Tzintzuntzan: One of Mexico’s Most Traditional Holy Week Celebrations

DSC_0187©

We love what is unique to a place—that which is different from the ordinary—and the incredibly pious, faith-filled, self-mutilating Holy Week traditions of Tzintzuntzan in Michoacán are some of the most remarkable in Mexico.

Tzintzuntzan is a Pueblo Mágico just north of Patzcuaro and south of Quiroga on the lake. Its name means “place of the hummingbirds” in Tarasco and P’urhépecha, and was pronounced “Huitzitzilan” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. It is the ancient capital of the P’urhépecha and the first capital of Michoacán—the heart of Tarasco. We absolutely loved getting to know a bit about these incredible people! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

There is a horrible and also encouraging history of cross-cultural impact here. The Spanish conquistador Nuño de Guzmán burned alive P’urhépecha chieftain Tangaxuan II, and then largely dismantled Tzintzuntzan in order to use the stones for the Fransiscan monastery of Santa Ana, modern-day Templo de San Francisco. Fortunately, Don Vasco de Quiroga followed in 1530, a Spanish bishop wise enough to teach each pueblo around the lake a handicraft—lacquerware, copper smithing, wood and rock carving, pottery, basketry, embroidery, furniture making… The P’urhépecha have kept alive and perfected these crafts, and that handiwork supports them to this day, to the delight of artisan-lovers worldwide. It’s difficult to visit this area and not leave with a car-full of artesanía, as we do; it’s all just so gorgeous.

Ask anyone in a small village in the lake region who are the richest people in town, and they will usually say, “the artisans.” One local man told us a story about a “junior,” a wealthy young man from the DF, who contemptuously called a local woman “India.” He said she stood tall, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “Look what you are wearing: mass-produced blue jeans and a shirt. My handmade apron is a piece of art worth 6000 pesos. My skirt is handcrafted and worth 4000. My blouse 2000. My earrings are hand-forged silver worth 5000. These works of art connect me to my ancestors, my heritage and my community.”

Vasco de Quiroga was bishop of the lake region. Frustrated that the P’urhépecha would not come to mass in Tzintzuntzan, he ordered construction of a chapel in each of the town’s twelve barrios. He commissioned artists to make a crucifix or Cristo for each chapel. They are made from pasta de caña, or cane paste. These 16th Century Cristos, all twelve of them, still exist, lovingly cared for by descendants of the same families for generations in each barrio. The Cristos are on display for community members throughout the year, but on Holy Thursday and Good Friday each year they take on a more public role.

Wednesday and Thursday of Holy Week, the espias, or Roman Spies (clad in red hoods), set out looking for Christ, to arrest him. On Thursday find him they do, in twelve different homes around town. At each home, they are given food and drink by barrio members. All but two of the Cristos have been restored, and only one of them has dark skin—the Cristo in the Barrio de Santa Ana.

Holy Thursday is a day of preparation in Tzintzuntzan. Men clean grilletes, or shackles, for the Penitentes to wear the following day. They make and sell disciplinas: knotted lashes or whips covered in nails. They also string lights and put up tents.

Women put out candles and flowers, and cook for all of the others who are helping; this is most definitely a community-wide event. Every time you look around, an altar has appeared or been cleared, a tent has been put up or removed.

The patron saint of the town, El Señor del Santo Entierro, whose extremities are believed to grow, is usually seen in a glass showcase. During Holy Week, however, He lies in a bed, and pilgrims seek His blessing. A crown is held over each pilgrim’s head, in exchange for a small donation.

The normal Lavatoria de los Pies/washing of the feet Mass is said in the old Santa Ana Monastery, now the church in the parroquia complex. Here it is one of the most beautiful that I have witnessed in my 56 years. I noticed several P’urhépecha influences:

  1. A tall man dressed in a white dress and conical hat with peacock feathers, who road to Mass on a horse, processed into the church after the initial opening, and sat there throughout Mass. He is called “El Centinel.” According to the man in charge, he is based on P’urhépecha tradition. He represents the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side with his spear to verify his death, a blind soldier who then regained his sight. In Tzintzuntzan after Mass a man blew a romanesque horn/bugle while the Sentinel processed out, and the Sentinel sat waiting for Jesus throughout the night outside the church.
  2. The incense burner was native-made, and really reminded me of the Aztec purification ceremonies we witness to this day. It was a palpable connection between indigenous history and modern liturgy.

