A Travellerspoint blog

Slouching towards spring in San Miguel

storm 15 °C

Not to complain for one minute about our blue skies and vivid colours, but until very recently, our travels though the mountains have kept us in daytime temperatures that have required a sweater and/or a coat. We both brought just one sweater and one jacket, just in case and we haven't taken them off for a month and a half. We are mightily tired of them. In fact, I am mightily tired of most of my clothes, and I am starting to feel like a Mexican widow in the midst of the splendidly jewelled, embroidered,and coiffed gringa ladies who set (pedicured) foot out each day in this about-to-burst-into-spring town. Time to throw off the black and grey, and get into the spirit of the season. Here is one last shot of me in those hated winter clothes, gazing out over the early spring scene at El Charco del Ingenio.

large_IMG_3907.jpg

El Charco is a botanical garden, a conservatory of natural plants, a ceremonial space, and a natural reserve with over 200 acres of walking trails, a canyon and several lookouts over the city. It is one of our favourite places in San Miguel. As we waited for the shuttle to take us up there, we chatted with a woman who was a former gallery owner from Terracotta, Ontario, who has lived in San Miguel for 20 years, and who goes up to El Charco every Saturday to walk and observe the seasonal changes. That was our plan - we wanted to see how much the landscape would change in the three weeks we'll be here. We'll visit again and take photos just before we leave San Miguel on March 24th.

Colours right now are limited to grey, green and yellow. Lots of shrubs and small trees are just starting to bud or flower.

large_IMG_3589.jpg

A 5'8" man reluctantly standing beside a much bigger cactus to show context.

large_IMG_3593.jpg

I wish I had copied the name of this intriguing plant, and I wish it would grow in our climate.

large_IMG_3602.jpg

These round cacti, known as biznaga, are endangered - one of the mandates of El Charco to help preserve species. The trestle in the background supports the pipe that used to carry water to the textile mill (no longer active, now houses art galleries and studios).

large_IMG_3932.jpg

The magnificent conservatory houses dozens of species of plants, including this crazy flowering tree (sorry, I don't have the name)

large_IMG_3897.jpg

The hardscaping of El Charco is at least as stunning as the plantings. Everything is so meticulously planned and implemented. We had the pleasure of chatting with another tourist - an American landscape architect who had worked as part of the team of Expo '67 in Montreal. He was as impressed with this garden as we were - the Mexican craftsmanship is evident here - look at the construction of the little bridge.

large_IMG_3619.jpg

We hiked out through the canyon to one of the lookouts. A beautiful view, but we're hoping before we leave that the city will be purple with the jacaranda trees in full bloom - they are just starting now.

large_IMG_3646.jpg

At the entrance to the garden, there is a memorial tree to the 43 student teachers who were murdered a year and a half ago. Each small colourful pot has a photo attached. They will never be forgotten - references and memorials and protests are still carried out in almost every city we have visited.

large_IMG_3654.jpg

One of the greatest pleasures of being in San Miguel is the walking. The streets twist, turn and beckon with their ever-changing views, and for every painterly sky or far-reaching landscape, there are millions of small details waiting to be discovered.

I could fill a blog with photos of doors, door knockers, door numbers, and other door adornments. This one has it all covered - right down to the old-fashioned lock on the door. Whether the doors are fancy or plain, they all carry the same sense of mystery - what lies beyond them? In many Mexican cities, the doors open right onto the street and give no clue of their interior. Is there a tiled staircase, a leafy interior courtyard, a marble floor, a small fountain? They have house and garden tours in San Miguel, but as you can imagine, they are grand and extravagant. I would dearly love to go on a tour of a regular neighbourhood. I peek in open doorways every chance I get, but I don't have the nerve to take photos.

large_IMG_3686.jpg

A cheerful, colourful and welcoming exterior, as befits an art gallery.

large_IMG_3680.jpg

I loved the monochromatic beauty of the stone and clay, set off by the spiky plantings.

large_IMG_3675.jpg

On one of our walks, we passed by a house that was nearing completion of its renovation. It was one of many on that block that were being completely re-done - the exterior had been preserved, and we're imagining the interior completely modernized.

