Monday, December 11, 2017

The Race for Guadalupe

Guadalupe Pilgrim, Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX
This may look like someone in a road-race, but actually it is a man on a religious pilgrimage, a pilgrimage for the Virgin of Guadalupe.  In many ways is it a race, or a mad scramble, because participants must reach their destination by 11 pm the night of December 11 for the celebration that begins the December 12 Feast Day of Guadalupe.

Pilgrims' Car, Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

For people dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's Patron Saint, celebrating her December 12 feast day includes some sort of pilgrimage.  The Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City is the ultimate pilgrimage destination, but Mexico is a big place and not everyone can get there.  Other areas have significant Guadalupe shrines, such as the Guadalupe Church in San Cristobal de las Casas Chiapas and people will travel long distances, sometimes on foot, to reach them.

The towns of the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan on the Yucatan Peninsula are very distant from the central Mexican shrines but other pilgrimage traditions for Guadalupe's Feast Day have grown up and are equally as compelling.

The car in the photo above is one of many on the road during the nine-day period that marks the celebration of Guadalupe.  In Mexico, most major saint's days are celebrated for a period of time before the actual day.  In Yucatan, the pilgrim's objective is to return to their home church by 11 pm on December 11,  At this time mariachi-led church celebration starts  that culminates in all singing  a special version of "Las Mañanitas", the traditional Mexican birthday song, to our Lady of Guadalupe, 

Typically, people undertake pigrimages because they have prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe for some favor and received it.  The original prayer included a promesa, a vow, to Guadalupe that they would undertake a pilgrimmage if their petition were granted.

Pilgrims' Van, Quintana Roo, MX

Pilgrims' Car, Quintana Roo, MX
Signs on the cars show beginning of the journey on the top and the destination on the bottom. Typically the origin is where the people are working and the destination is where they originated. Most small pueblos have a church dedicated to Guadalupe, which becomes a sort of shrine to the saint.

There is a lot of excitement and frenetic energy in the Yucatan during these days, as pilgrims struggle to reach their goal.  Typically, they do not ride in the cars which are there for pilgrims'  support and breaks,  but run along the highways often bare-footed.

Guadalupe Pilgrim Group, near Tulum, Quintana Roo, MX

Some go the distance on bicycle with or without a support vehicle, carrying a heavy statue of Guadalupe on their backs.

Guadalupe Pilgrim on bicycle, Quintana Roo, MX

This bicycle was traveling from Cancun to Tixpehual, Yucatan, a distance of 296 
kilometers, a difficult journey for this kind of vehicle.

Pilgrims' Bicycle, Valladolid, Yucatan, MX

It is difficult to convey the excitement of the day of December 11, the day when pilgrims are making their final push to the destinations.  Roads are full of all sorts of vehicles bearing images of Guadalupe and each is really a shrine to the saint.

Cars in Pilgrimage Procession, Yucatan, MX
Pilgrim Truck, Quintana Roo, MX
Pilgrim's Vehicle, Valladolid, Yucatan, MX

After nightfall, there is extra intensity since people are nearing their destinations and making the final push.  On the Coba-Tulum road, a primary artery between the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo where many pilgrims are headed, way stations have been set up for the support of pilgrims where food and drink are offered free of charge.  Everyone needs to be at their destination well-before the 11 pm service.

Pilgrims on the Coba-Tulum Road, Quintana Roo, MX
Pilgrims stopping along Coba-Tulum Road, Quintana Roo, MX
Guadalupe Altar at way-station, Macario Gomez Quintana Roo, MX
Most reach their destinations with some time to spare.  Here, in Akumal Quintana Roo, pilgrims are waiting to line up for the procession to the church, which begins around 10:45.

Pilgrim's Car, Akumal Quintana Roo, MX
Pilgrim's bicycle, Akumal Quintana Roo, MX
Pilgrims waiting for processions to begin, Akumal, Quintana Roo, MX

Pilgrim's car decorated for procession, Akumal, MX

The pueblo's population is waiting at the church to welcome the returning pilgrims. They are honored and acknowledged as they enter the church carrying their personal Guadalupe images that they have carried the long distance.

Outside Guadalupe Church, Akumal MX
PIlgrims enterring Guadalupe Church, Akumal MX

During evening service, Akumal MX
Each pilgrim presents flowers to the church's Guadalupe statue who, in the eyes of the pilgrims and the congregation, is more than just a mere image with a reality of her own.  Please click the photo to enlarge it and see the beautiful accumulation of flowers and candles.

Guadalupe Church, Akumal MX

Midnight ushers in the new day of Guadalupe and the mariachis lead the congregation in "Las Mañanitas", the Mexican birthday song. That night there is no mass for Guadalupe, that waits for the next day.  That night is a fiesta full of joy and song for their beloved Lady of Guadalupe.