Mass is followed by a reenactment of The Last Supper and Judas’ fateful kiss that led to Jesus’ arrest, a full-blown dramatic stage production with costumes and amplified sound, with the crowd organized by the red and white-clad espias.

Good Friday is the most remarkable in Tzintzuntzan, at least for me. In the morning, about 40 barefooted men in white hoods put on the grilletes (shackles) to shuffle around the Olive Garden, with the help of two Cyrenes each, collecting alms from the pilgrims who are gathered there. The shackles mean these men, called Penitentes, have to jump up and down stairs and stumble over the cobblestones, gaining blisters and bloody scrapes in the process.

In the afternoon, eleven of the twelve 400-year old Cristos (one is too delicate to transport) are relocated—a lengthy and very delicate process—to the “atrium” of the  Templo de San Francisco complex, an open-air park where olive trees planted by Don Vasco de Quiroga grow to this day. The Cristos are lined up from largest to smallest.

There is a reenactment of the Via Crucis or Stations of the Cross, which in Tzintzuntzan is called La Judea.  Once that is finished, El Señor del Santo Entierro is crucified and processed through town with the other Cristos, to later be returned to the Temple for a vigil.

Then, about 9pm, nearly 400 Penitentes begin their own incredible journeys, continuing till Saturday morning. They are each motivated by a manda, a reason for which they commit to being Penitentes for at least three years—perhaps a relative is sick and they pray for a cure, perhaps they are in school or starting a new business or family and want to succeed. After three years, if their manda has been completed, their wish realized, they perform the corrida in reverse—a fourth year of thanks to the Señor del Santo Entierro. These men are so very committed, pious, and serious, it is a blessing to witness them. And so very many!

These evening Penitentes are different than the morning ones in a few respects. First, they are bare-chested. Second, their journeys are much more arduous. Third, they must move on their knees through the church. And fourth, they have a couple of choices to make. Their first choice regards which route will they follow. There are three routes:

  • Around the Olive Garden, which has about 14 stations (maybe half an hour)
  • Around the town, which has about 24 stations (about 50 minutes)
  • To Ojo de Agua, a nearby town, a route that includes about 30 stations (90 minutes to two hours)

The length of time each route takes depends on many factors: how long you pray at each station, whether the crowds let you through, and how fast you can move. Along each route, local families gather to watch, much as they would a parade. They sit in their chairs all night long, till 7:30 am when the Penitentes finish and come out of church to thank the community and God.

The second choice involves how you will make your journey: carrying a cross or wearing shackles. Crosses are very heavy, and cross-carriers are supposed to run at all times. They have one or two Cyrenes, friends to help them on their journey. The Cyrenes may not carry the crosses for the Penitente, but they hold the cross while the Penitente prays at each station, they wield flashlights and guide the hooded Penitente so he stays on track, and they help to part the crowds so the Penitente can get through. They can also clean the glass, rocks and splinters off the Penitente’s feet.

As if carrying the sharp-edged cross while running barefoot with a hood on, or walking hooded while in shackles, weren’t hard enough, each Penitente carries an eight-whipped disciplina full of nails. He is required to whip himself with the nailed lashes at each station, causing prodigious bleeding. Heavier or more muscled, less flexible Penitentes tended to have two bloody spots on their back, as the lashes didn’t reach the center. Teenagers and thinner men tended to have one deeper wound, in the center of their backs. Either way, I would not wish to have a manda and perform this penance anytime soon!

If you stumble or miss a station, or if your Cyrene helps you more than he should, you need to start your journey over from the beginning.

Holy Saturday includes the Easter fire or Fuego Nuevo at night, while Easter of course involves the Mass of the Resurrection.

