Tag Archives: Mexico travel

A foreigner at home

Coming in to Mexico City

Ten hours after leaving our house, Mex and I paused to eat our Minnesota Haroldson apples while looking down at the swelling custom’s line. Five flights arriving almost simultaneously created a chaotic scene at the Mexico City airport.

I looked at the two lines, one that said Ciudadanos Mexicanos and one that said Extranjeros, Foreigners.

“How does it feel to be entering Mexico as a foreigner?” I asked.

After a pause, he smiled slowly and said, “Strange.” This is the first time visiting Mexico since he became a US Citizen.

Our 17-month-old son fell asleep as the plane descended, and slept thru his first passport stamp. For the first time in our journeys to Mexico, a member of Mex’s family was waiting for us at the airport. In the past, I’ve always been a little jealous of traveler’s who exit customs (aduanas) in to the arms of happy family members. It was nice to see my sister-in-law Sofia, and eleven-year-old niece Arlin waiting eagerly for us.

It has been two years, almost to the day, since we were last in Mexico. My husband’s father passed away in late August 2009, and to help Mex with his grief, we decided to visit eight weeks later for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It was one of the most eerily beautiful, touching experiences of my life. When trying to decide a time to visit before our son’s “dreaded” second birthday when he becomes a paying airline traveler, we settled on Day of the Dead over Christmas.

Candy skulls for Day of the Dead

An added bonus for Mex, was the fact that one of the big festivals in his town was Saturday, the day we arrived. One thing I love the most about him is, even though he’s been to Disney World, the Minnesota State Fair and other large festivals in the US, his whole face brightens when he talks about Tianguis, nicknamed Las Naranjas (The Oranges- a very little festival in comparison) and I can see the happiness small celebrations brought in to his impoverished childhood.

Toddler-size mole paddles- that’s mo-lay, the national dish of Mexico, not mole, the wicked little creatures that destroy our lawn. Though the paddles may be useful for those too…

Unfortunately, our son had a fever, congestion, and four hours less sleep than in his normal day so we went rather quickly though the displays. Everyone walking around was dressed up (which, after traveling a total of 14 hours and sleeping only two hours the night before I was way too exhausted to do) and there are vendors selling clay jars, enormous wooden paddles for mole,  tamarind and nut candies, clothing, fruit, toys… There were people serving up fresh potato chips, tacos on tiny 4-inch corn tortillas (always doubled), pozole in big bowls , large slices of thick-crust pizza (with nine types of hot sauce to drizzle on top), rich vanilla ice cream on miniature cones, and of course, piles of oranges which Mex claims are the sweetest of the entire year.

In the small plaza area by the elementary school were some carnival rides. The two-story Ferris wheel,  mini kids roller coaster, and a rather rickety version of the tilt-a-whirl seemed to be the favorites. It was great people watching and, as always, entertaining to be “watched” ourselves. It was funny to see people look at Mex carrying our son (who is pale like his mom), see the wrinkled eyebrows, glance at me trailing just a little bit behind and almost shake their heads like “oh, that explains it!”

Just after our son was born he had jaundice which gave his skin a yellow brown tone darkening him to Mex’s color. When I would take him to Barnes and Noble so I could have a Frappucino and get out of the house, usually an older-than-me (my definition of “older” seems to change rapidly with each year that goes by) woman tell me how cute he was and then flow right on with “What is his dad?” Now of course I realize they meant what ethnicity but I just always found the phrasing of the question interesting. I have a friend who is married to a Korean man and she has had people assume her children are adopted, since Korea is one of the most popular countries to adopt from in Minnesota. All I can say, is it certainly is… interesting… the observations that come from the mouths of complete strangers.

Anyone can toss up a foodstand at the fiesta

Deciding we had to put our baby boy to bed after his long day and high fever, we left without doing any activities or munching any delicious snacks. An hour-long struggle at bed time, meant the weary little traveler ended up in bed with his mom while dad went to enjoy the fiesta with his sister’s. He came back at 12:15 a.m. with stories of near-death experiences on carnival rides and mini tacos.

“Was it as good as you remember?” I asked, before biting in to my still-warm chicken taco.

“Oh, yes!” he exclaimed instantly, his eyes lighting up as if reliving all the excitement of childhood in one momentous flash.

After 16 years living in the United States, marrying a Minnesotan, becoming a US citizen, and travelling across the US and in Europe, few things bring innocent joy to his face like reliving his youth in the little town of Tetelilla, Morelos, Mexico.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicultural and biracial marriage, Family, Holidays and Celebrations, Mexican culture, Mexico, Morelos State, Tetelilla, Morelos

San Miguel de Allende

Wow. After this entry we’ll actually be caught up!

