Mexico: Putting down roots

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Ah, Mexico. Given that half the people we know think we’ve been here all along, it’s good to report we’ve finally arrived. Mexico is our second home, though the girls don’t really remember the two maternity leaves we spent in San Cristobal de Las Casas, walking each of them through the dawn streets wrapped in a sling, and taking them to Spanish classes.

Despite all of our good intentions, neither of them speak a word of Spanish (we were SO going to teach them from birth, but rather like feeding them only organic carrots and never allowing them fizzy drinks it just hasn’t happened) so six months in Mexico was always going to be quite a shock – especially since it is about time they went to school.

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We broke them in gently. Four days in DF (Mexico City), giving them a crash course in Mexican culture, including the Diego Rivera murals in the Zocalo (though they mostly wanted to stroke the cats rather than look at the pictures of the Aztecs making maize and sacrificing each other) and the surprisingly good zoo in the Chapultepec Park. We learned that Daisy still likes refried beans, but that neither of them really like tortillas (bit of an issue really). Of course, in DF, we continued to speak in English, so it was a bit of a shock to them (and me) when our good friend Enrique picked us up at Tuxtla airport, and we had to reignite the Spanish on the way up to San Cristobal. The girls, predictably, were somewhat silent.

And so here we are. Staying in a wonderful house called Casa Berta, where we’ve slightly more space than we need, and finally a kitchen that is a joy to cook in. The girls are getting accustomed to the San Cristobal market, which comes complete with chickens held by the feet and lots of colourful indigenous women selling beans and spices.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of the city if you’ve never been, but imagine an old Spanish colonial city, high up in the clouds, surrounded by mountains and forest. Cobbled streets full of low-level coloured houses ensure that the city is a magnet for Mexican tourists from elsewhere in the country as well as independent travellers, while the city is at the centre of a ring of indigenous villages where both men and women still wear traditional costume and practice traditional culture – and speak their own Mayan languages as well.

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In the streets, indigenous men and women mix with ‘coletos’ – traditional San Cristobal dwellers of Spanish descent. And then there are ‘los hippies’ who have made San Cristobal their home. Many arrived to support the Zapatista uprising in 1994, when the indigenous people rose up against their post-colonial overlords under the charismatic leadership of Sub-Comandante Marcos. Almost 20 years later, some land outside the city is still in Zapatista territory.

‘Los Hippies’ bring their own culture to mix with that of the Coletos and the traditional Maya. Think Stoke Newington in the Cloud Forest. So if you want your Mayan calendar read, or to practice yoga on any given day you won’t struggle to find someone to help you. You may not be able to buy a cagoule (it rains quite a lot) but you can buy a lot of weavings, friendship bracelets and pseudo-Mayan medicaments.

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Thanks to this, San Cristobal gives us a lot of educational opportunities to choose from for the girls. The only thing we can’t do is send them to state school, since we’re here on tourist visas (and since the state teachers have been on strike ever since we’ve started living here this is probably just as well). From the many options we’ve chosen Las Semillas de Luz, just round the corner. Given that the school is called Seeds of Light, you may have some idea of its ethos. Yoga features very heavily. I’ll write more to explain how they are settling in very soon…

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