Hey there visitor!!
First and disregarding that the grand Cheikh Lô is from totally different continent/context, it’s a possible live soundtrack. Thanks to Radio3, incredible dedication as always.
start at 15’ mark
DL link, RNE3 online source
It has taken me 7 years to finally develop these photos, at first it was aesthetic and technical reasoning behind the delay as I couldn’t find a way, a platform which output “made justice” to an experience lived in quite extreme circumstances. Then… well, then time went by in its red convertible… business as usual.
From 200 stills (aprox) I’ve chosen 32 to tell a little story, one that 7 years ago I lived and shared with the people of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, Mejico.
By the end of 2008 Pachus (my father) had died after more than a year and a half of fighting and finally being devoured by cancer, my long time girlfriend ditched our relation wrapped in lies’ gift paper and I was exhausted, broken-hearted and jobless; this was my “situation”. Against all odds what followed was an incredible year full of travelling, adventures, working challenges and meeting with incredible incredible people.
My priority when travelling to Mejico was to meet and greet, to expend some quality time with my just borned nephew, Leo. And so it happened and despite the burden I carried, it felt honestly joyful to make part of the baby’s life, to be a witness in my little brother Ami and Vero’s wedding, to participate in crazy buddhist parties, to eat, smoke and drink like there was no tomorrow, to travel around discovering the heritage and natural wonders of the Yucatan’s peninsula with the mex family – and just ’cause you like stats, I put 1 kilo per day in the first week. It was really really nice… but after some time… it was piercingly clear that I needed to go by my own. Mejico is very big and rich in all truly important matters, it would take anyone quite a long time to tour the whole country… so I decided to go about 1 state only: Chiapas. From different sources I gathered an extended to-do list – here picture me talking to different traveled and good willing folks, trying to set down on my notebook all instructions, must-see places, urban or wild, must-meet people, food to taste, passages to go through, etc., etc. – a sort of chaotic yet personalised lonely planet guide =)
So with a camera, a hammock and few clothes in the backpack I started my journey. Boy oh boy I was glad I had my to-do list, huge volcano-like mountains pouring water non-stop, breathtakingly deep gorges, enormous and complex ancient mayan cities being slowly engulfed by the jungle, bugs the size of a fist, plants with leaves as umbrellas, loudest howler monkeys, raving hummingbirds, huge-ass spiders and butterflies and helicopter-mosquitoes, chiapa’s coffee, spicest food with flowers, all possible variety of the freshest fruits, true breakfast for gods, windsurf ants, trees with no end, soil so rich it’ll make lakes within lakes from a tear, cataracts coming down from the heavens, rain evaporating before touching the ground, shamans in their mountains, markets overflowing colours and odours, busy characters and most welcoming people, mayans, mayans with their beautiful shiny dark pupils pinned at the beginning of life… each place was a senses’ exploding universe of ever expanding awesomeness; it would take a book for me just to do them justice… and time’s a democratic pimp, same for everybody. As if all of this fremisment wasn’t enough, while we ( chilanga Ingrid, lapricon Trevor and me-self) were lodged on the humblest wooden cabins at the incredible Lacandonian jungle the H1N1 epidemic broke out.
That same night I got to meet Alejandro, Alejandra, Alejandro junior (then everybody started laughing) and Carla. Later on my journey will again cross paths with this funny, discombobulated, excessive but happy family, who would end up “adopting” me as one of their own… snif…and they were as kind, heart-warming yet free as it is possible for a human being to be.
Anyway, jumping forward I’m in San Cristobal de las Casas, aka San Crisis, with my base at the Alexes’ on the mountain’s slope and coming down to town everyday to discover the mayan museum of medicine, the market (probably my favourite place), Daniel el huesero (mix of osteopat and wizard), to meet my contacts, to be bewitched by beautiful researching ladies, to share a beer and some stories with a couple of surreal (they looked like out of a film) mechanics, to flaneur around as much as possible, to enjoy being alive despite my family insistence on leaving the country ’cause of the bird’s flu… couldn’t have cared less about that.
Then I decided to visit San Juan Chamula, a little village up in the mountains specially known for its syncretic church. Mayans in general are not kind of their portrait “being taken”, I already knew that but different people repeatedly advised me about taking pictures in SJCH; specially forbidden at the church; I also heard a myriad stories about this village and the region being a control free zone, with their inhabitants regarded as a tight, fearless and confrontational group. For what I experienced, that had some true to it, even the EZLN didn’t mess around with these guys… but there is much more in the mix, some very nice things, some quite dark like drug smuggling. Anyway, on the last day of April I took a colectivo heahded to SJCH.
After buying an entrance (??) at the local authorities, went into the church, which was amazing indeed, an incredible fusion of indigenous traditions together with the classic colonial style… colourful, alive, good for the senses, … there was a cloud of copal, romero and incense being burned, the lateral walls were covered with a myriad saints, each one with a mirror hung on them, mobile phones someone told me, the “priest” was cleansing a congregant with feathers and an egg, people stood or sat on the floor which was partially covered with straw, the chants were also very curious, a agglomerate of shamanic songs and religious prayers mix of spanish, txochil and who knows what else. People came inside the house of god carrying goats, chickens, even dogs, children played and ran freely around. – – – Someone just knocked on my door and was entering the house before realising it was the wrong number, it was funny, I didn’t stop the guy – – –
So I hang around for some hours, recording everything on the microfilm of my soul. When I went outside I tried to take some pictures but I really couldn’t, I was already overflown with the visual and sonic landscape and didn’t enjoy feeling like a tourist. So bought some stuff from the nagging, ever curious and friendly children in the square and went on wondering around. At certain point I saw an old man with an strange instrument… something like an arp. I approached him, sat a few meters away, lighted a cigarette and listened the unusual melodies for a long time. More men came, more instruments, all of the while I just sat there, watching them. At certain point it was clear they were talking about me… a bit later, what I understood to be the leader, approached and asked me if I wanted to participate in Las Cruces de Mayo, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, but who needs safety net right?, right!!!
