Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bridget, California, and travels in Mexico

Letter from Cindy:

A lot has happened in the past 2 months. We moved, I joined a book club, Bridget came for a visit, I went to California, and we did a lot of traveling to some really neat Mexican towns and cities.

In November, 2 days before Bridget’s visit, we moved from the south side of the building to the north side. The biggest advantage was getting away from the traffic noise, though we can still feel the buses go by. We also acquired an extra room, which we really didn’t need, and it will be cooler during the hot months. The actual move was pretty quick - we just carted everything from the old apartment to the new with a little help from building security and maintenance guys. Add a bed, rearrange things a little, and - voila - a guest bedroom just in time for Bridget’s visit.

Apparently there is more to do in Guadalajara than I thought - she was here a week and it wasn’t enough time to do all the things I wanted to do with her. I enjoyed several of the tourist attractions more this time around than the first time I saw them - probably because I wasn’t under pressure to outfit an apartment this time. We also visited a few spots for the first time with Bridget, such as the zoo, the Huentitan gorge, and the Guachimontones archaeological zone (See Jim's entry titled "The circular pyramids of Guachimontones").

We hiked up a steep hill overlooking the pyramids at Guachimontones.

Capitola, California

Bridget and I then flew to California so she could take class for 11 days from one of her favorite dance coaches. We stayed in Capitola, a seaside vacation spot about an hour south of San Francisco. The town was almost too perfect with its quaint fishing pier; its colorful gift shops, cafes, and beach rentals; the beach and the surfers; the bike paths and dog walkers; the mountains; the bluffs; the sunsets - ee gads, I thought I was on a Disney movie set. It was wonderful.

We had Thanksgiving in the nicest restaurant in town, on the banks of the river that flows into the bay - cool building built on a hill with lots of small dining rooms at different levels. You even ride in a little funicular from the parking lot at the top of the bluff down to the restaurant at the water’s edge. We did a little touring after Bridget’s classes - Santa Cruz, Carmel, and several outings to take in the gorgeous scenery. It was all extremely beautiful and relaxing.

We hiked along the bluffs in Wilder Ranch State Park

We drove for about 90 minutes along Big Sur coastline. We probably only traveled 30 miles, though, because I stopped about every 5 minutes to enjoy the magnificent views.

Our only trip to SF was to the airport to have dinner with Greg Lukens, my nephew. But my favorite outings were to the book stores - I brought home at least a dozen new books.


Three days after I returned home Jim and I went to Aguascalientes. He worked and I strolled around the center of town. This is my favorite city in Mexico so far. It is very livable - clean, modern, not too big. It is the first city where I’ve seen signs of eco-consciousness. It also has dozens of beautiful old buildings and churches, some from Spanish colonial days. We stayed right on the main plaza which was continuously active with Christmas pageants, a crèche with live animals, ice skating (it was a portable rink and people were as interested in watching this obviously unfamiliar sport as in trying it), carolers, shoppers, and folks just relaxing in the beautiful gardens.

Barrio de San Marcos, host to the oldest and largest fair in Mexico (think Ohio State Fair), and Templo de San Marcos

San Antonio Church - obviously not colonial but imagine my surprise when I rounded a corner and saw this gem

Looking through an open door is as rewarding as gazing at the sights and sounds out in the open

Students on their way to perform the Christmas story. Notice the devil near the back - I guess the Christmas story here is a little different than in the states.


The university that Jim is partnered with closed down for 2 weeks over Christmas and New Year’s so we decided to do some traveling. We drove to the state of Michoacan, about 4 hours east of us, and visited several different towns, most of which Jim has already done blogs on. First stop was Uruapan, the agricultural center of Michoacan and “Avocado Capital of the World.” (See "Christmas under the volcano in Michoacan".) From here we visited the lava fields of the Paricutin volcano, the ruins of Tingambato, Parque National Eduardo Ruiz with
its tropical vegetation and artificial waterfalls, and the “narrowest house in the world.” Incredibly, a couple actually had a butcher shop in this tiny dwelling and raised 2 kids here.

Centro historico of Uruapan reveals its rural heritage but actually the city is the second largest in Michoacan, with a population in excess of 240,000.

Many indigenous people sell their produce and crafts in street markets.


Second stop was Patzcuaro, a small colonial jewel on the shores of Lake Patzcuaro, with craft shops, markets and churches aplenty. (See "Patzcuaro, charming lakeside town")

The arcaded Plaza Vasco de Quiroga is lined on all sides by stately 18th century mansions that have been converted to hotels, cafes, and craft shops. This was my favorite plaza in Patzcuaro while Jim preferred ...

...the smaller but livlier Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra, bustling with shoe shiners, street vendors, and cheaper shops.

I was determined to buy a wooden mask but couldn’t make a decision and wanted to look around for 2 days before plopping down any cash. Jim has a different approach - if you like it, buy it, because you might not be back. He bought one he liked, which seemed to take the pressure off me. We ended up with 3 masks, a lacquered bowl, a wrought iron candle stick, and woven place mats. I like the way he thinks.

We spent one day doing the town and a second day driving around the lake, visiting archaeological sites and small villages. In the village of Ichupio we chanced on a group of costumed young adults and teens doing the local version of caroling at homes for cash donations. The girls sing and the guys either play musical instruments or perform the dance of the Viejecitos ("little old men"). This dance was originally done by elderly Mexican men. In the most popular version of its origins, the stiff, seemingly uncoordinated movements of the dance was a way for the indigenous population to make fun of their elderly Spanish overlords.

Teens in their Viejecitos garb and a young girl in traditional dress


Morelia has yet a different feel - still colonial but of a heavier, aristocratic style rather than the white washed simplicity of Patzcuaro. Again with the churches and plazas and government buildings but on a grander scale.

I liked these arcaded buildings that edge three sides of the main plaza.

15 anos - big deal in Latin America for girls - special mass, professional photographer, big party

There was a life size creche set up in the garden of the main plaza. An unusual attendant to accompany one of the wise men, don't you think?

A couple of colorful cowboys passing the time in the main plaza. I wonder if the red shirts are for Christmas?

We enjoyed the "junk" sculptures in one of the courtyards of the Michoacan Cultural Center. I think Don Quixote and Panza are composed primarily of old auto parts.

This was one of my favorite plazas - small, quiet, shady.

The Cathedral, the third largest in Latin America, is especially awesome when lit up at night.

The Santuario de Guadalupe - I am such a sucker for bright colors and geometric designs, even more so than gold.

I spend more time looking at the ceilings, floors, and walls than at the altars, paintings, and sculptures. This is why.


Last stop was El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and the charming mining town of Tlalpujahua, also known as Pueblo Magico. We hiked up a steep hill for 45 minutes (thank you Richard Simmons) until we came to an area where the trail was roped off and guarded by 3 rangers. From here we could see two trees, about 20 to 25 yards distant, covered with clumps of butterflys. Not as much as I was expecting but on the other hand it is reassuring to know the park is trying to protect their habitat from the marauding tourists. (See "Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan")

That's not turning leaves in the photo. The orange and brown blobs are clumps of butterflies.

I love this color

So that was the end of our travels and we’re back in Guadalajara. Jim has finished putting together the second online course for the new digital media center, which begins in February. It was very cold in the apartment right after we moved in November, 3 layers of clothes cold, but things are warming up - the azalea bushes are blooming so it must be spring now. I’m back to my everyday schedule of reading, cross-stitching, computer games, photo scanning/identifying and the occasional housework. Extreme boredom may lie just around the corner but so far I'm as happy as a pig in mud (and just about as productive).

Happy New Year from Mexico

Peace and love to you all,
Cindy / Mom

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