Tzintzuntzan is about an eight hour journey from Mazatlán. We spent one night in Guadalajara, then a few nights in Uruapan, where on Palm Sunday they hold Latin America’s largest indigenous handicraft tianguis/fair. We stayed in a gorgeous cabin beside the river, and near there (in Parangaricutiro) we also hiked the ruins of a church buried in lava.

From Uruapan it is a three hour journey to Tzintzuntzan. From Tzintzuntzan, any of the villages around the lake are easily reachable, as are the islands in the lake or the state capital of Morelia.

There are cabañas in town, on the lake, or plenty of hotels in nearby Quiroga. Our AirBnB didn’t work out, and we ended up finding a hotel at the last minute. We were invited to stay in at least five different homes, so even if you travel without reservations, you should have no problems.

I like how very informal things are here; I hadn’t brought an Easter dress or shoes, and I fit in at Easter Mass just fine. Makeup isn’t that common, either. We found the people we encountered most welcoming, though perhaps more standoffish/shy at first than in Mazatlán. You definitely need to speak Spanish; many of the locals have trouble even with that, as they speak P’urhépecha natively and Spanish as a second language; English tends to be only spoken by those in Patzcuaro, who work with tourists, or who have lived north of the border. The beauty here is driving into any town and just discovering what it has to offer.

I trust you might visit and, if you do, enjoy your adventure!

Mexican Pompeii

DSC_0171©Today Greg and I visited the incredible ruins of a 17th Century church sticking up out of a lava flow! The sight reminds me of Pompeii, yet it’s just outside Uruapan, in the state of Michoacán, where we are for Semana Santa.

Paricutín Volcano completely destroyed two towns, but amazingly the original tower, altar, front and rear walls of the Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro still stand—with lava right up to them. You can see why villagers call it a miracle. Today, old San Juan Parangaricutiro is a pilgrimage site, and Greg and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know it. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

THE STORY
Construction of Templo San Juan Parangaricutiro began in 1618 under the direction of Friar Sebastián González. It was completed in 1720 but with only one tower; villagers were in the process of completing the second tower when the lava struck two centuries later.

Dionisio Pulido became the first person in history to be present during the formation of a volcano, on 20 February, 1943 when Paricutín erupted. He was working his field when he felt the earth rumble and heard a loud roar. Looking up, he saw plumes of smoke coming out of a crack in the earth and rocks flying through the air.

In the next 24 hours Paricutín would grow seven meters tall, within one week it was 50 meters high, and eventually it became an ash cone 600 meters tall. Its first lava flow began four months after the initial eruption, flowing at 20 meters per minute, and lasted four years.

Parangaricutiro is a Purepecha town six kilometers from Paricutín. The villagers hoped that Captazin Hill would block the lava from entering their town. Lázaro Cárdenas came to warn the villagers to leave, but they refused, saying that the lands they’d relocate to already had owners, and they would not be welcome. To his credit, Cárdenas camped outside Parangaricutiro for one year, ready to help evacuate the villagers, but not pushing them. By May 1944 the lava flow had traveled ten kilometers and made its way around Captazin Hill, entering Parangaricutiro from the other side. The villagers finally made the decision to leave their homes rather than die, and amidst tears and cries they departed on May 10th, led by Cárdenas and the “Señor de los Milagros” cross from their church’s altar. I am currently reading a book about Cárdenas, Tierra Roja, so this historical note was especially interesting.

The “Señor de los Milagros” cross is now in Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro church. Legend says that a traveling religious icon salesman brought three crucifixes to Parangaricutiro in the late 1500s. A villager—Nicolás Moricho—chose his favorite, but the salesman refused to let him pay for it. The visitor wouldn’t share his name, where he came from, or where he was headed, and he didn’t eat or drink anything during his stay. He left the village walking north, and when the villagers went after him he was nowhere to be found. Thus, villagers began to believe that the cross was brought to them by an angelic messenger or divine destiny. An Augustin friar heard the story and blessed the crucifix, proclaiming that it would bring miracles to the town; that is how it came to be known as the “Señor de los Milagros.” I can only imagine the hope those villagers put into that cross as they fled while lava destroyed their homes, and I can understand why they feel it’s a miracle the church survived.

