Virgin of Zapopan

Virgin of Zapopan

Last October, we spent a night in Guadalajara and got up before dawn to walk the romeria, a pilgrimage from the downtown Guadalajara cathedral to the one in Zapopan. The star of the show was the small Virgin of Zapopan icon. You can read about the romeria here.

Fast forward: July 8, she arrived in Chapala with much fanfare. She evidently visits Lake Chapala every summer to provide her blessings and prevent drought. (This is our rainy season here and we want and love the rain!)

Luckily, we didn’t have to get up early at all to see the Virgin de Z this time. Her procession started around 11 and we staked out a shady place to stand near the end, just before the malecon and church. For a minute, we thought, hey, is this a biker rally or a religious procession? Lots of motorcycle club folks in their leathers with shiny bikes are part of the entourage.

The procession was long, colorful and fabulous. Many bands and dancing troupes.

Highlights for me:

  • Small girls in Catholic school uniforms proudly (and with some difficulty) holding up large flags with the Virgin’s image on them.

  • Colorful Aztec dance troupes with sweaty guys wailing on mobile drums (I barely noticed the buff young guys dancing in little more than their underpants…really).
  • Beautiful young women on horses.
  • Drum and bugle bands in smart military-esque uniforms.

  • The powerful Virgin de Z mobile, decked out with tons of floral arrangements, the bishop (I think) riding along to wave at the crowd.

I am a fallen-away Catholic, but I feel the power of the VIrgin of Zapopan and the other saints and icons who are revered here. I love the old, deep traditions. And I love the Mexican culture that keeps these traditions alive.


A forced minimalism experiment

A forced minimalism experiment

In March, when our house was robbed, my jewelry was stolen. Luckily, I was wearing my wedding ring and one pair of earrings at the time of the burglary. Below is the list I prepared for our insurance claim and a photo of what the burglars left behind.

Our bedroom after. No, we are not slobs; the burglars made this mess. They also destroyed the leather jewelry box that had been my dad’s shown in top photo.

The jewelry that was left behind by the burglars. Guess they don’t like the Oregon hippie stuff…

There is no way to replace the necklace my uncle bought me when I was born, of the earrings a former boyfriend sent me from Switzerland. To be honest, even though these are only “things,” I cried when they were stolen. I loved wearing them and I loved the stories behind them. Jewelry is personal and often one-of-a-kind. Not replaceable.

There is no shortage of jewelry to buy here in Ajijic, from expensive things in boutiques to street vendors with colorful beadwork. But I am a thoughtful consumer now. I think through my purchases and ask myself questions. I am finding that I don’t need very much jewelry.

What are my lessons? I’m trying these on:

1. Don’t own anything that will make you cry if it’s stolen.

2. Life goes on in all its wonder and joy even when you lose things you have cherished.

3. We all need less than we think we do.

4. Don’t buy things to fill a void left by something else.

5. Some things can’t be replaced, but their memories remain.

6. Dang, I miss some of my stuff! 😦


List of stolen jewelry submitted to insurance company:


1. High-quality gold chain (approx 20 inch) with Libra zodiac pendant, engraved on back with “Christina Susan 9/29/64,” purchased in Germany in 1964.


2. Gold thick twisted hoop earrings, 1970s.


3. Long silver and brass earrings, Switzerland, 1990.


4. Silver earrings with pink semi-precious stones, Alison Shiboski jeweler.


5. Turquoise earrings, 2 pr, one pr studs and one long dangle.  


6. Turquoise disc pendant.


7. “Found object” earrings, 2 pr, Marilyn Kent jeweler.  


8. Thin gold necklace (18 inch?) with 3 small gold balls (1970s).


9. Silver necklace with handblown glass beads.


10. Matching necklace and earrings with red coral beads and silver accent.


11. Metal folk art heart earrings.


12. Red enamel earrings.


13. Long (24 inch or more?) silver chain with goddess pendant (pendant from Greece).


14. Long (30 inch?) thick gold-plated rope chain with rhinestone sphere (1960s)


15. Cut crystal earrings.

Machu Picchu: world wonder or over-touristed?

Machu Picchu: world wonder or over-touristed?

How about both? Shortly after we decided to go, we read an internet article, something like, “10 Places NOT to travel to,” where they talked about places that have become over-touristed and that responsible travellers should avoid. Alas, we went anyway.

A friend told me about his visit to Machu Picchu in the 1970s: “I remember Machu Picchu as a very beautiful mystical place with clouds floating below in the canyon. We weren’t prepared with any special knowledge of the significance of various parts of the ruins. There were only four or five of us up there wandering around. I thought it would be a perfect venue for magic mushrooms but we didn’t have any. We were warned not to sleep on the ground up there because of the slim risk of sharing your sleeping bag with a small but deadly heat seeking snake. We walked down the hill to the river at and slept on a bamboo stave platform in a primitive hut, the hippie hotel.”

It’s quite a different experience in 2018. While I wish I could have visited decades ago, I’m still glad we went.

