Category Archives: Mexico

Virgin of Guadalupe Day

We loved the Virgin of Guadalupe fiesta. We live a few blocks away from where the church honoring La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is located, an area called Seis Esquinas (six corners). At the place where the streets come together to form the six corners is a tiny plaza with a big tree, a shrine for Nuestra Señora and some benches. The benches, shrine, and many of the surrounding shops got fresh coats of paint in the few days before the fiesta. The shrine was decorated with flowers and holiday lights. Altars could be found on the neighbor streets as well, outside of stores and homes, decorated lovingly with lights, candles, flowers, noche buena plants (poinsettias).

During the day, we saw food booths setting up on the street. (I was fortunate to hit up the dessert table for some tres leches cake before he sold out.) Late afternoon, a procession from the church went around town and then returned. The procession was led by small sharp-dressed children forming a drum and bugle corps and also featured: dancers; several pick-up truck floats featuring people acting out the first vision of Nuestra Señora to Juan Diego in 1531; the icon from the church carried on a bower of flowers; and a band — all of this followed by lots of folks. Guys rang the church bells and some of the procession members set off sky rockets, and the drum and bugle corps led the way into the church grounds. Mariachi bands took turns over course of the evening, serenading Nuestra Señora.

Shrine at Seis Esquinas

Statue approaches church

Float reenacting the appearance of the Virgin

Outside the church, toy and balloon (yes, balloons with the Virgin’s iconic image) vendors set up kiosks among the food and drink sellers. A truck arrived containing the parts and pieces of what would become the fireworks castillo and a team of men unloaded it and started to assemble it in the street. Finishing touches were put on a bandstand in a nearby intersection and someone climbed a ladder to hook the lights and band equipment into the power grid. An entrepreneur put up a “Baños 5 pesos” sign and started selling restroom access, for which we were grateful.

As it got dark, a band started in the plaza. The local mini-super set up a cooler outside to sell beer and bottles of tequila. A guy with a table and cooler near the bandstand sold cocktails made to order in plastic cups (I can vouch for the tequila and mineral water combo). On the plaza, a propane cooker heated up a large metal keg full of canela (cinnamon tea), which was served free of charge with bowls of sugar and a few bottles of booze for the recipient to use to customize his or her beverage. Given the night chill, the steamy canela hit the spot.

Fun band!

Canela on the plaza at Seis Esquinas

A man on a horse arrived wearing a poncho and boots with spurs and started the dancing. Soon, the plaza was filled and we were happy to join in. The band was great. Folks were handing out sparkly pompoms on sticks and the type of long balloons that clowns use to twist into animals. Very fun and festive indeed! The band quit, but shouts of “otra!” compelled them to do one more song — the Spanish version of “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s much more fun in Spanish!

The musicians on the bandstand were going strong by this point, the crowd thick, everyone eating, drinking, and making merry. These were younger guys, all dressed sharp in matching black skinny pants and jackets, playing more modern music than the cumbia and salsa we had enjoyed at the plaza. The fireworks team was still working on the castillo when we left about 12:30 a.m., long past our usual bedtime. We could hear the band and fireworks as we drifted to sleep. A big thank you to the Seis Esquinas neighbors for allowing these two foreigners to party with you! Party on!

Party!

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Boom!! End of San Andres Fiestas

Boom! Final night (November 30)

Each night of the San Andres festival is sponsored by a different group. My understanding is that the group foots the bill for the bands and fireworks on their night. The last night was sponsored by “Hijos Ausentos,” the children who have left their wonderful homes here on Lake Chapala in order to earn more money up north (US and Canada). (I won’t make any comments about how simultaneously sad and happy this seems to me.)

The hijos austentos did it up big.

This last night featured a large group of traditional Mexican singers and then a big (16 people?) modern band with very sharp-dressed musicians. Most excellent music all around. The plaza was packed. Not uncommon are small groups of young folks with a bag of ice, a bottle of tequila, one of Squirt, and some plastic cups. A good time is had by all, I must say.

Procession on its way to the plaza

Camotes (sweet potatoes)

Special treats for sale

Singers

We were in the church-yard around 10 p.m. in anticipation of the fireworks. A big structure is built each day to hold the fireworks. Each section is lit off separately and the propulsion from the rockets spin the different designs around — a fish, a parrot, Donald Duck, the holy eucharist. I have no idea how they build this thing and make it work but it provides the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. After all these spinners are finished, the top is lit and spins around and then fireworks are sent up into the sky.

Woooo!

Eucharist

Notice the guy on the tower!!!

Fireworks!

