Turns out that the overnight bus was very easy. Once the passengers prone to throwing up had run out of goods to hurl & gave in to sleep that is. A mixture of windy roads and altitude did make it a bit snake-train (1982 Drayton Manor Park reference there. Niche I know) and so am glad neither us suffer from travel sickness and we're able to sleep for several hours.
Arrived at 6.30 am and walked to our hostel where they didn't have a room for us (balls up with a duplicate booking that had then been cancelled incorrectly - instead of 1 room for 2 nights we had 2 rooms for 1 night. And it was the 2nd night!). Tired, hungry, homeless & cold was thankfully met with friendly, patient, helpful and unflappable & we got sorted out.
Bags put in a locker we went off exploring the town; San Cristobal de las Cases is incredibly pretty (lots of hilly windy roads with brightly coloured houses), few churches and lots of squares surrounded by markets & the craft stalls from the surroundings villages. A few hippyshit westerners who've been here for 20 years and are slowly but surely losing the plot but mostly indigenous people & backpackers- very chilled feel to the place.
They do have some different ways of presenting Jesus in their churches though:
Altitude (it's at 2200m) makes it bloody cold though - nice when the sun breaks through but the cloud is so low and clingy to the mountains that it doesn't happen often. Instead there's a near constant drizzle- full snowboarding thermals worn by me at night (a strong look but needs must. We met a girl who'd worn her pyjamas to go walking in rain forest today so I don't feel like anyone's judging on the fashion front).
The hostel is great (Roscos) proper backpacking vibe unlike the ones we've stayed in to date. This place has a firepit lit each night so we were up to the early hours chatting with other travellers, getting tips & learning more about the continent. They also take in stray dogs so there are 5 mutts of various ages & stages of health/confidence staying here too.
A fireside conversation led us to going on a people-tour today, something I'm normally dubious about incase it's more about exploitation than exploration but no worries on this one- excellent tour (alexraul tour). You have to turn up at the wooden cross in the Zocala (main town square) around 9.30 & when there's enough people (about 5) the guide appears and off you go.
We visited two indigenous reservations & got to understand so much more than we could have done with just the guide book. The towns are fine to go to but respecting the cultures, and understanding the traditions needs navigation. The first one was a Mayan tribe (76k strong) called Chamalans (after the town - San Juan Chamala). They speak a language called Tzotzil which bears little resemblance to Spanish, are polygamous, can't grow beards (physically can't rather than not allowed to), the woman never cut their hair & they practise a faith called Catholic Traditionalism.
It's sort of part Mayan with belief in the underworld, multiple gods and the importance of treating the human spirit (like if a child falls over the parent will swing the child over the spot they fell to recover the spirit and put it back in) mixed in with some Catholicism. They have their own calendar (18 months of 20 days p/a with 5 extra days to throw in when you need them), don't recognise the bible or the Vatican, and use shaman to diagnose ailments to the spirit.
The church was stunning (no photos allowed and as they have their own judicial system it really does mean no photos). It was built by Catholics who they then kicked out and kept the building but inside was full of bright fabrics & fresh pine needles on the floor like a carpet. No pews but huge amounts of incense and candles on the floor, surrounded by groups of people praying around the candles.
Shaman offer diagnoses by reading your pulse and prescribe remedies that involve sacrifices of chickens, rolling an egg over your body, gifts (to the saints/gods not to the shaman!) of coloured soda drinks & lighting candles of 5 different colours (representing gender, age, part of the universe you need to pray to).
It all has the possibility to sound bonkers but to the ears of an atheist no more so than any other faith. Being polytheist means they don't question anybody else's belief of gods ( it's probably one they include already anyway) so are every open.
As a community they elect spiritual and civil leaders each year - the latter are done in the town square: if you like the candidate you wave your hat. If you don't, you chuck stuff at them! The windows of the town hall are all cracked as a result of such democracy in action. They pay taxes most of which are managed locally, schools etc. but non natives aren't allowed on their grounds outside of daylight hours (including bus & taxi drivers). And they run their own judicial system which goes:
Strike 1 - 2 days in prison which is a cell in the town square where everyone can see you bring shame on your family. Open bars - no food, heating or lights.
Strike 2 - community service wearing a necklace that identifies you as a criminal
Strike 3 - the elders decide your fate. Expulsion is most common but recently 3 men found guilty of rape were given the death penalty (not in place in Mexico generally) & met a very grizzly end at the hands of a lynch mob.
Crime is on the low-side as you can imagine.
From there to another indigenous town called Zincanton where we visited a spiritual leaders house and saw part of their Sunday ritual - it starts at 2am and involves drinking a hooch called posh (it really isn't posh. Similar to grappa) while they lay flower tributes to the gods. We got there about 1 pm and those who weren't asleep were clearly mullered. Big slopey grins as they tried to keep their kerchiefs from falling off their heads! My kind of religion- flowers, bright clothes and all day sessions.
Back to town then for Tlayuda's (tortillas with stuff on them but then (and thus totally different to burrito, fajitas, enchiladas etc) folded in half) & more clothes as the rain is falling and sky darkening quickly. The locals are very impressed with Chris' ability to eat uber-spicy food. Had a whole family admiring the enthusiasm with which he doused his food in chillies.
Up at silly o clock to travel across the border into Guatemala. Lake Atitlan is our first stop to see some volcanos. If we travelled the same duration due south we could be on a Pacific beach but no. It's more thermals for the foreseeable. Christmas on the Caribbean is looking very appealing right now!