The Centro Decorations
To end out this years festivities we include pictures from our neighborhood alter contest.
The Centro Decorations
To end out this years festivities we include pictures from our neighborhood alter contest.
Globo’s are small to large balloons made of paper and propelled or lifted by heat. They are a fun yet not unique tradition here in Mexico. Globo’s can also mean regular balloons of plastic blown up with air or helium loved and adored by children everywhere. Or to really confuse the non-spanish speaker they are also hot air balloons carrying lucky folks off on a romantic sunrise adventure(on my bucketlist as #3). Puebla’s have competitions and festivals dedicated to these colorful paper balloons. Lee and I went to one of the larger festivals in the Guadalajara area. The town of Ajijic is located on the largest land locked lake in Mexico. Lago Chapala has much to offer those who live near it, in this case a nice steady breeze. We learned that the breeze makes for some great entertainment and unexpected consequences…
The towns soccer field hosted this days event. Most of the spectators chose to spend the afternoon on the grass. The more adventurous sat in the grand stands. The reason it was for the more adventurous is the wind sent the balloons directly towards the stands, if the balloon had not made enough elevation to clear the stands or had started a fire before hand, those in the stands got to show off their agility and speed to all of us slackers on the grass. Much to our amusement.
The balloons are built by families, companies or civic groups. The paper is a tissue like paper is every imaginable color. The groups decide on things like pattern, colors and size. Not having seen any official rules, I by just watching think the groups are graded on how many balloons are launched, how long they stay airborne without starting fire. And my personal rule, how many people have to make a mad dash from the stands if the balloons do catch fire. At this point I have to say the Marachi band playing in the stands won my vote because the music did not stop when they had to scurry off. (It is not a festival in Jalisco without a Marachi band playing)
We were greatly entertained by the days offerings. The skill and creativity each group displayed was appreciated by the two of us.
The trip further south from Palenque was the real adventure. First it is winding 2 lane road, second it was amazing to be driving in forest again. I miss the forests of Washington State and the color green…South of Palenque is the Cascadas de Agua Azul. Because of the minerals in the rocks the river runs over the water is brilliant turquoise. We spent the night in the “hotel” there on the grounds and Lee braved a swim in the cold morning waters. The tribe which owns and runs the park are doing a great job updating the area with new cabins being built and others being updated, Lots of picnic benches for riverside fun and a large area of bars, restaurants and souvenir shop. The area is not free to enter and as we learned leaving sometimes it is not free to exit. This is our first scary turn. It was early but the local young men were starting to stop cars leaving. With wood strips with long nails sticking up, stopping was an easy decision. The men with machetes were starting to argue amongst themselves and Lee decided we needed to leave quickly and negotiated a bribe for safe passage. I think it was $10. Down the road a bit we started getting stopped by women and kids holding strings across the road. They wanted to sell their goods and the strings slowed cars enough to show the wares, or the kids came to the windows begging for money. It was dangerous for them and for us. Some resorted to strips of nailed wood across the lane of traffic. The highway blockades by the teachers union had supposedly ended just days before we started our trip. The news of the open roads was not quite accurate, but we were moving. Gas stations are nonexistent except for a couple of the larger towns. Card board signs outside of a house or hut saying gasolina were scattered throughout the drive to San Christobal de Las Casas. At these the owner would come out carrying everything from Milk jugs to 5 gallon cans filled with fuel. (People the world over see a need and fill it.) While we did not need the services of these household gas stops, I was relieved to see them. I do have the habit of running out of gas in the furthest point from a station. Our sights were set on reaching San Christobal before dark and we barely made it.