Beautiful pink cathedral overlooks the zocalo

Today (Wednesday, although it is almost over) we spent wandering around San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico’s most famous colonial towns. There are about 150,000 people in town and about 149,000 real estate companies. Well, ok, not that many but, holy smokes, there were at least two on every single block we walked on. I guess it’s easier to be an agent here because there are no real classes to take. I did go into the RE/MAX (in honor of my current place of work) which is right on the plaza but the agent was by herself and with clients (both agent and clients were American). I am curious how mortgages work here because I was under the impression you had to pay at least 50% cash and the house prices are ridiculous here! In US dollars we saw homes from $175K for a 756 sq ft place to $5 million for another place.

Beautiful colored buildings on every street.

This town has a lovely colonial, artsy feel. I am not an artsy person however, so probably don’t appreciate the atmosphere as much as others may. There is a beautiful cathedral – Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel –  on the plaza which has nice shade trees. One thing that is obviously different here is the number of Americans… From what I read, I think there are probably a lot of Canadians here too but it’s hard to tell the difference without hearing the “ay” as they speak =)… Hey, I’ve heard my fair share of Minnesota “OOOOO” jokes so I have to point the accent finger at someone else once-in-a-while. Since the 50’s it’s been the Mexican mecca of artists. We’ve had quite an American day… We had lunch at about 10:30… I had a soy burger with spinach, onion, and blue cheese while Mex had crab cakes with Thai cucumber salsa at El Buen Cafe. Excellent food, small cozy cafe, reasonable to medium high prices. The food is not “traditional” Mexican but, hey, it’s food and it’s in Mexico, right?

Then we walked around the mercado although we didn’t really find any crafts we liked. There are some very beautiful clothes here and lots of stores selling “all the fixin’s” for your colonial palace, from painted tile sinks to iron light fixtures. On our way back to the hotel for an afternoon break we just couldn’t pass up a stop at the Starbucks! mmmm mango tea! I’m sad to report that, yes, Starbucks is just as expensive here as it is in the US. We strolled by dozens of stores catering to Americans such as mail shipping services and phone message services to the US.

After an hour rest and 20 minutes of “skyping” with my mother, we rushed back to the plaza to take the trolley tour of town. Sadly, we were about five minutes late. Instead we wandered down to the Benito Juarez Park and then strolled around the neighborhood looking at houses. We popped into a place for dinner and did have some Mexican food this time (with really good salsa) at Ten

Vendors fill the zocalo all day and evening

Ten Pie. This place was great people watching because the seating is outside on an intersection with lots of pedestrians. Then we walked down the street to Villa Jacaranda where they were playing “Zodiac” in English on a big screen. We got beer and a mini popcorn included in our $7 movie tickets and we were the only ones there. Originally we planned on

One of the many beautiful homes we saw on our walk

stopping off at the town’s Irish pub but decided to come back to the hotel instead. As we walked by the plaza we enjoyed the groups of mariachi’s for a few minutes (but not long enough where we had to tip them) and then came back about 10:30 to find our laundry done and folded on our bed. I’m starting to get used to this life! =)

I think the next two days we are going to take day trips, one to Guanajuato and one to Querétaro which are both supposed to be nice cities. We’ll be taking the bus since we’d prefer to leave our car here in the secure parking than carry all the stuff up into the hotel room. Plus, we still don’t trust the starter completely and don’t want to be stranded in another city. We’ll hopefully be back in the evenings with enough energy to go out and enjoy the live music that is playing all around town and still have time to update all the pictures since I’m very behind and would like to have them finished before I get back to the US and actually have to work again (gasp!)!

Good night everyone and keep hoping and praying for us as the 17th nears!

1 Comment

Filed under Guanajuato State, Mexico

A day in Tetelilla

The day starts about 4:30 am when I absolutely haveto get up and walk to the bathroom because I can’t

Bathroom - shower on the right, toilet and sink on the left

hold it another minute. Mex usually walks with me since it is still dark and the dog has a habit of walking in under the curtain and doesn’t understand my scolding in English. We enjoy the brightness of the stars as we walk the 25 yards back to the house where we sleep. By this time the birds are chirping and roosters crowing all around town. (Luckily, Mex’s family doesn’t have any so they aren’t walking right under our bedroom window!)

