Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Some videos

Mariachi and Dolphins - not at the same time, though.

Mariachi band at our Mexican friend Maleh's graduation party in Tlaxcala

Mariachi band take 2 at our Mexican friend Maleh's graduation party in Tlaxcala

Dolphins off Isla San Jose, just north of La Paz, Mexico

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leaving La Paz for the mainland

Well we have been sucked into the La Paz vortex once again and have now been here for approaching 4 weeks with a week off for good behavior in Tlaxcala. No pics from our stay for now. We have been enjoying spending time with our friends Marv and Ardy on Odyssey who have helped us sew curtains for our head and hanging locker. The curtains are gold in color and I feel quite regal every time I visit the 'loo' (as Rani terms it). We also just completed a sun cover for our rubber kayak.

We leave tomorrow for the islands just north of here and will cross pending some predicted rough weather in a few days. We plan to sail for San Blas (as in Longfellow's The Bells of San Blas) and then work our way south towards Puerta Vallarta and beyond (hopefully as far as Manzanillo where my friends Dave and Katy have a place).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tlaxcala and Mexican Hospitality

We fell in love with Maleh’s city, Tlaxcala, with it’s pastel -coloured houses, historical buildings, European style plazas, pedestrian friendly sidewalks, and colleges of higher learning. There are splendid murals in the Palacio de Gobierno by Desidero H. Xochitiozin and his son. The murals depict the history of the region and the alliance of the four lords of Tlaxcala with Cortes against the Aztecs. Nearby, the magenta domes and blue talavera tiles of the Parroquia de San Jose church stood out against a bright blue sky.

Desidero H. Xochitiozin's mural - Four lords.

Desidero H. Xochitiozin's mural.

I saw Rani kissing Santa Claus

Sweet 15 dresses

Chris holding colourful manteles bought for Ladybug at the local market

Curry Dinner at the Hernandez house - Maleh's sister Aida, maleh's Mum Rebecca, Maleh's daughter Mariel, Maleh's youngest sister Angelica
More curry dinner - Angelica's Manuel with daughter Samantha, Maleh, Penny, Chris

Rebecca, Aida, Anaya, Maleh's youngest brother, Andan

On the steps overlooking Tlaxcala

Parroquia de San Jose church dome - Talavera tiles.

Relief outside first indigenous church in Tlaxcala
Mexican Hospitality
We stayed with Maleh's family in a six bedroom, 2 bath house, made almost entirely from concrete. The house was not heated and everyone wore coats and sweaters in the chilly mornings. Mexicans are like us East Indians – if we have a holiday, there is lots of cooking and eating. Every morning, Maleh’s mum or sister Aida would put on a pot of “ponche”, a melange of fruits (guavas, oranges, dried apricots, raisins, and some I cannot remember) , dried flowers of hibiscus, cinnamon and sugar steeped in water. Breakfast was usually flour tortillas served with beans, fish or meat, cheese and avocado with a fruit salad of papaya and whatever else was available.
The big meal of the day in Mexico is comida, generally served between 2 and 4pm. On New Year’s Eve, I offered to cook an Indian meal for comida. Because we were out touring the town until 3, by the time I finished cooking it was 5.30pm, so that must have been very hard on people who had not eaten since breakfast!
I was under the impression that all Mexicans like their food spicy hot and was surprised when Rebecca, Maleh's mum, started fanning her face with a hand while eating my lentil curry. I gave her some rice to soak up the heat of the curry spices. When I found out later that she is taking medication for acid, it made me feel really bad. Maleh's sister Angelica and brother-in-law Manuel came over with baby Samantha just as we were finishing the meal, and I was intrigued to find out that Manuel, who is Portugese, had spent time in India working with a missionary church. I enjoyed listening to him as he reminisced about his experiences and the South Indian dishes he missed.
Usually, there is a light supper eaten later at night. However, since it was New Year's Eve, the family had planned a traditional roast turkey dinner for 11pm. As soon as we had finished comida, Rebacca headed into the kitchen to put the turkey in the oven. I was feeling so full that I could not even imagine putting another crumb of food in my mouth, however late. Most families attend some church service or other on this auspicious day, so everyone except Aida, who stayed to attend to the roast, left shortly for the hour and half service at their Methodist church. Chris and I decided to go for a walk around the city to soak up the atmosphere and popped into the cathedral where mass was in progress. People did not appear to be dressed in their Sunday best as we had expected. There were vendors set up outside the cathedral selling local sweets, guava rolls and muesli rounds, juices and candles.