The Ciudad of San Christobal de las Casas has been declared a Pueblos Magicos, or magical city by UNESCO. And it was. We treated ourselves to a higher end hotel with really nice comfortable beds. No air mattress needed there. We parked the car and walked or rode the trolley. There are 15 temples/churches scattered throughout the city. Beautiful old architecture dating back I believe to the 1500 and 1600’s. The large cathedral is surrounded by vendors selling handmade clothes, leather goods clothing and tons of other stuff. Inside the courtyards or squares are people from many nations resting after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala. Central and South Americans, Cubans and Africans all took refuge at the churches and cathedral. So the crowds were intense for me. We toured the main centro area over many days. Discovering that San Christobal has two french pastry shops. The one a block away became our late night stroll to place. restaurants from all over the world, serving up heaping plates of wonderful food. The evenings were magical. Street musicians playing everything from american rock classics to marimba and steel drums. Throw in some mariachi for fun. Many playing guitars and marimba’s that were homemade, we enjoyed talking with them learning about how they chose the specific design or woods to make the distinct sounds.
There are dozens of museums to wander through if a quick rainstorm or the heat gets to you, (though it is definitely cooler here than in most of Mexico). We enjoyed the artesian co-ops, again spending time talking to the artists about their crafts. Tennis shoes that have been hand sewn with needle point butterfly’s and flowers. I would never have considered doing this to my shoes but this woman did and was very successful, selling worldwide. Silver copper and goldsmiths and jade jewelry designs, woodwind musical instruments made from exotic woods and silver, cloth that has been woven by hand in the boldest brightest colors, and toys, handmade toys of the most intricate design. The large art museum was closed for renovation as was the school of music, so we missed out there. Chocolate is huge here. And I really enjoyed the chocolate shops, my waistline says I enjoyed them too much.
One day we took a tour bus to Canon del Sumidero, or Mexico’s southern grand canyon. The sides are as high or higher in places and about 4 times longer than the grand canyon in the United States. The difference being; these walls are covered in green trees and bushes. Home to pelicans, herons ,monkeys and crocodiles. We took a boat down the river exploring the wildlife and well just seeing the sights. It would have been wonderful to jump in for a cooling swim but I don’t think I could out swim the gators. The country has done a wonderful job cleaning up the river and preserving the pristine feel to the canyon. Yes there are tour boats and a couple of small fishing canoes on the water, what you don’t see are tons of houses lining the shores or canyon ledges or speed boats pulling skiers and rafts.
The boat ride over, we toured the town of Chiapa de Corzo. It a very small town geared to the tour boat crowds. They did have a quaint church where inside the chapel is a statue of Christ on a donkey.
I know there is a great story about this statue, just no one was around to ask about it. The shops were full of mostly clothes made by the indigenous people. Their ceremonial costumes were a big hit. And out on the side-walk was this older man playing his marimba that was made with no nails,about 100 years ago. The sounds he was able to bring out of those wooden keys was so clear and clean. I never heard anything quite so perfect before. A fun fact the favored music of this region is the marimba music of the Caribbean islands. The locals consider this their native music. Even though the shop keepers hear this man play every day, I noticed when they thought no one was paying attention, they couldn’t help but dance a bit. It was hard not to put a rhythm to my steps. The town has built a large brick gazebos in the central square. A nice bit of shade in the heat of the day. And at night I can see it being a gathering place to talk and laugh. I was amused to see a cadre of police officers doing their run around the square. Reminded me of the unit runs in the army. In step with a call/response type cadence song, smiles and looks at the tourist making sure we were impressed. I guess some things are the world over.
On the way out to the canyon and on the way back were large protest blockades. Protests about the teacher’s strike. They nicely allowed passage by the tour buses because apparently the head office donates to the cause. Many large buses touring the Yucatan were held hostage. Every rider expected to pay as well as the bus company. Many a bus sat for hours while negotiations were held. Some protestors emptied the buses and then took off in them to some secret location until the company bought them back, or they were used to transport teachers to different sites and not returned. BTW the teachers in order to keep their jobs had to man the protest sites, if they did not show every day, the union would fire them selling their position to someone new; trained and educated or not. Teaching was a job that the position was bought and sold or handed down. The blockades were done by an offshoot teachers union, fighting the new reforms. We also stopped in at Misol-Ha falls on the way north. If one is mobile you can enjoy a swim. Or stand behind the falls cooling off from the drive and roadblocks. This roadblock pictured we were probably a mile back. They were letting no one through for hours at a time, bribe or no. We lucked out and only sat for an hour.
