cloud forest. Corn was growing on impossibly steep terrain. Mayans in traditional dress attended sheep along to roadside. The road continued to be a minor challenge, kind of like Highway One in California does from time to time, but it was beautiful and inviting.
A few hours later we had made it! Through the heart of Zapatista country, unscathed and richer for the experience. Well through? Not really. We were just now in San Cristóbal de las Casas; ground zero but this place felt very inviting. It felt like a place where we wanted to spend some time.