We had a good 5 days in San Cristobal and surrounding villages, but there was one highlight of our Loco Adventure that was unexpected, heartwarming and culturally rich. One reason we decided to venture as far as San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas was to buy some new fabric for the house. Chiapas is known for their hand-woven textiles, with each village defined by their patterns and methods. Yeah, yeah, yeah I can buy some of the textiles on the coast, but why not use this as an excuse for a road trip!
It was suggested that we call Sergio Castro in San Cristobal and book a tour of his Museum. An appointment is required to see the museum, so we called and made arrangements to visit that evening at 6 p.m. We had no idea what to expect, and had no idea what we were walking into. The entire experience took us by surprise and gave us more than we bargained for.
Sergio Castro is a trained veterinarian and agriculturist who moved to Chiapas over 45 years ago. His intention was to help local indigenous communities build better agricultural systems. His calling turned into something very, very different. For 45 years Sergio has been medically treating the indigenous population in remote Chiapas villages. As he travelled through the mountains to assist with alternative agricultural methods, he found that people living in the remote villages could not access medical treatment. He took it upon himself to treat families in dire need of medical attention.
Locals could not afford to pay Sergio for his services and it is customary to ‘pay for services’ as they are received. Payment over 45 years has come in the form of gifts, which Sergio could not refuse in fear of insulting the patient and their family.
Every gift has been kept. These gifts are what make up the Museum of Regional Clothing/Museo de Trajes Regional. Though it is called a museum, the viewing space is actually Sergio’s home, which is why an appointment is necessary to view his collection.
The door to his home was open when we arrived. A few people had gathered in the central garden with Don Sergio buried in the center of the group. After being greeted by a medical resident who explained Don Sergio would be with us in a moment, we were shown into the main room. To our amazement the a room was lined with over 50 indigenous costumes, the museum collection. Sergio came into the room and explained that he was a bit delayed, but would be with us in a moment. What we quickly realized was this. A family had come to the house in search of medical attention. Sergio and his medical resident were attending to the mother as we stood in the clothing gallery.
With grace and perfect English, (he speaks over seven languages) Sergio came into the clothing gallery to start our tour. He used an old map as a geographical reference to explain the various indigenous groups and where each article came from. He walked us through and explained in great detail the various costumes that he has put on display. Each costume/article of clothing had great cultural, geographical and historical significance which left us in awe. His knowledge of the customs, history and languages of the Chiapas area was mind blowing. We felt like we were attending a Harvard lecture on Chiapas communities and indigenous cultures. There was no mention of his humanitarian work, no mention of his history, it was all about the communities that define the state of Chiapas.
As he took us into his ‘Artifact Room’, a room overflowing with non-clothing related items, he graciously requested that we browse through the items on our own. What we soon came to realize was a small child was rushed into the home of Sergio Castro by his parents, looking for immediate treatment of severe burns.
It is suggested that a small donation of 35 pesos per person be paid for tour. Donations are used to cover the cost of medical supplies that Sergio and his medical volunteers use. 35 pesos is about 2.50 USD…we placed our donation in the box, which would cover over 20 visits to the museum. We felt it was the least we could do to show our personal gratitude for this man who has selflessly administered medical treatment to remote populations for over 45 years.
We slipped out of the museum thanking the medical intern as he came to the door when we left. We advised him that we had left our donation in the donation box (which was empty at the time) and asked him to thank ‘Don Sergio’ for the tour and his efforts within the community. Both of us walked down the street speechless. We felt that our entire trip to Chiapas was worthwhile if only for a look into the life of Sergio Castro, a true humanitarian and ethnologist that has selflessly helped people for decades.
Museo de Trajes is Sergio’s personal collection of tribal costumes and clothing received as gifts over his lifetime. It is a platform to help him raise not only money but cultural awareness of Chiapas. Yok Chij Association is his charitable organization that receives international support for all the projects he facilitates in Chiapas. To date he has opened 35 schools, created numerous water catchment and treatment systems in the San Cristóbal, and provided medical treatment to thousands of people.
My heart sits in my throat still as I recall this experience in San Cristobal, an experience that I will treasure and never forget. When visiting San Cristobal this Museum is a must-see.
More information can be found on the website at http://www.yokchij.org
A documentary was made by LA film makers about Don Sergio. View the trailer and get a glimpse into the effect his healing has made.