Thursday, June 14, 2007

Queretaro

children are never scolded for playing in the fountains

There is always some cultural, musical, or artistic happening in this city.
Here is video of these dancers enjoying the state orchestra playing in the Plaza Independencia, everyone was having a wonderful time!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

More Querétaro, why I could live here...


This city has a crew of the most detailed aware and conscientious street cleaners imaginable. They even pick out the tiniest bit of trash from the landscaped trees and flowers. Each morning they wash and rinse the streets, and this is in addition to each shopkeeper who keeps the space in front of his store clean and also washes down the sidewalk each day. But even more than this there is a consciousness that garbage is a blot on the beauty of the landscape. Queretaro is the only city where I have seen parents admonish their children when they see them throw trash and make them put the garbage can. Sadly, this is not the case in most parts of Mexico, I have been sitting in many second class buses and seen children and adults finish a bottle of water or soft drink and throw it up the window without a thought, and it is obvious from looking at the side of the road that this is part of the routine. Queretaro gives me hope that this lack of concern can change.

Without exception the people are relaxed and friendly. There are fewer foreign tourists here, and much fewer Americans here than Guanajuato, so strolling through the streets, from one plaza to another, it is unusual to hear anything other than Spanish or see many obviously foreign visitors. Even on weekends the broad plazas with fountains, flowers and trees are tranquil and not crowded. There is always space to sit on a bench and watch the children playing in the fountains. The city is extremely safe, I could walk through the plazas anytime day or night with absolute certainly that I was secure.

I have always eaten extremely well in Queretaro. Lots of restaurants small ones like the one on the corner of Jardin Guerra, and larger ones in the in some of the city's plazas: Plaza de Armas and Plaza de la Constitucion. I really like Cuitlacoche, and this city is one of the places I can always find it. I have never had a bad or even mediocre meal in Queretaro, the variety, sophistication, and quality of preparation is always excellent.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Queretaro, back in my favorite(so far) Mexican city



there was an orchestra that combined traditional instruments with Mexican/Caribbean instruments and a dance group with dances from all over Mexico(the dancer is balencing a glass of water on her head, this is part of a dance from Veracruz)
Having just come down from the Sierra Gorda, I was pleased to find that there was a celebration going on in Queretaro with people from the towns in the Sierra Gorda. There was food, artisianas, music and plays all to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of the Bio Reserve to Mexico and the world.
Video of the dancers! /short clips from google video
Traditional Jalisco dance

Traditional dance from Veracurz


taking the high road

the sierra gorda



the semi desert , ocotillo and cactus

The bus ride from Xilitla to Jalpan and then on to Queretaro was amazing and exciting. Exciting and a little scary because of the mountainous, curvy road. I am sure that the ride was not as dangerous as it seemed at times to be. After all, buses go up and down this road many times daily and I did not see any evidence of buses lying at the bottoms of the canyons. A little old lady got on the bus with me in Xilitla, she seemed to like sitting next to me because she was obviously scared of the curves and the views. By little old lady, I mean little, very literally. At few inches more than 5 feet I am short by US standards, but I tower over the older ladies; they are so tiny, but far from delicate. The current young adult generation of Mexicans are so much taller then the grandmothers and grandfathers, and sad to say, the incidence of obesity, is dramatically up. I can tell a difference in even the past few years. I guess I am going to have to stop making unkind remarks about fat Americans, wherever there is fast food, snack food, and soft drinks, obesity seems to be inevitable.
Sorry, I digress, back to the bus ride. I decided that I was on the bus, and there was I was nothing to do but to enjoy the ride, in this case being fatalistic was the only option.
Leaving Xilitla, you pass through very tropical, shade grown coffee country, reminds me of
Veracruz, indeed we not very far from the border of Veracurz. Steep jungle covered mountains and lush vegetation. However as soon as we passed El Lobo, on the Queretaro side of the mountain range, we were in the Sierra Gorda, the change in vegetation was so sudden it was a curtain closing on one act and rising for another, very different act. The vegetation was now pine and many different kinds of oak, with broader valleys. The oak and pine were intensely green and everything looked well watered and in full flush of late spring. However all is not as healthy as it seems from the bus.(more info. at end of post)Arriving in Jalpan, the surrounding mountains of the Sierra Gorda, were brilliant against the clear blue sky. I had been to Jalpan a few years ago, and I was impressed by the changes I saw there. When I was there a few years ago, Jalpan seemed a little scruffy, untidy and not particularly well cared for. Now it seemed as though every building near the center has been freshly painted, the Zocolo has been spruced up with new plantings and the city in general seemed to be proud of itself. I talked briefly to a tourist development guy, and he confirmed that Jalpan has been working very hard on making the city more attractive to tourists, in particular marketing the city as a center for ecotourism for the Sierra Gorda Reserva.
Then on to
Queretaro, passing through more of the beautiful Sierra Gorda, until the next scene change, just as dramatic, we reached the semi desert where the bones of the dry hills are exposed and I could see lots ocotillo(not a cactus Ocotillo can grow to a height of 30 feet and may live up to two centuries) cholla cacti and many other different kinds of cactus.

