Puebla, Cholula and a Vernissage

2019 January 31 – February 4 (better late than never)

9B2D1BFF-FD45-49DA-927D-3111FD77EC34
Stores and cafes line the zocalo

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.

3C6AFAA5-4584-4C9D-AC10-728846506698

7ea36e0b-568d-429a-a62d-41ef5a4ca91b-e1553275924740.jpeg
Church tower is magnified in this $500 peso bi

 

F062AB43-EA07-4C54-9555-24682B6E661F
Large fountain in the zocalo

 

Cathedral at night

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.

Main altar in church
One of six large paintings in the Rosary Chapel depicting the life of Christ
Dome over the altar of Rosary Chapel

The “Virgen del Carmen” church was just just around the corner from our Airbnb. Beautiful ceramic tiles adorned the exterior.

84328a5a-3bb7-41d2-8133-413dca3ddc68.jpeg

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! 

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!

B2F5D7AE-EA59-4588-921D-CDDAF25E37AC.jpeg

3E4BD68A-48AE-440A-B3F4-B6CF8D379CC6
Candy Street, colourful, ornate buildings with lots of wrought iron

 

75EF522B-F009-4C3F-BFC2-84AAAFF13820
Talavera Pottery

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.9CF42FC5-A4BF-4D93-8B65-596A16BC5FC7

Fine example of a building with azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) on the exterior

 

 

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.

 

The church on top of the pyramid

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.

CD48CDB7-DD77-45CD-AE8F-89C25406F015
Panoramic view of Cholula

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Pyramid excavation site

 

Internet upload photo of The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for “artificial mountain”)

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.

img_2397
Photo op with the artists

 

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!

Muros en Blanco (Blank Walls) Project – San Miguel de Allende

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.

img_2166
Great representation of colour

img_2324-1
The oldest gas station in SMA-another iconic/vintage photo-op

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.

img_2132
Mosaic design on Posada beside our Airbnb

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).

img_2192img_2193img_2175-1img_2190img_2194img_2180img_2183img_2181img_2168img_2179img_2177img_2178img_2172img_2200img_2251F68D55B1-6C95-4DB1-973D-40D9151BD93A
img_2252img_2285img_2218img_2215img_2287img_2275img_2274img_2293img_2294img_2296img_2290img_2289img_2292img_2295img_2273

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!

Always on the move our next stop is Queretaro, about a 2-hour bus ride away.

49754C46-E4C2-416F-ACE9-7DA87C3AE740
This cheery ceramic wall plaque  greeted us every time we entered or exited our Airbnb 🌞

San Miguel de Allende – A Pleasure to Finally Meet You!

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).img_2155

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!!

img_2144
Twilight street scene

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.

img_2301
Bougainvillea bloom everywhere 🌺

img_2205
Chimney cleaning brushes for sale.

img_2281
Colourful burrow

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).

img_2277
Gazebo & fountain in the Jardin Principle

 

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.

img_2239
Siesta time

img_2240

img_2225
What’s behind this door? Don”t you love the door knockers?

 

img_2185
A mishmash of colour & it works!

img_2224

img_2221
So many churches!

img_2233
Winding streets.

img_2148

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.

img_2156
Getting lost on the way to the mirador.

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.

img_2279.jpg

img_2211
Beautiful gardens everywhere.

img_2227
This little girl entertains herself while mom is busy selling her wares. 

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.

img_2307
Don’t want to get too close!

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.

img_2317
View of SMA from El Charco

There is a bit more of San Miguel we want to share with you, stay tuned for part two.

Oaxaco: Finding Shangri-la

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. IMG_2900Oaxaco 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. 🌺

IMG_2896
Balloon vendors in the zocolo

IMG_6304
Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzmán, at one time a monastery

IMG_6315
Colourful buildings

IMG_6325
We crossed paths with these guys a few times as they hauled their wares uphill

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.IMG_2462

IMG_2488
Part of the long & winding road we passed up!

IMG_5790
El Captain & 1st Officer Bob

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!!

IMG_2946
Great map showing the bays

IMG_2947
Bahia Maguey

image
La Crucecita zocalo with Virgin of Guadalupe church in the background

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.

IMG_2612
Road that passes through Mazunte. Truck taxi in background.

IMG_6578

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.

IMG_2615
Open air bar and Kombucha!

IMG_6486
What about Bob? As close as he got to the 2018 Zipolite Nudist Festival!

IMG_6476
Enjoying the gorgeous sunset with Joanne, Fred & Bob

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.

IMG_2670
Surfers-Playa Zicatela, Puerto Escondido

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!!

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.

image
Our hotel pool, just perfect for cooling off 🌊

Where Have We Been????🌞☀️💫

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!!

IMG_6059Valle 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.

IMG_6069
Gorgeous, colourful poinsettia bushes

IMG_6057
Walking down one of the streets in Valle de Bravo

IMG_6086
Breakfast time near the zocalo

IMG_2251
Breakfast & Spanish lessons in our garden

IMG_6058
Angel meets 😇

image
Time to stop & smell the flowers 🌺

IMG_6097
Making fresh tacos  🌮 

 

IMG_2765
Time to move on

IMG_6095
The gathering

IMG_6089
Adios Valle

 

Morelia es el Alma de México!(Morelia it’s the soul of México)

image
The sign says it all

We were looking for butterflies, Monarch butterflies to be exact. I had read about this marvellous feat of nature where millions of butterflies make their long journey from eastern Canada and the US to winter over in Mexico. Setting out on our journey this year little did we realize we would actually be seeing this marvel up close and personal.

IMG_5765

Making our way from Guadalajara, on our sojourn to experience the butterflies, we travelled into the heartland of Mexico, and stayed in lovely under the radar towns; what treasures they turned out to be. Pre-Hispanic traditions and colonial style architecture meet up in Michoacán state. Now for those of you who read the travel advisories, Michoacán is a region of Mexico that has gotten a particularly bad rap. For the past several years, whenever Michoacán has made headlines, it’s been related to drug cartels and narco insurgencies, and as a result the travel advisories have warned visitors to stay away. Yes, there are definitely areas to be avoided, primarily deep into the countryside, areas tourists are not likely to find themselves in. We did our due diligence, made several inquiries regarding safety in this area and were reassured that a lot of the problem are now in the past and we would have no problems with the towns we planned to visit.

Now this is authentic Mexico, no habla the English from the folks in these towns and often it seemed like we were the only gringos in town. Curious stares often confirmed the same and those who did know a bit of English were curious to know where we were from. What we do know is that the people are very kind, friendly and always anxious to help when needed.

Morelia, the state capital, was our first stop and such a delightful surprise, actually exceeding expectations. A UNESCO World Heritage site it is a beautiful, well-preserved colonial city with too many historic buildings to count. The focal point is huge cathedral that is absolutely spectacular, especially when illuminated at night. This city is blessed with gorgeous churches, museums, a perfectly preserved aqueduct, gardens with bougainvillea overflowing the high pink quarry-stone walls and perfectly trimmed lush ficus trees. This all makes the city a picture-perfect historic center that would put many a European capital city to shame. This is also a college/university town and at night the sidewalk cafes are buzzing, music fills the air and the zocalo oozes with the locals out and about eating, drinking, watching the street buskers or just hanging out. We were fortunate to be there over a weekend and enjoyed the weekly Saturday night fireworks in front of the cathedral. On Sunday morning the main streets are again closed and bicyclists are out gliding their way along the pathways.

IMG_5755
Supporting the cause

IMG_5764
Park with cafes

IMG_5879
Friday night and the cafes are jammed

IMG_5865
The masses were out enjoying the show

IMG_5861
Street vendors were everywhere

IMG_5729
Interesting fresco in a very old library (thought you’d like this Martha)

IMG_5742
Portion of the huge aqueduct in Morelia

IMG_5763
Street scene

Sunday morning biking.
IMG_5780One morning while out exploring we came upon a church square, away from the main cathedral, with a huge police presence, riot gear neatly laid out on the ground. The ever present shoeshine guys were conducting their daily business while others sat docilely in the square chatting and kids were running around. Curious I wandered over to a police officer enquiring que pasa? We found out that the striking teachers were in the capital protesting wages and benefits. Guess this is a common thread wherever you go!

IMG_5792

We decided to take a side trip one day to a nearby Pueblos Mágicos town. With a few enquiries we figured out the connections, hopped on a collectivo, (a van that picks up passengers along designated routes) then a local bus and an hour later we found ourselves in the beautiful city/historic town of Pátzcuaro. This quaint town is known as the arts and culture center for the State of Michoacán. Smaller villages bringing in their specialized crafts such as copperware, black pottery, musical instruments, and baskets. The adobe and wood houses have red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets dominate the center of town. Unlike all the other towns and cities in Mexico we have visited the main church, Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Salud, does not face the main plaza. This church is built on a pre-Hispanic ceremonial hilltop overlooking the town. The church is grand and behind the altar is a statue of Nuestra Señora de la Salud, “Our Lady of Health” made in the 16th century out of corncob and honey paste called “tatzingue” by the Tarascan people. Pilgrims come from all over Mexico seeking healing and miracles have been cited. Small pictures of loves ones and amulets are pinned to the mystical Virgin Mary’s skirt.

We also stumbled upon a wedding while visiting the church and stayed to observe the ceremony, definitely different from North American weddings, very modest and not a lot of frills.IMG_5827

This is an exhibit of the masks made throughout the different states in Mexico, some are quite antique. We had fun figuring out which mask best suits our personality. Guess it could also depend on the day and how we are feeling!!!? 🤡

It was a Saturday and the markets were ready and waiting! There was actually a lot of holistic type of herbs available and we purchased some marijuana cream, but since pot is illegal in Mexico I doubt it is the real thing.  Oh well what do you expect for 40 pesos!

IMG_5839

IMG_5824
Mexicans love their sweetsIMG_5842 One of my favourite pictures – quintessential Mexico!IMG_5819IMG_5818IMG_5814IMG_5812IMG_5798IMG_5796

We could have stayed longer in Morelia and the surrounding area but a bus ticket had been purchased and we were headed to Zitacuera to chase the butterflies.

IMG_5890
Busing it from Morelia to Zitacuera

Note – click on the individual picture to get a full screen view of each

The Tequila Trail: aka the fun side of the wall!

Last year it was all about the wine tours in Argentina, Pisco tours in Chile, so it was only fitting to embark on the Tequila Trail while in Mexico, RIGHT amigos? Who could pass up visiting Tequila, the town with the same name of Mexico’s most famous firewater and result of many regrettable late night decisions, excluding us, of course!

Rolling fields of blue agave, the type of agave used to make tequila and other related products, dotted the landscape as we made our way from PV to Guadalajara. Contrary to common misconceptions, the agave plant is not a cactus. It is a succulent that is actually in the lily (amaryllis) family.

IMG_5682
View from the bus when heading to Guadalajara, blue agaves as far as the eye can see

IMG_5681
Mature blue agave plants

IMG_2192

First a brief history on the origin of tequila.  The village of Santiago de Tequila was founded by the Franciscan monks in 1530. This order inhabited the area bringing with them the indigenous peoples who used the fermented beverage, known as pulque, made from the agave plant for ceremonial purposes, long before European contact. When the Spanish conquistadors ran out of their own brandy, they began to cultivate and distill this spiked succulent, around the mid-1550’s, however tequila didn’t become popular as a drink until after the Mexican revolution when Jose Cuervo first introduced it to the market.

Heading out by bus on a day trip from Guadalajara, our first stop was at the family run distillery called Tres Mujeres (3-women), a small-scale distillery producing organic tequila. Our education started here and continued as the day progressed.

IMG_5679
Fermenting tanks

IMG_5678
Distilling tanks

 

 

Tequila is highly regulated by a strict set of standards, i.e., where and how tequila can be produced, what is on the label, the type of tequila, and what can legally use the name tequila. Jalisco state produces most of today’s tequila followed by Michoacan, and to a lesser degree a couple of other nearby states. Any agave-based spirit produced outside of these designated areas cannot legally be called tequila, e.g., mezcal.

