Feature photo by Kevin Spreitz, Huatulco Photo Walks
We are back in beautiful Oaxaca, Mexico currently in Huatulco idling away the days while escaping the cold, dark days of our Canadian winter.
This is our third time in the area; we are neophytes enjoying this piece of paradise compared to the many other Canadians who visit annually, some making it their permanent residence. It’s hard not to fall in love, the weather is the same day in and day out, bright sunshine, vivid blue skies, warm ocean breezes, 32C by day and evening temperatures of 23C, sigh… one never has to wonder what the next day will bring, it’s a guarantee.
The area has a great infrastructure, lovely boulevards leading to the port of Santa Cruz where large cruise ships stop a few times a month or in the other direction to the little town of La Crucecita. Walking is easy and I love getting out early each morning as the neighbourhoods awaken. People are hustling off to work, scooters whiz by, parents are taking their little ones to school, the fruit/vegetable trucks are parked on street corners and hot, fresh buns in the panaderías tempt.
While visiting Cruciceta last year Bob and I were drawn into a photo studio one evening where we met the very talented young photographer, Kevin Spreitz. We enjoyed chatting, swapping travel adventures, and viewing some of his photos from around the world. We also learned about his business “Huatulco Photo Walks”. These walks are designed for photo enthusiasts, regardless of level, who want to learn or improve their skills. Kevin is hands on and gives great tips to capture the moment, use light to your advantage, frame a subject while gently encouraging how to see the world through the camera or phone lens to best tell a story.
Corner fruit market
Wind storm damage 2019
Oblivious playing away on the sidewalk
Flowers & blue sky
Mama & little cutie
Not sure why I waited, but finally decided to book a session with Kevin on our last full day here. The vacationers had pretty much thinned out so by pure luck I had Kevin to myself. Walking around town, a history lesson was combined with observing previously seen sights, but at a different angle and perspective, while he provided great hints on using several previously unknown features of my iPhone.
As with any business word of mouth is usually pretty good advertising. I promised Kevin a review would be forthcoming, but alas once home procrastination and life got in the way. However, a promise is a promise so with time currently a luxury I decided it was time to deliver!
Here are a few pictures taken that day as well as some other pics of our Mexico living. Oh and if you happen to ever be in the area, I highly recommend Kevin and the Huatulco Photo Walks.
2019 January 31 – February 4 (better late than never)
Who knew the annual celebration of “Cinco de Mayo” (5th of May), and the thousands of streets throughout Mexico named the same, originated in Puebla. As recorded by the historians, the Mexicans defeated French invaders in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a rare Mexican military success. Unfortunately the French took back Puebla the following year and occupied it unti 1867. This is also the birthplace of the Mexican Revolution-history abounds here! Puebla is sometimes referred to as the “City of Street Lights” due to the numerous decorative street lamps crafted by the French. The French legacy can also be seen in the city’s elaborate wrought iron balconies, azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) on many buildings, and the fine crystal chandeliers adorning historic buildings. Very colonial with a wonderful historic center, we were actually quite taken with the city and loved wandering the streets and exploring not only Puebla but also nearby Cholula with its ancient pyramid and still active Popocatepel volcano.
It seems we are always surrounded by churches, some more ornate than others and often wonder how the upkeep can be afforded. There is no lack of several notable ones in this city.
We started off with the huge and impressive Puebla Cathedral which takes up the entire block on the south side of the zocalo. The cathedral is actually featured on the blue M$500 bill.
Templo de Santo Domingo is famous for its stunning Capilla Del Rosario (Rosary Chapel) and known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. One of the most glorious examples of Baroque architecture, the gold appearance is actually gold foiled plaster and carved stone. We had to make a second visit to see the chapel since a wedding was about to take place the day of our first visit.
The “Virgen del Carmen” church was just just around the corner from our Airbnb. Beautiful ceramic tiles adorned the exterior.
February 2nd may be Groundhog Day in the Canada, and also our son Michael’s birthday, but in Mexico there is a completely different celebration on this date. This is the religious holiday known as Día de la Candelaria (or Candlemas in English). The tradition recalls that forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took the child to the Temple to present to the priests.
Throughout Mexico on this date, people dress up figures of “Nino Dias” or the Christ Child in special outfits and take them to the church to be blessed, followed by celebrations with family and friends.
As chance would have it we were in Puebla on this feast day and were curious seeing so many people carrying dolls into a church, so we followed them. Seeing our curiosity a kindly man approached us after mass to explain what was going on and the tradition behind it. He then told us to head to the zocalo as we weren’t in a particularly safe part of town!
