Europeans, too, crowded the streets; they came looking for culture. Americans were few;
they preferred beaches.
San Cristóbal was a checkerboard of colonial mansions converted into hotels, coffee
shops, Internet cafes, indigenous handcraft stores, amber shops, and restaurants. Based on
general appearance, hotels offered the best prices I've seen in years.
From the van drop-off, I walked towards the center of town checking hotels and rates.
Hotel La Noria was near to downtown and seemed especially nice and reasonable. I
checked in, left my bag and walked to the tourist office.
The tourist office provided me with suggestions and a map. My first visit was to the Museo
Ambar (Amber Museum). The museum guide said, “The amber mine is about a four-hour
drive from San Cristóbal de Las Casas.” The museum was modest in size but had a variety
of pieces from the mine. I enjoyed the short presentation, which explained how to tell the
difference between real and imitation amber.
The museum guide said that glass and plastic were often sold on the street, and she showed
us examples. My eye could not tell real from fake. She held a piece of amber under black
light and it phosphoresced. Plastic and glass did not react. “But if you don't have a black
light,” she said, "you can still judge. Amber is warm, not cold like glass or plastic. It has
an aroma like resin. It burns easily. Tiny insects are embedded, not large ones. A micro-
scope is often needed to view them. And in pure water, amber won't float; add some salt
and it may. Rub amber and you'll create static electricity."
I left the Amber Museum and followed the tourist office map past a church and plaza,
where handcrafts, blankets, shawls, embroidery in vibrant colores were sold, and headed
to the Museo Maya de Medicina.
Traditional medicine, both herbs and spells, were important in Chiapas. Herbs cured the
body; spells cure the mind; it was psychic medicine.
The Medicina Museum was a large complex. There were attractive dioramas of healers
and patients. Plants and herbs were being cultivated in the garden, and each variety was
marked with a description: the plant, parts used, and cure for a particular disease. There
was an herb pharmacy and a bookstore.