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29th August 2011
We timed our arrival in Zacatecas  for the annual Traditionales Morismas de Bracho, re-enactments of battles between the Moors and Christians from old Spain, performed here for over 300 years. More than 11,000 people dressed in medieval attire paraded through the streets before battling it out over 3 days on a nearby hillside until the Christians finally claim victory. Click here for a short video of the parade.
Zacatecas, in the north central highlands at 2400 metres was once an important silver mining town and is well deserving of its World Heritage status. Attractive pink stone buildings and churches with ornate church bell towers and domes line the streets of the colonial heart. From the lovely central Hotel Terrasse we could cover all the sights on foot.
In the ruins of the Convent of San Francisco, the Museo Rafael Coronel displays over 3000 ritual masks, dating from pre-Hispanic to contemporary, from all over Mexico.
29th August 2011
Here is a short movie of Las Morismas de Bracho 2011 in Zacatecas.
25th August 2011
Aguascalientes  was called the Perforated City by the Spanish when they arrived here in 1575 because of the many unexplained catacombs, not open to the public today. The 18th century Baroque cathedral which sits on one side of the large Plaza de la Patria is just one of the many colonial churches in the city. The Museum of Death shows Mexico´s interest in death right back to pre-Hispanic times.
San Luis Potosí , an important silver mining town in colonial times was founded in 1592. It was named after the fabulously rich Potosí in Bolivia and its patron saint is Saint Louis, King of France from 1234 to 1270. The Spanish laid out a grid town plan with many parks and plazas. Today it is a delight with most of the historic centre pedestrianised. Many churches and beautiful public buildings from the 17th to 19th centuries remain in use.
|… as displayed in the Museum of Death in Aguascalientes|
20th August 2011
Santiago de Querétaro  has a fine 74 arched aqueduct from 1726 that runs 1280 metres across a valley into the city. Founded in 1531, the Spanish laid out a grid style settlement while the native section retained a more haphazard arrangement. This unusual mix adds to the charm of the historical centre, bustling with people on the weekend.
Wine is produced to the northeast of Querétaro, but we found it impossible to find until we stumbled upon the tiny cafe Pluma Lounge where we enjoyed a bottle of white wine from nearby Ezequiel Montes with a selection of local cheeses and a loaf of homemade bread bought from the bakery next door. We finished off with coffee and chocolate, also local.
Founded in 1559, Guanajuato  is a smaller city built on several hills. One of the world´s richest silver mines in colonial times produced many lovely buildings and churches. Along the valley at the centre of the town there are 2 streets for cars, with several tunnels built in river beds underneath. Narrow twisting pedestrian alleys, interrupted by plazas and gardens, wind up the hills. It is easy to get lost. Balconies almost touch in the Callejón Del Beso (Alley of the Kiss), the narrowest alley where lovers once kissed across the street. We stayed at Casa de Pita, a knick knack filled house, with many levels, twists and turns, much like the city itself. Owner Pita is a generous bundle of energy and serves a great breakfast around the table in her kitchen.
The Museum of Mummies is the strangest place. Because of the number of burials, the local cemetery followed the old Spanish custom of exhuming and cremating bodies after five years. Dozens of bodies were disinterred between the late 1800´s until the 1970´s. But instead of skeletons, the cemetery workers found the bodies naturally mummified due to the dry conditions and stored them. Most of the mummies have their eyes and mouths open as if they were screaming. It is eerie.
14th August 2011
For a little slice of England in Mexico, head to Pachuca  (90 k northeast of México City) with its hills covered in colourful buildings. Miners from Cornwall came here in the 1800´s bringing with them the game of soccer and Cornish pasties. There is a variety of fillings. At Pastes Kikio´s, we went for the potatoes and mince (and chillies) fillings and tried the chicken with red mole (sauce), but there are shredded chicken with frijoles (refried beans), frijoles with Spanish sausage, rice pudding or pineapple jam fillings. Each one costs under $1. A short bus ride away is the old mining town of Real del Monte, another Pueblo Mágico, with cobbled streets and red roofed buildings.
To the south are the imposing Toltec ruins of Teotihuacán  – The City of the Gods – once the capital of Mexico´s largest empire with pyramids to the sun and moon. The city was built between 150 AD and 600 AD but around 900 AD it was abandoned. The Aztecs who later visited it believed it was here that the gods sacrificed themselves to set the sun and moon in motion. Today it is visited by thousands on day trips from México City. We stayed overnight at a hotel nearby so we could be there for the 7 am opening and avoided the crowds.