Women with their nino dias
Posing for family pictures outside the church
The Centro Historico, a UNESCO site, has many colourful streets. Although not its official name, Candy Street is lined with pastel storefronts with traditional sweets and cookies displayed in glass cases. Many shops also sell the handmade and painted Talavera pottery crafted exclusively in the region. Authentic Talavera is distinguished from imitations by the raised design and gloss of the finish. And yes, I am now the proud owner of one such piece!
The Barrio del Artists or Artist Quarter with its tree lined pedestrian walkway is dotted with quaint cafes and studios. Works of art and open galleries are intertwined with small market stalls. Just around the corner we found a small plaza with several musical groups mulling about and practicing for an annual competition.
We couldn’t miss a visit to Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the first and oldest public library in the Americas. The library’s original ornate shelving holds the intact collection of books from the Spanish Colonial period.
A day trip to Cholula to see Piramide Tepanapa, the widest pyramid ever built, yes wider than any in Egypt, couldn’t be passed up. Unfortunately this pyramid, dating back to 600 AD, has been badly neglected over the centuries and one would be hard pressed to recognize it as such. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside. Today, only about 800 meters of these tunnels are open to the public.
What is amazing though and the towns biggest drawing card is the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remédios. This church tops the pyramid and provides a great panoramic view.
We were the only visitors creeping through the tunnels at the time of our visit, kind of creepy especially when our cab driver told us there were several small earthquakes the day previous.
Serendipity was again at play during our Puebla visit. Bob’s sister Martha sent us an invitation for a vernissage she received from fellow artists/friends from Montreal. She suggested we drop by to say hello on opening night. We represented Canada that evening, met some lovely, very talented artists and of course enjoyed the wine and hors d’oeuvres.
Invite to Daniela & Peter’s opening
One of Peters
Ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the opening
We had planned to head further south towards Chiapas and San Chrisobel but a nasty cold I couldn’t seem to shake was slowing me down so we decided to head to the coast. Nothing like warm ocean breezes, endless sunshine, and heat to cure what ails you. Back to Mexico City and only a short flight away – Hola Hualtuco!
Every Monday the market in San Pedro Pochutla offers locals, foreigners and all those folks in-between a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, fruits, various goods and experiences. We were looking for an authentic Mexican market and this traditional, non-gringo market delivered in spades, none of that kitschy touristy ‘stuff’ was to be seen.
A comfortable 1-hour, 29 peso (~$2.00 CDN) bus ride with AC (bonus) will get you from the coastal town of La Crucecita in Santa Maria Hualtuco (Nuevo Huatulco) to Pochutla.
Originally called San Pedro Huehuetán Laguna, the town was established in the 8th century on what was once a lake bed. The lake was drained to prevent illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever. The town‘s name was eventually changed to what it is presently know as, Potchutla, which means “place of kapok trees”.
This city is a commercial and transportation hub for the central part of Oaxaco and the coast, connecting the nearby beach spots of Puerto Escondito to Puerto Ángel, Zipolite, San Agustinillo and Mazunte. It is bustling, dusty, sweaty and definitely not a tourist attraction, except for the wonderful Monday market. We actually passed through Pochutla on our way to Mazunte both last year and again a couple of weeks ago (more on that later) but unfortunately those brief stopovers weren’t on a Monday when the entire ‘Central’ becomes a massive hub of activity. Having previously read and heard about this market I was definitely intrigued and what better way to spend a day?
As you have no doubt figured out I absolutely love markets! For some strange reason mi esposa doesn’t share this enthusiasm, 😫 but always a trooper and willing to indulge, we set out for a mini-adventure earlier this week. From the moment we exited the bus station we were immersed in the chaos, sights and sounds as we navigated the sidewalks and streets. My phone camera was clicking away much of the time and when asked, most vendors gladly agreed to have their photo or photos of their goods taken.
As with all Mexican towns and cities, the church is the central point.
Paintings of various churches in the arra
Fresco inside city hall
Fresco inside the cultural center
We trust you will enjoy the colours, imagine the aromas, feel the heat, and see the warmth of the people as you tour the market and a bit of the city with us.
Ice cream vendor
Marlita the fish lady
Hand made furniture-would not meet CSA standards!
The hibiscus drink is delicious
The beauty section
Tacos for the bar drinkers
Fresh fish & seafood
Fresh ground coffee
Crickets 🦗 anyone?
Deep fried pork fat! 🤢
Truckload of pineapple
Our market scores for a fraction of the cost back home – fresh fruit, vegetables, freshly ground coffee, home baked cookies, and that tasty Oaxaca cheese 😋.
