Magical Cholula Revisited

22 Oct

Memories can shape our lives. We can run from them or toward them. And if they are significant enough, we can build little alters to them and freeze them in time. That’s what I did to the village of Cholula.

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We never saw the volcano due to the rainy season.

I left home in 1973, twenty-one years old, and went to “study abroad” in Mexico. I lived with a local family, studied intensive Spanish and raised as much hell as I could. In those days it wasn’t much.

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Making tamales with my Mexican family and fellow student Brian.

In 2013, I saw the youthful dream of living in Mexico realized as my wife and I retired and built a home on the southern most border near Belize on beautiful lake Bacalar. It wasn’t colonial Central Mexico, but you can’t have everything. I longed to go back to Cholula and visit my old stomping grounds. Boy was I in for a shock. A lot had changed in forty years.

Dirt roads and hand-made brick buildings have been replaced by cobblestone and cement block architecture. There is a modern indoor mercado that resembles all others in Mexico. People were fascinated by my old pictures but no one could remember where they had been taken.

This was the 1973 view from the Cholula pyramid looking down on the old mental hospital. I was fascinated at the time with the gardens (right) that the patients worked providing their own food and therapeutic activity.

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Today the hospital is a beautiful museum with adjacent park and playground. The university is buried somewhere in the buildings in the distance.

Cholula has become a suburb of the state capital, Puebla. There are trendy restaurants and festivals galore. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t  experienced the quaint village it used to be. Frankly I was shell shocked.

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A day trip to an old hacienda was worth the visit to see this exquisite talavera fountain.

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The church of Tonancitla, one of the best of the trip.

Do not allow my letdown get in the way of visiting this magical city. My suggestions are 1) do your homework, there is much to do 2) find a hotel close to the center. The buses are not difficult to maneuver but conversational Spanish is useful. 3) check the weather (duh) Cholula’s altitude is 7,000 feet which makes it a great escape from the hot, humid jungle we live in. There is also a rainy season. Don’t let it put a damper on your vacation. Dress appropriately. Cholula is really a hopping place and well worth a visit. DOS TORTAS

 

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Life’s Unexpected Treasures

15 Oct

I wish I could say that arriving in the colonial city of Puebla was dejavú, but the truth is, nothing looked familiar. I first visited Puebla in 1973, staying in a boarding house for the first month of studies at the University of the Americas in nearby Cholula. In August 2017, it is a bustling modern city that’s kept much of its old-world beauty and charm. We were pleasantly surprised.

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The convent of San Francisco one of the oldest churches in Puebla circa 1535

I had reserved an Airbnb in the historic district and spent a bit more money than usual. We were not disappointed. In Mexico it is common to walk an unremarkable street of high privacy walls and intriguing doorways. We stepped through one of those doors to inner city paradise.

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During our stay, our hosts directed us to the best mole (MÓ lay); is there any OTHER reason to go to Puebla? We wandered exquisite old churches, artist markets, homes converted into museums, and even a free concert. I did not expect to fall in love with Puebla. This city is definitely a contender for retirement locations.

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Tres moles – poblano, rojo and my new favorite pipian (pumpkinseed)

No trip to Puebla would be complete without a visit to La Estrella de Puebla, the Star of Puebla, a very large ferris wheel. After some deep breathing I joined Lisa the adventurer and I’m so glad I did. No fear!

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The weather made this adventure challenging, but we did not give up.

Puebla was so much fun and worth the time. Our AirBnB hosts certainly added to the experience.

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Luis and Malu (who fed us many local delights).

The world is filled with many delightful people and places. Puebla unexpectedly is near the top of our list.

DOS TORTAS 

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Need A Distraction? Get A Puppy

8 Oct

Let me introduce our little distraction from hurricanes, earthquakes and mass shootings, meet Frida aka Puppy Puppy. She is a dachshund mix. Every street dog in Mexico is a mix. You may remember that we lost ChaCha (A Díos ChaCha), a rescue dog that we adopted the month before our July vacation. Three days into our trip, we got the message that she had escaped our yard and was hit by a car and killed. Our hearts broke. Continue reading

Oaxaca – Ruins, Monastery & Crafts

1 Oct

During our nine-day visit in August to Oaxaca City, MX, we enjoyed a second day trip. This time we boarded a van to the ancient city of Monte Alban. “The White Mountain” was strategically placed in 500BC, by rulers high on a mountain, to better subjugate the lands and people below. They ruled about a thousand years. The City was abandoned before the Spanish conquerors arrived in 1521 and because of its obscure location went undiscovered until much later. As a result many royal tombs were found intact with jade masks, detailed murals, pottery and onyx jewelry. We wandered the site and small museum on a stunningly beautiful day to be alive.

