- Everything I hear on the news says Mexico is too dangerous for tourists. All my friends and family are worried that it isn’t safe. Can one travel safely to Chiapas?
The most common news reports that discuss the violence in Mexico have to do with the Drug War and fighting among the various drug cartels, and between the cartels and the Mexican government. While it is true that the levels of violence have escalated in recent years, most of this violence is concentrated in central and northern Mexico, closer to the US-Mexico border.
In Chiapas, the fighting related to the Drug War is almost non-existent, and it is completely absent within the autonomous Zapatista communities. Since the beginning of their movement, the Zapatistas have upheld a ban on alcohol and drugs in their communities, which continues to this day. To say the Zapatistas are unfriendly to the drug cartels would be a significant understatement; even visitors (and all our delegates) are expected to remain alcohol and drug-free while in Zapatista territory.
There is, however, a very noticeable police and military presence in southern Mexico.At some point during their trip, a traveler to Mexico will almost certainly be stopped at military check point and have their documents or vehicle inspected by young men in uniform carrying automatic weapons. At the same time, that traveler may at some point come upon a highway blockade by a community or professional organization that is stopping traffic in order to bring an unjust situation to light or demand government action on an issue of interest to them. Rather than immediately bring in the military to shut down the protest, these kinds of demonstrations can often go on for long periods of time while the path to resolution is debated.
If you travel with us, this strange juxtaposition of repression and activism will be the subject of much discussion.Please know that Mexico, especially southern Mexico, is another world.By and large, it is very safe to travel here.That said, nowhere you travel to is completely violence-free or without some risk. You should know, though, that the Zapatistas, the Mexican government, the US government and Schools for Chiapas, all want you to keep you safe and will do everything in their power to ensure that you return home physically unharmed.
- Do I need a visa? Can I travel in Mexico without a passport?
Everyone who travels in Mexico must have a valid passport and visa in their possession. If you are flying from the states, you will be issued a visa when/where you first enter Mexican territory. If you are crossing the border on foot, be sure to stop at the immigration office and have one issued. You can also apply for a visa at your local Mexican Consulate before you arrive.
In the past, American citizens have been able to travel in Mexico without a passport but that is no longer possible. It will take up to two months to process your regular application for a passport. If you have waited too long, it may still be possible to obtain a passport with an expedited application or by visiting your nearest national passport office.
More information is available from the State Department.
- The CDC lists Chiapas as a malarial risk. What should I do about malaria prophylactics?
The risk of malaria varies greatly depending upon where the delegation is based. Delegations that take place in the caracol and communities outside of San Cristobal are in an area known as ‘los Altos’ (the highlands). These areas are at relatively high elevation (6,000 to 8,000 ft) and this means the climate is mostly too cold for there to be any risk of malaria. If your plan is to travel exclusively in the highlands, you don’t need to worry about malaria.
If the delegation you are attending is based in the caracol and communities outside of Palenque or if you are planning to travel more widely in Chiapas and elsewhere in Latin America where the climate is more tropical, you will need to think about malaria prevention.
The decision to take a malaria prophylactic can be somewhat complicated and warrants doing some research first. Malaria medication is serious medicine and many people experience significant side effects. On the other hand, Malaria is a serious illness and can cause life-long symptoms. It is important to speak with your health care provider about the risks and your options. It then becomes a matter of risk assessment and personal choice.
Click here to visit the CDC website.
- On malaria, dengue and insect repellent
Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites. One interesting thing to note is that mosquitoes that carry malaria are only active in the evening. In most malaria zones, however, there is also the risk of dengue fever which is another serious blood born disease transmitted through the bits of infected mosquitoes, and these mosquitoes are active only during the day. There is currently no prophylactic treatment for dengue. In both cases, the important thing is to avoid mosquito bites, period. If you are traveling in the tropics, you should carry a lightweight, long sleeved shirt and lightweight long pants, socks and shoes; covering up helps prevent mosquito bites.
In the tropics, we sleep in places that are not screened. Despite this, typically there is not a huge mosquito presence in the places we stay and the indigenous sleep in hammocks without malaria medication or mosquito nets. If you opt to sleep in a hammock, which really is the preferred and most comfortable way to sleep in the tropics, it can be tricky to figure out how to hang a mosquito net over your hammock. We recommend you bring a bed sheet, a light blanket, or a sleeping bag and try to stay covered up.