Yes, Cusco has a ton of tourist shops — travel agents, outfitters, trinket sales, llama and alpaca scarves and sweaters, restaurants and bars with hawkers out in front promising you a free drink. But Cusco has been a city since Inca times. There are ruins. There is lovely architecture. It’s a real city with a life of its own, although tourism plays a huge part. The city is growing up the surrounding mountains, with clear signs of ongoing construction and expansion.

Closer to Machu Picchu are the towns in the Sacred Valley. They too, seem like real towns with active plazas and lives of their town — albeit with a lot of tourist restaurants, hostels, hotels, and shops.

Closer still is Machu Picchu Town (changing its name from Aguascalientes, evidently), accessible only by train or hike. From my observation, this is a completely tourist-focused place. It appears to have sprung up and grown almost solely to service the zillion people who visit Machu Picchu. Hotel after hostel after hotel, tourist restaurants and bars (4 for 1 happy hour!), trinket stores. I may be wrong, but the town square, church and futbol field look like more recent additions, added to provide comfort for the workers who likely move there from elsewhere for jobs. Unlike Cusco, Ollayntaytambo and other Sacred Valley towns, it is not a place I would want to linger. It’s a place to have food, drink, sleep and showers before or after visiting the archaeological site.

Given the hordes of people cycling through the site, Machu Picchu was surprisingly uncrowded-seeming. They do an excellent job of managing the buses up to the site and it seems that not too many people are admitted at once. I have also heard there is a daily visitor limit now. We had a fine guided tour through the ruins and then hiked to the Inca Bridge on our own. Thoroughly enjoyed our visit!

A world wonder! The Inca people were fascinating and talented and what remains of their structures (those that weren’t looted by the Spanish to build churches or simply destroyed to oppress and conquer) are truly works of art. The stone work is like no other I’ve seen in my travels through Native American, Mexican, Greek, and Roman ruins — the huge boulders fitted perfectly to natural stone formations and to each other. Those stone masons were the real deal. And all of the Inca stuff that wasn’t destroyed by the Colonists has survived earthquake after earthquake while modern structures have crumbled.

Thank you, Peru!

Sacred Valley of the Incas, meeting people

We drove out of Cusco in our minibus, through the city of about 500,000 and into the rural area. Up up into the mountains. 3,300+ meters to a “el ultimate pueblo” the last town before the mountains rise even more steeply. The tour operator contracts with the tiny village. About 24 women participate. We were met by a team of 8 women, an older man, and several children. Dressed in traditional garb, playing music, dancing with us, and giving us flower necklaces. We all greeted each other and introduced ourselves (our guide taught the basic Spanish phrases for “my name is…I am from… I am x year old….I have xx children” to those who didn’t know). Many of the folks there only speak Quechua, the native language. Only those who went to school have learned Spanish.

After introductions, we went to a field to dig small yams. Peru is known for having thousands (literally) of varieties of potatoes. Clearly some in our group had never dug potatoes before. Most of the crops grown by the village are up in the mountains where they walk hours each way to plant, tend and harvest. We saw from a distance people working up there, and fires where they cook potatoes for their lunch.

Speaking of lunch, I was extremely happy that everything they served us was vegetarian. We started with a fava bean salad with some cheese on it (we saw the favas growing). Followed by a variety of boiled potato. And then a quinoa soup with squash and potato. Then a buffet of a corn/chard bread, yam stew, mountain greens, quinoa, and potatoes. Potatoes are big. I don’t think everyone in our group was as happy with the food as I was…

After lunch, we saw a demonstration about how the ladies wash the sheep, llama and alpaca wool with a soapy mixture made from a root, and then the different compounds they use to dye the wool, and how it is spun and woven. Amazing amount of work that goes into everything that is made. Of course, we had to buy some scarves made from baby alpaca wool. So lovely — the people and their handiwork.

We then drove to a viewpoint where we looked down into the Incas’ Sacred Valley, and into the valley itself. We landed in the town of Ollantaytambo. Giant peaks surround. It happened that we arrived during the festival for the town’s saint. After checking into our hotel, my husband and I headed for the town square where we sat on the second floor of a bar, drinking a beer, and watched round after round of costumed dancers. We are thinking each group, with very unique costumes and dances, came from a different area. The most amusing was one where a dancer in a Western-style suit with a big-nosed mask, carrying a big black book, tried to dunk the other dancer’s heads into a tub of water. Hm, baptism? He was routed out, dunked into the water, to much laughter.

After dinner, we returned to the square where an older man and two women grabbed us to dance to the Peruvian heavy metal. They keeping speaking to us in Quechua, but of course we could not understand. We bought a big bottle of beer to share with them and had a fine time. My husband picked them up when they topped over, with much laughter. The man kept pointing to the sky and saying “Apu!” We responded, “luna?” Thinking he meant the moon. We found out today that Apu is a spirit mountain. So even though everyone was celebrating a saint’s day, it comes back to the land, the sacred valley, the spirit mountain.

