Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mexico - last day

Sitting in the lobby of the Hermosillo Hilton, waiting for an airport shuttle on the first leg of our journey home today. I've gotten hopelessly behind with my intention of writing a daily blog post. First, we've been having too much fun to stop and write about it. Irregular wifi also was a factor. But I can't leave here without a few words about how great it has been.

Mexico is a lovely country, and it's people are charming and friendly. All of us on this journey agree that we felt completely safe here, even out walking alone at night in the middle of huge celebrations or on quiet back streets. We never had a moment of doubt about our safety.

Mexico is extravagantly colorful, artistic, playful and celebratory. There is always a fiesta happening or about to happen. We had so many days of complete surprise and delight. Just when we thought "it couldn't get any better than this", the next day raised the bar again! We had great food, dazzling river cruises, visits to many villages, and time to explore deeply the many fine parts of Chiapas.

A lot of this is directly attributable to the outstanding preparation and knowledge of Betsy McNair, our fearless leader. She has such a zest for helping us fall in love with Mexico, as she has for so many others for the last 20 years. Her commitment to our enjoyment just shines through every moment. I can't recommend My Mexico Tours highly enough. We want to come back and bring friends and family to share in the fun and the pleasure and joy.

Now we are ready to come home, tired, but eager to be back in the saddles of "real life" again. But we are so grateful for these two excellent weeks in this bright world!

Location:Calle La Palma,Centro,Mexico

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ai Caramba, Two More Festivals!

I could write for a week and fail to capture the full, joyful, colorful, mysterious, ancient, inscrutable mind-blowingness of this day. Two festivals, two villages, and words just can't begin to take you there.

In the first, back at Chamula, the action was out in the plaza in front of the little church we visited a few days ago, the one with the incense, pine needles, and endless candles. Costumes, fireworks, a little band playing, all of us drinking whiskey, the saints removed from their glass cases and paraded on palenques around the square (to show them how happy the people are). Of course no photos allowed on threat of going to jail, but it was raucous.

Then onto Zinacandan, where we arrived to a village with tens of thousands of villagers dressed in brocaded pink and red and purple flowered clothing. Men and women and children dress up this way. I have already posted numerous photos on Facebook from this day. Our mouthed were agape all day. Our brains were short/circuiting from so much visual stimulation. And this was even before the parade of clowns, the endless, ear/shattering fireworks, and the stuffed squirrel toss by the jaguar-costumed men who climbed the tree and threw taxidermied animals at each other.

All we can say is that so far My Mexico Tours has provided day after day of extraordinary, and we've only been out a week!thanks Betsy (Pepsi)!
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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Orchids and More

Tuesday's highlights included a morning exploring an orchid rescue garden (
run by a charming ex-pat named Cisco, an escapee from Hollywood! Here were zillions of exotic plants that he has brought in from nearby highlands to save them from clear-cutting.

Then we visited a paper making studio where we were watched their entire paper-to-print process.

Later we visited a small contemporary art gallery and met one of the indigenous artists, Maestro Antún Kojtom.

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A Little Catching Up.

I'm way behind with keeping up on this blog. There are two reasons: we have been very busy, and the internet connections have been slow and spotty. At night I wake up and think about all the great things we have done each day and how much I want to write about them, and then we get up and it is off to the races again. In the evenings, the Internet is at its worst, and so nothing happens! I'll try to catch up a little, but briefly.

Monday, we spent a day exploring San Cris on foot, with a remarkable guide, Gabriela Gudino. She as so well versed in the language, architecture, history, culture, and everything else about Chiapas it was a fascinating day with beautiful walks around the city.

We saw a lot of public art work by CarlosJurado Delmar, Painter. 1996.

I'm the evening we visited Sergio Castro, a local legend. He has a private museum of all the regional costumes and artifacts of Chiapas. In addition he provides free medical care to anyone who needs it. He travels to remote villages in the daytime, and then holds a free open clinic in the late afternoons. He is a completely charismatic person and attracts a powerful legion of supporters and admirers.

