Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chop, Chop, Chop - A Sound I've Heard for Two Days

While I've been enjoying the beauty of the gardens and the jacaranda tree, I've heard the sound of "Chop, chop, chop". 

Initially I thought it was at the kindergarten where they continue to cut up all the trees that they cut down many, many months ago. 

This morning I decided to investigate by looking out the living room windows, which are actually at second story level to the surrounding land.  Aha, it was out on the road and not at the kinder as it is referred to here in San Miguel that the chopping was going on.

Oh my, he is so old.  He's been out there for two days chopping away.  He is cutting up dead bushes for firewood.  Many, many families in and around San Miguel cannot afford gas for cooking so they find dead bushes and trees for firewood for cooking and heating their homes.  That is also why there are so many food carts on the streets.  It is cheaper to eat at them then to pay for a cylinder of gas which is now almost 400 pesos, which at the current exchange rate is about $24USD.

Here he is with his pile so far.  He'll wrap it up with the cords he presently has tied around his waist. He'll hoist it onto his back and walk, who knows how far, to take it home. 

It humbles me each time I see these wonderful people being so resourceful and living off the land.  Many have no indoor plumbing either.  There are a few old men that come to the edge of the cliff and go down the path at specific times of the day and evening.  I know they are going to use the area for a bathroom.  I always back away so as not to embarrass them.

Ahh, the beautiful lesson of living in Mexico!  I wouldn't trade living up here on the hill and seeing the real life for any mansion anywhere else in this town.

Viva Mexico!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Casa Tranquila Available for Rent - Long Term - San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Here we go again!  To honor a friend, I rented the guest house to someone who wanted it only from January 15th until May 15th.  Now the renter wants to leave April 15th, 2015.

If you, or anyone you know is looking for a LONG TERM rental, a minimum of one year, please take a look at the photos below.  If interested, I can be reached at

                                                                      This is the house.
                                                                          And the gardens.
 Suede covered sofa opens into queen sleeper sofa.  First floor is open concept living/dining and kitchen area.
 Light, bright and cheery with many windows to enjoy the gardens that surround the house.
                                              This is a view facing west toward other gardens.
                     Standing on the stairwell that goes to the bedroom, bathroom and roof terrace.

                                                 Bedroom with comfortable queen size bed.
     Plenty of drawer and cabinet storage along with good size closet.  Cross ventilation from north, east and west.
 French balcony off of the bedroom.  A great place to sit to enjoy your morning coffee or a divine place to    read a book, or whatever.
                       Bathroom with good shower along with plenty of fresh towels and linens.
                                                         Views from the roof terrace.
The house rents for $800 USD a month.  This rent is inclusive of all utilities, landline phone, maid once a week, internet, Canadian satellite TV (120 channels).  To hold the house, the first, last and security deposit is required.  ($2400USD).

The house is located in a very quiet part of San Miguel with unparalleled views of the mountains and nature.
It is a 5 minute walk to the mercado for fresh produce with another 5 minutes to the main centro plaza (jardin).

It is a little bit of heaven in a town known for being a bit of paradise.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sumidero Canyon - The End of the Journey and the Most Adventurous!

The itinerary said we were going on a boat ride for about three hours on the Sumidero Canyon.  Of course with no point of reference, it seemed like a long, long time to be on a boat ride.  The last time I had done something like that had been deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.  IF this was anything like that, I would just jump overboard and end it in an hour.   There is nothing like seasickness when one cannot get back to shore on a small boat!  Trust me.

Luckily that was not the case in this instance.  To say it was breathtakingly beautiful and amazing would be a great understatement.

Arriving in Chiapa de Corzo, where it was tropical and warm after the cold in San Cristobal was the first great thing.  We enjoyed our hotel immensely.  Swimming in the pool, having drinks at the bar in the hotel and snacks.  Aaah, this was the life.  The town is quite fascinating.  It's history is intriguing.  And the folk art, oh my, the folk art.  Magnificent.