Quote from CNN article Mexico probably will surpass the United States in obesity rates for the first time next year as the nation adopts the fast food and sedentary lifestyles of its neighbor to the north.
"Obese and overweight adults went from nowhere in 1990 to 62 percent in 2000," said Barry Popkin, an economist and nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, citing a Mexican government study. "You are talking about an astronomical increase coming at a very fast rate and it's continuing."
Quote from CNN article

External links: Interesting account of nature walk through the semi desert of Queretaro

All is not well in the Sierra Gorda read more here

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tequisquiapan and beautiful trees





This town is about 45 minutes away from Queretaro. I walked down by the river and saw these beautiful trees, they look like they are related to cypress. One person I asked said they were called sabinas, but they look like the tree that grows in Oaxaca called a tule tree. These were very large and I was told very old trees. The horse gives some idea of the size of these trees.

around Xilitla



the kitchen in the home/hotel in Xilitla, notice that one wall is the limestone karst(cave) formation.




princess for a day







dresses for the aspiring princess


and for the costume party you can go traditional, or global media inspired.



Monday, May 28, 2007

Xilitla






From Aquismon I went to Xilitla, which is in the mountains where coffee is grown. The bus trip to Xilitla was fascinating, seeing the landscape change to very lush, tropical vegetation with lots of coffee growing under the canopy. The town itself is not very large, and it is probably best known as being the location of Los Pozos, the incredible surrealist sculpture garden creation of an eccentric Englishman who was said to be the illegitimate son of King Edward. From his mother he inherited a huge fortune and hung out with the surrealists in Paris with artists as Cocteau and Salvador Dali in the 1930s. Apparently his own poetry and art were not appreciated, to put it kindly. But he did help other artists and also helped to save the Watts Tower in California. He began to travel in Mexico where he heard about a canyon filled with orchids. He bought the canyon and added paths and more orchid varieties. Returning to England, he got word that a "white ash" had fallen and "burned everything" a very rare snow with disastrous results for his orchids. So for the next thirty years he built surrealistic structures and sculptures and created a garden that blends surrealism and the lushness of this jungle setting.

I spent the night in Xilitla at a house centered around a garden that was converted into a small hotel. The next morning sitting in the garden, drinking some local coffee, I was watching two kinds of hummingbirds battle over the territory of the hummingbird feeder. One type, the smaller species appeared to be the same kind we have in NC, the ruby throated, but the other was at least twice or three times as large. However the smaller hummingbird was much more aggressive and an aerial battle ensued. They got so involved in the battle they ignored me, and a few times actually flew and tumbled, brushing the tip of my nose with their wings.
The day was bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and the walk was not that far, so I did not bring my raincoat. But I should have remembered this is a jungle.
I was close to Los Pozos when the rain began, so I took shelter under the palapa of a coffee finca (farm), asking permission from the coffee workers, of course. I waited for about 20 minutes, during which time the workers brought me some lichee nuts, and then went on the gardens.
I spent most of the day there, saw incredible butterflies; my favorites were the iridescent blues. The combination of the surreal sculpture and lush jungle was mysterious, beautiful, and strangely compelling.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mexican stories