large_IMG_3662.jpg

On that same road, these two gents were riding leisurely along, oblivious to the taxi behind them. They turned off onto a country road just beyond that leads up into the hills. It is not uncommon to see horses and burros right in the centre of town.

large_IMG_3951.jpg

This sad shell of concrete is all that remains of someone's dream of building a luxury resort, right on the edge of town. It is a massive L-shaped structure, with a couple of other buildings on the same beautiful piece of land. Even with the grass growing up, you can imagine what might have been. San Miguel is so intriguing that way - it appears on one hand to have pots of money to spend and plenty of people happy to indulge. On the other hand, there are abandoned projects like this, and magnificent old buildings that have become derelict, smack in the middle of a block of beautiful homes. There is much grousing about corruption and misappropriation of funds.

large_41F7ECFCE53E4787544D114C2E176FFE.jpg

Possibly some of the funds have been diverted to new housing complexes like this one. This is just the entrance
- the homes lie beyond.

large_IMG_3672.jpg

A few blocks away, we entered another neighbourhood of high gates and stately plantings. As soon as I peeked through the gate,
I thought, "car commercial."

large_IMG_3678.jpg

The first of a series of "sunset photos." This photo was taken from a rooftop restaurant where we enjoyed the view with a cold Victoria (our favourite Mexican beer) and a superb thin-crust pizza.

large_IMG_3842.jpg

A small plaza very close to us (Stephen is on the lower level, heading toward the bakery). The lavanderia is in this plaza as well. If I have already told you about the laundry services in Mexico, I'll repeat myself. The lavanderia is similar in all towns in Mexico - you bring in your soiled clothes - plop them in a basket on a scale, and you are handed a receipt with the amount (usually about $3-$4) and a return date and time (sometimes the same day, but often next-day service). You return and are handed your clean clothing - jeans and shorts neatly folded to create a base with shirts and t-shirts folded with sleeves in, and undies folded in threes. No hanging out in a sweaty laundromat, anxiously eyeing other machines while three people wait for the lone operating dryer - this service is a marvel to me.

large_IMG_3559.jpg

There are a number of markets in San Miguel - I'll get to them in another posting, but I couldn't resist this photo. We watched the little girl on her bike ride up to the two small children and try to make friends. The little girl on the left was a bit reticent, but before you knew it, they were playing together. Don't you love her little boots?

large_IMG_3684.jpg

We feel a bit like that ourselves - having a number of conversations at restaurants or on park benches - circling our potential new friends for a playdate. We have met some very interesting people; we discovered the joy of secondhand shopping at the Tuesday tianguis (used name-brand clothing that is brought in by the bale - pieces sell for 20-70 pesos) , and we have re-discovered the joy of watching movies (Mexican-style, with red wine and popcorn). Lots to tell you the next time.

Posted by millerburr 17:49 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

Hello. It's me (us). In San Miguel de Allende with Adele.

sunny 22 °C

Well, now we're in San Miguel. Adele has been with us the entire time we've been in Mexico. She's everywhere. Markets. Cafes. The OXXO stores. Adele's inimitable voice and lyrics have followed us for the past two and a half months - our touchstone to home. How huge is a star when they are piped into a gas station in a mountain town in Mexico...and the attendant is humming along? Good thing we love her music.

Unknown.jpeg

So...San Miguel. Last year we were in San Miguel for Semana Santa, and had such a great time - between the Easter festivities, the art galleries, walkable streets, lovely parks, the great food and the near-perfect climate, we decided we would come back and spend the following winter here. Here's part of the reason why:

large_IMG_3469.jpg

But, we started talking about all the places in Mexico we hadn't visited yet, (we will never get to them all), and changed our minds. We decided to drive down one more time, tour around the interior, and make San Miguel one of our longer stays - our holiday-within-a-holiday. By the time we arrived here three days ago, we were very ready to get out of our car and stay put for a while - we'll be here for 23 days. We've rented a spacious one-bedroom apartment with a terrace in a mainly-Mexican neighbourhood about 10 minutes from the central square. Our neighbourhood is pretty and amazingly quiet - with the exception of the barking dogs who all appear to have sundowners until about 9:00 pm, and then pass out for the night. We even have an on-premises parking spot for our car. This is a street close to us - quite typical of the twisty, narrow cobblestoned streets in SMA.