We also recommend that you think about insect repellent. As far as we know, there are only two ingredients that are effective against mosquitoes: DEET and Neem. DEET is the more commonly available but is also a toxin and can cause side effects in susceptible people. If you check out your local high end camping store, you will probably find many DEET concoctions. You do NOT need a 100% DEET concentration for the product to be effective. Anything above 25% DEET will work. Consider a time release version with DEET concentration above 25% in a soothing base, like aloe vera.
The other ingredient effective against mosquitoes is Neem oil. Neem is not as widely known or accessible as DEET, but it is far more environmentally friendly and not toxic to humans. You are most likely to encounter Neem products online, in a health food store, or somewhere you can buy alternative medicines. Neem oil is a very effective mosquito repellant and if you find 100% Neem oil,you can mix it with aloe vera, Lubriderm, or some other base product to a concentration of 10-25%.
Whichever kind of repellant you decide on, it is best to bring it with you from home. Although you can find most everything you need, or forget to pack, here in Mexico, we have found it almost impossible to locate a store that sells insect repellents that contain either DEET or Neem.
- Are there telephone and Internet connections available?
During any given trip, you will be able to make the occasional contact with friends or family. Internet cafés and international telephone kiosks abound in all major towns and most smaller communities in Mexico. All five caracoles, or Zapatista civilian centers, have satellite uplinks and are Internet equipped, although they may or may not be operational when you visit. You are unlikely to find either Internet or telephones in small indigenous communities, however.
No matter where your delegation is based, you will be able to contact friends on the first day and last day of the delegation. Please tell friends and loved ones not to be alarmed if you are out of contact for the rest of the delegation.
- What kind of clothing is appropriate for traveling to southern Mexico?
The answer to this question depends on where in southern Mexico you are traveling. Chiapas is much closer to the equator than anywhere in the US and the seasons are defined more by dry/wet than winter/summer. Dry season is typically from January to May or June.
The weather in the highlands of Chiapas, around San Cristóbal de las Casas, is the most variable. Days are often relatively warm, although occasionally windy or rainy, while the nights are always brisk, and sometimes downright cold. If you are visiting the highlands, you will definitely need clothes for cooler weather, including warm layers or a winter-type jacket. Also be prepared for significant rain, which can result in some impressive levels of mud in rural areas.Bring boots or an extra pair of shoes!
The weather in the northern part of the state, around Palenque, is typically hot and humid. Nights generally cool down and can occasionally be cold.You should plan for rain, even during the dry season, and you will want to bring lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants to protect yourself from the bugs.
- What are bathrooms and bathing facilities like?
Again, this varies somewhat depending upon where we are staying. In some of the caracoles, the toilet will be porcelain (albeit without a toilet seat) and you will flush by filling and dumping a bucket of water into the bowl. In other places, you may encounter either dry or wet composting toilets, or more standard outhouse-style bathrooms.
In tropical locations, you will likely have access to rivers or streams and bathing will be a wonderful opportunity to cool off, relax and get clean all at the same time. Although the indigenous people use the river to wash everything, from their person to their clothes and dishes, we ask that you please think about the impact of adding yet more soap to these beautiful rivers. Please use biodegradable soap for washing both your body and your hair. Bio-degradable soap will also be difficult, if not impossible, to find so please bring a supply along with you.
In the highlands, bathing is often more like washing up in a bucket. You may encounter the occasional cold water shower but don’t count on it. Bring a wash cloth, soap and a towel for an experience that will be a bit more bracing, but entirely do-able.
- You say that most of your trips are of the “rustic, camping variety”. What does this mean about where we will be sleeping?
Again, this will depend upon where we are staying. Typically, we will be sleeping in buildings with roofs made of tin and floors made of either concrete or dirt. In the tropics, the buildings are likely to have large, unscreened windows for ventilation and you may be happiest sleeping in a hammock.
If you haven’t ever slept in a hammock before and don’t already have a hammock that has been used for such a purpose, we advise you wait to purchase a hammock here, where hammocks are the most common form of bed and there are many hammock stores. There is a definite technique to hammock sleeping (we can show you!) and, in the world of sleeping hammocks we have found that bigger is definitely better! Hammocks come in single, matrimonial (double) or familial (king) size. We opt for the familial. A hammock this size will probably cost about $70 and will weigh about 10 pounds. They make great souvenirs or gifts but they are also heavy and bulky to carry. You can always buy hammock, use it and leave it here but if you plan to carry it home with you, pack accordingly!