Church steeple near Maleh' s house

Ceiling of oldest church in Tlaxcala

Rani and Pharmacist friend

Pulque poster. Pulque is a cactus liquor.
We walked up a steep cobbled boulevard with coloured streamers fluttering above us strung from the grand old trees framing this wide ancient street. We stopped at the first permanent church in New Spain, the Franciscan monastery Ex-convento de la Asuncion, built from the stones of a pyramid to the rain god Tlaloc. The sacristy holds the font where the four lords of Tlaxcala were baptised before Cortes. Standing in the doorway, we watched a bishop conducting the service for hundreds of tightly packed worshippers and I prayed for the health and happiness of my family, friends and people in general.

We ate the last dinner of 2009 at 11.30pm with Manuel saying grace in English and Spanish. I can't say much about the turkey as I am still vegetarian, but my tortilla with fried prickly pear cactus, green beans and cheese was yummy. We toasted in the New Year with the slightly tart fruit ponche.
New Year's Day 2010
We walked into downtown Tlaxcala with Maleh. Hundreds of people had gathered for services in a tent outside the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Ocotlan, the site of several miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary. The baroque church’s ornate portal and twin towers are carved in white plaster and the stunning interior took an indigenous artist more than 20 years to complete.
A large group of brightly clad native performers were gathered ouitside the church. When we returned a few hours later, we saw them emerge from the church, dancing and singing. In the square outside, we watched them perform elaborate ceremonies in which a shaman blessed musical instruments and musicians.

Little girls dressed up for church

Jaguar man dancer.

The shaman appears to be blessing a musical instrument and the player.

Dancers outside the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Ocotlan.
More dancers - note the ankle bracelets with seed pod 'eye of the deer' rattles.
In the evening, comida prepared by Rebecca included baked salmon, beans, tortillas, tostados and cheese. Later on, we celebrated Angelica's birthday with two types of cake and hot fruit punch. Is it any surprise that I have gained a few pounds during this holiday? I should mention that hibiscus tea is very popular in Mexico because it is supposed to reduce weight and is also a good source of Vitamin C. However, it is a diuretic so I would not recommend it to everyone.
Post-Grad Party
On the evening before our departure, the family Hernandez celebrated Maleh's Ph.D. graduation from University of Victoria, B.C. All morning, Maleh's mum was in the kitchen, marinating lamb in a red hot sauce, putting individual portions in little packages tied up with string, to be steamed slowly in a giant saucepan. This is apparently a great delicacy, served with rice and vegetables on the side. It looked like a bloody mess to me when I saw the packets cut open on the plates.

Dressed up for the party.

Maleh, Mariel, and Aida

Maleh and Mum getting ready for the party

A mariachi band of 2 trumpets, 2 guitars, one violin, a bass, and a female singer arrived around 3pm. They entertained us for several hours, with the family singing along to popular songs. I told them that Chris used to play the trumpet too and they immediately invited him to join them for a song. He did pretty well considering he had not played for years and even performed a solo, The Girl From Ipanema. No-one danced but everyone had a great time.

Chris joins the mariachis


More mariachis

Young fiddler - great panache

Three amigos

The next day, Aida dropped us at the bus station and we headed back to Mexico City and a flight home to Ladybug. Back on the boat that night, we both missed the warm friendship of our adopted family in Tlaxcala.
Special thanks to Penny and Maleh for some of the pictures.