large_270_IMG_3522.jpg

Speaking of our car - we took it to a local bodyshop, and after they examined the car's accident damage on the rear left wheel and bumper, and took note of the many other scrapes and dents we've accumulated over the years, they gave us a quote of 6000 pesos - at 12 pesos to the dollar, we will have all our body work done for $500 - in Canada it would have been at least double, if not triple that cost. We had $500 U.S. deductible on our Mexican insurance policy, so this will be a cash transaction - making all parties happy!

Other housekeeping notes - we've discovered a dental clinic close by - we will both have our teeth cleaned ( about $50 each), and I am on the hunt for a hairdresser. Stephen is scoping out nearby gyms. I've dragged out my Spanish notebooks to work on again. I even cut back dead foliage on the plants on our terrace - my fingers are itching for some real gardening. The gardens here are luscious - either full-blown courtyard gardens, or more commonly, colourful pots lined along the edges of rooftops.

large_A4E55BD7E2BF350B0DC331EC2CFB01A4.jpg

large_IMG_3442.jpg

So, with a few nesting details out of the way, we're ready to enjoy San Miguel to the fullest. San Miguel has a large and very active gringo population that has had a profound effect on the development of the city. Not for nothing has it been christened "Gringolandia." While the Mexicans out-number the ex-pats 10 to 1, the central core caters largely to the gringo population and the tourists. We've spoken to a large number of gringos, and almost all of them live here full-time, or for several months a year. Many own homes, and there are no end of luxury shops to provide the essentials. This store, which I mistook for a gallery, carries a sparse, but tasteful selection of objets - a swath of silk drapery fabric, a designer chair, some small bowls.

large_IMG_3495.jpg

We popped by the Europa liquor store - a well-stocked and democratic shop that carries wines from $5 to $500. One entire wall was stacked three cases deep and probably 25 cases long, with alcohol for a wedding this weekend. Apparently a number of chilangos (Mexico City residents) choose San Miguel or Oaxaca for their special events.

It's easy to see why. San Miguel is a wealthy town, but in a discreet, best-families kind of way. The streets are filled with well-toned older gringos - a parade of nice shoes, linen pants, good watches, oversized jewellery and real Panama hats streams by on the cobblestoned streets. The cathedrals and churches are stunning. The city's setting is dramatic, with endless photo opportunities. The architecture is delightful - and all the colours match. Simple restaurant and hotel lobbies look like movie sets.

large_A4AFFE8EB0D2F685E8511E5B6994A702.jpg

We have spent a fair bit of time in the cities of Oaxaca and San Miguel, and we have tried to understand what the key differences are between them. They both have substantial gringo populations, accessible, walkable and beautiful centre cores, fantastic food scenes, and rich artistic and cultural backgrounds.

With our limited time in both cities, (three visits over a five-year period), our impressions are thus:

Oaxaca feels more Mexican, and having a bit of Spanish is both helpful and even necessary. The gringos appear to be more involved in wanting to learn Spanish, in giving back, and integrating into the Mexican culture. At the same time, the ex-pat life is well-defined and well-connected - you see many of the same faces at the English-language events.

San Miguel has been accused of being a Disneyland - a sanitized version of Mexico, filled with the amenities and niceties that can buffer a grittier Mexican experience. Is that true, or even fair? We don't think so. San Miguel is a hugely appealing place to visit and/or escape winter. There are interesting things going on every minute of every day. You can take workshops in dozens of creative endeavours, attend plays, concerts, movies and lectures. There is yoga, Pilates, zumba, golf, tennis, riding, swimming, hiking and soaking in hot springs.But, the essence of Mexico remains.