After lunch we saw the larger Jose Cuervo operation in the actual town of Tequila. Adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets make this a pretty little tourist destination, also designated as a ‘Pueblo Magico’. Several tequila factories with familiar names, surround the area and on weekends the Tequila Express train  transports the hoards of tourists from Guadalajara. We visited mid-week making the number of other tourists reasonable.

It takes quite the process to produce this product and needless to say we have a much better appreciation of this stuff. Who knew it takes 7 to 10 years for the agave plant to mature before being harvested, backbreaking work that is done all by hand, one agave at a time. A jimador slices off each spiky leaf using a coa, a very heavy and sharp tool with a rounded blade. The heart or piña (pineapple), a bare white/green ball, that actually grows underground, is exposed.

IMG_5690
Jimador with coa

The weight of the piña can be up to 75kg and depending on the size can produce 2-5 litres of tequila. The distillation process is similar to that of other liquors; first the piña must be baked in large clay or stone ovens for 36 hours to reduce them to a fraction of their original size. They become dark brown, and once cooled look as if they have been caramelized and are very sweet with the texture and consistency of semi-dried apricots.

IMG_5693
Truckload of piñas headed for the ovens

IMG_5696
Piñas up close

IMG_2265
Tasting the baked agave

After the soft pulp cools it is shredded and pulverized until the liquid is extracted. Nothing goes to waste, and the fiber or bagazo left behind is often reused as compost or animal feed, but can even be burned as fuel or processed into paper. The sweet juice, or mosto, is then pumped into large stainless steel vats, mixed with yeast and water and fermented. From there it is distilled to a clear liquid of 110 proof or 55% alcohol. It must be cut with water to obtain the bottling strength, around 80 proof, or 40% alcohol. Depending on the type of tequila, it is then barrel aged, resulting in the brown colour.

IMG_5700
Getting a BIG whiff of the finished product surrounded by aging barrels

IMG_5698
Tequila on-tap!

Part of the tour at our first stop included tasting plain agave, a sweet liquid similar to honey, each of the five types of tequila, plus tasting a couple of tequila based liquors, all before lunch I might add. During our “education” we were entertained by mariachis and we sang, hooted, and danced, and danced 💃 some more, like no one was looking, (at least I was), and of course Bob was taking incriminating videos,(private screenings only), while continuing to sample the juice… This is definitely the fun side of the wall!!!!

image
The range of tequila/products we sampled

IMG_5686 Mariachi band that entertained us

image Time to boogie-arriba!

What we learned, and actually remember (just kidding), of our samplings-

1. White: aged no more than 60 days – ewwwww such a raw gasoline taste, definitely firewater.
2. Gold: uned, coloured and flavored with caramel, oak extract, glycerin, syrup, and other additives. Still a bit of gut-rot happening here!
3. Reposao: also known as rested and aged in wood casks for a minimum of 2 months with many aged from 3-9 months. The barrels mellow the and give a soft oak flavor to the agave as well as giving the tequila its light straw color. Things are starting to look up, margaritas anyone?

4. Anejo: aged often int white, French oak, or used bourbon barrels for a minimum of 1 year and up to 3 years. Now this stuff is starting to taste a bit smoother.
5. Extra-Anejo: aged over 4 years in barrels and a little bit of the alright! Of course it is the most expensive and costs mucho pesos!

So for all those tequila affectionatos out there, the bottom line is 100% blue agave tequila is the absolute best type to buy but depends on whether you want to mix it or drink it straight up. For my taste, a good margarita fits the bill any day, straight up not so much. Bob will drink it anyway he can get it, for medicinal purposes of course!

Below are some street scenes of Tequila.

IMG_2195
Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), or Palo Volador (flying pole)

IMG_2199IMG_2198IMG_2196

IMG_2194
Large bronze of Jose the Cuvera distillery mascot

image Herradura tequila  distillery store