If you have to be in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas as I was, waiting for a package, perhaps the best thing you can do is get out. At least that is what I did — for a day. The colonial town was great about 19 or 20 years ago when I came down on 16-hour bus ride from Cancun to learn how to wrap my new born infant daughter in a rebozo from the women in the market. This was perhaps in February of 1993.
But then came the Zapatistas and the town mushroomed into a new age spiritualist, internationalist, leftist jet-setting hot spot — the latest Berkeley, the latest Daramsala. Even a new Chabad house appeared because they always show up with the large menorahs in public spaces where post-army Israelis are cutting a spiritual renewal trail, trying to scoop up lost Jews. (That means get married and have children, preferably at least four by the age of30, and don’t stop — no planning — since that makes for bad relations between children and partners. )
But there I was, reading in La Abuelita, one of the three hip bookstores listed in Lonely Planet, happily selling jewelry (Asherah earrings as I had converted some pendants to earrings and rings in Oaxaca) and reading palms for women who worked there. In walked Horse Guy aka Robin Williams. Well, not really, but he looked like him. So I read his palms, noticing lots of potential in his left hand.
But in his right, the Jupiter or ambition finger was bent into the Aquarius position, leaning into the axis of discipline and authority; the authority or Saturn (that means middle) finger was leaning into the axis of talent or Apollo (that means ring) and so on down the line, indicating stifled potential or problems. There were other issues, but I believe I asked him, are you undergoing a lot of conflict, like in survival?
Well, it was like opening a faucet. He had come down from the States after retiring as a librarian, bought 100 acres of land in a village outside of San Cristobal, reachable by bus which you can catch in the center, and developed it from pure brush. The place is gorgeous, but he underwent a hazing. The surrounding folks from San Cristobal took him to court seven times. Although he has support of the local ejido and friendly relations with many, the local Zapatista communities have threatened his life and held sitdown protests in attempts to get him to leave his land. He finally — at the advice of his Mexican partner — went to a local curandera, paid a heap of pesos, got beaten with sticks and balls, had his clothes burnt, and got the chance to pray to the local saint for peace and abundance.
Things changed. The neighboring bad witch stopped putting curses on his workers (who would quit) by rotting dead animal corpses on his land. He started paying the Maya men in their thirties who carry blocks of stone to build fences and the like, who work for him for seven dollars a day which upset the local feudal slavery system. They also earned tips. So people began to like to work for him. By now, he has built up a gorgeous eco-healing ranch with a guest house where you can go stay for 50 pesos a night or barter. The building has an attached kitchen which guests are free to use. A comfortable hammock swings on the front porch, a sunset soothes your soul over the cliff, a ravine with a virgin invites you to rest, which is truly magical. And the owner, Robin Shields, gives you full attention, explaining the history of the land and the culture. His anecdotes continue to dazzle, such as his experience selling organic eggs to the Zapatista women even while the Zapatista men were threatening to kill him or get him off his land.
Shields was the son of a US Embassy official during the coup against Isabella Peron in the fifties in Argentina. He remembers being evacuated when the building was bombed. In subsequent countries, he and his sister did things like cutting off the tops of pine trees for Christmas before running for their lives for taking the tree husbands of widows in Hindu culture that otherwise would have been burnt in the funeral pyre.
Used to living at odds with surrounding cultures, he was able to turn around the resistance of the Zapatista men when, after the road in front of his ranch washed out, they came to him and said he was responsible for fixing it. En tus suenos, he answered. Reminding them that the CIA and FBI would investigate if they killed him and that the land belonged to those who worked it, as he did, he advised them to go protest in front of the Presidente of the municipality the way they had in front of his place. They did. The result: the road is being fixed.
But back to his palms, though. The Jupiter index finger pointing in a curving direction towards his Saturn shows he is ahead of his time, and people often do not listen when he talks. This was evidenced by his suggesting to the local ejido that they develop a nearby hot springs and take people on nature camping and horseback trips the way he does. But the elders resist change, preferring poverty, he claims, afraid they will lose more land to foreigners. Even guidebooks explain that these surrounding communities protect themselves from outsiders.
I suggested he hold his index, middle, and talent finger straight in each socket five minutes a day to find some relief. Meanwhile, he has built camper platforms for travelers. He is also selling plots for cabin sites.
If you want an experience off the beaten path where you really learn about Mexico, try Rancho La Escondido EcoPark. Robin will become your personal guide to local women’s crafts cooperatives, birding, horse trekking, camping, hiking, swimming, and local politics.
You can find him on www.hiddenmexicotours.blogspot.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Zapatista women pay him three pesos an egg when they can pay one peso elsewhere, because they say his animals live in La Gloria and they can taste it.
When I left, I asked him why he called his visitors clients instead of guests .
“Look at you, how relaxed you are after getting out of San Cristobal for a day,” he told me after a chicken and orange sauce lunch at a restaurant he drove me to that also sold arts and crafts, including a Guadalupe apron.
He was right.
Robin put me on the eighteen peso bus, and I was on my way.