We punctuated the day with a world-class lunch at LUM in Hotel Bo.

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Location:San Cristobal de las Casas

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Two Villages -part 2

Oops, it was Sunday that we visited these villages, not Monday. Time is kind of a blur in this dreamy world we are experiencing. I forgot that we visited the church in San Andres that morning. We entered the church and noticed that the front vestibule was full of homemade fireworks contraptions. These were constructions made of branches in the shape of framed buildings. All over them were small packets of newspaper tied into dumplings full of gunpowder, so that they looked like art installations of a framework festooned with paper bundles. The church was packed with people, many of them nursing mothers. Then there were a series of huge explosions that sounded as if the church vestibule was being blown up. But no, it was just the fireworks being set off just outside the entry door. The noise was deafening, but the many babies who were in the arms of their mamas hardly made a whimper.

We spent all afternoon in San Juan Chamula, a magical place in every way. Here photos are strictly forbidden, so I downloaded these first two from the Internet. I'll try to describe it with words. As it happened, Sunday was a festival of San Sebastián. We arrived at the town square to find it full of celebrants about to hoist a huge flower garland into the arch of this beautiful little church. It was a arch made of pine boughs, with "viva San Sebastian" woven from white carnations across the archway. The villagers pulled it up with ropes as we watched, and then a small band played and people chanted. In this village everyone wears garments made of sheep wool - black for women and white for men.

We went around the crowd and entered the church quietly from the side. The inside of the church was breath-taking. Clouds of incense smoke filled the room. The walls were lined all the way to the altar with huge bouquets of fresh flowers. There were no pews, but literally hundreds of burning candles were flickering everywhere along the sides of the room. Fresh pine needles were scattered on the floor about 4 inches deep. The combined fragrances of flowers,incense and pine needles were overwhelming.

Life-sized, white-skinned statues of various saints were displayed in glass cases behind all the candles and flowers. On the floor of the church sat a few very brown-skinned Chamulans with babies, small children, and each had a shamanic healer. They had lots of healing paraphernalia such as eggs, bottles of Coke, live and newly dead chickens (apparently killed right there as part of the healing ritual). Small candles were fastened to the stone floors and burned like fierce forests of light around each supplicant group. The people were murmuring prayers and seemed to be in a trance. Otherwise the church was empty since most people were out on the square celebrating.

It was very emotional, spiritual, magical. Apparently the Church tolerates these practices, and there are seldom any priests around. I wished for my camera, but was also glad not to have it so I could immerse myself in the moment.

Then there were a series of huge explosions that sounded as if the church vestibule was being blown up. But no, it was just the fireworks being set off just outside the entry door. The noise was deafening, but the many babies who were in the arms of their mamas hardly made a whimper.

After we left we made our way through the market stalls lining the streets outside, to "make shopping". The photo below shows Betsy buying a black wool shawl from a Chamula woman wearing a matching black wool skirt, the traditional outfit.

Later in the evening we went to a Zapatista cafe for a light supper. I ordered something random called a "fundita" made with cheese from Chihuahua. It turned out to be fondue, delicious, creamy good. But Judy and I started laughing at the notion of how many little chihuahuas it must have taken to get that bowl of cheese. We got pretty silly and I was reminded of traveling together in Korea when we could not stop laughing. Missed you, Wendy!
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Location:Calle Profesora María Adelina Flores,San Cristóbal de las Casas,Mexico

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Two Villages -Part 1

On Monday we took a little road trip to two villages in the hills surrounding San Cristobal. This region is home to many indigenous groups. they speak four different languages, and many do not speak Spanish. Each group dresses in a unique style and creates textiles accordingly. They have some affiliation with either Catholic or evangelical Christianity, but it takes a unique format where mysticism, shamanic healing, and indigenous forms of worship are practiced inside the churches. All day we were in these villages, but with a few exceptions were not allowed to photograph anything because of a deeply held belief that taking a photograph steals a piece of the spirit of the person/building/animal/tree/street. So my photos today reflect that.