A little before 6, there is a loud clank as his dad swings the heavy metal door open and scrapes the plastic chair scrape across the cement floor into the door frame to watch the morning come (one morning we saw him out there at 3:30). A few minutes later there are a couple more clanks as his sisters and niece start to come out of their room. The neighbor’s donkey hee-haws just as you imagine an ornery donkey would. At 6:15, as if by some internal alarm clock, the horse whineys a couple times. My husband reluctantly rolls around for a few minutes, gives me a hug and then gets up. Ernesto is away at school during the week so Mex takes the horse down the road to pasture for the day. I think Gabi probably does this when we are not here. I’m still a little unsure why they have a horse since they don’t ever ride it… I wait for his sister Eli to get out of the shower. She works Monday through Friday. She used to work as an agricultural engineer but now she works in an office in Cuautla which lends money to very poor people.

The dogs have usually let out a few morning yelps by now and the man with the megaphone has started his auctioneer-style ranting all before 7. Since there isn’t a lot of local radio or TV or even billboards, people pay guys with trucks and big speakers to drive around town, starting very early in the morning, chanting advertisements. I can’t make out a single word but the voices have the same sing-song rhythm of the very quickest auctioneer.

Gabi runs to one of the small stores down the street to get ingredients for breakfast while Eli gets ready for work and Filo starts to cook. I get in the shower while my husband helps clean his father’s toe since he had the toenail removed last week. Mex’s father right arm and leg don’t work very well, because in his 20’s he had a mini-stroke and has been partially crippled ever since. He can walk but his right foot drags a little bit and he can’t use his right hand. His daughters bring him his breakfast to his chair and if he needs something else he yells “Chiquitin” (a form of chiquita which means “little one”) to get Gabi’s attention and she comes quickly to help him. 

A man comes by in a truck selling alfalfa and Filo buys some to feed the two pigs. They are an investment of sorts. They buy pigs, feed them, and when they are big enough kill them sell off the meat to people around town. We water the plants with what is left in the barrels of water set around the yard. No plant really gets enough water but we try to make sure they all get a little.

Sometime around 8:30 we all end up in the kitchen (except his dad). Breakfast usually starts out with coffee (the Nescafe mix with water variety), sort-of-sweet breads, some eggs mixed with either green beans or nopales (cactus paddles), tortillas, toasted bread, watermelon, cantaloupe or papaya. I’m pretty sure the sweet breads and fruit are an addition just for us. We have had sopes a few times. I love them. They are

mmmm... Sopes

similar to flat tortillas with the edges curled up and you put them on a griddle and fill them with green or red salsa, cheese and sprinkle some onion and cream on the top. Simple and delicious! The kitchen starts out with a slightly smoky smell from cooking the tortillas but it clears by the time we start eating. Some mornings you can hear clicks and scrapes as small iguanas make their way across the tin roof of the kitchen. We hear the door clank as his dad leaves for his day out. He takes a taxi to the next town 5 miles away and sits in the plaza with his friends. Usually Mex’s sister Sofia comes to breakfast and sometimes his niece Karla and her two-month-old baby.

Between 9 and 10 the cattle go by. The clopping of hooves gets closer and closer until they are right outside the house and the horns bob up and down over the stone fence behind the kitchen. Just like the horse, they are brought down the road to pasture for the day because no one has any green grass in their yards. The fields must not be too abundant with food because the cow’s skin hangs loosely from sharp hip bones. The donkey always hee-haws crankily during our meal but I have finally stopped giggling when it happens.
His sisters tell stories about people in town, family members, and all the stuff people talk about at the table. Sometimes Gabi sneaks out to do homework. We usually don’t leave the kitchen until 10:30 or so when we finally decide it is time to do the cleaning before it gets really hot out. The cool breeze has died by this time and it is impossible to find any shade in the yard.

Gabi scoops up the dishes and goes back to wash them in the dishwashing/laundry station that is set up by the bathroom. My husband and I keep trying to scoop up the dishes to wash them but every time we do, his sisters look so offended and mad we put them back down. Next time when we visit we will insist. I think this time they want to completely take care of Mex since he has been gone for so long. Filo cleans inside the kitchen while Gabi starts sweeping the cement outside the house. She then spreads water on the dirt and sweeps that. I am still very confused by this but his family is impeccably neat and clean so for that reason it makes sense. We sweep and mop the inside or our house while they clean theirs. Then Gabi cleans the bathroom and shower.

By noon the heat has hit full force. Sweat is dribbling down my face, back and arms. Thankfully we are usually done with chores by now. Gabi showers to get ready for school which starts at 1 in Jonacatepec, the town 5 miles away. She is the equivalent of a senior in high school in the US. Mex and I pull the blue tarp off the car and try to start it… Not a sure thing anymore since our car trouble began. Lately we have been stopping off at the internet café afterwards since I wanted to get caught up on my postings before we leave Tetelilla.

