How to get to Chamula
Before you go: Chamula is is used as an umbrella name for various Mayan ethnic groups that live in the Chiapas, including the: Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Mame, Tojolabal and the Choles.
Icy Introduction: You get a very clear feeling you are imposing by simply being here. However, the indigenous culture and the oddity of how they breathe life into a former church is a relative tourist attraction and money-making resource for the town. So they tolerate you. Also, the word is it's not safe at night so make your trip in the day. You will need 1.5 hours max including transportation.
How to get there: Catch a colectivo from the Viejo Mercado, they leave very regularly through the day. Should cost $15MXPs. You will be dropped at a parking lot that overlooks a dilapidated church (really, a stone church with no roof).
The first point of Interest will be the graveyard surrounding the church. Following a massive Día de Los Muertos celebration, we saw graves with coloured crosses, mounds of red dirt over where the bodies are buried and dead pine needles stacked on top. The main celebration was several weeks ago so the pine branches were once a colourful forest green. It will be the most bizarre graveyard you have ever seen.
Next, walk into the to the town square amidst market stalls selling scarves, ponchos, woven goods, food mercados and many locals avoiding eye contact. It will be a five-minute walk from the graveyard. You can see the large white church in the distance.
You will need to find a little stand next to the church selling entrance tickets fora reasonable $25 MXP. They will give you a little ticket to enter the church.
Enter the church and adhere to the strict no video, no photos inside. Listen, in Portugal did I care about no the 'no photography in the church' rule? Absolutely not. Here, you want to respect the indigenous culture and they don’t want your flash in their faces. Be kind.
Fair warning: It’s really weird and I loved it.
First, the church is empty of pews and the floor covered in a thick bed of pine needles. It's slippery. The Pine is a sacred tree and candles are meant to illuminate the path to God. Candles there are indeed.
The walls are lined with creepy porcelain catholic-looking-important-saints in glass boxes. There are hundreds of vases filled with fresh yellow and white flowers. Tables are filled, quite literally to capacity with glasses of all sizes housing light, wax candles. This is the only lighting. Tables line the entire perimeter. Fire hazard is an understatement but it’s quite pretty in a cultish sort of way.
There are relics from a long-lost Catholic Church that have been reinvented. Worshipers enter, clear a space in the pine needles, men who appear to be designated wax scrappers clear space by scraping the floor. The worshipers then align and alight hundreds of tiny candles in rows. Hundreds.
When we entered there was a child sitting in a cardboard box, which seemed odd, but you know, kids. I soon pieced together the box had formerly housed the Chicken. Of course, the chicken. You can probably guess where this goes. Let's just say the chicken has a nice ritual.
Then there’s the Coca-cola. We also saw other fizzy drinks that are consumed in mass in order to produce a specific effect. You guessed it. Burping. This is to rid oneself of evil syrups. I mean spirits.
So without sticking around staring too long at the most different customs I’ve ever encountered and trying very hard to be open-minded and respectful, we left.
We were not wanted there.
In Conclusion: The honour to witness local customs was a great one. It was odd in the familiarness of objects (specifically the Coke) and Christian customs, but beautiful in the celebration of customs so different that still thrive in our mad, metropolitan world.