Although it sits in a valley, San Cristobal has many hills with views of red-tiled homes. The town is known for its role in the Zapatista uprising of January 1994.
Although it sits in a valley, San Cristobal has many hills with views of red-tiled homes. The town is known for its role in the Zapatista uprising of January 1994.
By Ben Brazil

Sol Searching in Mexico

The cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas, where the streets are filled with culture (and cobblestones).
The cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas, where the streets are filled with culture (and cobblestones). (Louis Grandadam - Louis Grandadam/ Getty Images )

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By Ben Brazil
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 16, 2007

Really, there is plenty to do in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, without going on a quest to find a middle-aged Mexican hippie who makes bongos.

Many visitors, for example, stroll this colonial town's narrow flagstone sidewalks, occasionally ducking into small centuries-old churches. Others venture into nearby Maya Indian villages, one with a "Catholic" church filled with thin candles and chanting shamans. For the sedentary, there are sidewalk cafes and nighttime activities from art-house movies to reggae bands.

In fact, I was watching a band at a restaurant when I noticed that one audience member was drumming along on his own bongo from a table near the front. His face was contorted like a hair-band guitarist lost in a solo, giving him the look of a Will Ferrell character, if Will Ferrell were Latino and had long, curly hair.

I was going to forget him. But a day later, I struck up a conversation with two bohemian types lounging on a stair-stepped lane that ran through a quiet neighborhood of low, adobe homes on a steep hillside.

Malcolm and Carlos were out-of-towners in their early 20s, and they planned to stay in San Cristobal as long as they could support themselves playing music.

"A lot of energy flows here," Carlos said as he smoked weed.

"Here, there are new ideas," added Malcolm.

At this point, it seemed appropriate to describe the bongo guy.

"Oh," said Carlos. "You mean Brother Sun?"

At that moment -- largely by virtue of his nickname, El Hermano Sol -- Brother Sun became a person I needed to meet.

* * *

In retrospect, what I really wanted was an insider's view of the pleasant strangeness of San Cristobal, whose jumbled cultural style mixes indigenous Maya, old-school colonial, unkempt bohemian, international-traveler cosmopolitan and revolutionary chic. If you can't quite picture it, well, that's my point.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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