Paricutín Volcano stayed active for nine years, 11 days, and 10 hours: six different lava flows eventually covered 25 square kilometers, and the main ash cone also remains. Fortunately no one was killed. 

HOW TO GET THERE
We conducted extensive research online, but details are very hard to find. I therefore hope the below will help you.

From Uruapan you need to drive to Angahuan. From there you can hire a guide (150-300 pesos, plus horse rental if you want one) or you can drive to the end of the road, following the signs to the volcano. You can park in one of two ecological parks that rent cabins (of course, you could stay there, too), including Centro Turistico de Angahuan. You can also rent horses and hire guides there. From the tourism centers, it is an easy 35 minute walk on a wide dirt road to the site of the church ruins. The walk is gorgeous; you walk amidst pine trees and cactus, and, finally, alongside fields of dried lava. Once you reach the ruins there are a few simple restaurants selling food and drink.

One of the restaurant owners is Jesús “Cachuy” Velázquez Gutiérrez, the son of two survivors of the volcano: Aniceto Velázquez Contreras and Paula Gutiérrez Aguilar. He told us you can access the ruins by car, but you have to drive way out of your way, covering about 24 km; the walk or horseback ride is much easier. He has a Facebook page for the church ruins, so you can also ask him questions before you visit.

From the restaurant area you can easily see the tower of the church amidst the lava. From that point, however, you have to climb over lava in order to get to the ruins. Be sure to take sturdy hiking boots, and wear a hat and sun screen. During our visit quite a few people started out to see the ruins and turned back. Greg and I spent about two hours climbing around the site and had a ball!

The walk back to your car is uphill so it’s much more difficult than the way out. Obviously the road was built for cars, but it is no longer accessible to 4-wheeled vehicles; rock barriers cross the road at various points, and benches have been installed in the center of the road at key intervals as well. We went at sunrise so I could get good photos. By 10:30 am there were busloads of visitors, most of whom entered on horseback, so lots of dust on the trail. Of course, we were here on Monday of Holy Week; normal weekdays probably have far fewer visitors. Early in the morning, even during Holy Week, Greg and I were the only ones there.

Some people continue past the ruins to the top of the volcano. We were told that it’s a 2-3 hour hike each way; we highly recommend a guide if you make this journey. Jesús “Cachuy” Velázquez Gutiérrez, owner of one of the small restaurants at the ruins, offered to take us to the top in his pickup truck. He said it would take one hour and cost 1,200 pesos, and he is willing to take a group up.

If you love adventure tourism, religious tourism, or you are just looking for something out of the ordinary, we definitely recommend this place!

Have You Ever Seen a Real Oasis?!

dsc_0574

Poza Azul, Cuatro Ciénegas

Do you drive to or from Mexico via Texas? If so, I hope you have or will soon stop at Cuatro Ciénegas—Four Marshes—located in the state of Coahuila between Monclova and Torreón. Here you’ll find, in the middle of the largest desert in North American, an intricately interconnected series of gorgeous rivers and over 400 springs, ponds and wetlands! These are located within fifteen minutes of pure white sand dunes, exotic rock formations, and salt flats, in a valley surrounded by breathtaking mountains. Nearby are also prehistoric cave paintings; a refreshingly cool, swimmable river; thermal springs; and a marble mine! Plus, you’ll see butterflies galore! How they love this valley!

The clear, fresh water has such gorgeous blue-green colors that you’d swear you were in the Caribbean! You’ll also see ponds that are amber and orange. Due to the fact that the underground river system is closed (no inlet or outlet), Cuatrociénegas Biosphere Reserve rivals the Galapagos in terms of unique plants (800 endemic species) and animals (60 unique species). It is a sister park to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, USA.

NASA has stated that Cuatro Ciénegas could have strong links to discovering life on Mars; they studied the gypsum dunes of Cuatro Ciénegas because they are similar to Gale Crater on Mars. The New York Times wrote a fascinating article about it. And it’s not just life on Mars that peeks scientists’ interest. This area is a unique treasure trove. According to Wikipedia:

Live stromatolites inhabit Cuatro Ciénegas’ pools. These are cyanobacteria colonies, extinct in most of the world, linked to the origin of an oxygen-rich atmosphere over three billion years ago.