We spent quite a bit of time exploring this region. Mainly it was because of the cooler weather and the trees. It’s a different world from what we experience in Guadalajara. For one there are more indigenous people,many living is abject poverty. Second is the feeling that for so many it is a friendly rest stop, on their way to Estadas Unidos . It is a deeply religious area, where mass is a daily occurence (sometimes twice a day). There are a two ex-convents in the city. Apparently it was once a city for the clergy to spend their retreats at and then to retire. One convent is now a museum and we never knowingly found the second. It very well could have been pointed out on our tram tours, but being I don’t understand much more than Buenos dias, I can’t say we saw it. Pluses for this city are its accessible by foot, its diverse, there are hotels and hostels at all price ranges. Restaurants cover the globe for cuisine. Many shops and stores have maps in english to help you find your way. And according to Lee…Two top-tiered French Bakeries. Bon appetite and I hope we inspired your own trip through the Yucatan.
The drive from town to the ruins seemed long because of excitement but in reality less than 10 minutes. I won’t spoil the effect that Palenque makes on its visitors but I will say impressive doesn’t cover it. There are two entrances, the first is the museum and entrance to lower site, the next the ruins themselves. We headed up to the small parking lot at the official direct entrance to the ruins for our day to begin. There we were approached by several vendors and tour guides. One stood out to us both, don’t know why, but it was as if we recognized a friend.
Miguel took into consideration both of our physical limitations and adapted his hike into the jungle to us. Stopping often to point out birds, monkeys or unusual plants.. I think he did this to help us rest. The jungle hike to the ancient pool and the fertility totem should be a must for every visitor. Yes, you must hire a guide as there are no trail markers or maps, the guides work hard at making your hike an adventure.
The pool is a relatively new discovery. If you look closely at my picture, you will see the leaves are floating. Scientists have removed around 40 ft. of dirt and debris from within but have not yet reached the bottom. The sides are lined with rocks as they suspect the bottom is. The water source is from the bottom and is a continually feeding pool. The Mayans ingeniously allowed for an output into a rock lined aquifer carrying fresh water throughout the region. Nearby is a “totem” said to be where a blessing was asked to make the region fertile and life-sustaining to the people and crops and animals. It is now thought to be the center of the once great Puebla (wrong word I know but what is the correct word? It was more than a town and less than all of the mayan civilization.) Our hike was so fun, that we did not want to lose touch with our guide. He and his girlfriend went out of their way taking me to a doctor in town and even escorted us to lunch at an authentic Italian restaurant located about halfway between town and the ruins The restaurant “Monte Verde” is a home with a large covered back porch that serves as the dining room and a great spot to watch the monkeys playing in the trees surrounding the home and/or the birds in the pond below. To enter you walk through the kitchen and get to marvel at the stacks and piles of fresh vegetables and pasta. (The cooks are happy to pose for pictures.) By far the best food I have eaten anywhere. So stop in, enjoy your meal and top it off with a bottle from there varied wine list. Check them out in Facebook: De Ale MONTE VERDE Trattoria Pizzeria Vineria
We next went into the area of the ruins themselves. For those “not able” or are in chairs or on scooters there is a nice pathway for your convenience. (For foreign tourist the majority of parques in Mexico do not have discounts for the disabled. The young and older yes.) Barter to get the seniors price. The entrance you will have to experience for yourself. It is the most amazing feat of man(men and women) that I personally have experienced. How so much could be accomplished without electric tools or machinery is mind numbing. That so much can be hidden within the jungle is mind boggling. Mexico should be very proud of the history they are working to uncover and the forethought of those trying to share it with the world, while preserving the past. Total admiration Mexico!
