Thursday, June 4, 2009



We met Will, Naomi’s brother, in Chiapas, on his way back from Nicaragua, where he studied Spanish in a mountain village. Chiapas is a gorgeous state in the south of Mexico. We met in San Cristobal, which is a beautiful colonial city surrounded by green mountain peaks.

Our hotel's courtyard

In the afternoons it stormed, and we joyfully welcomed the rain, because it had been very hot and dry in Querétaro.

Our second day we arose early for a tour of Palenque the Mayan ruins in the jungle. On the way there we stopped at Agua Azul, a stunning series of falls of the most beautiful blue water.

When we arrived we took photos and enjoyed the scenery.

At the last minute it got hot, and we decided to swim in a still pool. It was the perfect temperature, cool and refreshing, but not cold.

We continued on to the next waterfall, which apparently was the one Arnold jumped off in Predator. It was out of season, so the waterfall itself was not so impressive, but we were able to go behind the waterfall into a cave with another waterfall inside, which was also not so impressive.

When we got to Palenque it was HOT.

It is a huge site, and we wandered around trying to find cooler, shady paths from one place to the next. The views from the tops of temples were incredible.

The most exciting part was going inside the center ruin. We went through underground passages and could almost imagine a different time.

There were beautiful plants and trees, including the flamboya tree, which was pretty flamboyant with its bright orange blossoms.

We had been warned not to make the 4 hour journey through the curvy mountain roads twice in one day, however, the tours are set up like that, and if you don’t come back the same day, it’s up to you to find your own way back. Plus, we wanted to enjoy San Cristobal more. Luckily, on the way back we were in more of a bus than a van, and it was dark, so the carsickness was not an issue anymore.
The next day we went to market day in the Mayan village of Chamula. On our way we saw a parade with impressive costumes.

We asked why the clowns were made to look so fat, and were told, “that’s the way it is here.” We have very few photos of Chamula, because it is disrespectful to take photos of the people and their beautiful traditional dress. Most men wore white, including fur vests, and the women had incredible blue and purple woven shawls and black fur skirts. The centerpiece of the village is a large white church with blue and green trim full of symbolism of the four directions, earth, air, etc.

The joining of indigenous culture with Catholic was clearly visible inside and out. We bought tickets to go in the church, (again no pictures because of the belief that the camera takes ones soul), and all the pews were pushed to the side. The floor was covered with aromatic pine needles, and everywhere you looked there were candles lit, on the floor, in front of shrines to saints, on altars. People were sitting in small groups on the floor, chanting, with bottles of soda near them. Traditions have melded, and it is believed that drinking the soda, in conjunction with prayer will get rid of bad spirits. Sometimes eggs are used, and in the most severe cases, a chicken is sacrificed. We didn’t see any chickens.

A lot of things were still closed because of the flu scare, so we missed the jungle zoo with endangered species in Tuxtla.

Will came back to Querétaro with us, and we got back into the swing of our normal life… briefly. Two things happened that shifted things for us significantly:
1. Naomi got a bacteria in her gut (origin unknown, since she and Will ate all the same things) that set her back for a week, and then it took another week to regain her energy.
2. At the same time, we discovered we did not have water at our house. Not such a good combination. Will and Jose were heroic in their care of Naomi, as well as their determination to figure out the water situation. Oddly, the water situation took a full 2.5 weeks to be resolved. In the meantime, we decided to move on. We easily found a small colonial house closer to the center, and packed our possessions. Our dear friend Barry, who was on his way out of town, offered us his home, right in the center. This was the biggest blessing of all; we were able to relax and recuperate, with the comforts of water, a breezy house, and beautiful views. It was healing to wake up to views of church domes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mask Mania

Masks Sold Out

On Wednesday night, at our weekly Scrabble game, my friend Renata and I started talking about an idea we’d both had… to decorate the ubiquitous flu masks. We decided that it was now or never. So Thursday morning I got up to go to my 7.30 yoga class and went directly to her place to get started on our adventure. We knew that masks were in short supply, so we contacted Renata’s friend who has a medical supply business. Turned out she was in Mexico City, but she made several recommendations, so we headed to various locations.

At one medical supply place they said they would have more after 5pm. So back to our original idea: sew the masks. We went exploring and found that we were not the only ones who had the idea to make masks… in the fabric store there were tons of people buying the fabric. And the elastic was sold out!

But we eventually found some and set up shop at our friend Rosemary’s place. We created an assembly line for cutting, sewing, threading the elastic through the sides and then ironing on our images.

A little before six we ran out of elastic. I trekked over to the medical supply store and was told, “10 masks per customer.” So we sent friends over to get more. I also went to get more elastic at a little shop where the news was blaring, “wash hands frequently. Wear masks. Avoid crowds…” I asked the shopkeeper what he thought of all the news and he said he hasn’t seen the media go quite so loco since “the Twin Towers.”

When I got back we finished as many as we could with the supplies we had. Exhausted, we decided it was time to close up shop and go to the square to sell our wares. We listened to Cuban music, chatted with friends and sold masks.