At the smaller archaeological site near Tula  (900 AD to 1150 AD) 4 large basalt warrior figures over 4 metres tall once held up the roof of the Quetzalcóatl Temple. Fine carvings remain around the outside. In the 11th century, Toltecs emigrated from Tula and settled at the former Mayan city of Chichén Itzá (500 kilometres away). We were constantly reminded of the similarities between the two sites – the ball courts, human sacrifices, the jaguar sculptures, the Chac Mools (reclining human figures with a tray over the stomach – meaning /use unknown) are virtually identical.
|Stone funeral masks|
10th August 2011
Papantla  is the centre for vanilla production and stopping off point for the ruins of El Tajín, the Totonac capital from around 600AD to 1200AD. We were excited to see the Voladores (Flyers) in front of the church. This ancient Totonac rite, originally to help break a drought, is performed by 5 men wearing bright ceremonial clothing to represent birds. While one dances and plays a flute on top of a pole 40 metres above the ground the other 4, tied at the waist by a rope, fall gracefully and fly to the ground revolving around the pole forming a pyramid shape. It is truly a spectacular sight. We never tired of watching them. Click here for a short video.
We were lucky to be in Papantla for the International Indigenous Pueblo day when bands played and the town swelled with people dressed in their finest.
A 3 hour bus trip up into the mountains on a rough rocky road bought us to the remote Cuetzalan , one of Mexico´s pueblos mágicos. With its steep cobbled streets, overhanging roofs and vistas of the green hills, it really is magical when the mist and rain roll in. There is a market (tianquis) on Sundays when villagers in traditional dress arrive from the surrounding area. As luck would have it, we arrived for the weekend fiesta of song, dance and food. The local speciality cecina (smoked pork) and the forest fungus were delicious.
10th August 2011
Here is a short movie of Los Voladores (The Flyers) of Papantla. (There is no sound)
09th August 2011
Moving east towards the Gulf of Mexico, we stopped in Xalapa (or Jalapa)  the hillside capital of Veracruz State. On a clear day, Mexico´s tallest peak, snow capped Pico de Orizaba (5611 metres) can be seen from the central park.
We spent 4 hours in the excellent anthropology museum, moving through time in Vera Cruz from the original civilization, the Olmecs (1500 BC to 400 BC), through the Totonacs to the Aztecs in the years preceding Spanish conquest. The Olmecs, called the “Mother Culture”, are attributed with the erection of stelae, the jaguar cult and initiating the ball game. We were enthralled with the massive basalt Olmec heads, Totonac life sized raw clay figures, tiny toys with wheels and the 29000 other pieces.
|Elongated heads and Asian features|
|Vessels with faces|
|These toys show pre-Hispanic people knew of the wheel|
|Large clay figures|
|Detailed clay figures|
03rd August 2011
Cholula, south west of Puebla  was once a large Pre Hispanic religious centre dating from 500 BC. The original occupants disappeared around 600 AD and subsequent civilizations moved in and built over the existing pyramid. What appears to be a large hill in the centre of town was in fact the widest pyramid ever built, measuring 400 x 400 metres at the base. Atop sits the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios from where the snow capped active Volcán Popocatepétl can be clearly seen. In 1519, here in the sacred city of Cholula, conquistador Hernán Cortés seized the Aztec leaders and 3 hours later at least 3000 Indians were dead and the city was on fire.
Tlaxcala , north of Puebla, and the warrior states surrounding it were once fierce allies of Cortés against the Aztecs. Today Tlaxcala is a pretty and quiet colonial town, worth a couple of days. The nearby site at Cacaxtla contains some of the finest frescos depicting battle scenes in vivid blues and reds. The frescos were preserved under layers of the pyramids and only discovered in 1994. On the next hill, pyramid Xochitécatl was the ceremonial centre. These cities peaked around 600 AD to 900 AD, but were abandoned by 1000 AD. At a nearby food stall we sampled the seasonal corn fungus on tortillas with barbequed cactus for lunch – we liked the earthy taste of the fungus.
|Cholula pottery from about 1000 AD|