How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

balcony_restaurant_guanajuato_mexico_stanito
The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

Blue_Tacos_Mexico_Stanito_6
Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

Mexcaltitan Restaurant
Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

chiapas_indigenous_zinacantan_stanito
Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

Advertisements

Sinking Buildings: a curse or consequence?

Dear Reader,

Mexico City could have an entire collection of strange facts and curiosities. Here is one. Sinking buildings are a curious phenomenon occurring in Mexico City affecting mainly Hispanic churches.

sinking_building_mexico_city_stanito_1-01
The Ex Teresa Arte Actual museum is inclined over its right side

The ground is slowly giving up as most of these buildings were erected on an already built up Aztec city.
The Aztec’s legacy people of today dare to suggest the phenomenon to be a silent vengeful curse…

sinking_building_mexico_city_stanito_2-01
The leaning Metropolitan Cathedral on the right side.

The city is sinking on a daily basis, so far it has gone down of about 10 metres in the last few decades.

One theory explains that underneath the city is located the aqueduct which sustains the thirst of over 9 million people. As millions of people drink its water, it slowly becomes less sustaintable and more prone to degradation and debilitation of the structure.
Another explanation dates back from the Aztecs and the Spanish arrival: during the Aztec period when the city was known as Tenochtitlan, the town was initially built on a Lake Texcoco by creating islands using dumped soil right into the lagoon. When the Spanish arrived they erected a second city on top of the Aztec ruins after been demolished. A city atop of another, basically.

aztec_ruins_templo_mayor_Mexico_city_stanito
Templo Mayor Ruins (Main Temple), or the remains of it.

The base, however, was a lake. Drained and all, but still a lake.

This has caused buildings to lean and sink into the ground at a rate of up to one foot a year in the most extreme places.

pendulum_sinking_building_mexico_city_stanito-01
This is the pendulum hanging inside the Matropolitan Cathedral right on main aisle. If you look carefully, the pendulum shows you how the foundations of the cathedral have been shifting since it’s conception.

And last, a balcony that has suffered from unevenness of the ground and shows a wavy effect as a result of the ground’s debilitation.

sinking_building_mexico_city_stanito_3-01

 

Stanito and the Guineafowl Puffer fish

Dear Reader,

There are experiences in life which are just wonderful and unique and expressing them with words is not enough 🙂

It all happened on a weekend…

We went diving in a secret location. We were told that the conditions were not ideal, meaning visibility was poor, but that we could still enjoy appreciate the smaller creatures of the oceans. It is true that when visibility is great you tend to focus on big creatures like manta rays, sharks, whales, and what not.

This time, however, surprises came in small size.

No sharks, no nothing big, but this guy was worth the entire experience.

Meet the friendliest guineafowl puffer fish

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our dive buddy found him, he was slim, once in his hands he puffed up immediately

guineafowl_puffer_fish_stanito_mexico_12
Gilles grabs him first before passing him onto me

And then he laid in my hands

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

First time I hold one in my hands. He felt soft, slimy, spongy, until I let him go

guineafowl_puffer_fish_stanito_mexico
Puffy fish swims away

No need for sharks or big buddies. This puffy little guy was worth the trip.

 

Photo of the Day: Balloons

Dear Reader,

In 1842, Don Benito Leon Acosta and Rubí de Celis, born in Guanajuato, managed to take off in a hot air balloon made by him. It was the first time an aircraft ever flew over Mexico. Balloons have ever since become a colourful and picturesque attractions in the state of Guanajuato.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unknown Mexico: Colourful Michoacan

Dear Reader,

I truly find that real Mexico is found only in few places. I say this because this country tends to be stereotyped and often confused to what spring-breakers look for every year.
Don’t fall for that trap, my dear Reader, for you’re looking for authentic and genuine sites. You’re not after mass commercial tourism. You’re after meaningful places, meaningful culture and discovery.

So this time I want to take you to Michoacán, my favourite state in all Mexico.

michoacan_mexico_stanito_14
Wilderness of Anganguen

Michoacán is often regarded as a black-list state, a dangerous nest of narcos that yearn to hide among its many hills. It might be true but the way I see it is different. Besides, “danger” in Mexico is a very volatile concept, and all the Manzanillo lovers should know that Colima has in fact become very dangerous in spite of nobody saying anything about it. Check on this independent news website for more information about Colima.

Why I love Michoacán

Michoacan is simply divine in many ways.

“If you want to form an idea of our journey, take a map of Mexico and you will see that Michoacán is one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of the world, crossed by hills and lavish valleys, its prairies watered by several streams and its climate temperate and healthful.”
Marquise Calderón de la Barca

Michoacán is unique fusion of natural wild beauty, picturesque colourful, art, tradition and culture. Traveling through Michoacán is to take an extraordinary trip to the heart of Mexico, and I don’t mean it in geographical terms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Michioacán has an infinity of mountains which never tire your eyes, many lakes and indigenous towns. In these towns people still speak their own native languages and some of them even struggle with Spanish. The towns of Pátzcuaro, Meseta and Paracho are a vivid example of it: these towns have preserved the traditions and language of the invincible empire of Purépecha Empire (allegedly distantly related to the Quechua people from north of Peru), which dominated the region.
Michoacán is a cultural hegemony where indigenous groups such as the Náhuatl offer a wealth of traditions, fairs, fiestas (see my post on Halloween and the Day of The Dead), customs, music, dance, handicrafts, cuisine and architecture. And while the characteristic towns have maintained their indigenous legacies, the attractive cities of Pátzcuaro and Morelia have preserved their colonial heritage.

