No cameras are allowed so I concentrate on my other four senses to commit this place to memory. The smell of pine straw hits first, when my eyes adjust to the darkness inside the San Juan de Chamula church. Then I get a whiff of wax, which makes sense when worshippers drip it onto the tiled floor to serve as a molten base for rings of candles. Women fan out what look like black fur skirts and gracefully sit in the center of the flickering rings. It’s the perfect position for grabbing live chickens by their scrawny necks and dangling beaks inches from the heads of sleeping infants. Others pass whole eggs through the candle flames and give themselves gentle massages with the warmed shells. Men in thick wool vests strum guitars and burn torches of incense, streamers fluttering from their black hats. It’s all watched over by traditional Catholic saints in glassed-off window alcoves, and suddenly, a busload of European tourists.
Their presence feels invasive so we slip out the back entrance. Our campground is about two hours away by foot. The Central American Handbook strongly advises against hiking through Zapatista-held villages, but the only roadblock we encounter is this group of kids demanding to be photographed: for cash.
Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.