Mexico City

Our trip to Mexico City went surprisingly smoothly. The afternoon before we left, Chris had invited all the other boaters in our marina over to Ladybug for an “Open Boat” Boxing Day party with mulled wine and appetisers. That night we hurriedly packed for the trip and early the next morning we flagged down a taxi on the highway outside our marina. The flights were on time and the Aeromexico flight to Guadalajara even left 5 minutes early. In Guadalajara, airline staff greeted us with samples of hand sanitizer and ushered us efficiently onto a shuttle bus to take us to our connecting flight to Mexico City. Was this really Mexico?

Happy New Year!

No comment.

Arriving at Mexico City airport, our jaws dropped when we paid two pesos each (less than 20 cents Canadian) to ride the metro (subway) to the city centre, about five miles away. From Heathrow airport into London an equivalent subway ride would cost more than 30 times that. Our hotel, Regente, was six blocks from the nearest metro station of Iinsurgentes and despite all the warnings of pick-pockets and muggings, we felt quite comfortable walking in Mexico City.

Children reaching for strands of cotton candy.

Monument of Independence.

There were throngs of people walking along the Paseo de la Reforma, the main thoroughfare in the city centre, all heading to a gigantic Christmas 'tree', located near the Monumento a la Independecia. We decided to enjoy the evening’s festivities and strolled amongst the street vendors who were selling a colorful assortment of toys, decorations, and funfair foods. Children rode by on their parents' shouders wearing glowing LED Mickey ears, young boys demostrated colorful slingshot-launched lights, and whisps of cottton candy floated by overhead. We tried jicama pops coated in sweet syrup and chillies, and (my favourite!) sweetcorn flavoured with, what else but, lime juice and chillies! The Christmas tree must have been 15 storeys high, its colours and themes changing every few minutes from golden angels blowing trumpets to silver stars twinkling in a midnight blue sky and then a sequence of blue, green and red cascading from top to bottom.

Giant Christmas Tree.

Christmas Tree from the distance.

The next morning we were met by our friend Maleh and her brother Alejandro at the hotel. Together with another of Maleh’s Canadian friends, Penny, we set off for a guided tour of the main sights of the city. Alejandro drove like a true Mexican ( assertive, shall we say ) past the great sculptures of the Independence, Cuauhtemoc ( the Aztec king who ruled after Moctezuma ), and Diana the Huntress. We parked the car in an underground garage in the Centro Historico and proceeded on foot to admire the elegant Art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes. This building is Maleh's favorite building in the city. Started in 1904, it is crafted from Carrara marble and was completed 30 year later, construction being interrupted by the revolution. From here we walked toward the Zocalo, the second largest square in the world, admiring beautiful buildings housing banks and restaurants along the route. The Zocalo is a ten acre plaza, built from the rubble of Tenochtitlan, the seat of Moctezuma. In places there are windows cut into the stone paving, allowing a glimpse into the past.

Art nouveau Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The Catedral Metropolitana on the north side of the square was the first cathedral in New Spain, constructed on the orders or Cortes. The original building was later razed and replaced with the current baroque style church in 1813. The interior is dominated by the richly gilded wood altarpiece which took 20 years to complete. I must admit that I much preferred the simpler interior of the adjoining parish church, El Sagrario.

Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) in Mexico City.

Interior of Metropolitan Cathedral

Altar of Cathedral.

We actually preferred the simpler interior of this church 'El Sagrario'.

In the centre of the square, there was a large tent set up for “Guerras de Nieve” (snowball fights), and inside it we saw kids wearing crash helmets throwing snowballs. In a side tent, adults were making snowmen using plastic moulds! Although there is snow high up in the mountains, it must be a novelty here in the city.

Making snow for snowball fights and snowmen.

Talavera tiles - a Mexican art form.

We were thrilled to watch indigenous people dancing in the square, wearing feather headdresses and rattling anklets. Nearby, a line of Mexicans formed in front of a shaman who waved smoking poseys of herbs around their heads and bodies to cure them of who knows what illnesses or evil spirits.