Alternative Tourism in Michoacán

The geographical location and actual situation of Michoacán makes this state an unexplored sanctuary for nature lovers, adventurers, and those looking for an adrenaline rush. In Michoacán you can surf, you can mountaineer, you mountain bike, you can dive, you can camp, and even simply star-gazing. It’s not only the geology of Michoacán that makes it favourable in adventure travels, but also the variety of climates it harbours:  rivers, lakes and springs bring the cold from inside the mountains, while the open ocean conveys the tropical warmth of the coast.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What Michoacán is like today

Michoacán has the capital of avocado. Or aguacate. You name it. Uruapan is officially Mexico’s largest supplier of avocados and some say the world’s avocado capital too.

In spite of Michoacán’s many natural attractions that could easily make the most attractive of all Mexican states, it suffers greatly from the reputation it gained over the past few years due to drug-fuelled incidents over the past years. Ever since the former President Felipe Calderón declared and initiated the war on drugs by sending military forces into Michoacán, the state has been a hot spot and black listed destination to everybody, locals and not. Plenty of websites strongly alert about the risk of traveling to various Mexican states due to threats to safety and security posed by organised criminal groups and drug cartels. The situation fluctuates, one year it is constantly on the news while the following one you won’t even hear the name Michoacán.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Even though current President Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly promised to take a different approach towards the war on drugs, he still deployed thousands of troops to Michoacán in order to suppress the violence that has led many communities to take up arms.

Even though several years have passed since the most hazardous incidents in the area, locals still won’t do their homework and dig a little bit deeper. The state, unfortunately, still is in the negative headlines even though overall things have considerably quieted down and left the top place on the list to its neighbours.

The Day of the Dead in Mexican Style

Dear Reader,

Have you met Catrina? no?!
This is her:

day_of_the_dead_mexico_stanito_24
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Catrina.

Catrina is a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat. She is the creation of print maker José Guadalupe Posada, dated back in 1910, a time where calaveras (Spanish for ‘skulls’) images were wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at human folly. La Catrina has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution elements and she is also the main character of the curious Day of the Dead Mexican festivity.

catrinas

Unlike in many other countries, Mexico has a different view of the Dead. Even though this holiday coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, the indigenous people over here have combined the traditional Catholic ritual with their own ancient beliefs of honouring their deceased loved ones and celebrating their return among the living. That’s right, dear Reader, they believe that the gates of heaven opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 1 and 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. This is what gives this holiday a very curious and yet unique touch.

It is a festive, joyous time of celebration in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is probably one of Mexico’s most important holidays, and this means that people invest a lot of time and money into celebrating it, more so than any other holiday.

Ok, so Travel Buddy and I went to the core heart of traditional Jalisco state, a little town called Tlaquepaque because we literally wanted to immerse ourselves in the Day of the Dead festivity.

The entire town looked glorious and colourful

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you walk along the streets you notice many little altars which honour parted loved ones. Some of them will even have some of the things they loved, such as their favourite drinks, objects, dishes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sometimes the dead person is a child, or many in fact. One specific altar, dedicated to the fire which killed 38 of children in Sonora in 2009, was filled with toys and pictures of the children.

Catrina is without a doubt the representative of this holiday. So much in fact, that everyone wants to look like her!

Children

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Adults

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And even waiters in a restaurant will join the spooky folklore

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stanito and Travel Buddy could not be exception to this rule

day_of_the_dead_mexico_stanito_11
Here I am sitting between a lady skeleton and her male companion

While Travel Buddy took it even further when he sat down and played cards with another skeleton gentleman

day_of_the_dead_mexico_stanito_12

In the end, why should the remembrance of our beloved dead ones be a sad event?

Unknown Mexico: Muyil

Dear Reader,

Exploring Mexico, and more precisely Yucatán and Quintana Roo, normally means beating  a very crowded path filled with utterly touristic places and therefore hordes of tourists. And this goes for archeological sites as as well beaches.

So, dear Reader, if you do come to Mexico looking for Mayan ruins I hope you unveil some of the hidden gems that still keep a secretive identity: Muyil.

It is not down on any map, best places never are.

I have no clue who authored it but it’s brilliant and surprisingly accurate 🙂

muyil_ruins_castle_mexico_stanito

In the Sian Ka’an biosphere, which is Mayan for “Door to the Sky”, there is a vast jungle of about 265 hectares. Probably one of the neatest and most notable among the pre-Hispanic ruins sites.

Muyil was a densely populated settlement during the pre-Hispanic era and its buildings were mainly for a civic-religious and residential purpose. Settled around 300 B.C., centuries before Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum, it remained as a settlement up until the time of the Spanish invasion in the 16th Century where people either fled from the Spanish out of fear or were killed from diseases spread by the Spanish.

muyil_ruins_mexico_stanito

What I Loved About Muyil Ruins

The site is very small, you can circle it in less than 1 hour. Not many buildings are on sight but those that are there are simply stunning. Muyil needs to be experienced, not read about, to truly appreciate this site.

Fast Facts About Muyil Ruins

  • Muyil was one of the earliest settlements on the Caribbean Coast.
  • Only some of buildings have been excavated and much still remains covered.
  • The Castillo (pyramid) is 57 feet high, the highest pyramid on the Riviera Maya Coast.
  • Ceiba trees are located throughout the site. Alux (Mayan for “spirits”) are thought to watch the trails, protecting those in the area. Known as the “tree of life,” Ceiba trees were believed to be the connection to the underworld for the Maya.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.