I had been planning a summer trip for 2014 for a number of months. I had penciled in some dates between Spanish classes, chorus rehearsals and selling at artist markets. I had some rough ideas about where I wanted to go but vowed this trip to be more flexible and not schedule each hotel in each city weeks in advance……to give myself time to explore, wander, stay longer if I wanted to. I was scheduled to leave on Saturday, July 26th and made my first ‘flexible’ decision….I had nothing to do on the 25th, let’s get going!
On past trips (and my drives to Tucson) I realized that 7 and 10 hour driving days are not very fun. My back, hip and legs start to ache after about 4 hours in the car. So this trip I decided to make shorter ‘hops’ in my drive. Four to five hours of driving only for each hop! I did really well at planning these hops from location to location. The longest was the 5 hour drive from Bucerias to Guadalajara!
On the first leg of my journey I drove to Guadalajara where I planned to spend the night. Stopped at Galerias mall for some lunch and shopping, bought Krispy Kremes and headed to Tonala for some glass items. Drove back to one of my favorite hotels and since I usually don’t make a reservation, was surprised that they were full! Hmmm, now what? Find another hotel or at 3:30 in the afternoon keep driving. The keep driving option won out and I headed to Lagos de Moreno about an hour further east. I found a small hotel and paid some $20 US to spend the night. I learned quickly that you get what you pay for in hotels! LOL….very basic but at least clean. And the guys drinking, talking and laughing until 1:30 in the morning did not help the sleep process at all!
Got up the next morning and decided to spend some time exploring Lagos de Moreno as I had never been there before. I looked for the tallest church and wandered my way across town. For a relatively small town (154K) the church and plaza were really very beautiful and well cared for. If you don’t know, almost every town has a church (many towns have more than one) and the plaza in front of the church serves as a gathering place for all sorts of community activities. The plaza is often surrounded by shops and restaurants. Music, dancing, sitting in the shade, eating, talking…..make these a great place for people watching and relaxing. Often you can get an indication of how wealthy or poor a town is by the look of their plaza. Here is a photo of the church and plaza in Lagos.
The town from the side of the hill.
My second night was scheduled to be in Irapuato, a small town in the state of Guananjuato. It was just another stop on my 4 hour drive plan. I had visited here last summer so was already familiar with the town and it’s central area. I was booked at the Wyndam Gardens hotel which was close to a large mall. So, mall shopping it was! Rather, mall window shopping. I had a nice lunch at the mall, drove around town a bit and settled into my hotel making plans for the next few days in Puebla. Up early the next morning and on the road to Puebla!
I have to say that I really do like driving in the country in Mexico (cities are a whole different story). I love the open road and for the most part the toll roads in Mexico are very nice. Passing farms and fields of various things with always the mountains in the distance…..I just love it. And a word about our toll roads. The cuotas (coo-ō-tas) are usually privately owned roads in Mexico. They are pretty well maintained as the money we pay to use them goes into keeping them in good condition. Roads owned by the states or the federal government are not so well kept. Bumpy, uneven and pot-holed roads are very common in Mexico and drivers need to be vigilant when driving anywhere. Someday I’m going to write a blog entry about driving in Mexico (and the drivers here)…..that is an experience that bears some discussion!
Anyway, back to Puebla. Puebla is a large city of about 1.5 million people. It is known for a variety of agriculture and manufacturing products….but also well known for the production of Talavera tile and pottery. Dating back to the mid 1500’s and in full swing by the 17th century, Talavera tile was produced and sold worldwide. Hand decorated and painted tile and pottery became well known and now are collector items. I was able to tour one Talavera factory and watch the process from working the clay using the feet to hand painting the carefully drawn designs. I purchased three Talavera Plates for my house but held off buying any more until I went to Dolores Hidalgo on the last leg of my trip.
My hotel was in downtown Puebla and easy walking distance to the Zocalo (central plaza). One day they were filming a movie around the plaza and large crowds gathered to watch the process. People practically chased the stars down the road at the end of the shoot. I’m not sure who they were…..and had other things to look at anyway! Here are photos of the church and plaza.