Hammocks are great for sleeping in the tropics because they let the air circulate all around your body but that means you can get chilly at night.Whether you plan to sleep in a hammock or on the floor, bring a lightweight sleeping bag and if you are opting for the floor over a hammock, bring a sleeping pad and a lightweight tarp.
In the highlands, we will be sleeping in enclosed rooms made of either concrete or wood. Some people opt for hammocks here too, but most people find them too cold for the highlands. To be comfortable on the floor, you will need a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and lightweight tarp to cover the floor. In the highlands you will definitely want a heavy sleeping bag and warm socks!
- I am interested in seeing the ancient Mayan city of Palenque. How can I do that?
The ruins of Palenque are considered by many to be among the finest Mayan ruins in all of Mesoamerica. These ruins are located about 15 minutes outside of the modern city of Palenque, which is a 5 hour bus ride from San Cristóbal. It is possible to travel from San Cristóbal, spend several hours on the Palenque site and return to San Cristóbal the same evening. Or you can choose to spend more than one day and visit the equally dramatic ancient cities of Bonampak and Yachilán.
Although not usually an official part of the Schools for Chiapas delegation, we urge everyone to make time in their schedule to visit this amazing site. When the delegation is based in northern Chiapas (launching from Palenque), a visit to the ruins of Palenque is possible in a few hours. If the delegation is based in the highlands (launching from San Cristóbal), you will need to plan for an extra day or two in your schedule. There are many commercial tour operators in San Cristóbal who sponsor one-day trips to Palenque. This one day trip leaves very early in the morning and makes for a very long day but will give you several hours at the ruins.
If you spend a day or two in Palenque, you will also be able to visit the ruins of Bonampak and Yachilán. These ruins are equally dramatic and because they are more remote, they are a bit less touristed. You can visit both sites in one long day trip from Palenque and the trip can be easily booked through any one of the dozens of tour operators in town. If you wish to see all three sites, you will need at least 2 full days in the north of Chiapas.
To maximize your time on the ground and take time to enjoy the attractions of the tropical northern zone, you may want to arrange your flights so that you fly into the highlands zone (the nearest airport to San Cristóbal de las Casas is in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas state) and fly out of the north (the nearest airport to Palenque is in Villahermosa, Tabasco state).
- I am 72, active and basically in good health. My wife is 62. We are rugged outdoors types but for various reasons (our ages and your needs) I am not sure we are appropriate for your program. Please let us know.
Some of our more rustic, camping trips require that you be able to hike a couple of kilometers over uneven terrain, and be able to walk up and down hills. You may need to carry your luggage about 500 meters up and down a hill traversed by uneven road but typically, the walking we do requires that you carry no more than a day pack containing only those things you need for the hike. You will, however, need to be prepared to sort of rough it in terms of accommodation.
If you decide you would rather sleep in a more comfortable bed and not over exert yourself physically, please inquire about a delegation based out of the city, where travel is in the form of day trips and nightly accommodation is in a hostel or a hotel. Depending upon the needs and desires of the group, day trips can be planned accordingly.
- Is it at all feasible to bring a two-year-old on one of your trips?
The short answer is sure, it’s possible to bring a two-year-old. In fact, when kids are that small they often travel easier than 4 or 5-year-olds. No matter what the age, however, there are a lot of local indigenous kids around and traveling with your child is a profound statement of respect and trust for the culture and the people you will encounter.
That said, Schools for Chiapas delegations are usually camping trips and the conditions are rather rustic. We do, however, pay a lot of attention to sanitation and health, and eat good organic food. There is no reason to think that your baby wouldn’t stay happy and healthy.
- I am under 18 years old. Can I travel with you?
In order to travel legally in Mexico, you will need to be traveling with someone who is 18 years of age or older and have in your possession a notarized statement from your parents, both parents if possible, that you have their consent to travel.
It can be a rewarding learning experience when a teen is able to travel to Chiapas and participate on one of our delegations with their family or parent. We have also had many mature and wonderful teenagers travel with us on delegations and we welcome teens accompanied by a responsible adult and/or parent.
- I have no specific construction, health or agricultural skills but I want to join a delegation. What skills do I need to volunteer?