“The archeological area of Palenque is deep in the forest at the foot of low hills which limit the middle valley of the Usumacinta in northern Chiapas. The original name is unknown, in fact Palenque is a name which was invented by the Spanish.” The only reliable archeological source specifies that the maximum growth dates back from the 7th to 10th centuries, better known as the Middle and Late Classical period.” *courteously of the Palenque map book
The ruins themselves are for the most part accessible for those able to climb up and over. Lee walked up to the entrance of the tomb of the Red Queen. It was a struggle, but coming down was terrifying. She actually had a helping hand to get down. Both her and the young man had looks of terror when they realized what went up must go down. The stairs are steep and very narrow front to back. When looking down on a sunny day your eyes play tricks and hide the stairs. I imagined it looked more like a rock slide standing way up there. I couldn’t make it up 1 step because of the steepness. I was so freaked to see all the young women climbing in 6″-10″ heels and platforms. This is definitely an ideal place for well tied tennies or boots. The long building on your right is the Temple of the Inscriptions. It houses tombs and sarcophagus of kings and the blood queen. It has crumbled in places but what is there is inspiring. Ahead is the Palace, and most is gone, but people were climbing all over this building. It is the only way to get an idea of the interior rooms that once were. The view of the other buildings must be awesome. Trees offer shade behind the palace and there you will find large slab’s that have been recovered. Eventually the archeologists will attempt to rebuild the walls and ceilings they support. Many people used them as benches to rest or picnic. This is also where the vendors sell their souvenirs. At times they were overwhelming to me. I am by nature very shy and have a huge personal space. This is invaded quite a lot in Mexico. I have learned a smile and a head shake generally means no sale and interest or questions mean I want everyone to show me everything. I have also learned no means maybe and bartering is a game. Many tourist try to get something for nothing, but I can’t get out of my mind pennies saved to me might mean dinner to the vendor. I also give money if I take a picture of an indigenous person at work. I tend to stop and watch any crafts-person hard at work. To create something in front of thousands of prying eyes has got to be a challenge.
If by chance you love stairs and adventure. We at first thought the terrain was pretty level, but we were told if we followed the signs (back right corner from entrance, near restrooms) to the waterfalls we would see all sorts of wonderfulness. Relics of what once were houses, tendas, aquifers, and a new suspension bridge over a small gorge. But at least a thousand stairs are between you and rest. The pathway ends across the street from the museum. There is a van that will carry you back up to your car. We passed for obvious, to me, reasons. Although we did enter in at the other end and took a very short walk in the shade.
The Western Yucatan Peninsula
We left Cancun after about a month of fun,sun and rest. It was time to pick up Bear and play. I took my camera in for repair and waited with fear. I was so afraid the repair would equal the replacement cost….I was wrong it was less than 50usd. It was so fun to run around Merida taking pictures again. We researched happenings in the area and were pleased to learn of a weekly demonstration of the ancient ball game that resembles soccer except that you strike the ball with your hips only. The game looks hard on the arms,legs and back. The men are basically crab walking the majority of the time. The goal stands about 8 ft off the ground and the object is to shoot the ball through this ring with a hole maybe 2 ft in diameter. Skill is needed to say the least. As part of the game was the blessing by a Shaman(?) of the field and the players. They blew in large conch shells in the four directions, the shaman also cleansed the field with a burning incense of some sort. If you have trouble with allergies you want to be further back in the crowd, than resting against the fence. After the blessing ceremony it was game time. The game was played in front of the Cathedral, which lucky for us, was also having a laser light show shown against the outer walls. The show is about the history of the area and the native(Mayan) people of the Yucatan. We enjoyed both the game and the show immensely. But here I must warn others, don’t forget your mosquito repellent (best to by a repellent with at least 40 percent deet in the States or Canada as you will not find a strong enough repellant in Mexico) As the sun goes down it felt more like a swarm of hummingbirds attacking than mosquito’s, sounded that way also. We arrived in the centro a little early to eat dinner and explore a bit. A couple of blocks away at a smaller church we watched as the young men and women lined up to make their entry to a young womans Quinceanera mass.(excuse me that I can not get the ~over the n, my keyboard or the operator can not figure out how to do this) This is a birthday celebration of a young persons 15th birthday. The young people were dressed in the finest of formal wear. Bright colors and fancy dresses. After the special mass, family and friends with proceed to an event center or restaurant for much food and dancing. Many hours are spent by the “court” learning a choreographed dance to perform for those in attendance.