The next day we headed to a boat launch area which looked like a place where you would take a speedboat.  Nothing identified at the beginning what we were going to see.
 As we started out, cliffs began to appear and other speedboats with tarp covers over to protect one from the sun.  But, this day, it protected us from the rain.  Driving rain!  We ignored it, at times.
 Then at other times when we were going fast and the water was filling up the roof tarp, we all had to hold onto it to prevent it from collapsing on top of us and drenching us.  It's funny now.  Not so much at the time.
 As we reached this area the rain let up for a while and one could just sit and marvel at nature's majesty.
We could see caves and huge nests of birds on these cliffs.  The Sumidero Canyon is revered in Chiapas, as well it should be.  And, yes, we were on the boat for a few hours, but the time flew by due to the everchanging beauty of the natural setting.

Reluctantly, the next day we headed back to Tuxtla Guiterrez and the flight to Toluca and ultimately home to San Miguel.

So much to see, so much to absorb and such great memories.  Some day..........I'll be back there!

Monday, March 16, 2015

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico - The Cultural Center of the State

Before I travel to someplace new, I seldom read much, other then in general terms.  I like being surprised.
San Cristobal provided many surprises, culturally, indigenously, and weather wise in 2008.

Some of the unexpected things were, the amount of crosses - everywhere!
 The fresh fruits in the market.  Things I had never seen before such as this red fruit.  The little plantanos were
so sweet and delicious.  The tuna from the blooms of the cactus are plentiful there as well as in San Miguel
 The vendors ALWAYS market their wares, whatever it is, in such an attractive way.  I marvel at their sense of style and artistic license - even when stacking avocados or this fruit above.
Handicrafts such as these hammocks were plentiful and colorful.  The amount of items handmade in Chiapas is overwhelming.  Beautiful huipiles (blouses), embroidered table runners, handbags, rebozos, amber, pottery.
Well, you get the picture - lots and lots of beautifully made handicrafts.
 The Spanish Colonial architecture is everywhere.  The Del Carmen Arch was especially attractive as you could see through as the street continued right up to the forested hillsides at the end of the town.
The Santa Domingo market near the church was my favorite.  It was really enjoyable that much of the centro of the city is closed to vehicular traffic which makes walking so much more enjoyable.  Little cafes as you're strolling.  Having a cappuccino and watching the passing people is always intriguing.

In 2008, I was there at the end of May prior to the rainy season, we thought.  Believe it or not, in the last few days of May, a hurricane came through!  Wow, did it ever rain!  And, since San Cristobal is in the Highlands of Chiapas, it was REALLY cold.  We plowed forward however, not missing much.

So much to see and so little time.   One of the surprising bits of information that was learned while in San Cristobal, was the fact that the Italians make up the largest contingent of ex-pats followed by the French.

Oh my, delicious Italian and French food - some of the best that any of us had ever had.

It was hard to leave San Cristobal.  It was such an easy, beautiful and enchanting place to be.  Onward though to the next surprise.  Chiapa de Corzo.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chiapas - The Village of Zinacantan

While in San Cristobal, within the markets and walking the streets, I kept noticing women - young and old - wearing rebozos in shades of navy and purple.  Extremely unusual colors for Mexico!  Where were they from, I asked?  Zinacantan.  Aaah, had to go there.

As we were descending the steps of the bus upon arriving in Zinacantan, our tour guide said, "Remember, do NOT take photos of the children.  There is a big chance your camera will be confiscated and you will be arrested if you do so".  And the photo below is what the first "Ugly American" did............I included the photo though to show that the children dress indigenously as well as the adults.   Why not take photos of the children?  Because the people of Chiapas had heard that their children could be kidnapped and their organs sold for money by people not from Mexico! 

