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beatricemor, Nov 29, 2007,

We bought into the El Cerrillo Barrio in San Cristóbal de Las Casas because it was near the indigenous market, the Santo Domingo convent and the town´s historic center. A wonderful and ancient barrio if rather poor and ratty in a charming way. Someone I know was telling a tale about life in the also charming if poverty stricken village of El Chante* on Lake Chapala and you may read it on the Lake Chapala Forum if you wish but basically her story was that the property adjacent to her´s was plagued by raucous and boracho squatters who were stealing her electricity and making a general nuisance of themselves with loud music and disorderly conduct. Eventually, a “neighborhood committee” helped resolve the issue as is common in many parts of Mexico where local law enforcement is not dependable. There is something appealing about communities that take care of themselves but at the same time there is something scary about that process as well since this sort of phenomenon can lead to summary justice and lynchings.

Her re-telling of that story reminded me of an occurrence in San Cristóbal when we were remodeling this old house we had purchased in El Cerrillo. Often, especially in “financially disadvantaged” areas, local authorities are not particularly responsive to community needs and, frankly, the barrios don´t really wish to call attention to themselves among often corrupt local authorities anyway. So, what happens is, eventually, local citizens take control of unpleasant situations themselves. You folks realize that that is the way things were accomplished in the U.S. wild west as well.

Unbeknownst to us when we purchased this ruin in San Cristóbal, the nearby corner one house from our new property was a red light district utilized by prostitutes from the hillside favelas that surround San Cristóbal. These favelas are populated by very poor outcasts from surrounding Mayan municipalities who were expelled from their communities because they converted to Protestantism and refused to obey traditional village elders whose dogma was grounded in pagan/catholic tradition. That´s another story destined for another time but for now let´s just say these outcasts were deprived of their rights and property and expelled from their traditional indigenous communities. They surround San Cristóbal in extremely poor hillside ghettos and are a source of some civil discord.

These prostitutes had been working that corner for a long time and were kind of tolerated by the community but in reality they were not the problem but the source of the problem as their clients were somewhat undesirable borachos with typically uncivil bearing. What is interesting is that, while this barrio is poor and modest, it is becoming more and more precious as its location abutting the extraordinary historic heart of San Cristóbal and the beautiful Santo Domingo convent renders it a sort of diamond-in-the-rough. What traditionally happens in communities such as this in transition is that, as the barrios are renovated piece-by-piece, civic pride leaps from lethargy to commitment and suddenly this noxious enterprise is noticed and residents suddenly desire to move the store down the street. Notice that I said move it down the street. In the U.S. there would be this drive to put these women out of business (that wouldn’t work, by the way) but here in Chiapas there is simply a movement to relocate the rot. I like that.

When we get back there in January after an absence of a few months, we´ll see if the community has reclaimed this corner. Whether it has or has not won´t amount to a hill of beans anyway now will it? We may be certain that this business will not be gone but simply relocated. As for me, I think these ladies add local color.

*El Chante is an outlying village near the municipality of Jocotepec on Lake Chapala and is an ancient if somewhat dilapidated place but with an outstanding location on the shores of the lake and containing a number of lakeside mansions many of which are in disrepair. The authors writing under the nom de plume “Dane Chandos” in their book House In The Sun published in the 1940s referred to El Chante, which was then on the main route between Chapala and Jocotepec, as a place largely inhabited by really bad people to be avoided if at all possible.

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geri, Nov 29, 2007
FASCINATING! Keep the stories coming.

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wendy devlin, Nov 30, 2007

Ms geri, how about a few of your own?

After, what is it now, ten years living in México, you must have a basket full!

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Oscar2, Nov 30, 2007

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beatricemor, Nov 30, 2007
Double ditto. We need to get this Southern Mexico forum going. I´ll do my part if you´ll do yours.

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beatricemor, Dec 6, 2007

We need to get this Southern Mexico forum going.

I am so often naive.

How can you explain the melancholic beauty of Lake Bacalar or the mind bending isolation of Xcalac or the country rustic charm of ignoble Chetumal with its crude box stores promising American Cheese or Mérida’s need to seem important after a thousand years of isolation or modest Campeche living on the glories of its ruined turrets protecting Spanish enclaves containing nothing of real value and fronting an ugly and ordinary coast and a small colonial square of great beauty but singular unimportance surrounded by a community of modest dwellings and immersed in a forest of scrub pine and infertile soil and understanding that within two hours of this place is extraordinary Uxmal and countless ruined haciendas with history literally bleeding from their pores and I won´t even approach the highland territories of Chiapas and Oaxaca and you folks want to talk about Mexico and there is nothing to said of this mystical and beautiful,if cruel,Southern Mexico?

That´s OK with me. It simply seemed an opportunity to have some fun.

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The beauty that catches the eye and touches something inside, described in a breath of 170 words between exhaled periods, is very compelling, but well said. Unfortunately, knowing little of Mexico’s deep south, interest and curiosity more than often surfaces but (as you’ve mentioned) is unrequited by scribe or sufficient visuals on this lonesome forum.

I empathize this with not only the sense of emptiness your cry compels, but also feel the glorious reasons driven by a land which has not only captured the imagination but can sway the heart. Many and yours truly included, would very much enjoy hearing more words which paint pictures and capture the imagination, prompting more interests to visit a land not only for its beauty but also of an economy of days gone by.

Expats that populate these forums, such as myself and others, enjoy delicious tales of Mexico’s deep south. Even more so, it intrigues many whose lives are heavily urged by their economy and needs for lower cost of living, clearly to be found in less populated expat communities. Much as it was back then when Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo and Ajijic were but sleepy little villages.

Your keenly expressed exploratory voice fills a void that is intent with onlookers curiosity and time will eventually, (hopefully not as soon as Ajijic in the last 7 years) burgeon it at it’s seems and all else that goes with it………..

Although I too have not heard much from this forum of venturing curiosity, rest assured, and as usual, they are lurking in the background watching in wait and then its too late, the avalanche will be unstoppable……. We’re listening ……

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beatricemor, Dec 7, 2007
Thank you Oscar. You are overly kind regarding my maudlin ramblings but we´ll soon be heading back down there for a few months and I´m sure there will be some fun stories to relate so stay tuned.

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