I was fascinated by the hair of this Huasteca woman, lots and lots of beatiful and intricately wrapped yarn, which is the typical dress of those who still wear the indigenous costume
an image from the Tenek culture (Huasteca)

Stories from the ¨real ¨Mexico. Resides helping me practice reading in Spanish, and finding out what interesting events are happening where I happen to be, local news is fascinating.
For example, I read a story several days ago when I was in San Luis Potosi.
The local police were called to break up two 80 plus year olds who were hitting each other. It seems that one elderly gentleman was visiting the town where he spent his youth and encountered the other elderly gentleman who had lived there his entire life. Well it seems that cause of the mano a mano was that 30 years ago, these two were rivals for the same women (now dead 30 years!) and as soon as they saw each other, old blood ran hot with the memory of the rivalry.
Another story, this time from C. Valles.
The Polica Preventiva Municipal (local police) was called to let out a man who had fallen asleep on the tomb of his mother, and thus was locked in the cemetery when it closed for the night. The article said the man was borracho (drunk) which also led to his falling asleep. Apparently all this made him confused that the police where there to arrest him when all they were going to do was let him out. He ran back into the cemetery saying ¨a los vivos son a los que tengo miedo, los muertos no hacen daño¨ which translates as it is the living that I fear the dead can do no harm. The police laughed and left him to spend the rest of the night in the cemetery.
The newspapers that cover lots of very small towns in an area report in great detail about the good and bad in these small towns. I was impressed at the willingness of the people in the town to make complaints or give compliments to the mayors of these villages. It would appear that is a lot of personal participatory democracy going on with some good and bad results.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Aquismon, and sótano de las golondrinas(swallows)



From Taninul I went to Aquismón, a very small town between C. Valles and Xilitla. It was EXTREMELY hot, even the locals were suffering. My hotel had air conditioning, but even so it was warm. I spent some time in the local library reading the magazine Mexican Archaeology, very interesting and well written and researched magazine. The librarians were interested to hear that I was a retired librarian. I made arrangements with a guide to take me to sótano de las golondrinas the next morning at 5am. This is a huge sinkhole, one of the deepest in the world, which is home to thousands of swallows and parrots which exit the sinkhole every morning and return each evening.
Ok, then, my impressions..... I have a short video clip, which I will try to upload to Google Video, at some point.
My guide came by right on time at 5:00 am still dark of course, a very polite and very careful driver. We drove for a short distance on pavement and then for about 45 minutes or so up rough dirt and rock road. It was still dark when we got to the sinkhole where a family that acts as guides and caretakers of the entrance to the sinkhole greeted us. Had some cafe de olla and chatted and then took a short walk (although it seemed longer in the dark) to the sinkhole. I did not get any closer to the edge than a few feet, of course we could not see the bottom, but could hear what sounded like a large waterfall running somewhere very deep. However, what I was hearing was the sound of the swallows and the green parrots. At first light the exodus started a few swallows and then lots of very talky green parrots. Then lots more swallows and parrots. I was expecting all the birds to exit, but the guide said that the birds enter and exit all day long, with the birds that left early returning with food for the young birds in the nests deep inside the sinkhole. The structure of the sinkhole was such that the birds circled repeatedly, each time getting slightly closer to the surface, finally to burst forth and fly close over our heads. However, the returning birds dropped like a rocket heading for the bottom, I could hear the whistle of their wings as they plummeted.
The young man who took me to the sinkhole was in absolutely no hurry, I got the impression that he would have waited as long as I wanted and my driver, was sleeping in his truck, so he was not concerned about the time. We stayed for about 2 and half hours and then walked back to the entrance. The young man took the time to show me all the plants that could hurt you and all the plants and flowers that could cure you.
The trip back down the mountain was beautiful, saw a family herding sheep and goats and a few very small, isolated settlements, but for the most part the jungle seems to be relatively intact.
This was an experience that was well worth getting up early for, I got the impression from my driver that except for Easter week and a few other times, this site is very little visited, and certainly my experience as the only visitor to this incredible site was a high point for me.

video video

hot sulpher springs at Taninul


A VERY well endowed mermaid mural in the hotel. Obvious question, how could she stay underwater?