You have no doubt noticed that there is a common colour theme in San Miguel’s buildings. The mandated colour scheme for painting the outside of homes and businesses in El Centro range between nine distinct, vibrant earth tone colours As mentioned previously, the effect this has on the cityscape, as the light changes throughout the day, is amazing.
This wasn’t quite as prevalent in the area we chose to stay. It is always a crap-shoot when booking a place, but this time we scored big. Our beautiful Airbnb was about a 10-minute walk to Centro in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of SMA, Colonia Guadelupe. Not only were our accommodations absolutely beautiful and one of the best in all our Airbnb stays, vibrant Mexican colours washed the walls making the space cozy, homey, and very comfortable. Here the facades are cobalt blue, lime green, mauve, pink or lemon yellow and how appropriate it all seems.
Our neighbourhood had some other hidden gems as we soon discovered. The area is full of street art so of course with our long-standing love affair of this art form we were game for the hunt. With fond memories of our street art excursion in Georgetown Penang in Malaysia we hit the streets one day and certainly were not disappointed.
Another interesting story here that definitely needs sharing. In 2012, Colleen Sorenson, an American expat living in SMA, saw an explosion of illegal ‘tagging’ on the walls of homes and businesses in SMA. Wanting to deter local youth from vandalizing the town’s unadorned walls with graffiti she lobbied for a project to channel youthful energy and talent, from graffiti to vibrant art that both artists and the community could take pride in. She saw the walls as an opportunity for art rather than defacement; her vision was to legalize graffiti. After more than a year of deliberation with the various authorities, and local residents, the first street art festival was held in Guadelupe in 2013. The urban street art project showcases over 100 works of young artists from around Mexico and from other countries, (Chile, Argentina, Canada, Germany and the United States), who participated in conjunction with local artists to promote the new art district. Guadalupe has since been named a Districto de Arte, and the Festival, is now known as Muros en Blanco or The Festival of White (or blank). The festival is held twice a year, spring and winter, and with other visiting artists painting in-between, the art is continuously changing.
As we stroll along the streets we see hummingbirds, butterflies, cars, people, saints, dragons, flying fish, flowers, ducks, bulls, skeletons, seahorses, trees, musicians, a school bus, and much more. At every turn there is something different to see. Different styles, colours, content; some beautiful, some surprising, some puzzling, but all fascinating. Here is a small selection of our discoveries (look closely, people just blend into the art).
The other area we were very close to was Fabrica La Aurora Art and Design Centre. In the early 20th century this building housed a textile factory where mana (cotton) was produced. For over 90-years it was the main source of work in the city. There is a great photo gallery showing the glory days of the factory and a huge weaving machine remains on-site.
This fascinating art space with more than 50-art studios and galleries is ideal if you want to purchase art, browse the artwork or simply enjoy a drink and some light lunch in a creative ambience.
Apart from paintings and sculpture, there are also works by Mexican photographers, glasswork, ceramics, woven goods, and antique furniture for sale. On the day we visited we were fortunate to see some talented artists at work. Martha you would love it here!
One of the shops inside La Aurora
Always on the move our next stop is Queretaro, about a 2-hour bus ride away.
As you may or may not recall, we had planned to visit this city in the north central highlands of Mexico last year until a chance meeting with a fellow Canadian convinced us otherwise. We were told there were many more interesting places to visit than, what she described as, a “Mexican Disneyland” for mainly American, Canadian and European retirees as well as Chilangos (people from Mexico City).
We loved our travels last year and probably would never have visited the areas or saw the marvels we did, fate has a habit of doing that!! But curiosity was still nibbling so we decided to go with the previous years plan while wandering this year, great move on our part.
Our friend wasn’t far off the mark about the number of expats; we were amazed to see so many septuagenarian/octogenarians, (hey wait a minute, got one of those with me), garnering canes and walkers. I thought we had time-warped back to my parents retirement facility!!
Joking aside it is difficult not to be instantly taken with beautiful San Miguel with its compact Centro historico, cobblestone streets, and beautiful colonial architecture. Colour is everywhere, this is Mexico after all, and it really is a photographers playground, so much inspiration especially with the changing light throughout the day.
While the foreign influence is strong, approximately 12,000 expats live here, the area is blessed with a wonderful climate year round – dry, no humidity, warm during the day and cooling off nicely in the evening. SMA been drawing foreigners here since shortly after World War II and boasts countless contemporary attractions — many art galleries, chic cafés, elegant restaurants, and quaint colonial hotels. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Pueblo Magico (Magical Town), it really is the “corazón de Mexico” (the heart of Mexico).