From that moment on I followed the group of men, first inside of the church, where we drank Coca-Cola (“it is sacred, ’cause expels the demons” I was told), 7-up and some very very strong home-made spirit; where we smoke, yes inside of the fucking church!!! We were chanting, profering espiritual insults and joy liberation salves for a bit… everything anew but making sense if you feel me. As more men, teenagers and children gathered outside the church, some organising was done, then we started walking till some cars, vans and a huge truck came to take us up into the mountains in this amazing ritual called Las Cruces Mayo
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and read the rest of the story =) \\
After a long truck ride, first of the 6 stops we’ld end up doing. Steep descent to a ciment palapa carrying a lot of boxes full of drinks. Leader on coke, candles, incenses, many many chants and music. I have to drink; ah also this (steam out of the ears), OK OK, now we smoke and now you take pictures, they insist, I do so. “Easy”
Psico-cowboy, Buddy and crazy little old man; such a happy family… always checking what I’m up to… ‘cause I have to take pictures, ja ja ja.
Frontmen, ornaments and the (very cool) crosses themselves.
A seasoned group of youngers, trying to make the most out of this “ritual of passage”. Check once more, children are the best animals =)
With the last light we go back to the trucks. Despite that big antenna, I has no reception whatsoever.
ENERGY!!! The excitement of lights, flash pales in comparison to what’s coming.
Ohhhh yeahhhh, home-made lightworks and flares!!! They were actually pouring gunpowder inside a thick steel cylinder – cannot believe I forgot to develop that photo, oh well – then hammering onto a thinner cylinder to compress it and then, firing it up while holding it, crazy, fun
In front the van and a car, I was honored to go with the whole (by now, drunk on coca-cola and thus) hysteric children horde in the back of a huge open truck. Cannot recall how many times we all fell into the floor while the little ones screamed of joy. Actually it helped forgetting the state of the unpaved roads and how close we’re from the cliffs… stones jumping into the abysms. At more than 4000 meters high and with the wind and all it got so cold I had to use my camera’s wrap as a cap. Loads of fun
A pit stop at a less demanding place; hot drinks for everybody. I should mention that before this we stopped atop of a mountain, probably the highest we went and we had one of the strangest meals I can remember. Out of nowhere a big dry shrimps’ box appeared and squatted under the light of the vehicles we ate and of course drank… that never stopped. Never crossed my mind if the drivers also drank or other “meaningless considerations”, thanks god!!
Yet another stop, single-crossed. By now my ethnographer side was quite pleased as I already knew the steps of the dance, some of the words (if not you invent I said to myself), had talk with a few sparkly-eyed folks and was as part blood as alcohol and cocacola. I’m blending quite nicely… gee bro, What a fizzz!!!
The ritual was not BS, they really chanted and stood in front of the fires as long as the candles burned. The getting hammered had its consequences but during the “visits” to the crosses no one lost the composure. They were really beautiful moments… no thoughts, no bright or dark ideas, just being there, being part of it. That spontaneous sense of belonging made me really happy
Some fires were a bit out of proportion if you ask me; but truth to be told everything seemed under control… more or less. All is good
no need for words here
The men and some children use this thick mostly black coat made out of pure wool. It is something really nice to look at, full of texture, almost it was something alive, a mix of hair and fur. It looked warm too.
Really like this picture, if for nothing else, it’s an accurate depiction of how surreal everything felt sometimes to me.
Ja ja ja ja, hummm it seems I’m a bit late. To witness a senior of the wild doing this gest amid nowhere just put a big smile on my face
Before taking the picture I watched this boy sleep for a long long time. He was a sweet child, nothing heavy in his heart… you can tell. I myself also felt very at peace here, by now totally committed to the experience which also meant there was not a right way of going through it; and that’s very freeing =)
Our final stop, backyard of chief’s house.
Day breaking in, more accurately slipping in, the moon taking notes.
There’s so much to this face
Kind of like how the group is arranged, a bit like an accordion; god I was so fucking wasted here, it really amazes me that I managed to take pictures anymore.
Finally the “arp old man” that got me here in the first place. They were also very tired and vapoured, je je je.
Tomatito Chamula on the 12 strings’ guitar, thanks guys for all the songs!!
Same little guy was checking on me in the second photo. Wrinkled skin, paws hardened by tough work… and yet he’s now a totally happy puppy. FRIENDS
People started to appear from everywhere, more soft drinks distributed. You see carrying baby as africans do, CHU-UCH!!!
Another curios and pro-active soul; we talked a lot. I was finally to nap half an hour so I lend him the camera and in 5 minutes he was a photographer +)
Women and men together but apart, same and yet so differentiated. Very very timid too. All (my) mother, sister, daughter.
Ja ja ja, look at this fellaw… so happy about nuthin’ This was a good one ehhh maxito?
Buddy who got increasingly friendly… but I wasn’t to stay much longer. My story took me into other situations, but those I only tell live. I’ll forever be grateful of this experience, to these people. Truth is by the end of this day I was already crossing to Guatemala. gashô
We shall finish with silly video of the 2nd pass’ editing