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30th September 2011
Baja California is a very different part of Mexico, hot and dry. Although it was “discovered” by Hernán Cortés in 1535 and the Jesuits founded the first mission in 1697, the desert peninsula was never colonised by the Spanish to any extent. We flew into scorching hot La Paz  and immediately took shelter in the air conditioned hotel room waiting for the cool breeze of the evening when the locals appear on the Malecón which runs around the bay. Many restaurants and bars along the shore provide views of the famous Baja sunsets. After 2 years, we were ready for a real Chinese meal and we enjoyed the Restaurant Nuevo Pekín so much we went back again the next night!
We took a boat trip to the nearby rugged Espiritu Santo Island in the Sea of Cortes. It is treeless and rocky with many different faces. After snorkelling with a colony of sea lions we stopped at a white sand beach for lunch. On the way back, a large pod of dolphins followed the boat; one leaping high into the air, splashing down heavily.
27th September 2011
The metro system in México City  is safe, clean, efficient and idiot proof. Pretty much anywhere in México City is within 30 minutes of the Centro. We ventured to the southern suburb of Xochimilco where canals flanked by raised gardens on artificial islands dating back to Aztec times still remain. Brightly painted trajineras (gondolas poled by hand) ply the canals, other boats selling food or offering live mariachi music follow alongside. After two hours of slowly moving along the narrow countryside waterways, we knew we had reached the Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) when we spotted thousands of dolls and doll parts hanging eerily from the trees. For many years the owner fished out dolls floating in the canal hanging them in the trees to appease the spirit of a girl who had drowned there 50 years ago. He died there in 2001. Some say the dolls came alive and killed him.
Tepotzotlán  is 30 kilometres to the north. The former San Francisco Javier Jesuit church, built 1580, contains beautiful gilded altars full of carved angels and saints. The attached monastery is now a museum, the best in the country, of early Spanish history in México.
The pretty hillside pueblo of Taxco  lies 140 kilometres to the south. The crowning glory is the Baroque Santa Prisca Church perched high on one of the hills, just one of many churches visible. A rabbit warren of steep, cobbled streets twist and turn through a bustling market and uniform red and white buildings. It is the only silver town to completely retain its old character; there are no surrounding modern suburbs.
26th September 2011
México City  is one of the largest cities in the world with over 20 million people, and one of the highest at 2240 metres. We arrived as crowds poured into the centre to celebrate Independence Day eve with a speech by the President followed by fireworks which we watched from the rooftop of our hotel.
It all began with the nomadic Aztecs. While wandering the swamps around Lake Texcoco near the present day city, they witnessed a prophesied sign of an eagle standing on a cactus, eating a snake (now the symbol of México). They stopped to build their city Tenochtitlán, turning swampy land into raised gardens. The Spanish arrived in 1519, destroyed the city and filled in the swamp to build a sophisticated European style capital. War or disease then killed most of the original inhabitants. The Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztecs, was taken apart and used to build the new Spanish colonial city. The Temple’s exact location was forgotten until 1978 when it was accidentally re-discovered adjacent to the Zócalo (main plaza) and the Cathedral. The heavy buildings of the Spanish have a tendency to sink into the old lake bed, and parts of the city have subsided over 8 metres giving today´s old city a strange tilted look.
We made the mistake of going to the National Anthropology Museum on a Sunday when entrance is free for Mexicans. This is certainly the world´s finest museum of pre-Hispanic Mexican cultures, demanding several hours for a quick visit and attracting huge crowds. Mexican families stroll enthralled by their ancestor´s past glories, obviously proud and involved. If you want to see some photos of the exhibits, click here.
Our two favourite Mexican artists are Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957) and Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954). We managed to see their work in several places around the city. An enjoyable Sunday stroll through the tranquil leafy cobbled suburbs of Coyoacán and San Ángel was a real contrast to the bustling chaos of the Centro Historico. When Frida and Diego lived here these suburbs were small towns, separate from México City. We made the pilgrimage to the (blue) former home and resting place of Frida which is now a museum and on to the separate houses joined by a walkway where Frida and Diego lived when they were married.
15th September 2011
The Hollywood movie “Once Upon a Time in México” (2003) was filmed in charming San Miguel de Allende . A Franciscan friar, Juan de San Miguel founded the city that bears his name in 1542. It is now World Heritage. With bougainvillea tumbling down the muted multi-coloured houses that crawl up the hill side, cobbled streets, a bull ring and clear blue skies it is the classic Mexican colonial town. No wonder thousands of expatriates, mainly US retirees have settled here.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon to find the central plaza packed, a band playing salsa, folks dancing and food carts doing a roaring trade. The Jardín Botánico, 30 minutes walk from town, has over 1000 species of cactus. Many birds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers growing there. The Santuario de Atotonilco is a World Heritage Site, built in the 18th century. The interior is a real surprise, adorned with rich Mexican Baroque murals. It´s about 20 minutes by taxi from San Miguel and an immensely important pilgrimage site for Mexicans.
|Colibrí – Hummingbird – in action|
11th September 2011
Morelia , capital of Michoacán state, was founded in 1541. Originally Valladolid, it was renamed after the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821). Buildings in the historic centre are all of an attractive light brown stone, the magnificent cathedral being the centre piece. Morelia is a university town and the faculties now occupy many of the former monasteries. Arched arcades surround the large Plaza de Armas – “The entire plaza (of all Hispanic-American cities) should have portals because they offer much comfort …” ordered King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598).
It was impossible to pass through the Mercado de Dulces (sweets market) without buying something. Also delicious is a local fruit salad, gaspacho, which is served with chilli, lime juice and salt. Chamorro, another culinary specialty, is slow cooked pork shank in a rich black sauce of dried chillies with pulque (a type of beer made from cactus) – falling-off-the-bone, melt-in-the-mouth delicious.
Leafy parks, sprouting fountains, and even a 253 arch aqueduct make the city a great place for strolling. We were delighted to encounter a performance of La Danza de Los Viejos (The Dance of the Old Men) in the main Plaza. In reality, the “Old Men” are young boys in costume. Here is a short video.
11th September 2011
Here is a short movie of La Danza de Los Viejos (The Dance of the Old Men) performed in the main Plaza in Morelia. (You can watch it Full Screen by clicking on the arrows in the bottom right hand corner).
09th September 2011
At over 2000 metres the Pueblo Mágico, Pátzcuaro  lies south of the mountain fringed Lake Pátzcuaro. The bustling centre is all red and white adobe buildings with terracotta tiled roofs, colonial churches and pretty plazas. A busy market, where local food is cheap and good, spills out onto the streets. A huge plate of chicken with potatoes, carrots, cheese and tortillas smothered in sauce, more than enough for 2, is less than $10. Pátzcuaro is one of our favourite Mexican pueblos.
The small Purepécha villages that dot the lake each produce a different handicraft such as pottery, wooden masks and fine needlework, their wares displayed outside to attract passersby. Vasco de Quiroga (1478-1565) established these crafts and did much to protect the indigenous from the worst abuses of the Conquistadores. Today he is revered. Janitzio is the largest of the islands in Lake Pátzcuaro where the men use large butterfly-nets to fish from small wooden boats.
We took a local bus to Uruapan, an hour from Pátzcuaro, to visit the National Park which is in the centre of the town. Water gushes from underground creating a lush rainforest environment, home to many species of plants, animals, birds and butterflies. Trout raised in the streams and covered with macadamia nuts made a delicious lunch. In the town is the first hospital in the Americas, with doorways and windows carved by Purepécha artisans in the Mudéjar style 4 centuries ago.
04th September 2011
The Mexican hat dance and mariachis come from Guadalajara , Mexico´s second largest city – founded in 1542 in the Western Highlands of the country. Colonial stone mansions, churches and government offices in the historic centre stand amidst graffiti covered derelict buildings. We stayed about 6 blocks north of the centre at Las Sabilas, a hotel owned by an expatriate American garden designer. The wonderful garden with hummingbirds feeding on the flowers was a haven from the busy streets. It happened that the annual Mariachi Festival was on, so we caught a free performance outside the Cathedral. Click here for a short video.
Carne en su jugo, meat served in its own juice, is the culinary specialty here. We enjoyed it at Karnes Garibaldi while listening to mariachis. Torta ahogada, pork sandwich drowned in chilli sauce is also popular.
Rows of blue agave plants grow around the village of Tequila where the famous drink is made. After an interesting tour of the fields and factory we got to try the various finished products – clear, aged a little, aged a lot, and margaritas. Next day we headed out to Lake Chapala, the largest lake in México. Many North Americans are retired at the pretty lake side village of Ajijic. Tlaquepaque, about 10 k from Guadalajara is another colourful village, now absorbed into Guadalajara but with its own history and artisans.
|Toilet signs in the pueblo of Tequila|
04th September 2011
Here is a short movie from the Mariachi Festival 2011 in Guadalajara.