Photo of the Day: Mexcaltitán de Uribe

Dear Reader,

Remember when we explored the Venice of Mexico?

Follow my next post to this magical and mysterious little village

Photos were taken with our new drone.

Learn more about Mexcaltitán by clicking here!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Witchy Sonora Market

Dear Reader,

Are you superstitious? Do you think you are followed by bad luck? Do you suspect your neighbour is trying to poison you? Harbouring revenge over your cheating wife or husband?
Then this is the right place for you then: travel with me to one of the creepiest sides of Mexico.

Remember how I went on about Sicilian superstitions? This time it is not that amusing but rather a more serious deal. Just walk with me as I take you to the colourful and creepy Mercado de Sonora.

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It was about 3 pm in Mexico City, just after lunch. The travel team had already covered the must-see places and things in this gigantic metropolis so I was very keen on looking for the kind of things I like: the strange things. I was told about the obscure Mercado de Sonora, filled with occult things and cures for anything that ails you…

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Local 313 is known as Santa (saint), dedicated to spiritual cleansing, love binding, banishments and tarot reading.

It look like a very big market place focused on esoteric items, the ideal place for those interested in mysticism, occultism and hidden wisdom (a term cherished by many).

It was creepy, for sure, but also very interesting and certainly a nice detour from the regular city attractions.

Vendors were friendly and invited us in easily, though they preferred to remain hidden in front of my camera. See photo below.

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Store specialised in spiritual cleansing.

 

As we walked by the aisles, vendors asked us questions and offered us all kinds of solutions to our daily life’s troubles. Things like herbs, claws of garlic, water and essences spray, soaps, saints, skulls, ritual pamphlets, anything you can imagine, including the illegal trade of animals.

The Mercado Sonora is home to many religions other than Catholicism. Here I found a wide range of vernacular religions, sorcery practices and other bizarre faiths and convictions. Voodoo is no stranger here either, with all its incredible imagery and rituals.

It got more and more interesting as I walked through it. Aisled are stuffed with witchcraft items, potions, dolls and amulets.

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Amulets of all kinds.

This creepy market offers a wide range of items that serve to fulfil any macabre wish people harbour. The rich variety of products and shamanistic items will feed your imagination. There are stands with skulls, skeleton representations and dubious containers among other items.

People who believe they are being cursed or ill-wished come to Mercado Sonora to have a spiritual cleansing known as limpia. It is a very common practice and not only in Mexico. It’s a process which normally involves the use of incense, singing prayers and herbal items, either ingested or brushed upon the affected person.

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This is just one of the precious occult jewels of Mexico City. And there are more on my list to come soon 🙂

 

Chiapas, the forgotten state

Dear Reader,

One can never generalise about cultures and countries in general. Least of all those countries with such diversities as Mexico.

Mexico is BIG and ethnically very diverse. Migrants from distant lands and the already existing indigenous communities inhabit this country. In fact, the second article of the Mexican Constitution asserts that the country is a pluricultural nation originally founded upon the indigenous peoples.

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Indigenous people are located in many states of Mexico but the biggest concentration is found in the state of Chiapas, south border of Mexico with Guatemala, and Oaxaca.

With chilly pine-forest highlands in the north, sultry rainforest jungles, attractive colonial cities and filled with remnants of the Mayan civilisation, Chiapas nonetheless looks completely cut off from the rest of the country.

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It is the perfect off the beaten path destination for those adventure seekers willing to explore the frothy waterfalls and eco-indigenous jungle reserves. But we will explore this side on a second post.

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Overlooking San Cristobal de las Casas

Talking about the situation in Chiapas comes with contrasting versions depending on whom you ask. There is strong ongoing propaganda from both the government and the Zapatistas, whose claim on the government’s violation human and constitutional rights of community members eventually culminated in the 1994 Zapatista uprising, but I won’t get into that.

Instead, I will tell you why Chiapas seems and looks so isolated and distant from the rest of Mexico, both culturally and geographically.

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Cañón del Sumidero

It has significantly underdeveloped infrastructure compared to the rest of the country, and its significant indigenous population with isolationist tendencies keep the state distinct culturally.

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Children I met in Zinacantan, indigenous town in the central Chiapas highlands. In spite of San Juan de Chamula being the neighbouring, famous indigenous and very commercial town in the area, Zinacantan still doesn’t experience the touristic crowds that its neighbour does. 

Cultural stratification, neglect and lack of investment by the Mexican federal government has exacerbated this problem in several aspects. One of them, is the lack of telecommunication in the mid-south Chiapas where communication system is instead provided by Guatemala (when you book a hotel in south Chiapas don’t be surprised if the dial number starts with +502).

Another aspect concerns the condition of federal highways and cross-state roads.

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About road blocks. There are periodic road blocks randomly located throughout the state. It is common to find them on the road between San Cristobal and Palenque. They are sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes blamed on the EZLN (the Zapatista movement), and look like simple tree trunks cut off and thrown in the middle of the road (I was not able to take pictures of the one we experienced but Google offers many examples of it).

On the positive note, Chiapas does indeed offer spectacular landscapes, wildlife and the peace you’ll never have elsewhere in Mexico.

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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

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

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Gilles grabs him first before passing him onto me

And then he laid in my hands

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

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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.

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