If you don't feel like doing any of that, you can just head for the zocalo, where there is bound to be free entertainment. We had no end of fun watching this young man balance this tiny young woman on his hand.

large_90_IMG_3484.jpg

We had front row seats to admire the evening view of the Parroquia - the pink frosted confection that lends to the Disney image.

large_IMG_3488.jpg

As we were wandering the streets today, we came upon this salon, offering "fish" pedicures. Had I been so inclined, I might have sprung up onto one of the seats and submerged my feet in a tank of tiny fish, who would then nibble the unsightly dead skin off my heels.

large_IMG_3497.jpg

While we are on the topic of water, we also saw this extraordinary sight. This tiny park was across the street from the Sierra Nevada Hotel (whose standard rooms go for $500 US). A trough of water and stone washboards was provided for residents to wash their clothes and a number of women had their clothes sorted and ready to be scrubbed. I loved the fact that the two worlds were not separated from one another, but the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty was striking.

large_IMG_3536.jpg

Further on up the hill we came upon this tree filled with egrets. Not much to say about them except they were a fairly unusual sight for us - I'm sure the Mexicans who walked by us wondered what all our excitement was about.

large_IMG_3532.jpg

We've been to a number of great restaurants so far - usually characterized by the decor, the food, the company, or all three. As we waited for our table, we had a grand chat with three spirited older ladies from the U.S. who live in mortal fear of Trump being their next president. They had voted the day before, so the subject was fresh in their minds. Interestingly, they all knew about our new PM! They promised to move to Gabriola if the dice don't roll properly in November.

Our corner table, patiently waiting for our 4-course lunch.

large_IMG_3504.jpg

A sign on our table that I personally appreciate very much. We've seen these signs before in restaurants in Mexico (not that they are particularly heeded - addiction to cellphones seems to be universal)

large_IMG_3503.jpg

A small world story - we popped into a "mercado" today for lunch - a bratwurst and homemade sauerkraut made by an Italian from New Orleans who moved to San Miguel years ago. (Delicious). We started up a conversation with the folks next to us - Torontonians who spend 3 months a year here. They have a friend on Gabriola - Sheila Malcolmson!

Talking - it doesn't matter the language - it is the glue that binds us. Two women deep in conversation (gossiping?)

large_IMG_3476.jpg

See you in a few days with more stories.

Posted by millerburr 18:13 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

What millions of Monarch butterflies look like...

...140 million, more or less

sunny 24 °C

I wish I could show you, but there's just no way to capture on film our real-life experience of being surrounded by millions of butterflies. The good news is the Monarch butterflies are rebounding, after a number of years of decline. Illegal logging in Mexico was destroying habitat, and pesticide use in Canada and the U.S. was destroying milkweed (upon which the butterflies feed), so serious combined efforts in all three countries appears to be paying off. This year, the butterflies have spread over 10 hectares, leading experts to believe their numbers are at about 140 million. Here is what a typical tree branch looks like:

large_270_IMG_3313.jpg

Seeing the Monarch butterflies in their Mexican sanctuary has been a dream for years, and as natural wonders go, this was without a doubt a highlight. We drove three and a half hours from Queretero (where we're currently staying), arriving around 10:30, just as the day was warming up. If the day is overcast or too cold, the butterflies will simply cling to the trees for warmth. Yesterday was bright, sunny and about 20 degrees - perfect.

Getting to the El Rosario sanctuary is no small feat - after navigating through several small towns, you must drive up a hill for about 20 minutes, pay for parking, then drive for another 20 minutes up an ancient road that is a combination of paving stones and rock. We were waved in to one of two huge parking lots, and a gentleman madly waving a red rag instructed us where to park (a common sight in Mexico - can usually be interpreted to mean a tip is expected). We were early, so we were forming the second line of cars, and a tiny warning bell went off in my head about our ease in getting out (more on that later). As with every other tourist attraction, we knew we would run the gauntlet of souvenirs, cold drinks, food, maps, brochures, and offers to guide. A young boy appeared, offering to "watch" our car. Another young girl appeared to offer her services as a "guide." We told the boy we would pay later, but nothing we said to the girl would shake her. She followed us all the way up to the entrance. (another 20 minute walk past food vendors and souvenir stalls).

large_IMG_3273.jpg

When we finally got to the entrance gate, we gave her a few pesos - a small price for the entertainment value of these little extortionists.