Typically, each delegation is focused on a specific project, objective or event but you don’t need any specific skills to join a delegation, just a flexible attitude, an open heart and a willing spirit. The value is in undertaking the project together with the locals, collaborating together, and learning from one another, not in the specific skills we are bringing to the table.
- How about language skills? I don’t speak Spanish.
Spanish to English translation will be provided by Schools for Chiapas staff for all significant interactions with Spanish speakers.
Keep in mind that for most of the indigenous in Chiapas, Spanish is a second language and many people do not speak Spanish with 100% fluency either. This means that much of the spoken Spanish is at a pretty basic level and you may find yourself understanding more than you expected. Also, language exchange is one of the many interesting types of interactions you may find yourself having with indigenous people. It is great fun to learn the indigenous word for something and teach the English word in return, and it can all happen without a single word of Spanish.
- Both of us are vegetarian and we were wondering about the food.
Typically, we organize food preparation collectively. That means we decide on, purchase and cook food according to a structure worked out collectively. The supply of fresh fruits and vegetables available in local markets is incredible, and even when we have meat-eaters in the group, meals generally tend to be vegetarian. Each meal always has at least one vegetarian option. If you don’t eat dairy or eggs, or have other dietary prohibitions, we have found that the group has always been willing and able to accommodate. One of our best eating delegations happened when one of our delegates ate only raw foods and shared many of his meals with the group, and with the locals. We continue using some of those recipes to this day!
- What is a combi?
A combi is a basically a shared taxi or mini van that runs a specific route. Combies run on city streets and between towns. They travel the road between the city of Palenque and the ruins. They are less expensive than a cab, and about the same cost as a bus. On shorter trips of two or three hours, combies actually compete with the bigger bus lines. In Mexico combies leave whenever they are full or the driver feels he has sufficient passengers, and you can find a combi ready to depart to your desired location most anytime during the day. Combies to a specific place all tend to leave out of a single location and, if you ask a cabbie, they will be able to take you to the proper combi stop. Combies tend to stop running at some point in the evening and are unlikely to be a late night option.
How do I get to Chiapas?
Your tuition will cover all food, transportation and lodging from the first day of the delegation to the last, but you will need to cover the cost of your transportation to Chiapas. We suggest that all potential delegates consult with any standard Mexico guidebook about city details and suggestions for travel options such as bus, plane, and airport transfers. Another good resource is, of course, the Internet. Any search engine will return a ton of information if you simply enter the keyword “Palenque” or “San Cristobal de las Casas”. Below you will find a few travel suggestions from our experience.
Almost everyone who intends to fly all the way to Chiapas will pass through Mexico City. When you land in Mexico City, you will need to fly or take ground transportation onward to Chiapas.
If you opt to fly and you are headed to Palenque, the nearest airport is in Villahermosa (airline code: VSA). When you arrive in Villa Hermosa, you will need to take ground transportation (a combi or a bus) from Villa Hermosa to Palenque (about 2 hours).The main bus line (Cristobal Colon) has a kiosk in the Villa Hermosa airport and there are many buses during the day that travel directly between the airport and Palenque.
If you opt to fly and you are headed for San Cristobal, the nearest airport is in Tuxtla Gutierrez (airline code: TGZ). It takes about an hour and half to travel from the airport to San Cristobal. If you are lucky, your arrival and departure will coincide with one of the 3 or 4 buses that travel between the Tuxtla Airport and San Cristobal.The local bus line (Cristobal Colon) has a kiosk in the airport where you can check the schedule and buy a ticket.The bus schedule is something of a moving target but as of this writing (February, 2014) there is an early morning, late morning and midafternoon bus traveling this route.The bus costs about $12 per person.
If the bus schedule does not coincide with your travel schedule, the only other option for ground travel between the Tuxtla airport and San Cristobal (other than a two-part trip where one first heads to the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez then takes a combi to San Cristobal from Tuxtla city center) is an expensive taxi cab ride (about $60) for an 1 ½ hour trip up the hill. There is a taxi kiosk in the airport. If you are lucky, there will be other travelers who are also trying to make the trip from Tuxtla airport to San Cristobal and you can arrange to share a cab. Cabbies will take up to three travelers for the same fare.
Technically, there is an also airport in San Cristobal, but… there is virtually no commercial air traffic in or out of this airport. Best to simply forget this option.