The pools are an oligotrophic environment with little available phosphate, leading one local bacterial species, Bacillus coahuilensis, to acquire the genes necessary to partially replace its membrane phospholipids with sulfolipids through horizontal gene transfer.

The Information Center for the 53,000 square mile the private Poza Azul Reserve is about an hour west of Monclova, just off a paved highway through unbelievably gorgeous mountains. There is a small museum highlighting the geology, flora and fauna of the area. Directly outside is the Poza de la Tortuga, Turtle Pond, an emerald green spring-fed pool filled with fish. The water is so very clear that you feel you are looking into an aquarium, except this one has clouds and mountains reflected in its surface and box turtles swimming amidst the fish. Click on any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

Greg and I walked about a kilometer into the Reserve to reach the Poza Azul, or Blue Pond. Many others just drove in. This pond looks as if it has a turquoise eye with a sapphire pupil in the center of it. At its deepest the pond is five meters. It is surrounded by reeds, some beautiful flowers, and contains a few lily pads, as well as fish and turtles. Again, the water is crystal clear.

The ponds are roped off to protect the water, but this of course makes it difficult to get a good photo. There is fortunately a viewing platform rising about 10 feet above ground at Poza Azul, offering a view of the pond and the mountains beyond. At Poza de la Tortuga there is a dock you can walk out on to get a better view.

Beyond the Blue Pond is a marble mine, though we didn’t visit it. On our way back to the Information Center, we walked along a beautiful boardwalk that paralleled a gurgly stream—Sendero el Borbollón—in the middle of the desert!

As we left the Poza Azul area, we paid for a ticket to get us into the Dunas de Yeso, Gypsum Dunes or white sand dunes, which are an incredibly beautiful sight. According to the USA National Park Service:

Gypsum is a common mineral, but it is extremely rare in the form of sand dunes. The conditions must be in just the right order for gypsum sand to form. White Sands and Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Cuatrociénegas are two of only a handful of places where this unusual sand can be found.

Since both gypsum and basins are so common all over the world, you might wonder why gypsum sand isn’t found in more places. The secret is something rarely found in deserts—water! Like the rest of the Chihuahuan Desert, White Sands and Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Cuatrociénegas receive less than ten inches of rain per year, but because of their unusual geology, they are both very wet environments. Water helps keep the gypsum sand from blowing away.

The dunes are 12 kilometers down the road from Poza Azul, and you can drive all the way in to both places. No need to walk if you don’t want to, though of course you’ll want to walk around the ponds and the dunes, at least a bit. The sun-glinted white sands were mesmerizing, with their wind-whipped waves, and the natural sculptures were incredible.

To get to the Protected Natural Area we drove through the outskirts of the small town of Cuatro Ciénegas, a Pueblo Mágico. We planned to head back there for a late lunch and to visit at least one of its two wineries. On our way back, however, we again passed the entrance to Balneario Rio Mezquites, which is an area with palapa huts, picnic tables, grills, lifeguard stands, changing rooms, and porta-potties, on the River Mezquites. This area was very tempting, as it’s obviously hot and arid in the desert, and you can’t swim in any of the protected waters. Even here in the river, however, the water was amazingly crystal clear, and despite the holiday (Independence Day) weekend, not very crowded. I hadn’t brought my swimsuit, but I jumped in and enjoyed a swim anyway! They say the snorkeling is great there, and soon they’ll have kayaks to rent.

The town of Cuatro Ciénegas de Carranza—Mexican President Venustiano Carranza was born here—is home to about 12,000 people. As you enter the town from Monclova you’ll see a huge, seven ton monument to Carranza up on the hill. The Pueblo Mágico has a shady plaza surrounded by restaurants and shops, a beautiful church (San José, 1825), a couple of museums, two wineries, and four or five hotels. It is surrounded by the mountain ranges of Sierra de San Marcos and Sierra la Fragua.