From 1:30 – 2:30 it is time to fill the water tanks. The town is divided into sections and each one only has water for 1 hour every day. Each home is allowed only one pump to bring the water in. If your plants look too green the neighbors assume you have two pumps and they will “tell on you” to the local water watchers. The pump fills the tank on top of the bathroom first so they have water to shower. Then they move the hose around the yard filling barrels and tubs with water for plants, dishes and laundry. This is the hottest part of the day. If water wasn’t so precious Mex and I would squirt ourselves all over with water like kids running through a sprinkler. It is very hard to feel like doing anything in the sun because it has such a strong intensity. All different kinds of music starts blaring from the neighbor’s houses.
During the chaos of filling the water tanks someone always manages to prepare “lunch.” This afternoon meal at around 3 is the big meal of the day. Sometimes Sofia who lives three houses down makes lunch and we help her carry it over. No matter who cooks, we always eat in the kitchen at Mex’s dad’s house. Sofia, Arlin (her 7-year-old), Karla and her baby are always there along with Mex, Filo and I. His dad is still in Jonacatepec, Gabi and Ernesto are at school and Eli is at work. This meal could be anything… Chiles rellenos, green enchiladas, spaghetti (either with cream sauce or pureed tomatos), fish soup, rice, fruit or jamaica flower water, chicken and mashed potatoes… and always lots of tortillas. The time after lunch is for descansando or resting. It is hot and sticky and there is not much else to do. We sit in the kitchen and chat or rest on the beds. There is no shade making it uncomfortable to sit outside. This early evening time is speckled with the occasional clip-clop of horse hooves, turkeys gobbling, roosters crowing, donkeys hee-hawing and dogs barking. And how could I forget, the “auctioneer” ads. Sometimes we’ll see iguanas skittering across the rocks or climbing quickly up the cement brick walls to escape the heat by sitting under the tin eaves. Although, I can’t really imagine it’s cooler up there so maybe they are trying to go towards the heat.

Finally someone collects the dishes and around 5, Mex’s dad comes home and sits in the chair in front of his room, which by this time has a little shade. Filo brings him a big glass of the days fruit water (jamaica-a dried flower-, pineapple, or orange are the most common) and his dinner. A truck goes by with someone yelling about fruits for sale so we go out of the gate and look at the mangoes and melons. The vendor cuts Filo a slice of mango to sample and once she gives the ok we buy two kilos (4.4 pounds) and a coconut for about $2. Mex and I each peel back the skin of a mango as easily as on a banana and smell the sweetness before we bite. Filo takes a shower and gets ready to go to a neighborhood meeting. At 6, Mex goes back down the road for the horse. The sun is low in the sky by now and it is slightly cooler although still hot enough to keep constant sweat droplets on my brow. When he returns his sister Filo leaves for her meeting and Mex sits outside next to his dad. I sit and read a magazine or name our overload of pictures on the computer so he can have some time alone.

Gabi comes home from school around 8 and immediately starts getting things in the kitchen ready for dinner, setting out leftovers covered in towels. There is a little TV time sprinkled in the evening because we wait for Eli to come home from work before eating. That can be anytime from 8:45 to 10pm. We lay lazily on the beds listening to the TV and chatting. I have gotten more comfortable and this is the time where I usually attempt to communicate and piece together sentences and stories about myself and friends and family. Usually by 9 his dad asks for his glass of milk as he continues to sit in his chair. Only once-in-a-while will he come into the room and lay on the bed to talk or listen.

When Eli arrives home someone calls Sofia and tells her to come over. Then, even though it is still warm outside we have coffee, tea or hot chocolate as we sit around the table once again. This late evening meal starts with either toast or the same not-so-sweet rolls. Then we have leftovers from lunch either exactly as they were or sometimes made into something else like mashed potato taquitos or cheese tacos. This is the best time of day because everyone is together and the conversation flies. Eli tells about her day at work and Filo starts telling about any news from her meeting. Everyone gets so animated when they tell stories and the smiles and laughs fill the kitchen pouring out the windowless windows. During this time there is inevitably a dog fight out on the streets somewhere nearby. Finally, sometime between 10 and 10:30 I leave to start my nightly ritual and Mex stays just a few more minutes to wrap up the evening. We adjust the fan so it blows as much air on us as possible, even though the air is pretty hot and uncomfortable until about 2 or 3 in the morning. We settle down in bed making sure to stay as far apart as possible because skin contact causes even more sweating. A honeymoon this is not =) We fall asleep to the sounds of dogs yelping all over town and a few good night hee-haws. That is our average day in Tetelilla, Morelos, Mexico!