Then...the real climb began. The Monarch sanctuary is about a 2 km. climb, from the entrance gate - a steady, uphill climb that is easy enough because of the steps, but challenging because of the altitude. We kept a slow, steady pace,
and then...our very first butterfly appeared.

large_D5A122DA9A1223C3185672E20EDF461E.jpg

Another several minutes of walking, with the numbers of butterflies steadily increasing, we reached a flat meadow and
saw our first big concentration. They were in the air, on the bushes and on the ground - impressive, but not in the millions, as we had been promised.

large_IMG_3750.jpg

Just past the meadow, the path continued, and so we trudged, for another rocky and root-strewn 10 minutes uphill -
and discovered why this sanctuary is such a draw. Monarch butterflies - everywhere - packed onto branches, filling the sky, flying in swarms and landing on a number of lucky visitors - including me!

large_IMG_3299.jpg

large_IMG_3777.jpg

large_IMG_3385.jpg

The sanctuary is filled with guardians, who keep a careful eye on the butterflies to protect them from their visitors. This gentleman never stopped picking up butterflies from the ground and putting them beyond the ropes, to prevent them from being stepped on.

large_IMG_3355.jpg

Signs like this one were posted everywhere at the top - asking visitors to maintain silence while observing the butterflies. Mexicans are the least rules-based people I've ever met, but they all respected the signs and spoke in very soft whispers, or not at all - a collective religious experience.

large_IMG_3276.jpg

We sat and watched them for a half hour or so, then began our descent. At the base of the path, there were seedlings for sale - a regrowth and replanting scheme is in place to help replace some of the trees that were illegally logged.

large_IMG_3396.jpg

Then...back in the parking lot - now filled to the brim with cars parked in these crazy, uneven rows with little or no room to back out. Luckily for us, we have a small car, and there was one empty space behind us. With a great deal of manoeuvering, Steve managed to squeeze out of there - a bigger car would have been stuck.

large_IMG_3401.jpg

And back to Queretero we drove, to our lovely hotel Quinta Lucca, right in the historic district. There are four things we hope to find with our hotels - comfortable bed, showers with both hot water and good pressure, decent wifi, and parking. This one had all that, plus breakfast included - served in this pretty courtyard. Our room is on the second floor, in the corner, behind the potted plants.

large_IMG_3228.jpg

Queretero was not originally on our list - it is just an hour from San Miguel de Allende, (where we head tomorrow), and we had no interest in visiting any more churches, museums, monuments or squares. But... we needed some city comfort and good food, and decided to make this our base for a few days. We're so happy we did - the compact historical centre is beautiful and full of life, and our time here has been a tonic.

large_IMG_3198.jpg

We began with a double-decker bus tour - not that informative, but it gave us an overview and a chance to make faces at this little boy,
who couldn't take his eyes off Stephen the whole time.

large_IMG_3191.jpg

We spent a fair bit of time in the many squares and pedestrian-only streets, watching life unfold. There is never a dull moment in any Mexican zocalo, and Queretero has several.

Many Mexican towns and cities have "el danzon", where couples dance to a big orchestra. We watched couples like this in Oaxaca, and again here. The couples were mostly older, dressed up and obviously very much enjoying themselves.

large_IMG_3414.jpg

Another convincing argument for having a strong core.

large_IMG_3407.jpg

We were having lunch, and suddenly a pretty couple and their "people" arrived just a few tables down. It became obvious that a shoot of some kind was going on, so we gawked shamelessly. Sure enough, it was a commercial for a watch, shot beside an older gent who was quite indifferent to the whole thing.

IMG_3249.jpgIMG_3247.jpg

Stephen, who as you all know, can't help himself.

large_IMG_3232.jpg

We watched this young woman being gently pushed by her friend...and then, away she went. Around and around the square, as pleased as punch. Proving to us and herself that it is never too late to try anything.

large_IMG_3242.jpg

The restaurant scene in Queretero is great - we've eaten very well since we've been here, and been entertained at the same time.