Wow

Boom

If you ever have a chance to visit Ajijic during the San Andres festival, do it. Really.

Boom!!

Holidays!

Holidays

We are experiencing new (to us) holidays here and quite enjoying them. First off was Dia de la Revolucion, which is the 20th of November. In Ajijic, we had a parade in the morning that largely consisted of school groups. We heard it was much smaller than usual, but since we hadn’t seen it before, it was all good for us.

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the school groups are dressed up as revolutionaries and some did a little re-enactment of the revolution with toy guns. The others did dances, led by extremely patient and organized teachers. Because trying to get a group of 5-year-olds to coordinate into a dance must be a big task!  Adelante, atras, lado a lado! Lots of gym whistles and teachers demonstrating the dance moves to the distracted kids.

There were also horses in the parade. Did I ever mention I am afraid of horses? They are big scary animals. The riders all seemed to know what they were doing, despite drinking Corona Light at 9:30 a.m..

The festival of St. Andrew (San Andres) started the following day. A religious parade was held in early evening and concluded at the church. The festival goes on for nine nights and includes a music, food, drink, carnival rides, vendors, and lots of fireworks. The plaza and surrounding streets are totally taken over with the rides and food and drink booths.

 

San Andres is the patron saint of Ajijic and a good description of the festival is here.

My only correction to this person’s blog, which has some great photos, is that the elaborate fireworks around 10 p.m. are not the “conclusion” of the day’s festivities. In fact, they seem to be the beginning! One night we left the festival about 10:45 and the second band of the evening had not yet started. And as we made our way home on foot, most people were heading TOWARD the plaza. The festival is definitely a late-night experience!

I will try to get some good photos (or get my husband to take them haha) of the concluding day(s) of the festival. November 30 is the traditional end but rumors are it will go longer this year.

Snowbirds, mariachis, jazz, rebirth of wonder

Snowbirds, mariachis, jazz, rebirth of wonder

The snowbirds are coming back. I mean that in two ways. 1) US and Canadian retirees who spend the winter here are arriving; things are getting crowded. 2) Migratory white pelicans are arriving too, evidently from Canada.

We see a lot of the first kind of snowbird daily. But we took a drive around the other side of the lake to see the other kind. Evidently, they congregate in a town called Petatan. There are several fish processing warehouses there that feed the pelicans every day, evidently around 5 p.m.

We drove from here to Jocotepec, where we stopped for lunch and an ice cream. From there, we drove along the south shore of the lake. We saw a lot of berry farms (if you have access to raspberries and blackberries in your stores right now, I bet they come from here, Jalisco and Michoacan). The farms have the berry plants covered with a white material, am guessing some kind of sun shade. You can see the large white areas from our side of the lake. We passed through some small towns on the other side, which looked quiet and nice.

Ice cream — am loving this type of cone

Petatan is tiny. There was a sign with a pelican on it pointing from the road so we turned off. We followed the circle loop and parked when we saw some pelicans on the water. We walked a bit and saw (mostly) women in warehouses, cleaning fish. Then we sat in a bar, drank a beer, and watched the pelicans gather. There were plenty but I think they are more numerous later in the season. Alas, we did not stay long enough for the feeding, as we wanted to be sure we were home by dark. No, we aren’t afraid of being robbed or anything, but we ARE afraid of the unmarked speed bumps (topes) that would be extremely difficult to see at night and could easily ruin your car and cause a serious accident.

Pelicans

They are pretty close-up

Tourist!

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Driving there made us realize how BIG this lake is. It is enormous. For a time, we could see across to the town were we are living, but then it was no longer visible. Still, we only make it perhaps halfway round the lake.

In other news, we went to a mariachi show to benefit the Lake Chapala Red Cross. I love the mariachi music!! They are all such great musicians and singers. The costumes are handsome as well. They also had folkloric dancers that we enjoyed watching. Toward the end, a famous singer came out to sign with the band. Her dress was a one-of-a-kind strapless gown that was (I think) painted and sequined with a village scene and flowers. Oh my! And the shoes? Sparkly and maybe a 5 inch heel.

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The dress!!!

Mariachis — harp strings the colors of the Mexican flag

Closer to home, enjoyed jazz night at Casa Domenech restaurant. The two musicians are talented, the food is good, the people are lovely, and during the musician break, a poetry reading.

“I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder.” — Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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Musicians at Casa Domenech

Art and cheese

Random observations: art, cheese, etc.

We went to a big three-day art fair held at the Chapala Yacht Club. Artisans come from all over Mexico, mostly from rural places where arts and crafts traditions are still hanging on. The fair pays for their transportation and doesn’t charge them any booth fees etc. The variety of art was overwhelming to look at — weavers (some of them weaving right there), yarn work, wood carving, bone carving, paintings, ceramics, yarn art, beadwork, masks, leather goods, and more.