Leave a comment

Filed under Family, Food, Mexican culture, Mexico, Tetelilla, Morelos

Car problems

 

Our poor PT enjoying the few hours of morning shade before its daily roasting in the Mexican sun.

Our car has decided to stop starting. Luckily, we made it all the way back from Acapulco but the very next day when we drove to Jonacatepec to visit the internet cafe for an hour. When we went back to the car it wouldn´t start. We walked around the town looking for a mechanic and eventually found one but he couldn’t look at it. We took a taxi back to Tetelilla and left the car in the “parking lot” which is actually some one’s yard. A mechanic cleaned the starter off the next day and it started (Monday) so we drove it home but we tried to start it today (Wednesday) and it is sitting in his dad´s yard refusing to budge. The mechanic thankfully makes house calls since tow trucks are not easily found here in his town. He thinks it may be the battery, my dad thinks it may be the alternator. Thank goodness for Skype and the internet because I was able to run to the internet cafe and then instant message my dad and tell him to call me on Skype over the internet so we could talk like on the telephone… All that for just a few pesos! Technology is a blessing when travelling and thankfully my dad has become almost as tech savvy as any generation Xer (he just needs to work on the typing speed).

Tomorrow we are going to another water park to take a break from the intense heat. I´ll have some more entries on Friday and an update on our car. Fixing it is very important because we are planning to leave on Monday for our 10 day trip back to the border. Everyone keep us and especially Mex in your thoughts the next few weeks and send him lots of good vibes, prayers and confidence for his interview on the 17th! We miss everyone and are soooooooo jealous of the snow!

2 Comments

Filed under Mexico

Patzcuaro… Story-style

Here is a more “creative” version of our time in Pátzcuaro.

Our car jostled down the narrow cobblestone street, flanked on either side by two-story, white-washed adobe walls with red doors and overhanging red tile roofs. As we looked at these 400-year-old haciendas with wrought iron balconies and open, inviting patios, we felt the anxiety of the last fifteen days ease out of our tired bodies.

“This is what I thought Mexico would look like,” I exclaimed excitedly.

My husband shrugged and asked me which way he should turn.

Squinting out the dusty car window, I frantically searched the building walls for any kind of street sign that could help me fulfill my duty as navigator. Unable to stop on the narrow street, I saw Mex’s forehead start to wrinkle impatiently. “Izquierda,” I shouted, having no idea where we were on the map. He swerved to the left and the towering 200-year-old ash and elms of Plaza Vasco de Quirago, more commonly called Plaza Grande, came in to view. “Thank goodness,” I thought. I had guessed the correct direction.

After circling the plaza three times in search of our hotel, the crisp uniformity of the buildings in Pátzcuaro became slightly less charming and a little more frustrating. Once the homes of the areas rich land holders, these beautiful haciendas are now restaurants, shops and hotels. Finally, we saw a small circular sign on the sidewalk proclaiming Hotel Misión San Manuel and darted in to the last parking space.

Walking through the grandiose archway, we felt like we were entering a realm of spa treatments and luxury linens. Then, remembering we were only paying $40 a night, we reined in our expectations. The petite woman behind the desk handed us our keys and we toted our suitcases up two flights of cement stairs. Buttery yellow walls, 20-foot archways with pale stone pillars and orange floors seemed to glow in the afternoon light. The central courtyard, which would have been open in the 1700s when the home was built, was now covered by an elevated sheet of Plexiglas allowing air and light but not rain to enter. The iron railings were punctuated with terracotta pots filled with draping plants and flowers.

After putting the suitcases in our quaint, beautifully tiled room, we walked around Plaza Grande looking for souvenirs. In 1536, Bishop Vasco de Quirago arrived in this region of southwestern Mexico to help the Purépecha Indians recover from the blight of Spanish conquistadors. Some say that in order to reduce competition and create proficiency and economic stability, Quirago taught each village surrounding Lake Pátzcuaro to specialize in a different craft. Those specialties can still be found in the shops around the plaza, almost 500 years later. We passed shops displaying delicate lacquer boxes with designs so intricate they seemed to have been painted by elves, and painted pottery with electric blues, pinks and greens. We ducked through a doorway and into a small courtyard circled by copper pots of all different sizes, straw sculptures of people and animals, and hundreds of skull and skeletal figurines, which seemed to call us back for November’s Day of the Dead celebration.