 As we were heading to Zinacantan, which is located in a valley surrounded by limestone cliffs, I noticed many many greenhouses.  I was not aware that this area raises a lot of cut flowers for export as well as for use by the people in their rituals.  Sorry I did not get a photo of them at the time.
 The small market had all kinds of weaved goods hanging up for sale.  The colors of Chiapas are magnificent.
For me, a lesson that all colors can go together, for sure.
 Prior to arriving in the village, where we each paid 20 pesos (about $1.20USD) to enter, these girls were walking home.  Teenagers in their rebozos denoting their village.  How sweet!  The fee to enter the village helps to maintain the town.  What a great idea~!
 A woman was showing a demonstration of backstrap weaving.  How they sit on their legs like that for hours at a time is a mystery.  Many beautiful items take months to make.  There were many women weaving.
This village also is very careful about photographing the church.  There were elders watching to make sure people did not photograph inside or even  the exterior of the church.  Hence, no photos.  But, it was exquisite inside.  All wood floors, if memory serves me correctly.  With Chiapas being very wooded, it makes sense.  AND the flowers!  At that point I did not know that the major industry, other then weaving, is the growing of flowers.  There were thousands of flowers lining the walls, altar and side altars.  The fragrance was lovely.

This village is where the truce for the Caste War was signed in 1869.  Here, in the middle of a serene and tranquil valley.  How appropriate.

As we left Zinacantan, the above cross greeted us.  I love the plastic bottles which held fresh flowers at some point.  Again, the cross is in the turquoise green color that is prevalent in Chiapas.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Chiapas - The Tzotzil Village of Chamula

 Chamula is a village about a fifteen minute ride from San Cristobal.  It is very unique in that the tribal elders control the village in a positive way.  We were told, before departing the bus, that no one was to take photos of the children, along with the fact that we were not allowed to take photos inside the church.  We all listened, except for one woman who immediately jumped off the bus and took a photo of two children!  Aaargh.  I have a photo of the woman taking the photo because I could hardly believe my eyes.

The cross is a very significant image in Chiapas.  Not a Catholic cross but a native cross to earth, wind and fire.  They are everywhere.  As you can see in the photo above, each gravesite has a wooden cross.  Always painted in a turquoise-green color. 
Walking around the village was a delightful experience.  We saw tribal elders in their black sheepskin jackets walking around.  Sheep grazing everywhere and it was market day.  Oh my, the textiles were magnificently colorful.  Of course I bought several. One graces my dining room table to this day.  The embroidery and weavings are extraordinary.

To enter the church, which is no longer a Catholic church, one had to pay a fee to a tribal elder.  Inside, it reminded me very much of the church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala which was hundreds of years old.
This church had an altar but not with adornment as we think of.  Instead, Coca cola bottles, sacrificed chickens, were sitting by the railing.  The floors were covered with pine needles and boughs so when you walked around the fragrance rose to envelope you.  Quite a magical experience.  Candles everywhere, on the floors, on the shelves along with large glass and wood boxes with statues insides sat helter skelter. Long wooden tables had many of the boxes sitting on them.  There was a sort of aisle way but not with pews as we would think.

I had seen a cleansing while I was in Chichicastenango with a chicken, candles and water, but no such luck here.  It was quite fascinating to me to see how people worship or celebrate their beliefs.  If only I had spoken Tzotzil and could have asked questions!

The sheep were so healthy and content just walking around grazing wherever they might be - up and down the streets.  Really cool.
 Tribal elders walking around - all dressed alike. They waited in the courtyard of the church while we were inside the church.  Then a few came into the church, but, never spoke to us.

It was market day, as I mentioned, when we were in Chamula.  Besides the textiles and trinkets, there was plenty of fresh produce to purchase.  This woman was the first person I saw as we entered the market.  I was thrilled when she allowed me to take her photograph, but, if you notice, no face.  They truly believe that the camera steals their spirit.