Our first stop was San Andres, where we walked up this street for several blocks to visit the home of a family of weavers. (Illegal photo).

The weavers make their own natural dyes from a variety of plants they demonstrated. They use a blackstrap loom, meaning that the weaver has a tight harness around her back to keep the loom taut.

They make a variety of textiles such as the gorgeous ones shown here, and the ones they are wearing.

Here is a dye pot producing purple yarn.

Daniella and Judy soaked it in.

This is Carol Karasik, our guide for the day, and author of a well-known book in the textiles of Chiapas. All these photos taken with permission!

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Location:Calle Real de Guadalupe,San Cristóbal de las Casas,Mexico

Monday, January 18, 2016

One more festival and then moving on.

First thing on Saturday we visited a laquer-making family and learned all about how the famous Mexican laquer-ware is made, by hand. Our hostess went through the whole process, rubbing layer after layer onto the gourd. She starts with white powdered clay, and used a grease made from boiled insects to attach each layer. After 3 layers each, she then adds powdered charcoal to the mix. Each time she polishes vigorously with cotton to get the luster. Finally they paint designs -she used her hand as a palate!

Oh yes, it was also just another festival day in Chiapas (this continues until January 22). This one was called the Tuxlateros and on this day the men dress all in white, with straw hats and red embroidered sashes. The women dress in fancy white blouses, black and white checked long skirts, and black and white headdresses.

I never understood the significance of any of it, but how we experienced it was by going to a wealthy private home. The hosts were throwing an enormous party, with an enormous shrine honoring the recently deceased mother-in-law, many beautifully turned out guests, music, and generous helpings of pozole. Their version was served cold in painted gourd bowls.

Out in the street, swarms of people were filling a painted wooden cart with fresh fruit, and tying festoons of pineapples onto the sides. Soon the entire town was once Again swarming through the streets, heading on a route that would stop at all the churches to drop off fruit, load up more fruit, etc. Who knows why, but this day felt more sober and subdued than the previous day's have been.

We eventually broke off and went to the town food market, which was small and indoors, but had many varieties of food that we were unfamiliar with. I drank something new, tescalate, that I liked a lot. It is bright orange and includes corn, chocolate, and annato seeds, among many other ingredients.

It was hot, so we went back to the hotel and dangled our feet in the pool and drank a margarita to cool down. At 3 pm we left Chiapas da Corso and drove up into the mountains to San Cristobal, where we will spend a week. It's a high altitude Colonial town, a whole new world. More soon on that.

Pretty quickly we went to a place called Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar) to spend an evening. This is a guest house, cultural center, restaurant, research facility, and museum founded in 1951 by Danish archaeologist/explorer Franz Blom and his wife, the Swiss photographer and conservationist, Gertrude Duby. Here we were treated to many rooms full of artifacts from early indigenous cultures throughout the region, and tons of photos of early days in Chiapas. There was a talk on Mayan textiles and so much more, much of the evening in an elegant huge library with roaring fire in the fireplace (it's cold up here in the mountains).

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Location:Calle Flavio A. Paniagua,San Cristóbal de las Casas,Mexico

Sunday, January 17, 2016

First Day in Chiapas

Our first day here. Bad night's sleep, pretty wiped out. Nonetheless, couldn't resist going right out for a walk around town to see what's here. Everyone is getting ready for the ongoing fiesta that goes on here for the next 10 days or so. The streets were full of children in costume, vendors hawking colorful hand-made goods, and a high buzz of energy everywhere. Bird sounds abundant and surprisingly diverse. It's a party here, for sure!

Back to the hotel for breakfast, fresh papaya, pineapple and watermelon, yogurt, fabulous spicy hot chocolate (I'm in big trouble here!). Then the main course, a huge variety of choices. I ate chilaquiles, kind of like nachos in green chile sauce, topped by two eggs with yolks the color of tangerines. It was very filling and yummy. I was also scoping out what to order tomorrow morning.