A model of the Puebla downtown area set up near the central plaza. Notice the double spires of the church in my photo above.
After 3 days in Puebla I was off to Oaxaca. The 4 hour drive to Oaxaca was the best drive of my whole trip. The two lane road wound up and over a range of mountains. The views were incredible and even though there were few places to pull off safely I tried to stop as much as I could to look, walk and take photos. Here are a couple that I was able to snap.
The road was being redone and there were some construction delays. New blacktop was being laid and in many places the new guard rails had not yet been installed. Looking down hundreds of feet to the valley below was a bit unnerving!
I arrive in good shape at a Hotel One in Oaxaca and got settled into my room. It was still early so I walked about 20 minutes to the Ex-Convent Santo Domingo de Guzman. A beautifully restored church and monastery with a grand plaza in front that connects to a pedestrian roadway that goes to the center of Oaxaca, and the church and plaza. The place was bustling with people, vendors and shops around the outer edge. Places to eat and to purchase all sorts of handmade craft items. Here are some photos.
The gold covered alter in the main church. One of the many statues along the side walls insidet he church
The intrically painted dome.
The plaza in front of the church.
The city of Oaxaca bears the same name as the state. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oaxaca
Well known for the making of wool and items made of woven fabric; colorful rugs, clothing and embroidered items. I was fortunate to be there at the end of a cultural week where indigenous people came to town to show and sell their particular style of handcrafted items. Booths were set up on side streets and in parks selling all sorts of items. It was so fun to wander through and look at everything. The state of Oaxaca has a very high percentage of people from the indigenous tribes of Mexico. Some 1/3 of the population of the state speak a language other than Spanish. This creates a state in Mexico that is culturally varied in dress, food and celebrations.
Well-known also for a few foods I saw red and black mole (moe-lay), the famous Oaxaca cheeses (a white string cheese), tamales wrapped in banana leaves, and chapulines or grasshoppers. Ladies were selling these grasshoppers all over the city and would sit in a chair with plates of them with various seasonings. I declined a taste test……
I treated myself to a wonderful mole dinner at a local restaurant with of course a huge Pina Colada to go with it!
I wandered the streets of Oaxaca for 3 days with a side trip to a small ruin called Mitla. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitla The ruins were in a small town about 40 minutes outside of Oaxaca and I spent a couple of hours there with a friend. Mitla was an important religious site in the history of this area and when the Spanish came and brought the Catholic religion much of this site was dismantled. The Spanish even built a church on top of part of this area, a church that remains today. This site was known for its intricate mosaic fretwork that covers many of the remaining walls. Hand cut and polished stone set in the walls without mortar. Here are some photos of these ruins.
Hand carved columns ane the incredible detail hand built with stone.
After 3 days of walking around this amazing city I decided to head north again. I still had on my list of places to visit Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo. I drove back towards Puebla and spent the night in a small town called Atlixco http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlixco . This small town is known for growing all sorts of flowers and plants, many of which are shipped to the larger cities in Mexico as cut flowers and potted plants for sale. I had time to explore a bit and the plaza was alive with people and surrounded by vendors selling all sorts of plants. Many I recognized from my own garden and some were totally new to me. I so wanted to purchase some roses and other plants but I still had 5 days of traveling and didn’t think they would survive the heat in the back of the truck. Here are some photos of the main plaza….and plants.
I decided since I had only a 3 hour drive to Queretaro that I would go back to Puebla and spend a bit more time there. I had wanted to buy some ‘real’ Talavera (made in Puebla rather than Dolores Hidalgo) so drove into town, got the truck parked and walked to the “Calle de Dulces” (street of candy/sweets) to find some special plates for me. This street is known for shops that sell Mexican candies but each shop also has Talavera items for sale. Here are the three plates I found now hanging on the wall in my house.
Plates in hand (and some cookies as well) I got on the road heading towards Queretaro. I was going to meet my friend Adrian who lives in Queretaro with his ‘adoptive’ family who are missionaries in Mexico. Adrian works as an interpreter for groups that come to the area to help build schools and homes for low income Mexican families. A wonderful young man who came to visit me last April for a few days. Here he is with my mosaic teacher.