The centerpiece and focal point and one of the best things to see in SMA is the La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel or the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, it is as impressive as it is massive. This is arguably the most photogenic spot in the city inside and out. You are able to stroll inside the church as long as a mass isn’t going on, and while pictures aren’t really allowed I did sneak one photo inside (my old adage’ ‘better to beg forgiveness than ask permission’, was at work here).
One side of the square
Inside the church
Beautifully illuminated at night
The neo-gothic 17th-century structure is one of most photographed churches in the country and once you cast your eyes on it you can understand why. We enjoyed the view from the well-manicured Plaza Allende, popularly known as Jardin Principle, (main garden), in the plaza directly in front of the church. It was designed in French style, with wrought iron benches and filled with lush laurel trees.
The other three sides of the plaza are surrounded by restaurants, vendors, and various businesses with a lovely shaded walkways.
One of the best parts of this city is that around every corner there is a new adventure and behind every door there is a secret courtyard. We let ourselves get lost while exploring always using the massive central cathedral as our guide to get back to the square.
A good set of legs and healthy lungs certainly helps once you leave the city core. Did I mention how hilly SMA is? One day we decided to head to the mirador to get that perfect birds-eye view of the city. Snaking through the back streets and alleyways we tested our stamina and finally made it. Beside getting a little extra exercise climbing up the hills, we also got to see some of the most beautiful and finest properties in the city.
One thing we didn’t expect to see in SMA were botanical gardens. The Jardin Botanico El Charco del Ingenio is northeast from the main part of town. This 170 acre area is not only a garden, but also a recreational and ceremonial space with a wildlife sanctuary. This environmental conservation project was established in 1991 and is privately funded. Why even the Dalai Lama has visited here and declared it a ‘Peace Zone’.
Cacti, many huge, and other succulent plants make up the botanical collection, many are rare, threatened or in danger of extinction. The area is very tranquil and perfect for an afternoon hike in nature.
Taking the local bus as far as we could, we hike the remaining 1.5 kms and spent the afternoon exploring the various paths that surround a very deep canyon. Depending on the path you take, there are some gorgeous views of SMA.
There is a bit more of San Miguel we want to share with you, stay tuned for part two.
Charming Guanajuato, (pronounced gwah-nah-hwah-toe), officially the most beautiful city in Mexico, is as you can see also one of the most colourful. The city is built on very hilly ground, so virtually every point in the city in on a slant.
With subterranean tunnels leading into the city, brightly coloured houses, winding cobbled streets, callajoneadas or narrow alleyways, quaint cafés, and hundreds of bakeries, Guanajuato is known for its traditional Mexican markets, the towering El Pípila statue, which offers and bird’s eye view over the city, and the unusual attraction of the Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato.
A big silver vein was discover in Guanajuato in the mid-1500s and that eventually lead to a larger settlement. In it’s hay day the area produced nearly a third of all silver in the world. Mining brought wealth to the town that spread to its architecture and lifestyle. Some mines are still active.
Our lovely B&B was about a 10-minute walk through these narrow streets to the central historic region. I counted 13 churches in and around the city center, (apparently there are a total of 23), one of the first was the pink Templo de San Francisco built by the Franciscans in the 17th century.
It is beautiful illuminated at night and a central place for the locals to hang out.
Our landmark during our first couple of nights was the Plaza del Quixote, created to honour the 400th anniversary of the first edition of Don Quixote of La Mancha.
Next up was the Teatro Juarez, situated across from the Jardine de la Union, with it’s very impressive exterior and is another spot to do some serious people watching.
Beside the theatre there is a church that is a popular spot in the evening for student performances and across the street, at the Jardin, Mariachi bands stroll around the several restaurants lining the plaza creating a vibrant fun-filled atmosphere.
Nightly performance in front of Iglesias de San Diego.
Click on the video below.
Behind the theatre is a funicular that takes you up to the El Pipila monument on San Miguel hill. This monument honours a local miner for his act of heroism at the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The area provides an excellent birds-eye view of the city. We took the funicular up and made our way back into the centre while exploring several alleyways. Walking was a bit tricky at times with the steep incline.
Continuing on the tour, the next stop is the Basilica de Nuestra Señora with its vibrant yellow facade and red domed roof – the inside is just as impressive to say the least. The Basilica is in the heart of the city and dedicated to Our Lady of Guanajuato who is the patron saint and protector of the city.
The Basilica is positioned on a slight hill in the Plaza de la Paz (Plaza of Peace) making it look higher than the surrounding buildings.