Coca tea, Cusco, small pleasures

Coca tea, Cusco, small pleasures

We enjoyed our two nights in Lima. What a busy, bustling place where people walk much faster than we are used to from either Ajijic or Oregon. Maybe even faster than in Chicago. We toured the monastery of San Francisco which is known for its underground crypt full of the bones of Franciscan monks and “rich, important” people who donated to the church. Alas, no photos were allowed on the tour, but I am sharing a few we took in the church (allowed).

We watched the changing of the guard at the Plaza de Armas, which evidently happens twice a day. Impressive. One of these guys pulls a hamstring, he’s out for good; the high kick Is mandatory.

We ate cebiche (see prior post) and then just wandered about the Miraflores neighborhood. It’s a fancy place (Chicago friends, think Lincoln Park; Oregon friends, think Pearl District). In the evening we sampled the Pisco Sour at a bar/restaurant called Haiti and watched people stream by. Dinner, we had along a little park where we watched the nightlife there. Animal lovers, take note that the parks have fenced green areas which are occupied by cats (someone waters and feeds them). I can imagine them running amok in the wee hours when all the people have gone to bed.

Very impressive church:


Lima, Plaza de Armas, school kids:

Lima night life:

Pisco Sour:

Hot chocolate tasting. We put the chocolate into the cups and then added hot milk. Mm.

I practiced my Spanish with our various Uber drivers, only one of which took advantage of us. I learned that Peru is pretty excited about their team playing in the World Cup this year and got tips on restaurants and sites to visit.

We flew from Lima to Cusco and, after a plane delay, just made it to the briefing of our tour group. Of the 15, we are the only 2 not doing the multi-day hike to Machu Picchu and are instead taking the train. I’m sure they will have a spectacular time but we will be well-rested and see other sites (and I won’t be the person who drags the group down).

Our tour leader took us on an orientation walk and Cuzco seems extremely charming. Tiny narrow streets reminiscent of small villages in Italy. Lots of interesting buildings and more shopping than a person could shake a stick at. From a million alpaca clothing stores to NorthFace to local crafts, they’ve got it here. The restaurant scene looks fun too.

We had a chocolate and hot chocolate tasting — organic, Peruvian cacao. Delish. In building with the chocolate place, we noted Mr. Soup. Our tour leader recommended we eat light tonight to help with adjusting to the altitude (altitude sickness is a real thing and can lead to death!). We returned to Mr. Soup for dinner where this non-meat person was extremely happy to eat a giant bowl of lentil and veggie soup. Despite the altitude sickness advice, we each had a glass of wine (don’t tell) — a Peruvian Malbec which hit the spot.

The hotel offers free coca tea, which I sipped before bed. How is it related to cocaine (or is it?)? Hm.

Ceviche in Lima

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we had lunch at La Mar Cebicheria in Lima, Peru. Oh my. We sat at the bar and had a view of two pastry chefs creating desserts — apple pie, chocolate cake, and these fried dough things called (I think) Picarones. Served with a honeyed syrup. Yes, we had to order them.

Ceviche combinado– catch of the day (see above) with friend calamari. Followed by scallops tiradito con leche de tigre. No, it’s not really tiger’s milk, but some kind of sauce.

15: Lucky and pampered

15: lucky and pampered

We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Casa Domenech, to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the day we met. We met by chance at the Emily Morgan Hotel bar in San Antonio, Texas. Life has never been the same, and it’s never been better.

My husband talked to Ray Domenech, the owner, and let him know we were celebrating our anniversary and asked if we could bring one of our prized bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir. (Folks as what we miss, living in Mexico, and I always say: “Our friends and Oregon Pinot Noir.”)

When we arrived, Ray asked if we wanted the regular menu or whether we wanted something “special.” He knows I don’t eat meat or mushrooms and said he would make us something. We said, “Great!” Ray rolled out four courses of colorful food wth unexpected combinations, rich sauces, and regional Mexican specialty ingredients. Oh, and there were two after-dinner drinks.

Rafa Torres, one of our favorite local musicians, sang us some special songs, supplementing the excellent jazz duo that plays there regularly on Mondays. How fortunate are we?? Our hearts are so full! (And our bellies were, too.)

I wanted to get this post up so you could see how well we were pampered for our anniversary evening. Alas, I don’t have the names of some of the unfamiliar ingredients, but here goes:

1: Fish topped with a reduction of strawberries, tomatoes, and onion. Grilled nopal topped with cooked veggies, kiwi, and a magical chile sauce. Center: chipotle chutney/sauce/marmalade.

2: Pasta with veggies, cheese, grated mango, and a savory nut mixture from Cuetzalan, Puebla.

3: Shrimp served over toasted bread and guacamole. More delish chipotle chutney.

4: Bean and potato tostada. (My sweetheart had a meat tostada.). Rafa playing in the background.

And: margarita and herbally liqueur from Cuetzalan.

And these two? Lucky, happy, and extremely pampered and well-fed.