I had one stop to make before I reached Queretaro, a small town called San Juan del Rio. I had seen by the side of the highway carved stone items and I wanted to look for a special piece for me. I found the exact piece I was looking for and got it stowed in the truck. Here it is in its new home by the pool. The new Talavera flower pot sits on top.
Queretaro http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quer%C3%A9taro,_Quer%C3%A9taro the capitol city of the state of Queretaro, was said to be founded in 1531. Now a city of a little more than 1 million it is a main manufacturing location in Mexico. Tourism now also accounts for some 21% of the cities revenue, partly based on the investment that it makes in infrastructure, public services and the creation of parks as well as sports and cultural facilities. My hotel was just a few blocks from the central plaza and I walked through numerous parks and small plazas in my three days there. I really enjoyed the energy and liveliness of this city’s central area.
A park called 'dog park' by the locals. This fountain had 4 dogs spitting water.
Adrian and I also drove to a small town about an hour southeast of Queretaro called Tequisquiapan. A small, colorful artist town with a great church and plaza. We had a nice breakfast there and wandered around town for a couple of hours before heading back into the city. If you want to know more about this quaint little town see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequisquiapan A few photos below.
Saying goodbye to Queretaro I made the two hour drive to San Miguel de Allende. This was my second visit to San Miguel, the second largest expat community in Mexico. Known for hundreds of craft shops and artists who live here selling their art. I went through town headed for Dolores Hidalgo. I was scheduled to pick up boxes of tile for my mosaic teacher and wanted to get some tile for my own mosaic project. I picked up the tile, found Talavera pots and some boxes of tile for me. I headed back to San Miguel, got checked into the hotel and took off to look around this great little town. I walked up the hill to the main plaza and one of the most beautiful churches I’ve seen in Mexico. I had a mango margarita at a popular place near the plaza, Mama Mia.
As I started to walk back down the hill lightning and thunder began and a few drops of rain. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill it started to rain hard and I ducked into a small store that sold bolts and nuts. The two ladies there smiled and we exchange some Spanish as the rain and wind did its thing outside. The older lady brought a mop and cleaned up the water blowing in through the open door.
The rain continued coming down even harder than before. The street had become a river of water and the huge drain at the bottom of our street was not handling the volume of water. It began to back up and within just minutes was coming over the door jamb into the shop. She closed the door but water continued to rise and was pouring through the crack in the door. Quickly water was 3 inches all over the shop! I took off my shoes and stood in the cold water, there was nothing we could do.
After about 30 minutes the water began to recede. Once below the level of the floor I asked if I could open the front door and we began to sweep water out the front and back doors. I worked on the front using a squeegee and the two ladies worked on the back. Once the water level was down I began to mop to dry the tile floor as best I could. We three worked for about a half an hour. The shops across the street were also trying to get dried out. I finally had the front of the shop pretty dry. I told them I was going to go and they thanked me profusely for helping them clean up the water….and wished me a safe journey. With shoes in hand I made my way through wet streets and back to my hotel.
The next morning I left early and headed for Tonala, a suburb of Guadalajara. I wanted to pick up a few things there before I headed into Guadalajara for my last night on the road before making the drive back to Bucerias. I found some very fun things to buy and got them safely tucked into the back of the truck. More plates for Talavera ‘flowers’, a reproduction of a Mayan figure for the patio and some tile for my mosaic.
Talavera plates from Dolores Hidalgo ready to be put on 'stems' and sold this winter to tourists!
The truck was a little heavy in the back with 8 boxes of tile, pottery and carved stone!
Sixteen days, some 2,000 miles on the truck, lots of new things to see, and a deeper sense of the history of this beautiful country. I was on the last leg of my journey and with light heart made the 5 hour drive through fields and mountains to Bucerias. My helper, Carlos, was waiting at the house for me and we unloaded the truck (a box of tile is pretty heavy!). I spent most of the evening and part of the next day putting things away and walking the gardens to see how much they had grown. I really enjoy travel in Mexico…..and there’s no place like home……