A little bit further down this street is the famous El Callejon del Besa or Alley of the Kiss. Guanajuato has so many little alleys or callejons, leading every which way from the centre, however this particular one has a tragic love story attached to it. The alley itself is very short and up some steep steps with houses on both sides, the uppermost balconies almost touching and windows looking into each other.
As the story goes, two young lovers from very different backgrounds, the girl came from a rich family and the boy from a poor miners family, fell in love. The boy rented a small room which faced a rear balcony of the girl house. Each night they would sneak out for romantic encounters, hence the nickname Alley of the Kiss. The girl’s father found out about these nocturnal encounters, was furious and eventually one night caught the young lovers. Fearing for his safety the young miner jumped from the girls balcony back to his but fell to the steps below dying instantly. The father’s rage was also directed at his daughter; he grabbed a piece of wood and bludgeoned her to death. The father felt instant grief for his actions but it was too late, the lovers were both dead on the steps below the balcony.
Folkore has it the ghosts of the two lovers haunt the steps where they died but bless couples with a life of happiness if they kiss on the third step, the location of the miner’s death.
On our way to, believe it or not one of Guanajuato’s main sights, El Museo De Las Momias or the Mummy Museum, (more on that in a bit), we pass by the Mercado Hildalgo, a classic iron structure with a beautiful facade. This structure was originally constructed to be a major train station, and the project so grand Alexandre Gustave Eiffel was enticed to work on it. But the envisioned economic boom to Guanajuato never happened. Once this grand project was dropped it was transformed into a market.
Given all the hype of the Mummy Museum and with mildly morbid curiosity, we took the local bus up the steep hills to view this horrific, disturbing sight. This is probably one of the more bizarre things we have seen in our travels and despite the fact it is isn’t what we would call a ‘family oriented’ attraction, we saw several young children being guided along by their parents. For a mere 20 pesos each, (senior rate), we were treated to yet another interesting story.
Three rooms contain over 100 mummies, most a little over 100 years old. The majority were adults, there were also some babies and young children. They were lined up in their climate controlled crypts, with a description or name of each mummy attached.
The mummies originate from two sources – during a major disease outbreak mass graves were dug and the bodies thrown in without the burial salts to help with decomposition. When the bodies were exhumed, perhaps to be put into proper graves, the gravediggers were shocked to find the bodies mummified. The other source of the mummies were a by-product of a tax. The families of the deceased had to pay a rental fee of the grave for four years. If the relatives were unable to pay the tax the body was exhumed and cremated. Some of the bodies exhumed were found to be mummified, and since they were considered property of the government they were stored in what is now the museum.
Back in the land of the living we headed to the Universidad De Guanajuato. The university was originally built by the Jesuits in the 18th century for the people of Guanajuato, however the original building fell into disrepair and was abandoned for many years when the Jesuits were expelled by the Spaniards.
The main campus building, built in 1940 on the original site, boasts 133 steps leading up to the entrance. It now houses the dean’s office, administration and a couple of undergraduate departments. The building is also incorporated with the Templo de las Hospitales, a 16th century church built by the Jesuits.
Diego Rivera’s birthplace and now a museum couldn’t be passed up, especially since we visited his significant other’s in Mexico City. Rivera was born in Guanajuato and spent his first 6-years here. The ground floor of the house has been remodelled to recreate the house as it was at the time of his birth. Several early works are displayed throughout the house, (no photos allowed), and show his wide selection of artistic styles and stages.
Diego Rivera bronze statue just around the corner from the museum.
Colourful houses line the hills and streets.
We feel we did this city justice and really enjoyed its vibe, despite the fact I was out of commission for a day and a half. It seems the delicious enchiladas mineras, a local dish we had for dinner one evening, and I didn’t see eye to eye and had to part company. Oh well, always good for waist line!
Next stop is San Miguel de Allende, a couple of hours to the west.
Mexico City, never thought we would be back but here we are once again using this huge metropolis as our jump off point for our 2019 travels.
We plan to ‘wander’ for the first half checking out areas we didn’t get to last year and then settle down and ‘chillax’ in Hualtuco for the remainder – sun, sand, and surf beckon, as does that little piece of paradise.
Navigating CDMX was much easier this time around, we understood the metro and my purse was in full lock-down mode as we headed to the historical centre!! First up was a visit to the Presidential Palace to view the marvellous murals of Diego Rivera, one of Mexicos most prominent artists. His large frescoes helped establish the Mexican mural movement in Mexican art. The detail in these murals is phenomenal and really do give a pictorial history of the political development of Mexico.