Merida is home to many museums. We walked in and out of dozens of gallery’s. Enjoying the various genres. We also checked out the newer Museum Mundo de Mayo (world of the Mayans) This was a great place to explore while escaping the high heat and the even higher humidity level that is normal in Merida year round. It is on the outskirts of the city near the “freeway” that encircles the city and the Costco. We were highly impressed with the mixed media presentations of how life was for the Mayan people. We laugh about it now that how at just about every corner someone presented me with a wheelchair to make my experience more comfortable. Guess this day I was looking a little older and more disabled. (The museum offers no discount to the disabled, yet is the most accessible.) Another really world-class museum was the Anthropology and Culture Museum. This museum is in an old mansion in the center of the huge primarily white mansions(Passeo de Montejo). Many have either been restored and re-purposed or are in the process of being restored. Thia particular museum had no elevators and the stairs are many and intimidating. A nice guard was there to help me go up and down. Had I spoken the language I would be able to tell you if there are in fact elevators and they were broken or if they did not exist at all. I enjoyed exploring the rooms filled with old carvings and relics of life once lived. We also went into the art museum (free to the public) Wonderful pieces displayed constructed in metal were hidden through out the museum and in the center court-yard. Rooms filled with all sorts of artwork from paintings to mixed media.For those not capable of walking up and down stairs, many if not most of the museums surrounding Passeo de Montejo are housed in older mansions that do not have elevators. Call ahead or enjoy the first floor and the courtyard while others in your group troop up and down taking pictures for your enjoyment.
From Merida we headed west. Compeche was a quick-lunch stop for the three of us. It is probably the cleanest and is the brightest colored city in Mexico. The downtown area with its’ large shaded square was wonderful. A huge pavilion in the center providing both refreshments and tourist information. The sidewalk both inside the gates of the square and the sidewalk across from the park was lined with statues by “Rafael Colonel” and others. Through out the year several art fairs and other uplifting events are scheduled.
The buildings had a fresh coat of paint in bright yellows, greens, reds,oranges a virtual rainbow city. And no graffiti. It was easy to find our way in and around the town. We missed out on quite a few attractions because we had reservations booked on up the road. We have this town marked for a return visit.
From Compeche we headed south to Palenque. A long the way we noticed more than a few military and federal police vehicles on the road, reminding us that ahead we might encounter trouble. But just like everywhere men and women in convoys love to smile and wave. So we waved back. Oh, absolutely no hotels on this leg of the trip allow dogs, nor are they allowed in federal parques. So we arranged to board Bear. For those who look at a map and say that this is not a bad distance to drive in one day…its tiring. The area starts getting more hilly, the road for the most part is two lanes. Loads of tour busses and covered pickups acting for the local as a bus system. There are many small pockets of civilization with vendors selling anything you can image. Be careful of nail strips thrown on the road or two children holding a string across the roadway. They do this in order for you to stop and buy their goods or bribe you for passage. If it’s the string just shake your head no,smile and continue driving slowly, they usually drop the string. The nail strips don’t open the window but shake your head, unless you want what they are selling. Usually they let you go after a good effort to sell. Most of the gas stations were just houses or out buildings where gas was delivered in canisters instead of pumps. Bathrooms (banos) were non-existent unless you are comfortable behind a tree. So I guess that should be another thing in your must have bag…tp is usually 1 ply and sand-paperish if the stop has any. We always have a roll in the truck. Just in case.
Late afternoon we got to the town of Palenque. It was much bigger than we thought. It has grown up to support the main industry…tourism, and includes a good-sized airport. That first night we ate at out hotel and laughed at the huge frog who came to check us out. It was larger than my open hand, fat,and slimy looking. The wait staff tried in vain to shoo it out the doorway. The night sounds of the surrounding jungle were loud. Lots of monkey noise.
Next up is Palenque the Parque and ruins.