Chamula and Zincantan, the next village we visited were two of my favorite places that I visited.  However, it is kind of silly to say that because EVERYWHERE I was in Chiapas was my favorite, at the time I was there.

Tomorrow Zincantan, the village that you have to pay to enter!  And well worth it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries in Mexico - Sierra Chinqua Reserve

Although I've been in the midst of writing about Chiapas, I decided today that I needed to write this post!

It won't be long now and the monarchs will be migrating north.  Often they come through San Miguel de Allende.  Why?  The lavender jacaranda trees, such as this one in my garden.

By next week, the whole town will be tinged in lavender from all the trees in bloom.  They provide nourishment for the monarchs.  I did not originally know that.

However, one beautiful, warm March day several years ago, while sitting on the roof terrace adjacent to the limbs of this tree, I saw a ribbon of something, probably five feet across coming from the south down my street!  To say I was intrigued as to what it was, would be an understatement.  In a few minutes the tree was covered with monarchs.  I was speechless and unable to move for fear they would leave.  Unfortunately I did not get a photograph.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Since that time I have watched for them.  I plant flowers that attract and nourish them, both in the fall when they are heading south and in the spring when they are heading north.  I also put small bowls of water in the garden.  They dip down to them continuously.  I got that idea from when I was in the monarch sanctuary Sierra Chinqua sitting next to a stream watching the hundreds of millions of butterflies.  They would leave the branches and dip down to the little stream and then go back to the branches.  Aha.

On Monday, a couple who read the blog, discovered my house and stopped in to visit.  They are from the town in Canada where one of the premier scientists who spent his whole life trying to find the monarchs lived.
His name, Frederick Urquhart.  His search and research began in 1937.  He met and married Norah.  Together they came up with a way to apply a tag on the wing of a monarch.  A tagging system was born.
Over the years they discovered that butterflies do many instances, a long distance.

Enlisting volunteers, they tagged and studied monarchs until in 1975, a man in Mexico City showed some tattered monarchs to some Mexican loggers who showed him where there were  hundreds of millions of butterflies.

In 1976, after 39 years of research Frederick and Norah visited the thirteen sites covering five mountains northwest of Mexico City where, to this day, although in smaller numbers, the majority of monarchs migrate.

I have traveled to Sierra Chinqua which is a magnificent 2 1/2 hour drive from San Miguel de Allende.  To say it is a life altering experience would be an understatement.  Here are some photos:

All of these posted photos were on a website about Sierra Chinqua.  I didn't dig mine out, but they are very similar.  You just HAVE to go there.  No photos can give to you the sound of their wings, or the crunch of the dead ones wings as you walk on them.  It is as though you have entered another world of existence.

If I were to write a post about the places in Mexico that I have traveled that have changed my perception of life, this would be at the top.  It was so emotional and I was so honored to experience this beautiful phenomena that for days afterwards I could think of nothing else.

Somewhere I have more photos of the families of those who take care of the areas of the sanctuaries that I met. I'll find them and share.  It was truly life altering.

At this time of the year, and others, as other butterflies head north, it is not unusual as you cross over the mountains in your car to see ribbons of color traveling beside you.

Ironically, butterflies were part of my and my family's life long before I came to Mexico!  My daughter Jennifer, while recovering from leukemia, began to raise monarchs.  She even had calling cards made that said "Butterfly gardener".  On the fifth anniversary of her passing, many friends, in her honor planted milkweed, butterfly bushes and other plants that attract monarchs.  It's a living testament to Jennifer and her dedication to  the tenancity of the monarch's attempt at survival.

Thanks to Bev and Lynn for stopping by and telling me the story of this dedicated scientist and his wife who were the beginning of the search for the monarch's hibernation sanctuary.

To read much much more about all of the above, please go to Urquhart Butterfly Garden and Sierra Chinqua Butterfly Sanctuary among many, many others.  It is fascinating.

If you get the opportunity to visit any of the monarch sanctuaries, will not regret it.  NOW is the time.