Cuatro Ciénegas is the site of quite a bit of cross-border collaboration, as mentioned above with the US National Parks Service, and also with Arizona State University. Read more about that here. The drive in and out is magnificent, as you’re in a valley surrounded by mountains, with a broad variety of desert vegetation.

How to Get There
From Saltillo take highway 57 to Monclova and then continue on highway 30 to Cuatro Cienegas. You can take a bus from Saltillo, Torreon or Monclova. Distance Chart: To Monclova 82 km; To Saltillo 273 km; To Torreon 222 km

map-cuatro-cienegas

Greg had heard about this beautiful place, so I researched it on the Internet. While there were many pages that talked about the area, none of them contained the information needed for an enjoyable visit. So, I’m hoping this will help you:

  • The Reserve is open from 10am – 5pm each day, sadly making photography somewhat of a challenge (we like sunrises and sunsets, blue hours and golden hours…)
  • Entry to the Poza Azul area is 30 pesos, and to the Dunas de Yeso is another 30 pesos.
  • Most sites told us we needed a guide or we would get lost. Untrue! The sites are well marked and easy to get to. Of course, you can hire a guide for a reasonable price and benefit from all the information the guide will share, but you’d be hard-pressed to get lost without one.
  • Most sites told us we’d be doing a lot of walking and would need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Again, untrue. You can drive to the ponds near the Information Center, and you can drive out to the white sand dunes as well. The road to the dunes is gravel and has potholes, but nothing worse than the road to Las Labradas.
  • Many sites told us you can swim in the ponds. UNTRUE! It is strictly prohibited from swimming in the protected waters. You can, however, swim in the Rio Mezquites, as I describe above.
  • If you want to go swimming in the river, take your suit and a towel, and bring food to barbecue. There are plenty of grills at the site.
  • I recommend you take plenty of water, wear sunscreen and a hat. You are in the desert, after all!
  • The Poza de la Becerra is mentioned by quite a few websites. It was very much closed during our trip. We could see that the area had been a swimming area—huts with tables, grills, bathrooms. Our guess is they are giving the area time to recuperate or recover from over-use, and then they will reopen it in a more protected and eco-friendly fashion.
  • The wineries in the town of Cuatro Ciénegas were highly touted on the websites I visited. They are just on the outskirts of town, on highway 20 heading towards Ocampo. The closest to town is called Bodegas Ferriño, and a few doors farther down is Vinos Vitali. The wines are mostly sweet and not to our liking, though it’s always fun to taste and to walk around a winery.?

If you visit, please let us hear about it! And send your pics!

Private Estate Bottling Tour in Tequila

P1250141

My favorite Reserva de la Familia’s collector box

 

My favorite tour in the quaint pueblo of Tequila, Jalisco, is of Herraduras. The hacienda is beautiful, and the people are very welcoming and down-to-earth. I’ve generally avoided Cuervo, because I see it as such a machine. We have friends who love it, however, and they recently took us with them on a private bottling tour there. I HIGHLY recommend it!

Firstly and most importantly, every person on the tour gets a bottle of La Reserva de la Familia. This is INCREDIBLY smooth and easy-drinking tequila, leaving no hangover, and comes in an annual collector’s box designed by the artist-winner of their annual contest. We paid LESS THAN THE PRICE BELOW for a six-hour day that included a tour of the fields, the hacienda and gardens, a tasting, snacks, and our private bottling!

P1250136

First let me show you what our day included, and then I’ll give you the scoop about what I learned about how to get the best deal.

We started by getting into a van to drive out to the fields. Below are some photos of the demonstration we had there, where Ismael, one of Cuervo’s long-time jimadores, demonstrated to us how they uproot and trim a blue agave. Most of the hacienda tours will include something like this.

Click on any photo to enlarge it or to view a slideshow.

Next, we went back to the hacienda (not as old as Herradura, and we definitely felt it was more for show than to get work done in), and had a tour and explanation of the distilling process. In a group of about 30 people (it was a puente weekend), we saw the ovens, the tanks, the barrels. We sampled the leftover agave after it’s finished baking—it was good! Nice and sweet, sort of like sucking sugarcane. We also did a tasting of various tequilas out of the barrels. Again, most tours at most haciendas include something like this, and to me, Cuervo is not the prettiest hacienda.