We spent most of the day out on the Grijalva river, going up the Sumidero canyon in a boat for just our group. We saw so many fabulous birds (egrets, herons, pelicans, cormorants, vultures, tanagers, and many more). Also probably 15 assorted crocodiles, some monkeys, iguanas, and wild, jungly landscapes growing up the cliff faces. Wild orchids and begonias were blooming and waterfalls plunged down kilometer-high cliff faces where once men, women and children (indigenous people) leaped to their deaths in numbers to avoid being captured and enslaved by the Spanish.

We stopped for ceviche and beer along the river, then returned at high speed, bumping along in our boat back to town. Having a fabulous adventure.

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Two Days, Two Festivals

On Thursday night this town turned into a thronging parade of men dressed like women, heavily made up, dancing through the streets in rapture. This is an annual celebration called the Chunta parade, accompanied by reed flutes and drums. This tradition began centuries ago as a precursor to the parachico parade the next day. At that time it was thought to be improper for women to parade in the streets at night, so the men dressed as women on that holiday! It was an amazing spectacle, hundreds of burly, girly men preceded by fireworks in the streets, dancing through the town all night. They went into churches for blessings and into homes where various shrines were set up. We got separated in the crowds and I didn't see anyone from our group for hours, but I walked for many miles following the dancers and then losing them again. What a party!

Friday, was the next fiesta, the Parachicas. This parade was even more colorful, since everyone in town dresses up in traditional costume, even the babies. The men dance in black clothing with colorful panchos, chaps, head scarves. They wear traditional hand-carved wooden masks and sisal headdresses that look like scrubbers many of these are also festooned with ribbons. They carry gourd rattles, "chin chin", and as the drummers and flutists play, and the firecrackers explode, the Parachicas shout "viva, muchachas, viva!" The women today dress in long colorful gowns, mostly black lace with embroidered flowers. And the boy and girl children and babies are dressed accordingly. It is a flood of color and noise and joyful energy, and it will continue all day and late into the night.

We spent a couple of hours this morning visiting a traditional mask maker (age 81) who talked about his craft. Part of his centuries-old process involves polishing the painted face made from something very specific. It's a tool made from the esophagus of a bull, butchered in the night of a full moon after impregnating a cow. Something about the mix of hormones and moonlight makes this soft, satiny pouch from the esophagus, the perfect tool for this craft! Butchers all around the area supply this need for him.

During our visit, his almost-4-year-old grandson was being dressed for the dancing, his first time, and so we got to see all that, the fitting of the headdress, and his joy when he finally got the whole outfit on and began to dance in the middle of the room. He was so excited, and by then the parades had started swarming down their street. Many dancers stopped by to pay respects to the maestro. Eventually we left and went to join the fun!

Parades through the streets all day and night, wild dancing (including us gringos), celebrating crowds everywhere! We went to a house where they were preparing a meal for 3000 people today. Meat from 8 cows was laid out on tables in a courtyard, and a crowd of family members was chopping up all the internal organs (Stomach, intestines, liver, etc). for a gigantic organ stew. They made us sit down and eat tamales -delicious - and nobody got sick!

Glorious day, maybe most colorful party ever! Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Calle Molino de la Isla,San Cristóbal de las Casas,Mexico

Chiapa da Corso -we made it!

We flew into Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, arriving last night at about midnight. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. The taxi ride to the hotel (about 30 minutes) was hair-raising as we raced through the night streets and along deserted highways at rocket speed. Highlights included steady tailgating until our driver could race across a double yellow line in a curve to pass the vehicles ahead of us. We peered through his fully cracked windshield and prayed to all the gods and goddesses we mostly don't believe in to deliver us safely. And we made it! Phew. Super frazzled, but there was Betsy (that would be Pepsi down here) in a blue wig with a cold pitcher of margaritas to greet us!

Woke up this morning to see, in the daylight, our charming hotel, with tropical courtyard, exotic birds and flowers, warm air. We are indeed in a new world, in Mexico!

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Location:Calle Miguel Negrete,Chiapa de Corzo,Mexico