A little late, since I have already left but here is a little story of Chiapas. Chiapas is one of the biggest states of Mexico and I have also mentioned before that maybe it shouldn't really belong to Mexico. Mexicans from other states also note clear differences when visiting Chiapas - which they do a lot. Because of its size, climate, and the fact that it has mountains as well as coast makes Chiapas one of the richest regions in the world regarding biodiversity. Even so, Chiapas is also one of the poorest states of Mexico in economical terms. And infrastructure there is very little developed. I dare say this is part of the reason why the biodiversity has been conserved so well, but then you would think that if we can fly to the moon we can also develop basic infrastructure without killing everything else. Part of the reason why Chiapas is so poor economically is that there is a lot of "informal economy". Many people farm predominantly for their own use, a lot of food is sold on the streets illegally and so on. And since they do not impose taxes on trees, people can consume their fruits and it won't show in any economic statistics unless the fruit is sold on a legal market. That is part of the reason, why Chiapas is "poor". The other part I have mentioned before: there is a lot of foreigners (and Mexicans from other parts) who own the big companies (like petrol or mining) and who own a lot of the land (like the fincas) and this is where the money goes.
Besides biodiversity Chiapas also happens to have the richest cultural heritage in all of Mexico. Many people still wear traditional clothes and speak their languages (locally known as dialects). Next to the biodiversity, there are also many dialects (in Mexico in general) that are in danger of extinction. Only the biggest languages are also used in writing. In Chiapas there are now bilingual schools which teach in both Mayan dialects and Spanish, in order to conserve the languages, but only the most important dialects are also taught in schools and many others will probably go extinct soon. In Chiapas there are three big dialects, all of the linguistic family Maya but all distinct. Again the mountainous landscape can explain how the different languages developed. It is also important to understand that, obviously, in ancient times (i.e. before the conquista) there was no such thing as globalization, even on a smaller scale. While the whole southern part of Mexico as well as all of Guatemala and Belize were Maya territory at the time of Spanish arrival in the Americas, this does not mean they all were a "country" as we think of it nowadays. The territory is solely defined by the fact that they paid "taxes" (part of their harvest) to the emperors. The cultures still differed very much between the different regions and the emperors did accept this for the most part (understanding that the cultures developed over time and are suited for a certain place and time and it would create unnecessary resentment if they wanted to change it).
Also, of course, the pyramids we all know from the Mexican and Central American cultures are not where people actually lived. They were built only for religious ceremonies. There were usually villages built around the pyramids but they are usually not excavated (as there is usually not a lot to find there). The pyramids were built in order to be able to build temples closer to the sky. The temples were always made of wood, so they have all been lost. The pyramids are what remains of the former splendor of the religious centers of the Maya (and Aztecs). Well, the pyramids and the ball game fields - which were part of the religious ceremonies too. Next to that, obviously, there is a lot of paintings and handicraft. There is even written sources - well, there used to be tons, but they have almost all been burnt by ignorant Europeans. Very few have been conserved and are now used to reconstruct the history of the Maya. Next to that, by the way, also most of the sculptures the Maya made out of gold are lost. Because Europeans were only interested in the gold and not in the art, and it was easier to transport the gold after it had been melted and formed into the famous bars. Anyways, I have talked about Mayan archaeology before, so I will not bore you with it any more. Just to say that I visited yet another important Mayan site, called Toniná. It is similar to Palenque, which I have visited some years ago, but it is not visited as much, which makes the visit much more enjoyable. The pictures are among my Chiapas pics (once I upload them anyways). It is also rather disturbing that surrounding the excavated site are many areas where obviously remains of buildings are still covered by soil. Since this is private property, they have not been excavated and now cows are grazing on them…
In many villages in the area the majority of the people still speaks the indigenous language. One of these villages, which is conveniently located close to San Cristobal, is marketed as "the indigenous village". The result of this is that people have substituted their indigenous lifestyle with producing clothes and art for the tourist market and annoying every white person as they want to sell you something or simply beg for money just because. Besides that one village, though, most villages are doing fine and have successfully combined traditional lifestyles with new technologies.