From here we broke off from the group tour and went down into the cellar, where we would have a private tasting of Reserva de la Familia. Now we became about ten or twelve people. Again, it was a puente weekend; I believe that on a regular weekend we would have been fewer people.

The cellar was gorgeous—hard to take photos in, as it was so dark. We were allowed to drink pretty much all the Reserva de la Familia we could handle in the 30 or 40 minutes we were down there. Of course, we were already buzzed by the time we arrived in the cellar!

My favorite part was that we were instructed on how to use a copper ladle (benencia or ladrón) to dip into the barrel and fill a brandy glass. This part was a whole lot of fun, and unlike any other tour we’ve taken.

So, by now we’ve been “sampling” tequilas for about three hours, and this last cellar visit gave us the chance to sample the best of the best. Now we got to (try and stay vertical long enough to) climb up the stairs and go to a tasting. A TASTING? Seriously?! Oh my!

This took place in a gorgeous room all set up special. We were joined by a few additional people, so we were maybe four family groups in all. Our terrific guide for the day, Rosy, taught us a bit about how to smell and taste three different tequilas (the brandy snifter in the photo below is my leftover Reserva de la Familia from the cellar!), using a plate of tastes and smells (coffee beans, cinnamon, lime, etc.) to help us.

Next we thankfully got a bit of a break, and even some fresh air! We walked out through the gardens, after which we sat down to eat a few of the snacks that were included in our tour. Our break took place in a gorgeous little courtyard, and we had a beautifully sunny day. To my memory (which by now is quite fuzzy), they tasted great. We enjoyed chatting and laughing with the kids who came by selling fresh-made bread and rolls.

Finally we got to the BEST PART. We went back down into the cellar and got to bottle our very own private Reserva de la Familia bottles! We filled a clean bottle from the barrel. We corked it, wrapped it with tape so that it would be easy to open, then dipped the cork and tape into wax. You can tell by the photos below that my wax dipping didn’t come out as “clean” as it should have, but I sort of liked the artistic result.

Once the bottles were corked, we had to glue on the labels. Somehow our guide felt the need to straighten each of the labels I put on; can’t imagine why that would be. Our estate bottle numbers were officially registered into a log book, and we were able to hand-letter a personal message on each of our bottles. LOVED IT!

Finally, our bottles were wrapped in tissue paper and placed into the collector box, which is a different design every year.

Once our six-hour, wonderful day finished, we were able to walk around the hacienda further, have another round of something to eat, and shop in the gift shop. Since we had four identical boxes, plus a fifth matching box at home, I asked Rosy if she wouldn’t trade me out for a different box. I’d spotted a cool Japanese woodblock print-looking rabbit box earlier. Sure enough, Rosy did me that favor, and now we have two different kinds of collector’s boxes.

 

We stayed at a clean, bright hotel conveniently located right on the plaza, steps from the church, called El Jardín. You can see the affordable rates in the photo below. We were happy to spend the night in Tequila; we hadn’t done that on previous visits. As much tequila as we’d “tasted,” we were glad to have the hotel! The plaza at night was hopping, and we ended up with souvenir clay cups or jarras, which our bartender kindly filled with fresh fruit juice and tequila (because of course by then we were thirsty again).

The next morning we walked around a bit more, and enjoyed breakfast with Rosy, our guide from the previous day. As usual, I enjoyed people watching—kids playing music, men and dogs snoozing…

Okay, so here’s my advice if you want to do this tour. First, go online and get your Mundo Cuervo membership card. This gives you all sorts of different benefits. Next, “like” Cuervo’s Facebook page. There they share a bunch of special offers, contests and discounts. We were able to have our membership card upgraded to one of the top levels, which allowed the two of us to get our six-hour day including everything above for just 2900 pesos! Of course, we also had champion negotiator, our friend Paco, do the bargaining for us. Even at normal cost of 1600 pesos, however, the bottling on its own is a good deal, but the total price we paid blew me away for everything we did.