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There’s always the question of climbing one more pyramid. What a treat to experience such a breathtaking vista.

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Evidence of early cranial surgery. Some patients actually survived.

After Monte Alban, we continued to Cuilapam and the monastery complex of Saint James the Apostle, a beautiful Dominican cathedral with no roof over the nave. The priests abandoned construction in the 16th century due to the lack of funds and diminishing native population to convert. A small rear sanctuary church, rarely open to the public, was holding a funeral and we entered respectfully amid blaring trumpets and pounding drums.  Love the churches and rituals of Mexico.

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Pope John Paul II landed his helicopter for a visit in 1979.

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A stone baptismal font.

The tour ended with a visit to an artists cooperative. The skill of hand painting takes lots of practice and installs awe. We had so little space in our luggage for purchases and even less space in our house for display. We also had Puebla and Cholula left to visit. Sigh….

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Getting one’s groove on at work? Steady hands and concentration.

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Drunk with all things Oaxacan we reluctantly packed up to begin the next phase of our trip, the colonial city of Puebla! Thinking it couldn’t get much better, boy were we wrong.

DOS TORTAS

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Musings

24 Sep

The continuation of the glowing account of our recent month-long journey to central Mexico needs to be put on hold in light of the recent earthquakes. Many of the places we visited are damaged, destroyed or at the very least suffering. 

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The two bell towers of the 16th century church in Cholula that sits on top of the world’s largest pyramid toppled.  Our Lady of the Remedies.

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We visited here three weeks ago.

We are blessed to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. The need is so great and overwhelming in the world that some days I must turn off the news and simply be kind to the person in front of me. It’s all I have. Other days I have more.

IMG_0580We were robbed again this week. While we are certain of the culprit, there is little definite proof. We have increased the security with bars on my MIL’s house and two of our vulnerable windows. Sad, but necessary.

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Security for Alice.

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Enjoy your week. Connect with your neighbor (unless they are the ones robbing you).  Get outdoors. Be grateful, no complaints.

DOS TORTAS 

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Amazing Astonishing and Fabulous

17 Sep

I thought the Ciudad de México was supposed to have the best museums. Well, it might, but Oaxaca certainly gives it a run. My favorite of the many museums we explored was the Cultural Museum situated next to the cathedral in El Centro. After having been to the Anthropology Museum in CDMX, you’d think we were burned out looking at so many antiquities, but you’d be wrong.

 

 

There are statues large and small, religious iconography and conquest remains. Note the  great views of the botanical gardens next door from the upper windows of the converted monastery museum.

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Cool temperatures in this mountainous city were a lovely break in August.

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The gardens are young but having planted adult plants makes it feel ancient.

The Oaxacan Textile Museum shows some of the amazing costumes of the many indigenous populations that live in the state. Not only are they beautiful, but the quality of the handwork is mind boggling to this fiber artist.

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As the world over, many skills being lost as the younger generation is not interested in such time consuming work.

The Filatelia Museum, no I didn’t know what it was either, is a collection of all things postal. There are letters from back in the day when we wrote words by hand. Letters from Frida to her doctor are arranged vertically to peruse front and back, in large pull-out drawers. There were postcards, stamps, a typewriter, even old mailboxes. I am particularly fond of writing postcards. Time to revive the habit.

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Many colorful Mexican stamps.

One more astonishing museum is the private collection of world renowned Oaxacan muralist, Rufino Tamayo. I know I can use words like amazing, astonishing, and fabulous just so many times without my readers glazing over. This one is not to be missed.

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Goddess in many renditions.

Then there are the incidental galleries found overhead in corner restaurants where we stopped for breakfast.

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Mexico is all things Frida.

If Oaxaca is on your bucket list, give yourself at least ten days. You need that amount of time to leisurely explore the many wonderful things there are to see, do and eat. Enjoy a rooftop sunset, mescal tasting and time to wander. You won’t be disappointed.

DOS TORTAS

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The Crying Tree

10 Sep

Just to be clear, the tree wasn’t crying, I was. Day one of our visit to Oaxaca in Central Mexico, about five hours south of Mexico City, we joined a tour with a bi-lingual guide to visit the archeological site of Mitla, a place I had visited over forty years ago.

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The step-fret designs are individually cut stones. No mortar is involved.

We took a couple of tours while in Oaxaca. They were cheap, $20 each for the entire day, cold water provided. The guides were very knowledgeable. We stopped for lunch at great local restaurants and the groups were small, maybe eight people. It helps that we were visiting during the slow season.  It rained most days, but it never slowed us down.

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I kept forgetting to bring my “before” pictures with me.