Now, compared to other countries, like the United States and in part Canada, Mexico does not discriminate indigenous people very much. It just neglects them. Or it used to, anyways. Chiapas is also home to the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, or just Zapatistas). The army was formed in the months and years preceding the day when the NAFTA came into effect on 1st of January 1994. The NAFTA basically meant economic enslavement of Mexico by the US, as probably everybody was quite aware of, but those in power to stop it, were paid enough to shut up and the rest didn't know what to do. It was the famous Subcommandante Marcos ("leader" of the EZLN) who saw the danger and decided to do something. Because of everything I have said before, education in Chiapas was always very low. Many people do not know how to read and write and many don't know Spanish very well. So the people in Chiapas were probably the ones who really did not know what was coming, when the NAFTA came into force, so Marcos took it on him to educate them. He soon recruited lots of followers who finally made up the army that was supposed to fight for Chiapas to become independent of Mexico - and the NAFTA. Obviously they were not too successful with that, but they did raise awareness and they gained a lot more support, especially after their defeat by the Mexican army. Things like bilingual schools would not have been possible 20 years ago. And out of all Mexican states Chiapas today probably has the most left-winged government.
The EZLN today controls several villages in the surroundings of San Cristobal which are governed by the people and by the rules of EZLN and they do not recognize Mexican law. This sounds strange but really doesn't mean all that much if you pass through the villages or probably also not for everyday life there - other than the fact that the villagers decide for themselves what they want and do not want and don't care about laws that might stop them. Oh, and of course, the EZLN is also marketed for tourism. You can buy shirts but also little masked and armed puppets.
Now as for San Cristobal de las Casas: it is a really nice little city. Everybody thinks that. All of Mexico seems to love to go on vacation to San Cristobal. And besides that a lot of South Americans com to visit, and many Europeans. And I must admit it is nice that American tourists are barely noticeable there. The city is certainly influenced strongly by tourism but in a positive way. Most of the tourism that San Cristobal gets is rather alternative. There is a lot of culture - like concerts, festivals, etc. There is food from all over the world (including traditional Mexican food, of course) and a lot of vegetarian and vegan food and many organic options. And besides that all the yoga retreats and stuff that comes with it. There is also like 100 tour operators - I have no clue how they all survive. They all offer the exact same tours for the exact same price. And apart from the tour to the Canon de Sumidero I can't really recommend any of them (although I haven't been on all of them). But they are certainly cheap, so can't complain about that.
On the streets in San Cirstobal you can find many street artists, people selling their art and people selling food. Well, especially the food part is true for all of Mexico but because of the tourists and the many restaurants in the city center of San Cristobal it all works a little different. As soon as you leave the center, all is back to normal, it is really only a few streets that have been conquered by European-Style tourism market.
Also important to say is that San Cristobal is the most peaceful place I have ever encountered in Mexico. Even without a lot of police presence it is perfectly safe and even though people want to constantly sell you stuff in the center, outside the center you are always left in peace. The people there are so used to tourists they don't pay too much attention any more. Oh, and also: most people working in tourist business will understand English but even being white I have never been addressed in English by anyone there - quite different than for example the Yucatan or also Mexico City.
Possibly the best part of San Cristobal is the landscape: it is located in a valley and surrounded by mountains. What is missing from the mountains, of course, is hiking trails. But I just went hiking on a little used road and it was fabulous. I'll also upload pictures of that whenever I find the time. The only little downside was, that it was actually quite cold at times. Like cold, not fresh. Not Austria-cold but cold still. And since I don't have clothes for cold this was a little bit annoying. Well, it is above 2000 m above sea level and it is still winter after all.
Well, now I am in Mexico City and have to deal with lots of American tourists, cars, city life, buildings that are so high they block the sun and I have to get used to not carrying all my money with me all the time… I'll try to write more about the rest of Mexico before I go back to Europe but can't promise.