We walked and looked for a long time and finally bought a few small things. We bought lunch at the food booths and enjoyed sitting on the lawn at the Yacht Club, watching birds and boats. After lunch an all-woman mariachi band played and they were fabulous!

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Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead altars touched me. We saw some set up on the street, outside of people’s houses or businesses. They featured photos of deceased loved ones, flowers, food, candles, cut-paper decorations, items significant to the family or the deceased. I looked at the photos, some recent, others old black and whites. I thought about how much the family was still thinking about these folks, how much I still think about my relatives and friends who have passed on.

What a great holiday, to honor and remember your deceased loved ones. I don’t claim to know much about this holiday nor will I explain it to you. I will only say what we saw and how it moved me.

But first, Halloween, the North American holiday. Many kids here have discovered it and we had more trick-or-treaters than we expected. All cute, all dressed up, and shouting “Queremos Halloween!” If we are here next year, we will know to get more candy. I’ve heard some ex-pats say that they don’t participate in giving kids candy, as Halloween is “not a Mexican holiday” and they don’t want to contribute to kids here “losing their culture.” I think they’re just too cheap to buy the candy. Because, in any culture, what kid wouldn’t want to dress up and get some candy? Really. (And to the ex-pats who went to the cemetery on Dia de los Muertos and tried to give candy out to the kids — just no. These are two different holidays. Keep the candy-handing to Halloween.)

In the cultural exchange that goes on between locals and foreigners, I (a foreigner) sincerely hope that the culture here rubs off on me, enters me. As a practioner of earth-based religion, I believe that the veil between the living and dead is thin at this time of year. Communing with ancestors is a longtime part of Samhain and other celebratons. So Day of the Dead is spiritually familiar to me. I recall from my Catholic upbringing that there is All Souls Day, but I don’t remember us ever celebrating it or honoring ancestors in any way.

But I digress….

I felt very emotional, visiting the cemetery as the day was approaching, seeing families sprucing up graves. Some with new sod, some with flowers, plants, other decorations. I feel bad I am not near my parents’ grave now to do the same.

In addition to the doings at the cemetery and the altars, we saw catrina statues at the plaza and paintings made of colored sawdust on the road. We saw a procession from the cemetery to the plaza, with two bands, many people with candles and catrina face paint, folks on horseback. We saw the crowds at the plaza, food stands, music acts, thousands of candles on the ceramic skull art project.

Big fiesta, yes, but the small altars with their well-loved photos and intensely personal decorations touched my heart the most and I am grateful.

When high altitude gives you flat cookies, make ice cream sandwiches

When high altitude gives you flat cookies, make ice cream sandwiches

Lots of posting about our travels here in Mexico lately but not much about cooking. Yes, I’ve been cooking. Not as much as usual, but some. I will learn new things while cooking here: unfamiliar ingredients, converting Fahrenheit to Celsius, high-altitude baking, different dishes.

The other night, I made a cabbage/potato/white bean dish that I made often in Oregon. I decided to make this when my husband spotted some good-looking cabbage at the Soriana store in Chapala. An aside, Soriana is my new favorite store here. It’s not very close to the house, but I really liked it. They had nice produce, good selection of grocery staples, a bakery with fresh french bread, and (the target of our trip there) FANS. I guess it’s kind of like a WalMart or Fred Meyer (for Pacific NW readers): food plus housewares plus electronics etc. Soriana also had a bag of textured soy protein which I will try once the weather turns welcoming for chili and sloppy joes.

Back to the cabbage dish, I didn’t see any great northern or navy beans at Soriana, but did find these. Yum, were they good, and they kept nicely intact.

I picked up some nopales at the Wednesday market. Don’t know what they are? Cactus pads. The vendor was taking the spines off, so how could I resist? I boiled them up with a little onion and garlic and then my husband scrambled them into eggs. Nopales perhaps have the texture of a green bean but are much more tart, kind of citrusy. I will make a salad with the cooked ones that didn’t make it into the eggs, with some olive oil and maybe crumbled cheese.

I did some Googling about high-altitude baking and adjusted my chocolate chip cookie recipe by decreasing leavening and sugar and adding a little water and some extra flour. They seemed to take forever to bake (I turned up the oven on the second tray-ful) and came out tasting good but being flat. I deciced to made them into ice cream sandwiches and they were perfect for that.

I definitely need more cookie testing, and I am on the lookout for an oven thermometer to help in my experimentation.