Laura with Scream

Renata with Virgen de Guadalupe

Early Thursday morning we made more masks. They are for sale in Renata’s shop the Quinto Real

And I have some masks here with us in San Miguel, where we are visiting our friends and having a relaxing weekend. The calm after the storm of mask making.

More masks below

Renata's daughter with Speak No Evil Monkey

Renata with Funky Pirate Smiley Face

Renata with Porky Pig

Naomi with pig snout

Naomi with moustache

Friday, April 24, 2009

Holy Week

My mom’s cousin Dan came to visit for Holy Week.

Dan at the local juice bar.

The beautiful view of the aquaduct arches.

We went to our friends' for a piñata party

On Good Friday, we headed out to watch people walk the Stations of the Cross on various routes throughout the city center.

People had set up stations outside their homes and there were refreshments offered at the end.

The procession up near Iglesia de la Cruz was the most intense: costumes, nuns, effigies of Christ and Mary, representations of the holy shroud...

In the evening we walked to be near the beginning of the route of the Procession of Silence. This was the most incredible experience. Silence. The hour-long procession began with garbage collectors. At first I was confused by this, but later it made a lot of sense.
Garbage Collectors clearing the way for the Procession of Silence

Then came the police and the Masters of Ceremony,

then the angels and the women in costume.

Then came hooded (in every color you can imagine!) men and children carrying crosses and large, heavy, bloody representations of Christ

Women dressed in black

People BAREFOOT carrying extremely heavy crosses (then it was clear WHY a clean up crew was so necessary!), dragging heavy chains attached to their ankles.

Walking with the hooded, barefoot, chained cross carriers, were people whose job it was to help them transfer the unwieldy crosses and effigies from one shoulder to another.

And to pick up stray stones and fragments that could cause serious damage to tender feet with lots of weight on them!

Onlookers, including children, sometimes leapt out to move dangerous objects that had been kicked up by the dragging chains.

It took over an hour for the entire procession to pass by our spot. They continued to parade through the center for at least 4 hours!

And the procession ended with another clean up crew.

The Holy Week Market. The devils have fireworks attached to them and are set off on Glory Saturday.

The next day my cousin Dan and I headed out on a whirlwind tour of the 5 Silver Cities: San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Guanjuato, San Miguel de Allende, and back to Querétaro.

We had lunch in San Luis Potosí, which was built on a much grander scale than Querétaro.

Then we drove to the city of Zacatecas, which lies in a narrow valley and is incredibly stunning. This year the Cultural Festival coincided with Holy Week, so it was a lively weekend with lots of live music, theater, street markets and people from all over Mexico. But hardly any foreign tourists.

We had dinner at an amazing restaurant in a hotel that is a renovated bullring! You can see in this picture that the restaurant is multi-leveled and used to be seating for spectators.

We were fortunate that there was a family party right below us and they had hired musicians… so we were serenaded for the entire meal.

There is a stunning rock formation above the city called La Bufa, which is apparently from a word for wineskin.

On Easter Sunday we climbed up to the Bufa and had amazing views. It was lovely to be outside so much.

Incredible stone work

At the top of the mountain I met an eight year old girl who was on her own selling handmade
beaded bracelets and necklaces. I noticed her sitting alone studying and started to talk with her.
It turns out she is from the state of Querétaro, from an indigenous pueblo called Amealco. Despite my feelings about her climbing the mountain alone and spending the whole day alone in a semi-isolated spot, and child labor in general, I decided to buy a couple bracelets from her. She told me it took a day to bead them.

Check out the HUGE bag of Cheetos the scouts have in this pic!

An homage to my husband JOSE

The churchyard at the top of the mountain, with la Bufa behind.

I decided to take the Swiss-built cable car across the valley for views of the city.

Everyone waiting in line was entertained by clowns.

I had a great time taking pics as I wandered around town.

Easter Sunday soccer in the square where concerts were held

The theater

The cathedral

The amazing hotel next to ours… we walked through as often as possible. And had breakfast there!

Evening view from my hotel room

Morning coffee in a courtyard

We stopped for lunch in Jerez, the hometown of my friend Marcela’s parents! (Thanks Marcela for the great tip!) It is a beautiful town and there was a lot of activity: a mass in honor of migrants, the crowning of beauty queens,

and a music festival.

Next, we arrived in Guanajuato, which like Zacatecas is in a narrow valley… so narrow that burros are used to carry goods up the tiny winding streets.

We stayed in an amazing hotel

And I stayed up late to enjoy the sauna.

Breakfast on the roof

The first time I went to Guanajuato, last fall, I didn’t experience the tunnels. This time Dan and I explored the winding passages that used to be river (it has since been diverted to avoid flooding).

stairs down to the tunnels

Everyone seemed to be on a mission to get Guanajuato looking its best

Aaaaahhhh, the colors!

And then we lunched in San Miguel de Allende on our way back to Querétaro and saw some amazing murals

And the exhibit of my colleague Angelina Perez (actually my Fulbright application was to work with her, and even though we don’t live close enough for me to work with her regularly, I did take a series of workshops with her).

We arrived back in Querétaro exhausted and amazed that in 4 days we toured Central Mexico and hit all 5 Silver Cities!