Tourists find quaint appeal in Chiapas
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SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico -- With an epidemic of drug violence turning Mexico's northern border into a military-occupied, no-travel zone, tourism throughout much of the country is also feeling a chill.
You wouldn't have guessed it during Holy Week here in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, as tens of thousands of visitors made the annual pilgrimage to celebrate the holidays along with local Maya Indians.
Most of the outsiders were Mexicans, joined by a smattering of Europeans and Americans, all drawn by the extravagant religious celebrations that unfold during Semana Santa in this old colonial city and nearby Indian villages.
Early in the week, in the village of San Felipe, Carmen Garza of Monterrey and her family joined hundreds of local spectators to take in one of the timeless processions of costumed figures as it wound over rocky streets to an ancient church yard.
The good-times atmosphere at these events call to mind small-town Texas county fairs, complete with street vendors, food booths, carnival rides for the children and young women showing off the latest local styles.
To the educated eye, the colors and patterns in the Indian women's skirts, shawls and blouses reveal the home village of the wearer, and, since styles change annually, often the exact year that the garment was made.
"The blue flowered one is from Zinacantán, the one with the big white stripes is from Oxchuc, and the pleated dresses are from San Felipe," explained Walter "Chip" Morris, an anthropologist who has studied culture here for more than three decades.
Founded in 1528 by the Spanish conquerors as a regional base, San Cristóbal was named for the Dominican monk Bartolomé de Las Casas, one of the foremost defenders of the indigenous people during colonial times.
A large statue of Las Casas, looking to the west, stands outside the tourist market a few blocks off the main square known as Plaza 31 de Mayo, a pleasant oasis of gardens, shade trees and cast-iron benches.
And for visitors who come to San Cristóbal throughout the year, the attractions include the Mayan ruins at Palenque, various colonial churches, the Na Bolom cultural center and the Lacandon Jungle.