A unique merchandising effort to attract diners.

large_IMG_3432.jpg

We had quite a delicious lunch here, and while we are probably not the target market of this bohemian cafe, we had to admire his je ne sais quoi approach to service.

large_IMG_3811.jpg

Okay - this is a really long blog, even for me. I'll leave you with a few street images of Queretero. We're in San Miguel for three weeks - just relaxing and living like locals. This should cut down on the length of the blogs - but you know there'll be stories.

large_IMG_3436.jpg

large_IMG_3263.jpg

large_270_IMG_3207.jpg

large_270_IMG_3195.jpg

Posted by millerburr 16:07 Archived in Mexico Comments (9)

Driving the scenic 120 through the Sierra Gordas

sunny
View mexico2016 on millerburr's travel map.

Actually, "scenic" does not begin to describe the road to Jalpan and through the Sierra Gordas to the city of Queretero. It is jaw-droppingly beautiful, with a very real danger that you could drive right off the road admiring the views.

large_IMG_3689.jpg

If I could offer one piece of advice to the road engineers of Mexico, I would ask that they provide numerous lookouts, more guardrails, and the odd bit of signage to assure drivers that they have not driven over hairpin roads for 45 minutes in vain. (this was our quandary today on the way to Queretaro - we just kept fingers crossed we had chosen the right turn-off - but let's back-up two days to our drive to Jalpan).

large_IMG_3102.jpg

Queretero is a tiny, perfect state - safe, clean, pretty capital city, quirky small towns, rich in agriculture, Franciscan missions, the extraordinary Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve with endless outdoor opportunities, and much appreciated from our perspective - roads in decent repair, largely populated by courteous drivers. Which brings us back to driving the 120. Hwy. 120 is the only road that cuts through the Sierra Gorda mountains, connecting all the small towns and larger centres. Therefore, you may find yourself stuck for miles behind a convoy of gravel trucks, a flatbed hauling a tractor, or a large truck. We trailed this fellow for a while, but for most of our drive, we had the road to ourselves.

large_IMG_3099.jpg

We chose Jalpan as a base to visit the Sierra Gordas, and to learn a little more about the mission churches that were founded in the area. Jalpan is described as being "tropical and humid", and by the time we arrived, the temperature had climbed to 36 degrees. We stayed in one of the chain of Mision hotels (there are also hotels in California) - largely because it offered a pool. As we checked in, we were offered a glass of aqua fresca - an extremely refreshing slightly sweetened cucumber drink. It's funny the things that stick with you. I was so frazzled and sweaty by the sudden heat, and that simple glass of juice is something I appreciated so much and will remember.

Our hotel and courtyard

IMG_3089.jpgIMG_3056.jpg

Jalpan is compact and attractive, built on hills, with a large plaza and of course, the Mission church. The five missions that were established in the area in the 1750s by Franciscan monks have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The facade has tremendous detail in the carvings, while the interior does not stand out in comparison to many of the churches and cathedrals we've seen.

large_IMG_3077.jpg

large_IMG_3068.jpg

large_270_IMG_3079.jpg

This was something we have not seen in any other churches in Mexico. Beside the candles, there were a few large bulletin boards, filled with photos, small toys, pieces of clothing, hair ribbons. There was no-one to ask about the significance of this - if the belongings and photos belonged to people who were sick or deceased. I'm so curious, but my Spanish is not adequate enough to find out without offending or confusing someone. If any of you know anything about this custom, please tell me.

large_IMG_3085.jpg

The Sierra Gorda Reserve was established in 1997, and is described as "the green jewel" of central Mexico. It is the most ecosystem- diverse protected area in the country, and groups in the area have developed a number of tours to some of the more remote areas. If we had been more organized, we could have booked a hike to caves where swifts, and/or macaws live, and at dawn and dusk can be seen flying out by the hundreds. There are a large number of other sights one can visit without a guide, and so we headed out to the Cascada El Chuveje - a 150-ft. waterfall. After leaving the highway and bumping down a rough road for a few kilometres, we arrived at this little homestead.

large_45C99FFCAEFEC02B68B02142493E8B63.jpg

A woman came out to direct us to a parking area. She was extremely friendly and helpful, and had a few cold drinks for sale. A little further up the road, we were stopped by another woman to pay our admission fee, and Steve snapped a photo of this pig that stepped up to the fountain for a drink.