Rani with young indigenous dancer.

Our next stop was to see the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. Built on the ruins of Moctezuma’s palace, the Palacio once housed the presidential offices, but is now home to various state departments. Rivera spent 18 years painting his allegory along the halls and stairways of the palace. Depicting the history of Mexico, there are panels showing the many actvities of the indigenous cultures, planting and gathering corn, trading in the market, making dyes for cloth, dentists pulling teeth, even a prostitute posing suggestively. The Spaniards are portrayed as hideous caricatures and a syphilitic Cortes is followed by his native concubine, La Malinche, holding a green-eyed baby.

Diego Rivera mural in the Palacio Nacional.

Detail from mural - dentist at work.

Detail from mural - clergyman and prostitute.

Cortes and concubine La Malinche with green eyed baby.

Young soldiers guarding the gardens at the Palacio Nacional

Alejandro, Chris, Penny, and Maleh in the gardens at the Palacio Nacional.

Our hosts knew when we were muralled-out and headed into the countryside to show us the Hacienda de Panoaya. This hacienda was given to the first Native Chief of Amecameca in 1534 by the King of Spain, Carlos I, for helping the conquistadores. The current buildings have been restored to be as they were in the 17th century and house a tribute to an exemplary nun, Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz. She was a very intelligent woman who joined the religious order so she could study the arts and sciences. There is also a Volcano Museum with lots of photos from not only Mexico but around the world. Beyond the corn fields lie the clouded tops of the 2nd and 3rd largest mountains in Mexico, the active Popocateptl and it’s slumbering companion Iztaccihuatl. Before we left, we visited the very tame animals in a small zoo in the hacienda. I fed hay to deer and a camel, while an emu ran circles around me as Chris tried to take photos.

A portrait of 15 year old Sor Juana.

Hungry camel.

Friendly camel.

Waterfalls and Hot Spring Baths

On the second day of our trip, all the women and Chris ( lucky him! ) went to the mountains for the hot baths. It was an hour and half drive from Tlaxcala on a good road and then about twenty minutes or so on a dirt road through a small village to the springs. We walked down several staircases and over a little bridge spanning the stream below a gushing waterfall. The admission was 70 pesos each which included changing facilities, several small pools inside and two large pools outside. It felt very therapeutic sitting in the hot water, smelling the sulphur and looking above at the pine trees and rocky walls of the canyon.

Hot Spring baths

Store specializing in candies, fruit wines, and liqueurs.

Largest Virgin Mary we have seen.

Eating traditional blue corn tortillas.

After several hours we emerged, withered like prunes, and Aida drove us to another waterfall where we walked down lots of stairs to look at an old hydro station and views of the cascading falls. A few adventurous souls paid 100 pesos to cross the canyon by sliding down a stout cable and returning via a suspension bridge. I was almost tempted but resisted.

Chris and Rani below the falls.

Aida, Rani, Penny, and Maleh at the falls.

Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl Pyramids

On Wednesday, Maleh drove us to the pre-Hispanic ruins in Cacaxtla (pronounced ca-cash-la) and Xochitecatl (pronounced sho-kee-tay-catch-l), which were only discovered in 1975. There were Mayan murals from the 7th to 10th centuries depicting vivid scenes in blue, red, yellow, black, and white. Rival warriors were dressed as jaguars and birds. Bloody sacrifices and the more mundane acts of trade and commerce were portrayed side by side. There are eight layers of construction built over the centuries with adobe walls, corridors, open courtywards, temples devoted to fertility, and even a room where parrots were kept in boxes, most likely for their exotic plumage.

Maleh, Rani, Penny - girl band pose.

Xochitecatl pyramid complex.

Cacaxtla mural depicting "bird man".

Cacaxtla ruins.

Fertility sculpture.

Jumping for peppercorns. This is a pepper tree!

Xochitecatl pyramid complex.