We also visited Plaza Garibaldi, known as Mexico City’s home of mariachi music. At all hours of the day and night, mariachi bands can be found roaming the square playing or soliciting gigs from visitors and restaurant patrons. The area is quite seedy, so we watched a couple of groups and headed out, best not to linger! Only after our visit did we find out that there was a gang war shoot out this past September!
The Frida Kahlo Museum or Casa Azul was also on the list. This is the birthplace and ultimately final resting place of Frida Kahlo, another famous Mexican artist. For those who aren’t familiar with Frida’s history, she was a self-taught artist who was sickly, suffered polio as a child and was involved in a serious, debilitating bus accident at age 18 which ultimately affected her entire life. She took up painting during her many months of convalescing from multiple fractures includinga broken back , and lived in pain for the remainder of her life. Many of her folkloric paintings represent a diary of her life depicting the physical and emotional pain she endured.
She is also well know for her turbulent marriage to artist Diego Rivera and her unconventional, bohemian life style.
Although Kahlo achieved success as an artist in her lifetime, and is best know for her many self-portraits, her posthumous reputation steadily grew and she is perhaps one of the best-known artists of the 20th century. She died in 1954 at age 47 from a pulmonary infection/embolism, although many speculate her death was caused by an overdose.
Enjoy your own tour of Frida’s home with a few pictures below.
Our next stop is Guanajuato, north of Mexico City in the central highlands. This town is supposed to be the prettiest in Mexico, stay tuned.
From Playa del Carmen we flew to the beautiful state of Oaxaca (wha-HAH-Kah) starting our sojourn in the city with the same name. Earlier in our travels we entertained ideas of perhaps heading to Belize and Guatemala but as they say, “all the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. So we came up with Plan B, better to err on the side of caution, slow down, and head back to the Pacific Coast. Bob was marginally better so we decided not to push our luck.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, you come across yet another absolutely beautiful place and you fall in love all over again!! The state of Oaxaco has everything one could dream of: a beautiful colonial city, indigenous towns, rolling mountain ranges, lush valleys, unbelievable weather, and gorgeous beaches. Oaxaco City- beautiful buildings, zocalos bursting with people, art galleries, gorgeous woven blankets, hand embroidered shirts, musicians, so much talent. It truly is a cultural and culinary epicentre where trying to choose a restaurant, bar or coffee shop is nigh on impossible. Mole, a traditional sauces that comes in 7-distinctive flavours are a Oaxacan signature. We only tried the mole negra on pollo (chicken); rich, smokey, spices and flavoured with chocolate.
In the beverage department, aside from the ever popular mezcal (another agave based liquor), Oaxacan favorites include chocolate con leche (steaming hot chocolate spiced with cinnamon), jamaica agua fresca (hibiscus flower drink), and aqua horchata, (cinnamon rice drink). I will definitely be making these when we get home and have stocked up on the ingredients to do so. For my Kombucha making compadres, the hibiscus flowers are sure to make a wonderful tasting brew. 🌺
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption
Bobs new friend
Alcalá Tourist Corridor
Street vendors & buskers aplenty
Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude
We spent several days enjoying Oaxaco City before heading to the Oaxacan coast opting to fly on a small 12-seater plane. We had read the alternative, busing it for nine gruelling hours on a narrow switch-back mountain highway is terrifying! Life is too short to be whiteknucking it for that length of time. Bob got to sit up front in the right seat and was in his glory chatting with the pilot as we flew between the mountains during our 40-minute flight.
Bahias de Huatulco, or just Huatulco (wah-TOOL-coh), was our first and ultimately last stop and is actually an area, not a town per se. It is Mexico’s youngest planned resort and is made up of a series of 9 bays and 36 pristine white sandy beaches along a 26km jagged coastline. The main areas include the marina/port area of Santa Cruz where the cruise ships pull in about 4-times per month, the all-inclusive resort area of Tangolunda, the Marina and smaller hotel/condo Bahia Chahue with its “Blue Flag” beach designation, and the small town of La Crucecita with restaurants, numerous shops, markets, etc.
The weather here is outstanding, nothing but sunshine and blue skies. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Eco-friendly, safe, very clean, no building is higher than 4-stories, (aside from the all-inclusive resorts), and has a very laid-back vibe; definitely a haven for Canadians, especially from the western provinces. It maintains its Mexican culture and has avoided all the big North American franchises. Pssst, now the word is now out!!
alebrijes folk art
Warping the loom
Renting a car we headed further up the coast to the towns of Puerto Angel, Zipolete, San Agustinillio, Mazunte and Puerto Escondito. We met up with my gym buddy and friend Joanne and her husband Fred in the San Agustinillio/Mazunte area and enjoyed a laid-back, fun-filled week. These are small ocean-side beach towns where you can enjoy watching hump-back whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. Puerto Ángel, a small fishing town and naval port, wasn’t too impressive, Zipolite is known for its nude beaches, San Agustinillio for its tranquility, and Mazunte named a Pueblo Mágicos in 2015.
Mazunte, considered the bigger town of the four, is especially interesting, lots of new-gen hippies, yoga enthusiasts attending a world famous yoga instruction facility, backpackers, and options for those who enjoy….well let’s just say other diversions! What happens in Mazunte stays in Mazunte (right Joanne?).😇
The Santuario de las Tortugas is also in Mazunte and was developed over concern with the declining number of sea turtles. Up and down the coast, but especially in the Mazunte area, marine and some freshwater turtles come to lay their eggs each year. The major income for the families at one time was hunting turtles for their meat. All that changed in 1970 with a ban on turtle meat and eggs and was replaced by ecotourism based on the conservation of turtles and a cooperative natural cosmetics industry was developed. Interesting fact, the Body Shop founder visited Mazunte in the early 1990s and impressed with the sustainability efforts agreed to distribute cosmetics made here with local ingredients.
Big surf on Playa Mermejita
Playa Mermejita, Mazunte
Best granola shack EVER
Surfers-Playa Zicatela, Puerto Escondito
Just happy to be here
View from our hotel in Mazunte
Bob has always been interested in visiting Puerto Escondido to have the experience of watching surfers ride the “Mexican Pipeline”. Being so close, (~67km), it only made sense to head up the coast to Playa Zicatela. A very wide 3km long beach, we watched as surfers hit the big, very scary waves as the sun was setting. Again there are several bays to dip your toes into.
While walking the beach late one afternoon we were fortunate enough to join in on a turtle release. The baby turtles hatched earlier in the day and after a short educational overview we watched and cheered them on as they scurried into the surf, some tumbling back as the waves crashed down on them and finally sweeping them into the big, vast ocean waters. This is a common practice up and down the coast and one can only hope they survive.
Running to the ocean
Reduce, reuse, recycle
On one of our last days in Huatulco we treated ourselves with a day pass to the adults-only/all-inclusive Secrets Resort and Spa. Such a nice treat!!
Sign on the way to Secrets
Another pool at Secrets
Other than meeting up with our kids and friends in Playa, we certainly didn’t plan a beach vacation this year. But life had other plans for us and we wouldn’t change a thing. I am a firm believer that life unfolds the way it should, and yes Bob is back to normal (whatever that is!). Tincture of time is a wonderful thing.
Hands down, the best location we visited this year was the state of Oaxaco and we would definitely come back in a heartbeat.
Pastel buildings, some faded and peeling, traditional Spanish colonial architecture, deserted streets with little traffic was the scene that greeted us as we made our way to our Airbnb in Mérida. Having an eagle eye view as our plane descended we could see the city sprawling below, not such a small place after all! We took a local bus from the airport and somehow found our way on the grid-like streets, not an easy task for Bob in particular. Somewhere between the horse-back ride to see the Mariposa Monarcha and the miles of walking in Mexico City the dull ache of sciatica blossomed full scale and was taking its toll on mi esposo! Perhaps it was the sudden change in altitude; we left CDMX at 2,200m (7,200 ft) above sea level to Mérida a mere 10m (30 ft) above sea level. Walking any distance was very difficult, so we hunkered down in our comfortable little apartment taking taxis and short walks, as the pain permitted, to explore this lovely city.
Built on the Mayan city of T’hó, Spanish conquistadors, lead by Francisco de Montejo, renamed Mérida after the Spanish town of the same name. Carved Maya stones from ancient T’hó were widely used to build the many Spanish colonial buildings in the centro histórico area and are visible, for instance, in the walls of the main cathedral.
Much of the architecture in the city, reflects the opulent European influence of the time, with Spanish courtyards, French doors and Italian-tiled floors.
The capital of the Yucatán State, the once thriving sisal industry made this area very prosperous and a center of commerce, not to mention culture. Agave plant fibre was harvested to make henequén, (rope), and many maquiladoras, (manufacturing plants), opened. However, with the invention of artificial fibres the plants closed, commerce suffered, the wealth of the city declined leaving behind remnants of a more affluent time. This is evidenced by the grand mansions along the imposing Paseo de Montejo. This wide boulevard, built during Mérida’s prime at the end of the 19th century, was the attempt of city planners to emulate the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City or the Champs Elysées in Paris.
