Trip Log: Atlixco and Cholula

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Puebla Trip part 3

Thursday: Atlixco and Cholula
After an outstanding breakfast at Casita de Barro we leisurely headed out for a 30 minute drive to Atlixco, “city of the flowers.” That slogan does not exaggerate! If you go to Puebla, I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful small town. Surrounded by fields of red and gold flowers, the town plaza was a feast for this eyes with every kind of flower you could imagine. Up top of the hill there is a lookout and church with a panorama of the entire area. I loved watching the farmers work the fields. Not only did we see lots of horse- and donkey-drawn plows, we saw hand plowing also! Here is where I finally saw the fields of cempasúchil I was longing for. Also in season were huge fields of red cockscomb. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

From Atlixco we headed to Cholula for the final days of our trip. Here we stayed in a gorgeously remodeled hacienda that is now a boutique hotel, La Quinta Luna. I had reserved this hotel for a couple of reasons. First, not knowing how “rustic” the cabin at Casita de Barro might be, I wanted to end our trip on a high note. And two, another photographer that I follow online had recommended it as having a gorgeous view of both the volcanoes and the famous hilltop church, Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies. This hotel is pricier than what I normally pay. During our stay it was cloudy and the volcanoes never showed themselves. The hilltop shrine can be seen from anywhere in the city. So, the view we got was not worth the price. Danny and I would stay here again in a minute, however, as it was such a gorgeous and luxurious place. We had two queen beds in a huge room with super high ceilings, a separate bathroom, dining, sitting room and kitchen. And the room overlooked an indoor courtyard. The hotel has an incredible library and a rooftop sitting area. It was a terrific way to end our trip.

The big draw in Cholula, in addition to lots of gorgeous churches, is the largest pyramid by volume in the world, atop which sits Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. The climb is steep and the view spectacular. Danny and I were also very pleasantly surprised at what a terrific town it is for young people: very hip restaurants, bars and clubs, and a whole happening section of the city. It would seem to be a young adult’s dream. There is one area called Container City, with a bunch of bars and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Two other places I absolutely want to recommend to you. One is Recaudo, an organic/vegan restaurant with food and drink that is seasonal and beyond delicious! The second is a handmade chocolate shop by the name of Ki Xhokola. You do NOT want to miss it! In Cholula we bought several types of mole pastes to bring home; can’t wait!

I of course had to go out at night in Cholula to take some photos as well.

This is the final entry in the Puebla trip log; I trust you enjoyed it and, more importantly, will thoroughly enjoy your trip when you make it!

Trip Log: The Volcanoes

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Wednesday: Paso de Cortés, San Nicolás de los Ranchos and San Jerónimo Tecuanipán
We drove out of Puebla in the very early morning so we could catch volcano views at sunrise, when it’s normally the clearest. On our way we passed Cholula and a number of churches on hilltops which were all beautifully lit in the pre-dawn darkness. Why can we not light Mazatlán’s cathedral like that?

I made Danny stop in the middle of a field just before dawn, as the silhouettes of Popo and Itze came into view. Oh did we enjoy ourselves in that early morning air! The climate was a welcome change from Mazatlán’s heat and humidity. We had clear views to all three volcanoes: Popocatéptl, Iztaccihuatl, and Malinche. It was glorious. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

After sunrise we headed closer to the volcanoes. Paso de Cortés is said to be the road that Cortez took. It goes right between the two volcanoes, into the national park.And oh my gosh are you CLOSE to those volcanoes! I was very happy it didn’t erupt while we were right there. If we’d had more time we could have gone hiking and camping, but we needed to get back to Mazatlán on Friday so we could drive to Cosalá for a big trail run.

Danny and I spent several hours on this dirt road, getting out to hike around, breathe the fresh air and enjoy the views. Wildflowers and butterflies were everywhere! They were alpine flowers and pines, and greatly reminded me of life in Colorado. I would recommend a four-wheel drive if you are planning to come here. Our little four cylinder rental car did fine thanks to Danny’s able driving, but luckily it wasn’t raining.

Coming back down from our steep mountain climb, we stopped in San Nicolás de los Ranchos, a small town surrounded by fields with a lovely church in the center of town. We enjoyed brunch in the market in front of the church, and then accompanied the bell ringer up to the roof of the church to enjoy his prowess and take in the views. By this time the view had clouded over, as we warned is normal. San Nicolás is a darling little town with friendly people and loads of produce.

I had to take a video of the two bell ringers; they were so very charming!

In the afternoon we headed to our next lodging place: Casita de Barro in San Jerónimo Tecuanipán. OMG! If you are committed to sustainable living, if you want to support people who in turn support their local community, if you just want to meet two incredibly interesting people, you must stay here! Ina and Manuel have done and are doing amazing things here. The cabin is GORGEOUS—a really luxurious tree house. Their home is adobe, surrounded by gardens. They have running water, killer views and a delectable homemade organic breakfast; the only small downside is that the toilet is outside. Below is a video interview with Manuel and Ina, the owners of Casita de Barro. I recommend you view the video on a phone or tablet so you can turn it sideways. Sorry about that!

It rained in the afternoon, so Danny and I took advantage of the rest to read and watch a movie. We went into town for more cemitas for dinner; gotta love them! At one point it cleared up and a double rainbow came out. About 5:00 pm local kids showed up for their free after-school classes in Casita de Barro’s school room. Hearing their joyous laughter was really delightful.

I was pretty sure that the cloudy, stormy weather would continue. It seemed to rain all night. We’d already been gifted with THREE gorgeous sunrises and two beautiful sunsets, surely it would be greedy of me to hope for a fourth. But, no! I opened my eyes at 4:00 am, I’m sure because Popo was calling to me. He was out! His silhouette was clear! The Milky Way was shining, too! So I put my sweatshirt on over my night gown, put on my boots, loaded up my camera and tripod and went on a hike. Oh did I have fun! Casita de Barro’s dogs accompanied me as I tramped through the field to get the best frame for my shots. I loved how the dogs’ eyes glowed blue, green and white in the light of my headlamp.

As the sun rose, I took a time-lapse of the sunrise over Popocatéptl. I’m not sharing it with you here, however, because it wasn’t the most spectacular sunrise. The photos do the moment better justice.

To read the third and final installment of this Trip Log (Atlixco and Cholula) click here.

Trip Log: Puebla

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I have long been in love with Don Goyo; the name of my husband, Greg, but also the nickname of Popocatéptl, México’s beloved and active volcano. For years I have been wanting to get close to take some special photos, and that desire has grown this year as the volcano has been so very active.

The trouble is that, as with most any volcano, clouds often shroud the view. Add to that the smog and heat haze from the nearby cities of Puebla and Cholula, and my research showed me that I would have to be very lucky to have clear weather. I talked with a few photographer friends, I researched photo locations on the internet… I wanted to be ready for the next eruption.

Then one of my god daughters invited her mother and me to Mexico City, to present at her university. What fortuitous timing! The trip would be in the fall, during cempasúchil (marigold) season, just before Day of the Dead. I had seen those killer shots of the orange flower fields in the foreground with Popo as the focal point, and I was eager to attempt my own version.

Fortunately also, my son is living with us for a few months before he goes on to his next adventure. He agreed to join me on the trip. I made the lodging arrangements; the young chef and bartender was in charge of food and drink. We hit the ball out of the park on both counts, and the weather joyously cooperated with us as well. If you are planning a trip to Puebla, I trust this post might help you. If not, I trust you’ll at least enjoy some of the photos from the journey.

Monday and Tuesday: Puebla
I met Danny at the Mexico City airport, where he was flying in from Mazatlán. There we rented a car for the week. The easy and very scenic drive to Puebla took about an hour and 45 minutes. It was a bit challenging to get out of the airport and onto the correct highway, but Google Maps on our phone and the instructions from the car rental helped a lot. There are many affordable buses that take you this route as well, leaving from within Mexico City itself or from the airport. We wanted the car so we could drive out through the countryside to take photos. If that’s not important to you, the bus would be easier and probably cheaper (the road has tolls).

The drive to Puebla from Mexico takes you north of Popocatépetl and his princess volcano, Izteccihuatl. You pass loads of gorgeous churches on hilltops—that seems to be a thing in the state of Puebla—and you also see Malinche volcano to the northeast of Puebla City. It was an incredibly clear day; as I took the Uber to the airport to meet Danny, we could see all three volcanoes clearly from Mexico City, something I was assured was very lucky indeed.

Arriving in Puebla we checked into our hotel. I had chosen the NH Hotel Centro Histórico for two reasons: it was in the middle of the historic center, and it appeared to be one of the taller hotels in the area, so I figured we might get a good view. But first, we were hungry! And very much in the mood for some mole poblano!

Luckily for us, a few doors away is Fonda La Mexicana, with terrific ambience, delicious food and excellent service at very affordable prices. Danny had chicken mole, I had enchiladas with three different moles, and we also enjoyed some really interesting and tasty cocktails. I was very much liking Puebla already! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

After comida we walked the two blocks down to the zócalo, toured the cathedral, and admired the historic center’s architecture. Feeling lazy (Danny had a cold, I’d gotten sick in Mexico City), we opted for one of those bus tours of the city and very much enjoyed it. The views from up top, in the “zone of the forts,” are incredible day or night! Puebla, of course, is where the Cinco de Mayo battle was fought in 1862 (Battle of Puebla in Spanish), with General Zaragoza defeating the French.

The special in nearly every restaurant for Day of the Dead was huaxmole de espinazos or mole de caderas—a very typical seasonal dish of the Mixteca Poblana that is a stew of goat meat or pig spinal cord and green bean-like legumes (huajes). We fell in love with cemitas, the local style of torta sandwich; you absolutely MUST try them, any time of day! Another meal worth mentioning was that in El Mural de los Poblanos, where chiles en nogada were served for the very first time on August 2, 1821. Danny and I found it a bit too touristy/kitschy for our taste, but the food was good (pricey).

We then had plenty of time for our sunset photo session of the volcanoes. The receptionist of the hotel sadly had told us that none of the rooms were high enough to have a view of the volcano, but she gave us one facing the San Agustín Church. What an incredibly fortuitous surprise! I had not realized we would be right across the street from this gorgeous temple with its Byzantine style dome, built from 1555 to 1612. Danny and I walked up to the rooftop pool and conference room area. Bingo! Killer views of the volcanoes! As an added bonus, Templo San Agustin’s dome and tower made an excellent foreground. The sunset was amazing, with the sun’s rays emanating out in a way that almost looked surreal.

While Danny rested up, I headed out with my camera after dark to take some night shots of historic downtown Puebla. I learned that they also do night bus tours (I wasn’t interested, but the man sure did hit on me!)

We woke up before sunrise the next morning, and were again regaled with some incredible views from atop the hotel; this time the volcanoes glowed purple. The city at night also showed very nicely.

In Puebla we absolutely loved visiting the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, the oldest library in the Americas (25 pesos includes a free guided tour): a UNESCO “Memory of the World” and Mexican National Historic Landmark.

I was fascinated by the tour of a talavera workshop, as I love the art of handmade pottery. The one I visited was called Uriarte Talavera, and a tour through their facilities is something I’d highly recommend (I think it cost 50 pesos). The guide took us through every step of the process, from mixing the clays to making the pieces, drying and firing, to stenciling, painting, glazing and firing again. It was fascinating, as you can tell from the photos. There are also a museum and showroom on site.

I took two short videos. One explains how the workers tell if a piece is “good” or if it was damaged in the kiln. Here’s a job I think I could actually handle!

The other explains the information that is hand-painted on the back of every piece of talavera made in the workshop.

There is a whole lot to see and do in Puebla, including some incredible cooking schools and classes. A photographer friend of mine took us back up to the fort area to see sunset and the night view the second night we were in town. I had been so focused on Popo and Izta volcanoes that before we went I had not realized how gorgeous La Malinche would be from the city. There is an African Safari park nearby, and tours of some beautiful villas in the small towns of the Puebla area. Our two and a half day visit felt quite short.

To read about the next portion of this trip click here.

 

 

Giant Alebrije Parade

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I was most fortunate to have to work in Mexico City on Friday October 18th. The reason? Because the following day was the Desfile de Alebrijes Monumentales, a parade of gigantic, whimsical and fantastical wooden folk art pieces made from papier maché.

This year at the commencement of the parade the giant alebrijes were named a Mexican cultural heritage—the only form of folk art unique to the old Federal District. Since they came to life from the imagination of Pedro Linares in the 1930s, a couple of pueblos in Oaxaca have made names for themselves by carving alebrijes out of copal wood. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The parade included more than TWO HUNDRED handmade, monumentally sized alebrijes in fantastical shapes and colors. I was psyched to be able to photograph them in front of the cathedral and with the Palace of Fine Arts as a backdrop. After the several hour parade they “parked” the alebrijes along Reforma Avenue, and thousands more people were able to admire their beauty.

Many of the artists marched in the parade together with their works, as did many of the “hands” that helped build the incredible pieces. They honest to God took my breath away! What a great way to spend a weekend with girlfriends!

On the other side of La Reforma was a huge exhibition of skulls, called “MexiCráneos,” also very cool. The cempasúchil flowers were all out. I was excited to take photos of them with the Angel de la Independencia, but she is covered with scaffolding and under rehabilitation, and the flowers were full of thousands of people. So much for those gorgeous, quiet, no-people photos with the Angel in her glory!

 

 

 

Humble Beginnings Don’t Hold Him Back!

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+ The Masculine Form (project in development)
Photos: @santiago_barreiro @insidenatgeo #insidenatgeo

Most every society worldwide seems to be suffering a breakdown in the social fabric these days, a rise in corruption and violence, a loss of the values that make individuals and our communities healthy.

Maestro Cuahutémoc Nájera—the director of Mexico’s National Ballet Company—and his wife, Maestra Carolina Rios, strongly believe in the power of dance to strengthen communities and build strong, healthy, disciplined and principled individuals. Luckily for us, they live here and see dance as a tool to secure a better future for Mazatlán and México. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The maestros shared with me a post by es+Cultura that I found to be extremely powerful, and I have translated it for you below:

“Seven years ago the priest told Aaron’s grandma, Magda, ‘get him out of that ballet; the kids there become gay.” To avoid conflict she agreed, though she never followed through, because her grandson’s dream was to be a dancer and she was going to support him.

Aaron de Jesús Márques is one of the talents discovered by a program (PROVER) that seeks to promote dance in the city of Córdoba, in the state of Veracruz, giving scholarships to boys from complex social contexts. If the boy has needs and the desire, they pay for his studies, transportation, equipment and food for eight years, eight hours a day. The low enrollment of men in the private academy of Martha Sahagún was the impulse for this project, which now has various generations promoting the talent and diversity of Veracruz.

When he was barely seven years old Aaron didn’t even know what ballet was, in fact, the term didn’t sound familiar, but when the opportunity presented itself he didn’t hesitate even a minute to run up to the teacher who conducted the auditions to show her his physical conditioning. Months later when he’d begun his training, he understood that what his body was really asking him for was to dance ballet, and now no one would get in his way.

Aaron lives with his grandmother, or better said, his mother, as that’s what he likes to call her. She raised him once his Dad died and his biological mother emigrated for a better life economically. Magda supported the family. She was responsible for feeding, taking care of and giving life to the dreams of her grandson. The career of a classical ballet dancer involves a lot of dedication and discipline; it is a family project and in most cases requires the moral support of a feminine head of the household.

Classical dance gave the boy a stylizing manner to move his body, it proposed a language in which it wasn’t necessary to use impact and force like so many other disciplines. Aaron dances to express himself without words, to liberate himself from the structure that questions, violates and judges masculine feelings.

The exercise of classical western dance has implicated from its beginnings situations of violation and exclusion, it has generated negative stereotypes against men who pursue this discipline as a way of life. The hegemonic precepts around what it means to “be a man” in Latin American culture tend to determine how ballet is seen as art. In this 21st century, respect for the male dancer still hasn’t penetrated deeply into society, where machismo and its prejudices only put pride in “manly” sports . With this line of reasoning, dance is habitually associated with femininity. In this sense, there are unequal conditions for dancers, with men playing subordinate roles. This conception brings with it endless social conflicts. Today’s man tries to feel, express and free himself from established obligations (to procreate, provide, protect). However, society insists on assigning gender roles when and where they should not be. Dance in and of itself should not divide, distinguish or bias.

Aaron and some of his colleagues, plus his teacher, will be here in Mazatlán on Sunday, 17th November, performing in the Angela Peralta Theater at 6:00 pm, along with principal dancers from Mexico’s two best ballet companies: Ballet de Monterrey and the National Bellas Artes. Get your tickets at the box office now or WhatsApp Carolina at 52-1-669-941-2550; the performance benefits DIF Mazatlán (local families in need).

In the video below, Maestro Nájera tells us a bit about Aaron’s terrific program in Cordoba, Veracruz, where for the past ten years street kids have been given a new lease on life and a future in professional dance through educational and dance scholarships with amazing results.

Carolina dedicates herself to teaching young students; she owns and runs a dance school up in the marina. In the video below, she talks to me about the ways she has witnessed dance helping her students to be stronger, healthier, with higher self esteem, more cooperative and disciplined, and her plans for programming in the public spaces of Mazatlán.