Exhausted from shopping and driving over endless speed bumps, or topes as they are called, we were lured in to a café by the smell of ground coffee and fresh pastries. Seated under the shade of the towering trees, we watched the uniformed school children play in the plaza. Ordering two iced mochas and, at the last moment, a slice of strawberry cheesecake, we felt like we were back in Minnesota living our normal lives. Putting aside itineraries, budgets and travel worries, we relaxed and begin to sketch a menu for the restaurant we hope to own one day.

Waking up the next morning, the peacefulness of Pátzcuaro was forgotten and the ticking of my watch seemed to echo off every stone wall in our room.

 “What do I wear?” I said anxiously. Nothing in my suitcase looked appropriate. Had I not thought of this until now? After six years together I was finally meeting his father and five sisters and with only one chance to make a first impression, I needed to get it right. My stomach wrenched.

“Anything,” Mex said. “They all look nice.”

“This is no time to try and score brownie points,” I sputtered. “I need help! My hair looks terrible.”

Seeing that there was no right answer, and clearly a lot of wrong ones, he chose to turn his attention to refolding clothes in the suitcase. Looking at my husband’s face I saw his cinnamon skin wrinkled in thought. Remembering that this day was his, a return to his father’s house after 13 years in the US, I grabbed my green travel pants and pink striped shirt and hurriedly put them on. With a quick hug, I said, “Let’s go, olorosito. I’m tired of travelling.” 

As our car left the shadowy canopy of Pátzcuaro and returned to the sun-drenched highway of Michoacán, I squeezed his hand, looked at my map and pointed east, counting the miles until we would arrive home.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mexico, Michoacan State

We are In "Hot Water"

Standing on Plaza Monumental right in front of our hotel, the Fiesta Americana

Here we are in Aguascalientes city or “Hot Water.” Our hotel, the Fiesta Americana, is on a very nice pedestrian street called Plaza Monumental so we were able to walk around a lot. Unfortunately, I was very sick yesterday (Monday) when we got here so we only walked around a little while. However, we liked the city so much we decided to stay an extra day. We also sprung for a much nicer hotel than was in our budget (about $170 a night). After the very cheap 12-hour stay at the auto hotel and, consequently, the 12 hours of intestinal issues, I wanted to be spoiled. We did have some trouble when checking out with mysterious charges for food items we never ate out of the room fridge and the “free” breakfast that wasn’t free. My husband was very upset and won’t stay there again.

Catedral with pigeons in downtown Aguascalientes

The main cathedral is on the west side of Plaza de la Patria in the center of Aguascalientes. There are at least five cathedrals in the central area. The inside of the main cathedral had gold leaf all over the ceiling and paintings everywhere. There is a very elaborate altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe in all of the churches here (the one in this cathedral is by Miguel Cabrera, one of Mexico’s finest artists). That is really the only main difference from cathedrals I have seen in Europe. This is all pretty new to my husband too since his family, though Catholics, never traveled to see any of Mexico’s beautiful cathedrals. I felt too guilty to snap a picture of the inside of this cathedral since there were so many people kneeling and praying and there was even a priest taking confessions. A novelty for this Lutheran girl!

Old train station - Aguascalientes

This is the “old” train station we saw on our bus tour. It was built around 1910 which makes it fairly ‘young” in a 400-year-old city. The translations got blurred together so I’m a little fuzzy on some details. My husband had a hard time keeping up with the tour guide. There is a park area and museum around here but we did not go in since it was far from where our hotel was and we did not want to take any taxis.

We walked around more this morning and sat at a cafe by the main plaza having smoothies and people watching. The Palacio Federal was very pretty inside with arches and murals.

Inside the Palacio de Gobierno - Aguascalientes

We found very nice buildings here and the city seems very safe. The streets are very skinny and tough to drive through but all has been well so far. No crashes! Most of the buildings have open plaza areas with some cloth or plastic stretched over part of the roof making the edges like giant skylights. There are bright colors and tons of natural light everywhere.

Restaurant we had lunch at - Loved, loved, loved the open feeling and instead of chips we had cucumber, jicama and mango spears with chile powder and lime. Delicious!

We saw a tortilleria where they were making the tortillas from scratch and a nice bakery near where we had lunch. We also walked around at night a little on Tuesday and got some elotes… For those of you who have gone with to 5 de Mayo in St. Paul you know what those are…. Sweet corn grilled with either cream or mayo smeared on it then sprinkled with cotija cheese and you can add lime, salt and chile powder to it. YUMMY! Then we walked over to the Cathedral of San Marcos which is at the end of the plaza by our hotel. It was like a carnival with food vendors and a little lawn mower pulling train cars for the kids to ride it and fountains that weren’t going during the day. It was fun to see all the people out.