The other less expensive (and quite viable) option is to take a (direct, first class) bus from Mexico City to either San Cristobal (about 16 hours) or Palenque (10-12 hours). If you elect to travel by bus from Mexico City to Palenque you will most likely pass through Villahermosa on your way to Palenque. If you choose to use ground transportation from Mexico City, it is definitely worth the price of admission to go by first class (or executive class) bus.
Here is a potentially useful link if you are considering traveling by bus in Mexico.
- I was wondering whether you think it would be safe for a woman traveling on her own to take the bus from Mexico City.
Traveling anywhere involves some risk and Chiapas is no exception. In general, traveling in Chiapas is much the same as travel in any other part of Mexico or Latin America. That said, if you opt for ground transportation, you might want to plan your travel so as to travel mostly during daylight hours so that you will be more conscious of your surroundings. Both you and your stuff will be more secure this way. On the other hand, overnight buses are common and have their advantages (like you can more easily pass a few hours sleeping and you avoid the cost of a hotel room).
Overall, bus travel in Mexico is really quite efficient and comfortable. When you book a first class bus, you will have an assigned seat, the seat will be padded and probably have both a foot rest and a light that works. There will be serviceable bathroom and, depending on the line and the class of the bus, there may even be drinking water and hot water available. The bus will make only a limited number of stops, so bring your own food and drinks. The bus is also likely to play bad B-rated Kung Fu or action videos (sometimes at excessive volume) dubbed or captioned in Spanish. They will also run the air conditioning at excessively cold temperatures, so even if you are traveling to or through the tropics, bring warm clothes, socks and/or a blanket for the trip.
No matter how you arrive in Chiapas, please plan your trip so as to attend an orientation session which (depending upon the specifics of your delegation) will generally begin at 5pm on Sunday.
- Any tips on booking a flight from the US to Mexico? Do you have any recommendations for finding the least expensive ticket?
It is usually to your advantage to book your ticket as far as possible in advance. This is especially true if your trip is scheduled during a “high” tourist season. The week before Easter (known as Semana Santa), Christmas, New Years and the entire months of June, July and August are all high tourist times. Flights will fill quickly so you should buy your airline tickets as soon as you’ve established your travel dates.
The cost to fly varies depending upon what the airlines are doing when you book your ticket. Your best bet is to begin by using a search engine like Kayak or Travelocity to get a general idea of which airlines are flying where and then to check out specific airlines of interest to see if they are running any specials. For some reason, Tuesdays are discount days to purchase airline tickets in Mexico. I don’t know for sure if this applies to airline tickets purchased on-line but (if you can remember) it might be worth your while to try a search on Tuesday. It is also probably worth your while to check any of the smaller airlines that pop up which may not be included in the big search engines.Sometimes the new startup airlines offer the perfect route or a lower cost than the major players.
Almost all flights to Chiapas pass through Mexico City. It is possible to fly to Chiapas from other destinations in Mexico (like Cancun or Acapulco) or Central America (like Oaxaca City) but often flights are very expensive or route you back through Mexico City or both. One can occasionally find very inexpensive flights into the bigger tourist locations, so if you are willing to take an extended bus ride (from Cancun allow at least 20 hours) then you could fly into another destination spot and take the bus from there.
If the price of a ticket seems exorbitant (and you have some time), I would suggest that you just to keep checking over a period of days or weeks. Prices fluctuate a lot! If you are departing from a place that is off the beaten track, then you might want to check fares from a nearby “hub city” and then figure a less expensive way to depart from there. It is also almost always costs more to fly across an International border than to fly nationally. So, if you are coming from a border state (or have some reason to visit, San Diego or Juarez, it likely to be cheaper if you walk across the border and keep your air travel national within Mexico.
- Where and how do I meet up with my delegation?
In terms of meeting up with your delegations, it will depend upon which specific delegation you had enrolled. Generally, we launch from either San Cristobal or Palenque. This means we will spend the first night (Sunday) at a hotel or Posada in town and leave from there early the next morning. This ensures that delegates can easily find the place and that we can have dinner and an orientation meeting before we head together into Zapatista Territory.
Specific details regarding hotels, etc are sent out to registered delegates several weeks in advance of the delegation. If you arrive in your destination city by any means other than taxi, you will probably want to take a local taxi directly to your hotel. Taxis in both Palenque and San Cristobal are relatively inexpensive (about $2.00) and will save you from wandering the unfamiliar streets with all your stuff.
- When does my delegation begin and end?
In terms of time, typically we begin our delegations on Sunday at 5pm with a general orientation meeting and we wrap things up on Saturday by noon. This means if you only have a very limited time (or you can only manage to be gone from home for one week), it is possible to leave home Saturday, travel to Chiapas in time for the orientation meeting on Sunday, depart Saturday afternoon, arrive home and be ready to resume your regular life on Monday morning.
Please note: This is not necessarily what we recommend… but it is possible.
- I want to spend some time traveling in Chiapas before and/or after the delegation.What do you recommend?
Typically, our delegations launch from either San Cristobal or Palenque and, inevitably if you are exploring Chiapas, you will pass through both places in your travels. It is a 5 or 6 hour bus trip between the two cities and there are tons of buses, so it’s fairly straightforward to travel from one place to the other.
Chiapas is a magical place and we highly recommend, whenever possible, that people take a few extra days to do a bit of sightseeing in Chiapas. The city of San Cristobal is a beautiful colonial city with much to offer in terms of ambiance while the archeological sites of Palenque, Bonampac and Yaxichilan are “don’t miss” sites and are all accessed out of Palenque. If one were to fly into Villa Hermosa (Palenque) 4 or 5 days before the start of the delegation and depart from Tuxtla (San Cristobal de las Casas) 3 or 4 days after the close of the delegation, (or vice versa) one could have a pretty good overview of Chiapas.
Application and costs:
I am interested in joining a delegation. How does one apply?
The first question is whether you are interested in one of our regular delegations or whether you are interested in creating a “specialty” delegation, uniquely tailored your specific group. If you are looking to design one of our “specialty delegations”, please email us so we can give your request our personal attention.
Though for the sake of clarity, we term them “regular delegations” they are, in fact, anything but! During your week long delegation, you will not only participate in the featured educational aspects or project of your specific delegation but also have multiple opportunities to meet Zapatista government authorities, speak with Zapatista Education and Health promoters, tour Zapatista schools and health clinics, visit Zapatista run productive projects (like the women’s artesian cooperatives or coffee co-ops) and hang out in the Zapatista Civilian Centers (known as “caracoles”) where you will have many informal opportunities to meet and interact with individual Zapatistas. You may have the opportunity to attend a Zapatista celebration, dance to a Zapatista musical group and/or play basketball in one of the tournaments that accompany nearly every Zapatista get together.
If you are interested in joining one of our regular delegations, please fill out an on-line application form. If you experiencing some problem or have other questions that aren’t answered in the pages of these Frequently Asked Questions, you can email us.
- What is included? What isn’t included?
The tuition will cover all food, lodging, translation and transportation and all other expenses associated with the delegation from the first day of the delegation (Sunday at 5pm) to the last (Saturday at noon). You will need to cover the cost of any personal items you may want to purchase and the cost of your transportation to Chiapas.
- How much does it cost? How do you calculate cost?
In an attempt to make our delegations accessible to an International population, our delegation fees differ depending upon your country of residence. We base our fees upon the minimum wage in your country of residence. The fee for the first week of the camping style delegation is the equivalent of 2 weeks minimum wage.
Occasionally (like the first week of our four week summer program), we offer a slightly more upscale delegation. Rather than a rustic camping trip, we base the delegation in a hotel and travel each day from the hotel to Zapatista bases of support. The cost of hotel based delegations is the equivalent of three times the minimum wage in your country of residence. We plan the cost based on double occupancy (and that means sharing a hotel room) but if you would prefer a single room, we offer a single supplement for an additional $100. If we have five or more people interested in the “hotel option”, we can make this a part of any of our regular delegations.
- But my country has a higher minimum wage than the US!
This attempt to make our delegations accessible to individuals who reside in poorer countries has created an interesting situation for individuals from countries whose minimum wage is higher than that of the US. We want to encourage multi-national participation on Schools for Chiapas delegations and hope that a slightly higher (but proportional) cost will not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle. Please remember that 20% of your fee goes directly to support the Zapatista communities and that while on the delegation we will cover all your expenses including translations, ground transportation, food, rustic housing, administrative costs, and a full-time guide.
- I want to participate in more than one delegation! Are there any special deals?
That depends on you! Except for delegation fees, most of the money we raise is specifically earmarked for a Zapatista project.This makes delegation fees one of the only consistent sources of support for the organization.We try very hard to keep our fees both reasonable and affordable to all. However, we believe that a week in Zapatista territory is a great experience and a good introduction to Zapatismo but a two week stay is even better.So, we want to encourage delegates with sufficient time and inclination to spend another week (or two) traveling with us.
So, we are happy to offer a “buy one week at full price and get subsequent weeks at ½ price” offer.If you’ve visited our online store, you know that our sales strategy is to set a “base” price and then leave it up to our supporters to reflect on their own circumstances and set a price for themselves which reflects their own personal circumstances. If you are (for example) a struggling student from El Salvador attending a Canadian university or a nationalized ex-pat living in Costa Rica with a US level income, let us know how things stand and we will work with you toward an equitable delegation fee.
- Can I have a discount?
We want to make the experience of coming to Chiapas and meeting the Zapatistas accessible to as many people as possible so we price these trips pretty close to what it costs us to run them. Unfortunately that means we are not able to offer further discounts.
We understand that even two weeks minimum wage can be a stretch for many people and hope that you can find some way to raise or earn the funds that will allow you to participate. Some people have been successful in helping to raise the tuition by asking friends and family for support. You can honestly tell people that 20% of each person’s tuition will go directly to the Zapatistas. Please check the travel logistics section of these FAQ for ideas regarding economical travel.
We wish we had scholarships for low income participants, but we have decided to prioritize donations of this type directly to the indigenous of Chiapas… who are some of the poorest people in this hemisphere.
- I’m a foreign national living (or going to school) in a different country. How do I figure the cost of my tuition?
We ask that you help to support our mission by paying at whichever is the higher of two rates. Basically, we offer to accept payment in increments of your country’s minimum wage in order to increase diversity and make the trip accessible to more people. However, when we do this, especially when we do it for a person in a country with a really low minimum wage, it means we, as an organization, are subsidizing the trip. We already play it really close to the breaking (going broke) point and can’t afford to offer subsidizes unless they are really necessary.
- I want to come to Chiapas and study Spanish with the Zapatistas. Can I register through Schools for Chiapas?
One of the ways to support the autonomous, indigenous schools of Chiapas, Mexico is by attending the Language Center at the Primero de Enero School in Oventic, Caracol II, The Zapatista’s Face to the World. The school offers classes in both Spanish and Tzotzil.
Schools for Chiapas no longer registers students for language studies at the Centro de Español y Lenguas Mayas Rebelde Autónomo Zapatista (CELMRAZ). We encourage you to contact the language school directly.
Volunteering, research, and independent travel:
- I am interested in coming to Chiapas as volunteer. I looked through the website and didn’t find information about volunteering outside of the caravans. Is there a way I can go to Chiapas and help out with a Schools for Chiapas project without being a member of a delegation?
There are many ways to become involved with Schools for Chiapas in your home, your community, your school or your church or your other socially-conscious special interest group.
If you want to volunteer with Schools for Chiapas on the ground in Chiapas, you will need to start by participating in a delegation. We believe our delegations provide an important orientation and introduction to Zapatismo as well as giving both parties an opportunity to get to know one another and assess the possibilities of a longer-term involvement.
Post-delegation volunteer opportunities are generally related to agricultural, health, general education, or construction. We also encourage volunteers to participate in designing a volunteer project based on their specific skills and interests.
- I am a teacher and I am wondering what you can tell me about opportunities for volunteer teachers in the Zapatista school system?
For the most part, all instruction delivered in autonomous Zapatista schools is carried out by indigenous Zapatista teachers (who are known here in Zapatista territory as “promoters of education” rather than the more hierarchical title of “teacher”). One of the hallmarks of the Autonomous Zapatista education is that it is bi-lingual (the promoter is from the same indigenous language group as the students and also speaks Spanish) and embraces and educates about the nuances of culture and cultural retrieval. That being said there are sometimes opportunities for individuals with special skills to become involved in special projects.
Schools for Chiapas organizes a variety of introductory trips for individuals wishing to learn more about the autonomous indigenous communities in general and about the autonomous Zapatista education system in specific. Participation on these delegations is a good way to begin to integrate yourself and look for opportunities to get involved as a volunteer.