When I visited Mitla in 1975, it was located off a dirt road in the high dessert. I was in awe as I walked the archeological site. The site hasn’t changed much but boy have the surroundings. It is now situated in the middle of a large community that services the many bus loads of tourists arriving daily. I can’t even imagine it during high season.

On the way to Mitla we stopped at the Tule Tree. I had never heard of it. It is the tree with the largest circumference in the world, 137 feet around!

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Located in the Zapotecan village of Santa Maria del Tule, Oax.

For some reason I was overcome with grief looking at this beautiful 2,000 year old tree. She knew the ancients, saw the slaughter of the indigenous people, lived through revolution after revolution, and now stands witness to the insanity of our times. Maybe it was me, but I sensed sadness and wept. I wonder if she knew an earthquake was coming to her land two weeks later that would kill many people?

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Feeling emotional.

One more stop to see a petrified waterfall. We didn’t quite beat the rain, but it was worth the  trek.

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Sulphuric spring pools to the left.

We had a full day with eight more to go. There was so much more to see and do. Stay tuned. DOS TORTAS

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Lovely Oaxaca

3 Sep

Saying adiós to Mexico City, we headed for the next leg of our tour of Central Mexico, Oaxaca. Part of the goal of this trip is to visit places I loved while in college in Mexico in 1973, I used to travel by train from Puebla to Oaxaca for long weekends to this magical city. Unfortunately the trains no longer runs. Such is progress.

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Santo Domingo Cathedral. Weddings, funerals and quinceañeras.

 

We checked into our AirB&B after a seven hour bus ride from Mexico City. The hotelito was a bit primitive with a hard bed, lumpy pillows and lots of mosquitoes. The location was perfect however, right downtown and the price was right. I felt like I was back in college. Oh well, we survived.

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Botanical Gardens

We explored the city mostly on foot. It was mind blowing and I could write a month of blogs just on Oaxaca. Replicating my old photos has been so much fun.

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This fountain has changed considerably and is now the centerpiece for an amazing museum.

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Courtyard of the Museum de las Culturas

Probably the least attractive area of Oaxaca is the Zócalo. This beautiful park where teenagers came to check each other out under the watchful eyes of chaperones is now a campground for political protesters. I don’t know the details of their complaints but the area is a mess.

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Balancing a basket of watermelon, a young woman plies her wares. Circa 1973

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Another balancing act.  Note her long braids wrapped in ribbons, very typical of the times.

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Today, political protesters have taken over the Zócalo.

The Zocalo is crowded and dirty. For some reason I am having difficulty posting after the video below, so I will end here. Please scroll down and see the photos of the Zocalo today. Lots more on Oaxaca to come. DOS TORTAS

Teotihuacán – The Valley of the Gods

27 Aug

In September 1973, having arrived in Mexico only a few days prior as a foreign exchange student, I joined classmates on a field trip to Teotihuacán, an ancient Aztec city of enormous pyramids in a valley outside of Mexico City. The day was spent in awe for this twenty-one year old girl from New Jersey and began my love affair with Mexico.

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The view from the Pyramid of the Moon September 1973

Today, living in Mexico full-time as a retiree, I got the chance to revisit Teotihuacán.

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We traveled from our hotel in Mexico City via metro to the bus terminal for the one hour ride to Teotihuacán. Having downloaded Bill Bell’s On-Site Guide we had the confidence and information we needed. Recreating the photos was fun. Some of the photo angles are different since there have been renovations to the pyramids.

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Willing to offer my heart as sacrifice after the strenuous climb.

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The biggest change has been the growth of the many towns around the pyramids due to the income from tourism. We arrived early. There were very large crowds later in the day when the tour buses arrived.

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La Gruta

We even ate dinner at La Gruta, an immense cave turned restaurant. I hadn’t thought of the place in years. We ate lunch here as a table full of students in 1973. It was much as I remembered.

We spent two days huffing and puffing up and down pyramids. It was truly a wonderful experience. DOS TORTAS

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Mexico City Day 2

20 Aug

Our second day in La Ciudad we explored the Anthropology Museum and the castle of Chapultepec that offers an amazing vista of Mexico City. Chapultepec Park itself is larger the Central Park in New York. We could have spent the entire week here and not seen it all. There was a lovely lake with paddle boats and of course many vendors.

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The Anthropology Mueseum. The two story fountain was closed for cleaning.

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Chapultepec Castle.

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The French had a big influence on Mexico, not to mention rulership. Lisa loves castles.

Part of the goal of this trip is to revisit my old stopping grounds of 1973-74. A lot has changed in Mexico and the world, not to mention ME. Forty some years later at 65 years old, I am still in awe of this amazing country.

I am having trouble with internet, so the post on the historic district and Teotihuacan will have to wait.  Have a great week.

DOS TORTAS

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