large_IMG_3693.jpg

As we were driving into the waterfall area, we noticed this cow by the side of the road. Two hours later, it had moseyed up the road to home. We wondered how these families survived in this extremely remote area. Obviously, they have their meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables, and possibly a small income from collecting money for the park.

large_IMG_3162.jpg

As if all this animal activity was not diverting enough, our path to the waterfall was accompanied by ear-splitting music that seemed to come out of the hills and follow us, in a most disturbing Deliverance kind of way, for the first 15 minutes or so.

large_IMG_3150.jpg

We turned a corner, and it stopped, and we found ourselves in an enchanted forest. Beautiful, quiet , a "dappled glade" if I may use that cliche. We walked along a creek, past a number of pools that appeared to have been encircled in concrete.

large_IMG_3702.jpg

Finally, we reached the waterfall, and sat for several minutes enjoying the view. We watched the water for a pattern, much like we watch waves breaking on shore to see if we can predict a sudden change in volume or force. We wondered about the signs warning us against trying to swim in the "very dangerous water - muy frio (very cold). Muy frio indeed - this water shoots straight out of the mountain streams - it is icy.

large_IMG_3742.jpg

We keep forgetting that Mexico has four seasons as well - and being in the mountains is a good reminder of that. We have been in many places where the days are spring-like and the evenings are quite chilly. Many trees and shrubs have a spring-like appearance as well - these are two examples:

IMG_3155.jpgIMG_3153.jpg

We could have stayed in this stunning part of Mexico for much longer, but we had booked a couple of days in Queretero (the city). We drove today on another scenic stretch of Hwy. 120, (we made the right turn after all), arrived in Queretaro, and just got back from exploring the city a bit.

See you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 19:20 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

The surreal, unreal vision of the brilliant Edward James

sunny 35 °C

Salvador Dali said of Mexico - "I will not go again to a country that is even more surreal than my paintings". The more we travel through Mexico, the more we understand Dali's sentiment. We drove to Xilitla to see the famous gardens of the late eccentric Edward James. To get there, we drove for eight hours through the high Sierra mountains; a trek that put the "odd" in odyssey.

We drove through many small towns. This one was having a fiesta, complete with an intriguing choice of rides.

large_IMG_2920.jpg

A group of 100 or so cyclists were taking part in a Ride for Jesus (rough translation) - as a lead-up to Easter. We wondered why such an event would be staged on twisty mountain roads with no shoulders - certainly passing cars and trucks showed no concern for their welfare. Further along we noticed Jesus on a cross, strapped a little unsteadily in the back of this van.

IMG_2896.jpgIMG_2915.jpg

Parts of the mountain roads were in such bad shape that we marvelled at the ability of big buses and service trucks to maneuver - our little car was able to easily switch lanes to avoid massive potholes. This colectivo was in front of us for a while - jammed to the rafters with passengers. Mexicans are so uncomplaining and accepting of inconveniences - we followed them for miles and never saw one of the men shift or move or look impatient.

large_IMG_2929.jpg

Finally, we arrived in Xilitla, (he-leet-la) and we were shocked by the town. Run-down, dirty, not one redeeming feature - not even a passable zocalo and cathedral. Our hearts sank. We had booked at the Hotel Dolores, which was painted a lurid orange, smelled of cleaning fluids and was run by a trio of thugs. One of the them grudgingly showed us a room the size of a high school locker and about as appealing. We fled.

large_IMG_2941.jpg

We discovered the Paraiso Encantado, just out of town and up the road from Las Pozas. Built on a hill, almost eaten up by vegetation, this hotel exactly matched our expectations for the area. The charming owner Mario led us past a large pool, up several stone steps to our unit, with a sweeping deck overlooking the jungle. We think we were the only ones there. It was electric - we were enveloped in jungle sounds - a steady thrum of insects, birds, and other mysterious jungle noises. Hummingbirds, chacalacas, parrots, and the shriek-y calls of a tropical bird with a red beak and yellow tail feathers. Butterflies of every colour and size.