- I am interested in coming to Chiapas in order to do research (or write a paper) about the Zapatistas. Can you help me with this?
Not to be a broken record but Schools for Chiapas has been on the ground in Chiapas since the very beginning of the insurrection and we have participated in many, if not all, of the most important events and transitions open to non-indigenous. We work hard to ensure that delegates have a real, in-depth understanding of the political situation that led to the insurrection and to the fundamentals of Zapatismo. Our trips are generally based inside the Zapatista civilian centers and include many opportunities to speak with and ask questions of Zapatista authorities. Our delegation leaders are seasoned experts with many years of experience working with the Zapatistas and in Chiapas. We believe you will find the experience of participating in a delegation (or two or three) will provide a researcher with valuable insight into the movement.
That being said, doing academic or journalistic research is often a very sensitive issue within the communities in resistance. We cannot promise anyone special access to the Zapatistas, beyond the programs for which we have already been approved. Still, we suggest that interested persons participate in a delegation, use our expertise to help frame appropriate research questions and/or design and then see what can be arranged. The only other way is to go directly to one or more of the Junta’s of Good Government Boards (there are five) and see what you can set up independently.
- I would be interested in becoming a coordinator on a Schools for Chiapas delegation.
If you have already been on a delegation, have good people skills, an optimistic, can-do attitude, are more or less fluent in Spanish, and are interested in traveling with us again, you may want to consider applying to work with us as a delegation coordinator. It can be a rather demanding position (with long hours and minus sleep) but you do get a lot of exposure to the workings of the organization and a perspective on what it’s like to organize a group for this sort of adventure.
- Do I need to be part of a formal delegation to meet with the Zapatistas?
Not at all. The Zapatistas have organized the caracoles, or civilian centers, to specifically provide a place for the the Zapatistas to meet and exchange with interested outsiders.
Most recently, the Zapatistas have initiated a national and international outreach effort called “The Escuelita” whereby non-Zapatistas receive an intensive educational course and home stay experience within Zapatista communities while living in the home of a Zapatista families. This is an unprecedented and extraordinary experience and we encourage anyone interested to visit the EZLN page to learn more.Currently (as of February, 2014) relevant “on the ground, in Chiapas” study materials and instruction is only in Spanish (or possibly in an Indigenous language).
Although independent travelers can, and do, visit the Zapatistas without benefit of “the Escuelita” or other organizational support, we believe your experience will be enhanced by participating in a delegation through an organization like Schools for Chiapas.We have been working in Zapatista Territory since 1994 and we have an established history of working with the movement that frequently allows our delegates to witness and participate in experiences inaccessible to the independent traveler.
If you prefer to travel as an independent traveler, you can establish independent contact with the Zapatistas through Enlace Civil in San Cristóbal or you can simply arrive at one of the five caracoles and ask to speak with the Comité de Recepción and/or the Junta. It will help if you can speak reasonable Spanish but, usually, the Zapatista authorities will meet with you regardless of your language ability. To get the most out of your visit, think through ahead of time what it is that you want to know or what project you want to propose. A written document is often helpful in facilitating the process. Remember that while the Zapatistas will be generous with their resources, they are among the most impoverished people on the planet and your generous donations will be greatly appreciated.
- I am interested in spending an extended time in Chiapas but my time does not line up with any of your scheduled trips.
Depending upon our staff availability, Schools for Chiapas will organize “specialty delegations” for individuals who wish to contract with us to arrange such a trip.
Another idea you might consider, if you speak Spanish, have some time in Chiapas and want to help out the Zapatista but don’t exactly know how you want to structure things, is to consider applying as a “peace observer”. If you are not familiar with this role, these are people who live for a period of weeks adjacent to Zapatista communities (or other political “hot” spots). Their presence helps to prevent untoward incidents and provides witness should any occur. You may also have some access to the local Zapatista authorities, especially if you develop or have in mind some specific project.
At present (February, 2014) peace observers are trained and placed through Frayba.Frayba has a long history of witnessing and documenting human rights issues in Chiapas.Additionally, Enlace Civil, a non-governmental organization specifically organized to accompany and assist the Zapatistas, may be able to provide orientation and direct you to the appropriate resources for training. You will find the Enlace office in San Cristobal across the street and in front of the Santo Domingo Church. Look for their tiny sign above a door on the opposite side of the street from the church door.