A Travellerspoint blog

Mexico

All Quiet in Oaxaca

sunny 29 °C

The central square in Oaxaca, the Zocalo, is typical of every colonial city in Mexico and South America. With government buildings on one side and the cathedral on the other the square is completed by arcades of shops and cafes in shady colonnades...
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We are staying in Oaxaca City for two weeks: whiling away the hours under the Zocalo's cafes parasols as we watch a constant procession of Zapotec women hawking their colourful fabrics...
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We sit in the shade as a parade of diminutive Oaxacan women offer us shawls, shirts and scarves at negotiable prices, but we don't bite – they will be back tomorrow, (we assume).
The Zocalo is abuzz with activity as vendors try to lure gringos with all manner of trinkets, all handmade though all suspiciously similar, and the pavements of the surrounding streets are clogged with makeshift market stalls offering identical crafts....
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The Mexicans are big on shiny shoes but in the hot and dusty streets of Oaxaca they soon need a brush up. No problem here in the Zocalo where dozens of men and boys are ready and willing to give a new look to anyone's footwear for a buck...
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It's deliciously warm here in Southern Mexico but anyone feeling the heat or feeling under the weather can be quickly attended to by roving volunteer paramedics...
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These mounted lifesavers come fully equipped to deal with all manner of emergencies and may come in very handy if the coronavirus reaches here.

And so – we come to today when we took our morning constitutional to the Zocalo for our usual coffee and found the place almost deserted...
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No textile hawkers; no enthusiastic stallholders; no balloon vendors. Had we screwed up our days – is it Sunday or some other religious event? Our cafe was open and Nora, our cheerful Zapotec waitress, was happy to serve us but, apart from the shoeshiners, the square was deserted. Then we spotted a trade union leader addressing a crowd huddled under the shade trees just off the Zocalo...
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Where else in the world but Mexico could we find several hundred street vendors on strike for better pay and conditions? We are told that they may be back on the job tomorrow – but maybe not. We shall see.

Posted by Hawkson 16:30 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Winter Escape

sunny 28 °C

We decided to stay home this winter for the first time since 2007 – and then this happened...
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For most Canadians a mere foot of snow is seen as a light frost, For example: Newfoundlanders are currently digging out from snowdrifts fifteen feet deep and skiers are having a great time on the slopes in the Rockies. The snow certainly looked pretty in our Japanese garden...
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But almost as soon as it stopped snowing on our west coast island the white stuff turned wet and it rained – and rained – and rained. And, if the forecast is to be believed, it may never stop raining. So we packed our bags and made a dash for the airport. And here we are in the historic central plaza of Oaxaca City in sunny southern Mexico enjoying hot Mexican chocolate...
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The bright blue skies and 28 degree temperatures remind us why more than 4 million Canadian 'snowbirds' fly to Mexico every winter. The sun shines all day, the margaritas are chilled and the hotel swimming pools are pleasantly warm – what more could we want...
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Maybe some interesting culture and colonial architecture? This is the cathedral in Oaxaca City...
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Oaxaca has been on our bucket list for awhile and we were headed there this time last year when we were forced to cut our trip short. So now we are here we will be soaking up the sun, practising our Spanish, visiting the ancient Zapotec and Mixtec ruins, and looking for an interesting little number for Sheila to wear at a very special upcoming birthday. Maybe one of these in Oaxaca market...
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If it isn't right for the birthday she can always wear it to a wedding in May!

We have only been here a day and have already fallen in love with the markets – so much to see: so much to buy – especially the local potent booze - mezcal and the speciality cheese. One thing we have learned already is that mezcal apparently goes with anything; almost every shop sells it in one form or another – even the cheese shops, the cremerias...
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As long as we can stay off the mezcal we will be back online in a day or so with a deeper look at this fascinating city.

Posted by Hawkson 19:19 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

Guanajuato's Underworld

sunny 29 °C

The city of Guanajuato is precariously perched on near vertical cliffs and we can't help feeling that if there were an earthquake here the whole lot would crumble to the valley floor. There's not a flat bit of land in the whole place, which is not good on the legs but it makes for scenic views from the rooftop garden of our hotel....
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On the surface, Guanajuato is much like many other colonial Spanish cities with grand palaces and beautiful, ecclesiastical edifices like the Basilica in the city's historic centre...
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However, because of its location on the sides of the mountain there is not one central plaza but many, and each has its own iconic buildings. The Juarez theatre in the Union Garden is particularly elegant, and, unusually, it is open to the public when no performances are taking place. The auditorium and proscenium are splendid.
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Guanajuato is the first colonial city in Latin America where we have had to constantly remind ourselves that we are not in the Mediterranean.
This is the first governor's palace - now an art gallery.
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One of the first things we noticed about Guanajuato was how little traffic flowed through the steep, narrow, cobble-stoned streets even though this is just about the busiest time of the year. Two major events clashed this past weekend – the Festival of Candelaria and Constitution Day, when Mexicans celebrate the signing of their constitution in 1917. The streets were packed with pedestrians but very few cars...
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And then we discovered the underworld...
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Nearly all the roads in Guanajuato flow beneath the city in tunnels and it's possible to drive from one side to the other without ever coming to the surface. But the tunnels are not just for traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists use the tunnels as well, although we found it a little scary at first – especially when we got lost. There are sidewalks, bus stops, and signs in the tunnels, just like any other road, and they are fairly well lit. But is is certainly strange to see cars and people disappearing into this murky subterranean world...
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The tunnels were originally the access tunnels to the many silver mines that brought wealth and notoriety to this city, and when the silver ran out they were turned into a road network that rarely sees the light of day...
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Now we are leaving Mexico to visit our friends in Cuba. We have grown accustomed to clear skies and temperatures in the high twenties for the past two months so you may question our sanity in returning home in a week or so. However we have a busy spring and summer so we have decided to get a jump start on several projects – despite the sub-zero temperatures and occasional snow. Maybe we will be wondering if we had made a mistake in a couple of weeks, but for now: Goodbye Mexico and Central America, we had a great time. Hola Cuba.