Iglesia (Church) of San Marcos

None of the food stalls had any meat except pork or tripe (cow stomach) so Mex got a huge wedge of Jicama on a stick (and I mean HUGE) and I got an entire mango sprinkled with lime and salt. It was the perfect ripeness and very delicious. Then of course we had to finish off with some churros. There were stuffed churros though which I had never seen before so I got a chocolate one and Mex got a strawberry one. Fabulous! We are looking forward to more street corn but usually won’t buy the fruit. We only bought it from that vendor because she put the stick in it before peeling it so it seemed cleaner.
Aguascalientes is one of the states that is in the middle of the country. The city’s biggest event is the 22 day La Feria de San Marcos, celebrated in late April and early May each year.

One very interesting story we learned on our bus tour seems very typical of the “legendary Mexican passion.” It is the story of how Aguascalientes became a state (it is a state AND a city). In 1853, there was a party for the “rich and famous” of Aguascalientes city and the president of Mexico was in attendance. Apparently, there was a woman there who was very rich and powerful and also very, very beautiful. The president, Santa Anna (yes, the same one that lost half of Mexico’s territory to the US) was asking her for a kiss and she kept refusing saying that her husband was watching her. Then he asked her to dance and she accepted. While they were dancing he kept asking her for one kiss and she said that she would give him a kiss on his cheek only if he gave her what she wanted… for Aguascalientes to become a state of its own. He finally said “yes” and she stopped the music and announced that she was now going to give the president a kiss on his cheek because he agreed to make Aguascalientes a state. She then kissed him and everyone cheered and within months a new Mexican state was born. Seriously? For a kiss on the cheek? She must have been incredibly beautiful! I tried to convince my husband that our life should work that way… One kiss on the cheek and he will do whatever I want… Sadly, he said things do not work that way any more. *Big sigh*

2 Comments

Filed under Aguascalientes State, Mexico

Copper Canyon – Barranca del Cobre

The courtyard of our El Fuerte inn, the Posada Don Porfirio

Here is a slightly out of order narrative of our Copper Canyon trip with some scattered advice. And, yes, it has a well-deserved place on the 1000 Places list!

We got on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico train in Cuauhtémoc and took it through the canyon for 11 hours to El Fuerte. A couple of notes… you can not buy tickets at the Cuauhtémoc train station (at least not when we were there) so you have to either get on in Chihuahua (or Los Mochis on the west) or risk that you won’t get a seat. There was plenty of room on the train but, during the busy season there might not be. We paid on the train and the conductor “forgot” to bring us change but my Spanish-speaking hubby tracked him down and got it. Tickets are not cheap. It cost us about $200 US to go from Cuauhtémoc to El Fuerte and $130 US from El Fuerte to Creel. When going East sit on the Right side of the train. When going West sit on the Left side of the train for the best views.

About an hour east of El Fuerte the train starts to cross rivers for some breath-taking views (and really high bridges)

The El Fuerte train station is about a mile outside of town so we got in a taxi with two other tourists. We arrived after dark. It was a little nerve-wracking because as we were driving past a corn field some guy stepped out of a corn field and tried to flag down our taxi. I could tell the taxi driver was nervous as he swerved and sped around him. That put both of us on edge right away. In El Fuerte, we spent the night in a 200-year-old hacienda called Posada Don Porfirio, which cost about $400 pesos ($38 US). The room was nice with a private bathroom and very high ceilings – about 14 feet – giving it an open feeling. We arrived late at night so felt a little uneasy about the group of men huddled in the courtyard but when we awoke the next morning and the owner gave us a tour of the beautiful gardens, we realized it was just nerves. (We asked some of the passengers on our train where they stayed and they recommended Hotel La Choza, El Fuerte and the Rio Vista Lodge. We had called some of these places and they were full… probably booked up by these tour groups. The Posada San Francisco looked nice on the outside when we drove by.)

Overall the train ride was very, very scenic. We met lots of really nice people. Mainly Americans in their 60s and 70s on tour groups. The train went through a lot of very little towns and farm fields at the beginning, as we worked our way west. There are lots of apple orchards around Cuauhtémoc but most have black fences that unroll over the tree tops to prevent them from being scorched by the sun. We saw barely any clouds the entire time. The first stop of the train where a lot of people get on is a small town called Creel. It turns out we could have driven there if we wanted to because the road has asphalt the entire way.  That is the town where a lot of backpackers get off and it is possible to hire guides and go on treks in the canyon. We read that you should never go hiking without a guide because the mountains are actively used for drug smuggling. If you are adventurous, take a small bus down 4500 feet to Batopilas, a little mining town at the bottom of the canyon on the river. There are quite a few hostel-type hotels and all the “young” people seemed to congregate here.