The Plaza Grande in Mérida is very typical of Spanish colonial towns: a wide green square or zocalo where people come to meet, hang out, and enjoy the shade of huge laurel trees. As with other cities and towns, the zocalo is framed on one side by a cathedral with the other three sides housing government buildings, banks, cafes, and restaurants.
One of the buildings framing the Plaza is La Casa de Montejo built in 1549. It originally housed soldiers but was soon converted into a mansion where members of the Montejo family lived until 1970. Nowadays it houses a museum and bank. The outside facade is remarkably well preserved and shows triumphant conquistadors with halberds standing on heads of the barbarians who are depicted much smaller than the victors.
La Casa de Montejo
Closer view of stonework
La Casa de Montejo
Smart car for smart police
Another lovely park adjacent to Plaza Grande
Guards & Bob at Palacioc Gobierno
As with any city, a visit to the market is a must especially after reading a brilliant account of the Merida markets. This sentence aptly summed up most Mexican markets we have visited: “It was chaos. Mérida had taken the jigsaw puzzle called “Shopping”, hacked up the pieces with scissors, stuffed them into a piñata, and then hit it with a rocket launcher.”
Mérida gave us time to regroup and come up with a plan to try and deal with Bob’s back and subsequent leg issue. He needed a prescription for the same medication, (no, not THAT wonder drug), he took when dealing with a previous bout of sciatica. An American style private hospital with English speaking physicians was recommended by our Airbnb host, so off we went to the emergency department. Despite our initial reservations, we were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency and professionalism of everyone we came in contact with not to mention the ridiculously low cost of seeking such care.
Reflecting back we saw most of the recommended sights and feel we did the city justice. We did miss some of the evening activities as there seems to be something going on almost every night and our typical long walks were also shelved for the time being. Definitely not fun being laid up while travelling, but must say Bob is a trooper and made the best of this unfortunate situation.
Looking forward to connecting with our adult children and our long time best friends, we headed off to Playa del Carmen. Sun, sand, surf and hot weather might just be the right antidote for Roberto!!
It’s been quite a while since our last post! Apparently ‘Mexico life’ has gotten in the way, but hey we’re not complaining, it could always be worse!! Where to begin, well lots has happened, saddle sores have healed, sciatica abated, reunions have been had, new friends made, and overall life goes on and we feel blessed and are thankful for every single day. So we shall begin the update, picking up from where we last left off, (small chewable chunks as Bob likes to say), on our travel saga with all its twists and turns. 😎
The last you saw we were heading out on a bus to yet another Pueblo Mágico, a small town called Valle de Bravo. This town is about 160km from Mexico City and is a very popular location for weekend visits, especially for the more affluent residents of Mexico City and nearby Toluca. We thought we had purchased direct tickets to the town, but this apparently was NOT the case. When the bus pulled over along the side of the highway at an unmarked stop and the bus driver told us unceremoniously to get off, in our Spanglish we asked “is this Valle de Bravo?” He just shook his head, pointed to the right, hopped back into the bus and headed down the highway. Looking around we didn’t quite know where we were BUT a friendly cab driver, (hummm, wonder why), told us that Valle was about another 40km in a different direction. Full bore into negotiations we finally agreed on a fare and off we went on the winding road at top-notch speed. What we have learned, there are two speeds for cab drivers here in Mexico, stop and go like hell!!
Valle de Bravo, another gorgeous little town, sits on Lago Avándaro, a man-made lake, the result of building a hydroelectric plant that was completed in 1947. The lake, ringed by thickly wooded, mist-clad mountains is a center for water sports and paragliding. The town’s steep cobbled streets are lined with well-preserved red-tiled colonial buildings and anchor the Plaza de la Independencia and the 17th-century San Francisco de Asis Church. It is like eternal spring here, green foliage, lovely flowers, warm days, cool evenings
The main street is a jumble of shops and restaurants with the one road leading into the town continuously gridlocked. The day we arrived school must have just been dismissed, parents and kids swarmed the streets making walking difficult, especially while trying to drag our bags and find our hotel in the hot afternoon sun.
Making our way down the hill to the waterfront we weren’t overly impressed, the area looked seedy and a bit rundown. There were many speedboats and sailboats docked in the water but there seemed to be a lack of docks. Hawkers tried to entice us to take the half-circle tour boat trip around the lake that apparently provides a great view of the waterfront and the sky-scraping rock called La Peña, the precipice where paragliders take their flight. We quickly decided we weren’t particularly interested in enduring the booming disco music for the hour-long trip, guess we are just spoiled with our beautiful Kingston waterfront and vistas.
Next stop, Cuiadid de Mexico or as we know it Mexico City.