[Guest post by Perrine Philippe in Chiapas, Mexico]
I have been living in Mexico for one year between 2014 and 2015. First in Mexico City, to study architecture at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, and then in San Cristóbal to work on the construction of a library with some of my architect colleagues (kind of a design-build project with the university). I had luck to travel around in this beautiful region of Chiapas, always using local buses and trying not to discover only the famous Maya pyramids. This region of Mexico has a beautiful hybridization of autonomous culture and Spanish colonization – and a huge variety of climates and landscapes.
I choose not to sketch that much Maya temples and colonial churches, because they are the most represented architectures of Mexico. But nobody really cares about vernacular shelters, local houses without architects. As I am studying architecture, to sketch is for me a way to observe and catch a place or a building. I am really interested in popular architectures: people are so creative with local — and most of the time cheap — materials.
San Cristóbal de las Casas
San Cristóbal de las Casas (pictures above and below) is a beautiful small colonial city in the middle of the pine tree forests. The old town is full of colored Spanish houses, all with interior patios. Generally these houses are made out of adobe (mud bricks) and stones, with tile roofs. Once one goes in the mountains around, he can find villages where people are still speaking dialects and dressing with wonderful traditional clothes.
|San Cristóbal de las Casas|
There is one big and one small church on the Zocalo of San Cristóbal de las Casas, both in a baroque style. I chose to paint the small one, which is simplest, smallest and with less ornament, but with powerful yellow and red colors.
|Zocalo de San Cristóbal|
Colors in Mexico, and more specifically in San Cristóbal, are one of the amazing things for my French eye, used to the gray tones of Paris. A beautiful inspiration for watercolor/ink lovers!
|view from a San Cristóbal terrace|
I was living in San Cristóbal de las Casas while participating in the construction of the library. I spend very few nights in this hostel, Hotel Marimba, as I had a house after. But I kept going there very often to have a fabulous café de olla (traditional spiced coffee prepared in an earthen pot) with the owners Aly and Victor. The house is very rudimentary, but the patio–present in all the old colonial houses–is so beautiful and convivial.
The library is being built in the Barrio de la Isla.
|Barrio de la Isla|
With one of my Mexican friends, I was invited to have a generous lunch one day at Doña Mary’s house. Doña Mary was part of the future community of users of our library. She was from San Juan Chamula, an autonomous village really close to San Cristóbal. She was living doing traditional embroidering work and living with her mother, her children and grandchildren in the only room of her house. I sketched the view from my seat: a house made out of wood, cardboard and sheet metal.
|casa de Doña Mary|
Beyond San Cristóbal: Agua Azul, Ocosingo, and Frontera Corozal
Going down from the 2,000-meter high of San Cristóbal in the direction of Guatemala is Agua Azul, an obligatory stop between Tonina (Maya site) and Palenque. There are some wonderful waterfalls there, but what I wanted to draw were these vernacular poor houses in wood. This one is so simple but so beautiful at the same time for its simplicity and intelligent way of building with few materials.
Ocosingo is a small city also on the road to Tonina. Here we can see a Spanish building on the zocalo (a public central square), with very typical colonnade. All the colonial cities have a zocalo, with a church and sometimes important political buildings with covered corridors, as this one below.
During a second trip I continued after Palenque, along the Rio Ucumacinta which is the physical border between Mexico and Guatemala. I stopped in Frontera Corozal to have rest and visit Yaxchilan ruins (the most beautiful I saw actually – to note in your list for a next trip in Mexico). The village of Frontera Corozal didn’t change because of these ruins – as they are quite difficult to access, they are not attracting a lot of visitors, and there is almost no touristic infrastructure.
The village does not have a colonial center, just a strange grid – where does it come from is still a mystery for me – with very simple houses, generally in wood. Nowadays, a lot of the new houses still have the same rectangular plan with the kitchen and sanitary outside and a double slope roof, but the walls are made out of blockwork.
I love to sketch these “normal” landscapes.
Perrine Philippe is an architecture student in Paris, France. But she is traveling around and living abroad as often as she can. She is a member of Urban Sketchers France and Urban Sketchers general group on Facebook. You can see more of her sketches here: http://pepewam.tumblr.com