View of Copper Canyon from Divisadero, the only stop the train makes in the entire 11 hour journey.

Copper Canyon, in Divisadero

The second day, on our way back through the canyon, we did get off in Creel and went into the canyon to a hotel called the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge in Cusásare for about $185 US a night.  It is a fairly nauseating, twisty, 30 minute van ride to the lodge. If you get easily car sick, beware! The lodge had no electricity and was lit by kerosene lamps and heated by a little wood stove which was definitely not powerful enough. Luckily, the bed had about 10 blankets. It was charming in a rustic sort of way. The only downside was the lamps put off a very, very strong gas odor that made me want to open the

A fuzzy picture of our room at the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge

window despite the frigid temperature. All our meals were included (because you are in the middle of nowhere and have no other food option). Since the train was late, we did not get down in the canyon until about 6 and 6:30 was “margarita time.” There was a group of mountain biker guys who had gotten some local moonshine from down in the canyon that they shared with us. They were super friendly and fun to chat with. Needless to say, a little moonshine and a few margaritas later I had my head in the toilet for about three hours. We were at about 7000 feet and I guess I miscalculated the elevation in relation to the effect of alcohol. Although Mex had almost as much

Electric-free Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge (American-owned by the way) down in the canyon

as me and felt nothing so it may have been the beef I ate that he skipped. It was very sad because that meant I felt like crap the next morning when we had a chance to hike to the nearby waterfall. My husband was very wonderful and not upset at all. He did have fun trying out some of the bikers multi-thousand dollar bikes. In the morning, there were a handful of Tarahumara Indian women sitting on the steps right outside our door selling their baskets but they were not pushy at all. We got back up to Creel about 2 pm and ended up taking the bus back to Cuauhtémoc because it left earlier than the train (and cost less).

Street vendor right next to the train stop. Take a bite! The chiles rellenos were fabulous! We didnt get any stomach sickness from this street food.

A couple more notes… In Divisadero, the train stops for 15 minutes. Jump off and go down the street/stairs in between the vendor stalls to get to the edge of the canyon. Do NOT go up the stairs if you want to get to the edge of the canyon. You will get a not-so-great view for a picture and waste valuable minutes backtracking to get to the edge.  There is a hotel right on the edge (literally) where I would love to spend the night if we ever go again. We grabbed some food from one of the vendors. I had tacos and Mex had chiles rellenos. It was so very good! They cook it on this oil drum stoves and it is hot and yummy (with just the right amount of savory grease). You have to chew your food quickly though because you can’t bring it on the train. Neither one of us got sick from this but who knows. It could have been the start of why my stomach has been a little off since the train ride. There were also many, many Tarahumara indian women selling beautiful baskets. They were not too pushy and none of them just begged for money. They were always offering baskets which truly are beautiful. We bought a hand-made tortilla basket for Mex’s sisters and wish we could have found more of them.

The train Copper Canyon train making its way over one of the many bridges

I think the train goes over 80 some bridges and almost 40 tunnels. It really is an amazing train ride. The first class train is very nice with a lot of room and there is the spot in between cars where you can take pictures through open windows (although you have to fight for a spot at the best parts). There are many tour packages that leave from the US or you can fly in to Chihuahua City and leave from there. We would definitely recommend it and advise stopping in the canyon at least one day. Early March was a nice time to go weather-wise although the scenery was pretty dry. They say the summer is really, really hot in the canyon. Another time that is supposed to be nice is in October or November because it is after the rainy season and there is a little more greenery and wild flowers.

Great views about 2 hours east of El Fuerte

Some notes on scenery spotting. If you are looking at a guide-book like Lonely Planet with a map, the area between Cuauhtémoc and Creel is mostly farm fields and little towns. South of Creel about an hour the scenery starts changing to pine trees. In Divisadero, you get to jump off and see down in to the canyon. Get off the train and look because, sadly, you never really get a great view IN to the canyon from the train. The area around Temoris is stunning! About 1.5 – 2.5 hours north of El Fuerte the train crosses rivers and lakes and is really beautiful. Right around El Fuerte it is more of a desert landscape with Saguaro cactuses and scrub brush.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chihuahua State, Mexico, Travel Tips