Every night parrots are sacrifaced to the local cave gods. I kept hearing some chanting that sounded like ¨he me du ran ti¨, not sure of the significance of this.











you can bliss out in hammocks or under the falling hot water.





view of the hot sulpher pool, deepest part was over 400 meters.

I had looking been forward to Taninul because I really like the thermal waters of Mexico, and I actually prefer the sulphur springs. Once you get past the smell of sulphur, which I personally do not find offensive, the hot sulphur waters are very therapeutic for the skin and induce a wonderful relaxed feeling. No matter how long you soak in the water, your skin never gets dry, only silky smooth. This water was about 42 centigrade, slightly hotter near where the thermal waters bubbled up. The hotel was tranquil with some Mexican families on Sunday when I arrived, but was almost empty on Monday. No music, no loud noise of any kind, parrots flying overhead was the loudest noise that I heard. I spent the days soaking, taking walks around the grounds and talking to the Mexican families.

Huasteca (San Luis Potosi state)







Shaman(?) in the market, and mountain coffee for sale.



different fruits and flowers for sale, these ladies probably came a long way to sell their products and were already tired as the market began




From San Luis Potosi, I went to Ciudad Valles which is in the altiplano, and this is the first time I have been uncomfortably hot. I would guess it was in the high 90´s at least so this was also the first time I thought I needed a hotel with AC. The people here are friendly, the town is rather unremarkable, but the next morning was Sunday, and there was a market where the indigenous come to sell and buy. They are called tinanguis and this type of market is my favourite kind, so I spent some there before heading on to the hot sulfer springs at Tanninul.
This area is called the Huasteca potosina. the indigenous people here wear very different clothes from the Náhuatl or the Otomi. I was told they speak Tenek and that it is related to the Mayan languages spoken further south and east in Mexico but I did not hear any native speakers.
From Wikipedia:The Huastecs were unusual as one of the few cultures that attained civilization and built cities, yet usually wore no clothing. They were admired for their abilities as musicians by other Mesoamerican peoples.
About
1450, the Huastecs were defeated by the Aztecs. ; the Huastecs henceforth paid tribute to the Aztec Empire but retained a large degree of local self government.
The Huastecs were conquered by the
Spanish between 1519 and the 1530s. With the imposition of the Roman Catholic faith, they were required to don clothing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

San Luis Potosi





totally sauve..



















church girls, I assume the first confirmation..




even the water storage was elegantly designed
San Luis Potsi the capital of the state of the same name has some of the most extensive and impressive colonial architecture of any of the colonial silver cites that I have been in. Here is a brief history of the city. It also has many impressive pedestrian only plazas with a grand scale that shows how grand and important this city was to this region. Zaragoza Street is the longest pedestrian only street according to what I have read, and after walking in it, I believe this to be true. Zaragoza Street runs from the train station at one end to the Gardens at the other end. The streets and historic center are very clean and well kept, second only to Queretaro in cleanliness... (No city beats Queretaro for cleanliness!)
I walked for a long time and I think I saw all the beautiful architecture that I wanted to see, the temperature was perfect and the people seemed relaxed and prosperous. I saw evidence of this in the number of status breed dogs, and the only sign I have ever seen in Mexico, asking people to pick up after their dogs. However, on one short block, I also saw the only prostitutes that I have ever seen on a public street, this was about 2 pm in the afternoon, and the street did not appear to be different in any other way.
The tourist office is friendly and efficient and they give out lots of information and great maps. I found out here that was going to be a ¨danza¨ in one of the public squares. Lots of people watching and lots of people dancing, it was beautiful. Most of the dancers were elegantly dressed, and the dancing was superb. Of course, I did not dance; white girls don’t have rhythm, por menos esta gringa no tengo ritmo nada!