Posted by Hawkson 16:59 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

The Art of San Miguel de Allende

sunny 26 °C

The colonial city of San Miguel de Allende was founded by the Spanish in 1555 on the site of a village belonging to the Guamare people. There were numerous wars and skirmishes before the Spanish took full control and San Miguel became a major trading post for the many silver mines in the surrounding mountains. The city virtually died at the end of the 19th century and only came back to life because of its beautiful architecture and pleasing landscapes...
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The first art institute was set up in 1938 and became hugely popular after the Second World War when demob'd G.I.s were given grants to study abroad. How many actually became artists and how many just had a great time in the sun will never be known, but the art schools and institutes thrived as word spread. Canadian figure skater Toller Cranston became a well-known artist here before his death in 2015, and we dined several times in the restaurant featuring many of his works like this...
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Painting or photographing San Miguel is a religious experience for many, and it is religion that shaped this city. After we were held captive in a monastery in Spain several years ago you might question our decision to stay in a convent in San Miguel. However, unlike the monastery in Caravaca, the Posada Altea has been de-consecrated and no longer has bars on the windows. The topiary in the convent's grounds is impressive...
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As is this little bird that sat outside our window every morning and sang to us...
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The steeply graded cobbled streets rising to the heights of San Miguel are a blaze of living colour...
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And the city is topped off with the parish church of San Miguel Arcángel - one of the most photographed and painted churches in Mexico. Here is the church glowing in the setting sun...
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The Gothic bell tower and façade was constructed in 1880 by an indigenous bricklayer, Zeferino Gutierrez, based purely on picture postcards of European churches.
There is a wealth of ecclesiastical statuary in the city centre but this sweet depiction of Mary stands in our hotel's grounds...
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And this is one of the many statues of religious figures in San Miguel...
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Despite its high altitude and low rainfall, the residents of San Miguel have impressive gardens that they can replenish every year at this time. Benito Juarez park has been the site of an annual floral and artisans festival since the 70s and we wandered, with growing jealousy, past hundreds of displays of plants and flowers that wouldn't last five minutes in our garden...
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San Miguel is a ten hour drive from the U.S. border and cars with Californian and Texas licence plates are ten a peso. Every other person on the street is a gringo and this is reflected in the spiralling price of real estate. The restaurants, liquor stores and supermarkets cater to their tastes and there are sufficient Irish pubs and Boston pizzerias to put a smile on any New Yorker's face. But San Miguel is a wonderful place to visit: not least because all motorists, even taxi drivers, give way to pedestrians even when they are not on a pedestrian crossing. This never happens anywhere in Latin America and it came as a complete, but pleasant, surprise.

Posted by Hawkson 14:48 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

The Vibrant Colours of San Miguel

sunny 23 °C

There is a reason why San Miguel de Allende is on the palette list of almost every artist around the globe. If you can't find something to paint here you might as well take up writing. It's not simply that foreign artists have been coming here since the 1930's to put brush to canvas, they've also taken out their creative impulses on many of the city's buildings. Earthy terracotta tones turn almost every cobble-stoned street into a three dimensional canvass that we can walk into and be absorbed by...
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But we are bland additions in comparison to this doll seller in colourful costume who adds piquancy to a scene that needs no description...
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There are a million street scenes worthy of the attention of a modern day Michelangelo here in San Miguel. This recycler's barrow is a picture in itself..
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And this is just one of the dozens of tiny shops that flaunts its vibrant wares in the hope of catching a passing eye...
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Every street corner brings into view another perfect picture as we climb higher and higher into the city's main square. Sometimes we find only a blank terracotta canvas, but then we round a corner and find ourselves mesmerised by a giant mural...
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The murals on the walls and ceiling of the public library are so loud that they defy the “Silencio” signs to scream, “Look at me”...
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While the walls inside all the restaurants have become galleries for a multitude of local artists or have been turned into works of art in their own right...
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This is the weekend of the Festival of the Candelaria. Last year at this time we were in Puno on the Peruvian shores of Lake Titicaca to witness the colourful parade of 65,000 costumed indigenous dancers and musicians. Candelaria is celebrated less colourfully in San Miguel with a horticultural market and artisans' fair in the city's main park. However, we think these brightly hued pots would look great in our garden...
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Not all of the pictures in San Miguel have been wrought by human hand – nature has played its part to make this one of the most beautiful cities we have ever visited. The orange tree in the garden of the ancient convent where we are staying makes it's own glorious artwork against the background of the bell tower...
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Bell towers and churches abound in San Miguel - stay tuned for a religious experience.

Posted by Hawkson 17:06 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

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