Years ago I read about the mad world of Edward James and his surrealist sculptures in this remote corner of Mexico, and hoped one day we would find our way here. Nothing prepared us for the Heart of Darkness, acid-trip creation that greeted us the next morning at the Los Pozas entrance:

large_9361DF4EDF81543957AAA145A1E317BE.jpg

Edward James was born in Scotland in 1907 to an American railroad magnate and a British aristocrat. He studied at Oxford, and immersed himself in a bohemian world where he became a patron to Salvador Dali, Leonora Carrington and Rene Magritte. He inherited a fortune and found himself in Mexico. After a chance meeting with a local man, Plutarco Gastelum, James moved to Xilitla, bought a plot of land, and the two men began the decades-long construction of the Sculpture Garden of Las Pozas. James (or Don Eduardo as he was known by his Mexican friends) employed over 150 locals to build walls, create paths, plant gardens, and fashion the sculptures. He paid all of them double wages, and gave some of the families free homes. Needless to say, he was much beloved by the locals. We found out all of this from Miguel, one of the Gastelum family members who grew up on the property and knew Edward James. He was watering the garden as we walked in, and stopped to talk at length about Edward James' life, including his love of animals. He told us stories of how Don Eduardo would walk around the property with an ocelot, flamingos or a boa constrictor. If you Google Edward James, you will find a wealth of information about him.

large_IMG_2977.jpg

We spent hours wandering the grounds - every path leads to another fantastic sight, and you have to pay attention so as not to miss any details. Las Pozas mean "the pools". A waterfall leads into a series of aquamarine pools that ring around one side of the property, and visitors are invited to swim. The pools are embellished with stairways leading nowhere, urns, columns and stone walls.

large_IMG_2967.jpg

large_IMG_2968.jpg

We met up with a Mexican family who had jumped into the cold water, right under the waterfall - fully clothed - and were having a whale of a time. They tried to convince us to join them, but we just waded in.

large_IMG_3632.jpg

Many of the paths are Britain-inspired - narrow, with high stone walls.

large_92E93235FFF02D597A938013F96016BB.jpg

This foliage puts you back in Mexico - as you walk along clumps of steroid-sized ferns and fronds, there is no mistaking you are in the jungle.

large_IMG_3026.jpg

Staircases feature prominently in Las Pozas. Some are purely ornamental and whimsical, and lead nowhere.

large_IMG_3668.jpg

large_IMG_3028.jpg

Others invite a climb, however precarious that might be. We tried to imagine this garden in Canada - it simply would not exist, due to health and safety rules, liability issues, etc. etc. There would be ropes and caution tape and guards and...it would be impossible.

large_IMG_3016.jpg

This woman was about 60 feet from the ground. She walked up those narrow stars without batting an eye.

large_IMG_3666.jpg

large_IMG_3030.jpg

We met this young couple, from Joshua Tree, California. We had a chance to chat, shortly after we took this photo of them. They had dreamed of coming to Las Pozas for ten years, and wanted to make their private wedding vows to each other here. As transfixed as they were by the place, they still had time to discuss their mortification over Trump!

large_IMG_3020.jpg

Giant hands - possibly a model of Edward James' hands?

large_IMG_2983.jpg

large_IMG_2995.jpg

A rare burst of colour

large_IMG_2996.jpg

This entrance way to the garden is in the shape of a giant engagement ring. When the sun hits it at a certain time of day, it illuminates and the prongs on the top resemble a diamond.

large_IMG_3035.jpg

An entranceway to another part of the garden.

large_IMG_3040.jpg

I'll leave you with a final story about our first dinner at Las Pozas. After we had checked into our hotel, we asked if there was a restaurant close by and our host told us we would find a restaurant at the far end of las Pozas. We drove down a long, bumpy dark road (the garden was closed), and eventually came to a point where we could hear music and see flickering candles. We parked, walked in total darkness down a path to find a restaurant set under a palapa, with jungle noises orchestrated to set off the strange music. A few tables were filled, including one with a young man loudly talking (at length) about the Voyage of the Kon Tiki. It felt like a set from Apocalpyse Now - our very own surreal moment. The food was fantastic, the beer was cold, and that dinner set the stage perfectly for what was to come.

We arrived in Jalpan yesterday - we'll send out another blog in a few days to tell you all about the Franciscan missions and the beauty of the Sierra Gorda mountains.

Posted by millerburr 05:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 73) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »