Monday, July 3, 2017

Mezcal distillery tour in Oaxaca

Our good friend Rene Cabrera from Las Bugambilias Tours in Oaxaca has sent us this set up photos from a recent Mezcal distillery tour in Santiago Matatlán.








Tours

Las Bugambilias Tours by Rene Cabrera - http://www.lasbugambiliastours.com/

Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca by Alvin Starkman - http://www.mexonline.com/oaxacaculinarytours.htm

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Madonna and the Serpent

Story by Lawrence H. Freeman

I happened to mention to someone that I was writing an article about the myths of Quetzalcoatl and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

 
Virgin of Guadalupe My Mexican friend became immediately incensed. "Myths? He yelped. Myths? Are you one of those people who don't believe in the Bible?".

Bible? I thought as my jaw dropped open. What has the Virgin of Guadalupe have to do with the Bible? Instead, both the Virgin and the legend of Quetzalcoatl have to do with the effect of euro-centrism on the Mexican culture.

Beginning with the landing of Cortez in 1519, alien Catholicism, with a white god and a white panoply of saints had been forcibly impressed on a confused people with a deeply religious background.

In 1531, Juan Diego made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin (Our Mother), when the vision later called the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to him and miraculously impressed her image on Juan's cloak, and image that exists to this very day in a place of honor, the magnificent and enormous new sanctuary that the Church has built upon the hallowed spot in Tepeyac.

The important part of the miraculous occurrence is that the Virgin was brown-skinned. Finally there was a religious figure that the indigenous people could identify with. And identify they did, raising her image to such heights that by 1895, Pope Leo XIII officially decreed her to be The Queen of Mexico.

The Queen of Mexico She has become the very soul and consciousness of the Mexican people. Father Hidalgo was a Guadelupana, a devotee of the Dark Virgin, adopting her as the spirit and icon of the revolution. Even today, her December 12th fiesta is hugely celebrated, and in many areas easily overshadows Christmas.

Once again, the Catholic (the dictionary definition is "broad in sympathies, tastes and interests") Church had shown its true genius, the ability to co-opt and integrate an existing theology. Try going into one of the truly rural churches serving a wholly indigenous community (such as Chamula in Chiapas) and you will see a very different kind of worship where Christianity is only a very thin veneer over the still vital practice of the old religion.

Catholicism has triumphed in Mexico, but has it? Does Catholicism include a church where there are no pews or kneelers, where pine needles are strewn over the floor, where the saints whose names you might recognize are provided with a very different and local history. Here you will see worshippers in small groups surrounded by dozens of candles, often presided over by a curandero who is curing the sick by passing a chicken or an egg over the affected body part to suck up the poison. Where Coca-Cola is major to the service because the ingestion of the drink leads to the gaseous expulsion of demons. Where the assigned priest has been forbidden to conduct Mass, and is only suffered to conduct weddings, baptisms and funerals.

No, it is the Virgin and the old religion that has triumphed, and we only think it is Catholicism.

Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl (Bird of precious green feathers-snake or Feathered serpent) comes down to us in so many forms that it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. He was: Ehecatl, God of Wind, Hun Nal Ye, The Morning Star (Venus), Man of the Sun, bringer of knowledge, font of wisdom, holy man, uniter, creator and performer of art and music, warrior, cultural hero, King of Tula, priest, drunken fornicator with his own sister, fallen hero, and tragic figure.


His face and form is likewise obscure, and he has been shown as: a typical Indian, or dressed monklike in a long white robe fringed with black crosses, as a bearded white man and a beardless, masked black man. He has been depicted with his body and face painted black, or with his face painted yellow and having a grotesque bird-like beak.
Although it has been said that a white Quetzalcoatl was only a fiction spread after Cortez landed, that does not explain why Moctecuzhuoma was obviously terrified by the landing of a bearded white man at the very spot from which Quetzalcoatl was said to have sailed away. Nor does it explain why the indigenous people attributed the godlike qualities not to bandy-legged, black-bearded Cortez, but rather to his deputy, the surpassingly handsome blond, immoral, bloodthirsty and headstrong young Pedro de Vargas, who the Indians identified with the sun.

Not the least of the white man's godlike qualities was the arrogant imperviousness to the deadly pandemic that had arrived with them, while all around, the indigenous peoples were dropping like flies in their millions. It is now estimated that on Cortez' arrival there were 36 million inhabitants of the area now known as Mexico, but less than 2 generations later there were less than 2 million remaining.

Because of the myriad legends swirling around this mythical/historical figure, it has been proposed that Quetzalcoatl could well have been several individuals. Possibly the term Quetzalcoatl was actually an honorific given to successive individuals, as we have done with King, Pope, Czar, General, and the like.

An enormously widespread (legend-myth-history-religion). Quetzalcoatl, in his various forms, is the protean figure over the length and breadth of North and South America, with surprisingly little variation.

There is a widespread belief that in times past, strangers from the east had visited Mexico and had returned to the land of the Sunrise. Quetzalcoatl was said to have landed at Veracruz with several companions and after bringing the gift of civilization and staying for several years, he departed on a magic raft, promising to return. Spanish religious later interpreted this to be a visit by the Apostle St. Thomas, coming to convert the Americas.
It is difficult to trace the legend of a bearded white god. It is true that several of the Maya and Aztec gods sport full black beards. A hirsute adornment which, while unusual among the Indians, is not totally unknown.
It is also true that some of the gods have white faces, but a depiction of a white-faced, bearded Quetzalcoatl remains elusive and might well be apocryphal.

The legend of Cortez as a returning god might well have owed more to the ships, the sickness, the shining armor (particularly the helmets), the horses, the dogs, and the fearsome weapons. Think of what our reaction would be to a UFO landing on the White House lawn and a bona fide alien alighting.
It is said that there was a widespread belief in the imminent arrival of bearded white gods from over the sea, but there seems to be no solid foundation for this belief.

In Peru, Hernando De Soto was told that the father of the Inca (ruler) had foretold that in the reign of the 30th Inca, white men would come to visit a superior rule and culture among the Peruvians.
But these beliefs and rumors only seem to have "sprung full-blown from the brow of Zeus" after the Spaniards had already come!

It is only fair to point out that there are friezes of Kulkulcan, the Mayan incarnation of Quetzalcoatl, which clearly depict a Caucasian-featured, long-faced person with a long straight nose and a long, pointed beard. Archaeologists have even nicknamed this figure "Uncle Sam", for the very real resemblance to the American patriotic symbol.

In both cases, the legends are at least partially a reaction to the coming of the Europeans and sully the pristine truth. Somehow, the legend of a white-skinned, bearded Quetzalcoatl became an apologia for the Conquest, while the legend of the Virgin allowed the indigenous people to have a stake in the conquering religion.

Editor's Note: Lawrence H. Freeman is the reference library and tour director for the Lake Chapala Society, and the acknowledged expert on pre-Columbian culture and ruins throughout Mexico, as well as a regular contributor to El Ojo Del Lago, the local monthly English-language newspaper/magazine. He is currently in the process of setting up guided tours for English-speakers throughout Mexico. Contact him about the story or the tours by e-mail at ligligl@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Top 10 Events in the Riviera Nayarit in 2017

 
 
The Riviera Nayarit is and always will be a destination offering a great variety of cultural, sports and artistic events. This year the destination celebrates its 10th anniversary and in order to kick off the party we’d like to share with you a chronological list of the Top 10 Events of 2017:

  • XIII International San Blas Festival of Migratory Birds (January 29 to February 5): San Blas is celebrating this festival with workshops, conferences, and observation routes.
  • 4th Festival Sayulita (February 1-5): The hottest party of the year is in the Riviera Nayarit’s Surfing Capital: Concert, Movies, Drinks and a celebration of life!
  • 7th Open Water Swim Tournament: This sporting event takes place at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and it’s been recently admitted into the Global Swim Series. 
  • Wind Festival (May 19-21): Bucerías, the Wind Capital of the Riviera Nayarit, is celebrating its top sports competition with this event, considered one of the top five most important of its kind in the world. 
  • VI International Beach Polo Cup (May): Combining the sport of kings and the beach has been a highly successful formula for the international positioning of this event. 
  • San Blas and La Cruz International Sport Fishing Tournaments (June 14 - 17 / October 25 - 28): San Blas tournament is celebrating its 57th anniversary and the event in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is in its 5th year. Bonus: The Riviera Nayarit celebrates Children’s Day with a free kid’s tournament.
  • 9th Vallarta Nayarit Gastronómica (October): This culinary festival surprised both locals and visitors in 2016 by uniting 6 Michelin Stars in one place.
  • 9th Half Marathon and 10K (November 25): By the time runners finish this race they’re already asking when does the next one begin!
  • VII Punta Mita Gourmet & Golf (November 30 - December 3): Punta Mita, the Riviera Nayarit’s Glamour Peninsula, is synonymous with luxury.
  • 12th Festival Sinergiarte (December): Artists are of the international sort and, believe it or not, they donate their art. Bonus: The San Pancho Children’s Circus - March 16-18. 
 
 
For more information on the Riviera Nayarit: http://www.mexonline.com/nayarit.htm
     

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birding Magic in San Jose del Pacifico, Oaxaca


 
Bullock's oriole
 

By Suzanne Staples

While spending time in Oaxaca city in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, we decided to explore the mountainous areas surrounding the city.  Oaxaca rests in a valley between three mountain ranges.  The Majestic Sierra Madre del Sur rises to the south, climbing to about nine thousand feet. At the top, a dense pine-oak forest is interspersed with tree ferns, brilliant orchids and meters-long climbing vines. Tiny red salvia flowers and orange paintbrush generously dot the road that is carved from the steep mountain.  Many of the simple homes along the road at the higher elevations have plant nurseries.  Colorful pots of flowers line up in neat rows against the steep hill.  Pink and red begonias flourish here, as do rich blue Nile lillies and white calla lillies.  The people carry baskets of these blooms into Oaxaca city to sell in the many markets.



The small hamlet of San Jose del Pacifico perches along the highway near the summit of the mountain range.  The land drops off precipitously just one house beyond the road, which continues on to the Pacific Ocean.  Just outside town is a small charming resort called Puesta del Sol.  Carved out of the steep hillside, it comprises eighteen inviting wood cabanas (cabins), some with fireplaces for the very chilly evenings.  Every cabana comes with a generous porch and comfy chairs from which to take in the panoramic view. Land drops off steeply, providing a view of literally miles of forested hills.  Black vultures and hawks cruise below eye level.  The grounds of the resort are generously planted with flowers and trees that invite all manner of birds. 
 
Puesta del Sol: http://www.sanjosedelpacifico.com/

There is a restaurant on the grounds which serves delicious traditional Mexican fare as well as beer and mescal.  On the days we stayed, the waitress's quiet and charming little girl peeked shyly around tables to look at the gringos.  A deck provides another breathtaking view of the valleys below.  Cafe de olla, Oaxacan coffee lightly flavored with cinnamon and sugar, tasted great while watching the white-eared hummingbirds feed on the tall, purple coffee flowers outside the window.

 

We had returned to this area with the excuse of finding the southern race of Stellar's Jay.  This far south in Mexico, the subspecies is bluer and has different facial markings than the jay which occurs farther north and in North America.   Jays are usually right upfront, not shy and quite vocal: not a skulky bird!   But we hadn't seen nor heard this jay last year, even though our wonderful guide and friend, Roque Antonio, did his very best to find it for us.  We were hoping for a glimpse this time, but we knew we'd see enough incredible birds to make us happy, either way.

Stellar's Jay
 

When we arrived at Puesta del Sol and began our steep climb down to our cabin, we were greeted by the crystal chime song of the brown-backed solitaire.  There is nothing quite like this song.  It's a lovely descending call in what sounds like two-part harmony.  Echoing off the valley sides in the early evening quiet, it sounded simply ethereal.   We were even lucky enough to see the bird who was singing. He was perched below us, looking out over the steep valley as he sang.  What a welcome.  White-eared hummingbird males aggressively guarded their patches of purple tobacco.

From our perch on the porch we could see a small flock of grey silky-flycatchers moving around in the scrub trees below us.  Their long tails and rich yellow-grey bodies shone in the sun.

Audubon's warblers crowded the mountain oak next to our cabin and moved constantly from there to a nearby mountain ash.  Black-vented and Bullock's orioles climbed slowly in a maple-like tree that sported amazing red flowers that appeared to have a clawed bird's foot sticking out of each flower.  The orioles were savoring the nectar held in those flowers.  Higher in the same tree was a rose-breasted grosbeak, his breast showing a pink-red line down his white front as if he had spilled raspberry juice.   So although no jay appeared for us this first day, we were happy.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Night fell and the temperature dropped dramatically. After a delicious dinner during which we watched a spectacular sunset through clouds pushed in from the ocean, we headed carefully back down the path to our cabana.  On the way we met the senor who lights the fires in each cabin.  In a wheelbarrow, he carried a load of very dense oak pieces and kindling for the fire.  His secret to starting the fire was to place a bed of sawdust chips first, then kindling, then oak.  Then more sawdust for good measure.  Then a healthy squirt of diesel from a detergent bottle.  We had a crackling fire in no time.  He instructed us to add the oak sparingly in order to make the fire last till morning.  What a cozy feeling to be tucked away in a mountain cabin with a good fire and heavy blankets.  We did have to add logs to the fire during the night but we must have timed it wrong, as our fire only lasted till about four a.m.    It was cold cold cold when we got up!   But as soon as the sun came over the ridge and fell on our front porch, we were warm again.  From long johns to T shirt in fifteen minutes.  That's how it is in the Sierra Madre Sur in winter.


Before heading up for breakfast I stuck my head out the door as I heard a familiar and welcome call - a jay.  Slightly different from our northern Stellar's jay call, but completely recognizable.  And he was right next to us in the mountain oak.  Of course, being a jay, he was way up in the top, cruising for breakfast.  I think jays look like monkeys in trees, easily loping from one branch to another, climbing effortlessly and quickly.   Standing with my neck bent back to the max, trying to stay away from the drop-off in front of our cabin, I caught a few good glimpses.  I saw his dark crest bobbing as he moved, and his dark blue belly.  I watched as he finally flew, doing his flap flap cruise, flap flap cruise flight. 

We spent the morning wandering the grounds and walking the short distance into town for a cup of locally grown coffee and a yummy torta (sandwich) for lunch.  The afternoon passed quickly as we followed the activity of the birds below our cabin and watched the sun move across the winter sky.  Dusk returned, and the birds flew down into the valley to more protected and warm areas below.  We did the same, moving in to enjoy a glass of very smooth mescal as we watched the fog push in from the ocean. The moon rose to sail in and out of the mist as our fire was lit once again to guard against the cold of the coming mountain night.
 
More Information:
 
Roque Antonio Santiago of Oaxaca Birding Tours offers personal, guided bird watching tours throughout the state of Oaxaca.
 
More information on Oaxaca, Huatulco or Puerto Escondido can be found here:
 
 
 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Restaurant Review: Entre Tierras in Puebla

Our blogs usually consist of stories and information about Mexico, but as we travel around the country we think it's important to begin to point out the great hotels, restaurants, tours, etc. that we have experienced.

And a great place to start is a wonderful restaurant in Puebla; Entre Tierras.


Puebla, as many of you know, is possibly the heart of colonial Mexico cuisine. There are numerous choices throughout the city from excellent taco stands to fine dining and of course Mole Poblano. However on this trip I decided to try a fine dining establishment just outside the colonial center.

Entre Tierras is located across the street from Hotel Señorial and about a 4-5 block walk from the Zocalo in Puebla's historic center. I had actually read about the restaurant in a magazine on my flight from Los Angeles to Puebla.

As mentioned above Puebla is famous for it's cuisine and there are many famous dishes and restaurants to try. Institutions such as El Mural de los Poblanos and Fonda de Santa Clara plus dishes of Mole Poblano, Chiles En Nogada and Cemitas, all make Puebla a foodie paradise.

I love Puebla's traditional cuisine, but in this case I wanted something more contemporary. I wanted steak, I wanted wine, I wanted a three or four course experience. I found that at Entre Tierras.

The atmosphere and design of the restaurant is modern spliced with antique pieces. It's unique, it's romantic. It included a small bar/lounge, a dining area divided between and indoors and outdoor patio, and even an upstairs area with a small banquet room for parties or receptions.

From the moment I walked in, I was greeted by smiling faces. Service was excellent by the wait staff complete with recommendations. I ordered a couple appetizers and a glass of Cabernet from Chile. First I tried the Tacos de Pato estilo Pekín (Duck tacos Pekin-style), delicious and a bit spicy.  Next was Indias Vestidas Hidalguenses which was flowered squash, cheese and epazote. Unbelievable. If I was smart I should have just ordered appetizers as there were so many 'new to me' options.

Dinner was next and with the waiters recommendation, I ordered Chamorro de Cordero (a type of lamb) even though I came in for steak. He was right, the dish was very good and allowed me to try something new and unique. The lamb tasted as if it was marinated in honey all day with Mexican spices. As I usually don't eat lamb, it was a treat.



Full from my apps and dinner, my waiter insisted I try one of Puebla's traditional drinks; Pasita. And being the Mexican explorer I am, I obliged. This drink is said to come from a famous bar with the same name - La Pasita - in 1916. It is a raisin-based drink with a kick. Although an acquired taste, I knew if I had too many of the shots it would be a long walk back to my hotel Casa de la Palma.

Overall, I had a wonderful experience with a unique setting, delicious chef-inspired dishes and some excellent service. I'll be back next time in Puebla!

Should you find yourself in Puebla, make sure to have dinner at Entre Tierras.

Entre Tierras Restaurant


Tel: (222) 232-5306
http://entretierras.letseat.at/