Tequila is a fun trip no matter what. Private bottlings require scheduling ahead of time, so if you want to do that, be sure to call ahead.

 

 

On Keeping Traditions Traditional

 

10009854_10151968950151246_1414383763_n

Photo of Omar Castro around taken 1992 in Mochicahui, Sinaloa, Mexico

¡Feliz Día del Niño! Happy Children’s Day! April 30, 2014, Children’s Day here in Mexico.

The photo above is of a new friend of ours whom I greatly admire, Omar Castro. In this photo he looks to be about five years old. It was one of the first times he danced with his father in El KONTI, and the photo is taken in the central plaza of Mochicahui, in front of the church.

If you follow this blog, you know we had the pleasure of fulfilling my dream and attending KONTI this year. A week or so after that, I spent some time with a nationally renowned photographer and a well-known international journalist. As Greg and I were talking to them about our recent trip to Mochicahui for these Yoreme Mayo festivities, they were both bemoaning that EL KONTI had become too modernized, too watered down. They lamented the misfortune that some Fariseos now wear masks representing Disney characters, or metal leggings rather than traditional leggings made of  dried cocoons. They advocated that ceremonial leaders should be stricter: insist that participants only wear traditional dress, and that they follow the Catholic-native rituals more closely.

Normally, I would strongly agree with this point of view. I am an interculturalist; I am strongly in favor of preserving cultural traditions. So, my initial response to these two gentlemen was to explain that Omar and other Yoreme leaders are  doing their very best to educate their communities about these centuries-old traditions—explaining many of the points that are in my KONTI blog post. I so admire Omar and the other community leaders for their efforts to preserve the traditions.

But, I was torn. I also reminded my two meal-mates that the real tradition of KONTI is, of course, pre-Hispanic—and thus, pre-Catholicism. If we were to preserve traditions without change, there would surely be no crucifixes, no stations of the cross, no Spanish language prayers, no churches, and no Bible references in the celebration of KONTI. I explained to my esteemed colleagues that while I strongly feel traditions need to be preserved, that they belong to the people. To thrive as vital components of society, traditions need to be living, dynamic customs—and that perhaps requires change and “modernization.”

I believe Omar and other leaders of the Yoreme traditions see this. They teach community members the old ways, through their example, their coaching, and via the school system. They have a young artist from Europe living in the pueblos right now, contributing drawings to a book they are writing on the Yoreme traditions. They value tradition so much that they also permit the use of non-traditional masks or leggings. I believe this is because they know that the people need to make the traditions their own. The tradition needs to speak to individual members, to resonate with them, to have meaning and purpose for them.

I met several young men in Mochicahui who would not have been able to dance in KONTI if not for their tenabaris made by hand out of recycled tin cans, because the butterfly cocoons were far too expensive for them to afford, or they didn’t have access to the cocoons they needed. Thus, keeping the traditional open to some modernity and flexibility enables more people to get involved, to learn the tradition, to breathe continued life into it. I am confident that those young men will save their money or make a trade so that they have traditional tenabaris next year or the following; it’s a process.

Same with the Disney-esque masks. Personally, I loved them. To me it was proof that people want to participate in KONTI, that they find joy in the communal aspects of the worship and desire to join in. Again, I know community leaders prefer them to wear traditional, hand-carved wooden masks (almost every Disney-esque mask I saw was hand-carved from wood, by the way). I know leaders teach that, and promote that. But I also salute community leaders for the fact that they do no prohibit non-traditional masks. To me, it keeps the tradition vital.

It’s a delicate balance, preserving tradition and maintaining its vital place in community. It’s a process, with a tension between change and status quo. It requires us to remember a tradition’s purpose, what is at its core. The photo up top is of Omar as a child. He and his wife are now expecting their first child. The tradition continues. And adapts.

My admiration goes out to the Yoreme Mayo leaders who so well demonstrate that. I learned so much from them on that one day I spent in Mochicahui!

10150609_10151968918821246_1521236448_n

Historic photo of the church in Mochicahui.
Today the building on the left is in ruins; the chapel at far right stands proudly.