Mariachi Band leading service, Guadalupe Church, Akumal MX

 For more information about Guadalupe celebrations in the Yucatan please click this link.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Truth About Thanksgiving Day

Turkeys at Market, Ocotlan Oaxaca MX
These Mexican turkeys are not destined for anyone's Thanksgiving table, but Spain and Colonial Mexico did play a roundabout role in the US's first Thanksgiving. There is the myth of Thanksgiving that we all learned in grade school and then there is the truth.
To read about it, click the link below. You will be surprised.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Dia de los Muertos Odyssey

Cemetery decorated for Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas
Dia de los Muertos, the time of year in Mexico when the worlds of the living and dead intersect, is coming up.  According to the lore of the holiday, on November 1 and 2, the souls of the dead visit and partake of the lives they once lived on earth. Preparations to welcome the dead begin well before these days and in many places Halloween (Oct. 31) is included in the celebration. 

Each region of Mexico contributes its own specific beliefs and customs to this pan-Mexican holiday. Our odyssey, here, begins in Chiapas, Mexico with its unique contribution of pre-Columbian Maya beliefs and customs.  The green crosses in the photo above are typical of Maya areas and have a local meaning and symbolism beyond that of the Christian cross.  In Romerillo Chiapas, people place boards over graves so that the dead during the year, so they cannot leave them and wander around before Dia de los Muertos.

Grave in Cemetery of Romerillo, Chiapas
Read all about Dia de los Muertos as it is celebrated in Chiapas:

Dia de los Muertos, Cemetery San Juan Chamula, Chiapas
You can see it, as well, in the Videos linked below. The first one I shot at the November 2 celebration in the cemetery of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas. It is one of a kind and you will be treated to an event not usually seen by outsiders, since photography is forbidden ( I had special permission)
A second video is of the celebration in the beautiful cemetery of Romerillo shown in  two of the photos above.  
The third video is of the Panthéon (cemetery) of Cristöbal de las Casas.  Cemeteries are hubs of activities during Dia de los Muertos and this video captures the beauty and poignancy of the celebration.

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In the states of Quintana Roo and Yucátan there are unique twists to Dia de Los Muertos where the holiday is known by its Maya name of Hanal Pixán.

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In parts of the US once owned by Mexico, elements of Mexcian culture are still vibrant.
Here are two videos shot in the Spanish missions of San Antonio, Texas, which was once a part of colonial Mexico. They show the unique blending of indigenous American and Mexican-Christian elements in this Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Dia de los Muertos revelers, Oaxaca

Oaxaca is justifiably famous for its celebration of Dia de los Muertos.  People painted as skeletons, portraying La Catrina the icon of Dia de los Muertos, are everywhere.  Is this all fun and games?  No, there is a much deeper level to all the rollicking activity, as you will learn here:

Open Grave in Cemetery of Pomuch, Campeche
Pomuch, a small town in Campeche, hosts what I call the "Ultimate" Dia de los Muertos". 
It's a little shocking, at first, but fascinating.


Mexico is wonderful any time of the year. During  Dia de los Muertos it is most itself with its essential nature, the unique blending of indigenous and Christian elements, shining through.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Eat and Drink Like an Aztec (or Inca)

Guinea Pig
The thought of eating your child's classroom pet, like this adorable guinea pig, is bound to be upsetting.  Yet guinea pigs were and remain a popular protein source in Peru and elsewhere in the Andean area that was once home to the Incas and other Quechua-speaking peoples.  At least by local standards they are delectably prepared, skewered with rosemary and baked in wood-burning ovens. Crispy and succulent when roasted,  live guinea roam the kitchens of Andean homes awaiting their turn in the oven.

Roasted Guinea Pigs, Pisac, Peru

Roasted Guinea Pigs, Pisac, Peru

 Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican protein sources were different from ours, because our food animals like cows, sheep, goats and pigs were not native to the Americas, only arriving from Europe with the Spanish Conquest. Mexico has more edible insects than any other place in the world and good use is made of them.  Insect-eating is rooted deep in its Pre-columbian past and is very much alive today.

 if you find bugs in your guacamole in Oaxaca, don't send it back- they are supposed to be there and you are probably paying extra for them. These fried grasshoppers give crunch and texture to the dish and guacamole with chapulines is a signature dish of the region.

Insects, typically fried and dusted with various flavorings such as chile, lime or garlic are sold in markets in throughout Mexico.  People buy them by the bag to munch on and they are a healthy snack because they are almost pure protein.  They also show up in tacos and incorporated into various dishes.  

Assorted Fried Insects, Oaxaca, MX
Fried Grasshoppers with Chile, Oaxaca, MX

Fried Insects at Market, Cholula, Puebla MX
Fried Grasshoppers, Cholula, Puebla MX                
Mexico has some 300-550 edible insects according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, all sustainable sources of protein. These include grasshoppers 
(chapulines), flying ants (chicatanas), honeypot ants (hormigas de miel), ant larvae (escamotes or ahuatle), dragonflies (libélulas), crickets (grillos).    And don't forget about the crawlers because worms and caterpillars are also popular. 

Pictured below are the popular gusanos, maguey worms, that are an important ingredient in some moles and are also eaten fried on tacos.                         

Gusanos, Mexico City MX

Pulque, a low-alcohol drink made from the fermented sap of the agave (maguey) plant, has a history in Mexico that is longer than a millennium.  Originally, it was a sacred drink and its use limited to certain classes of people.  After the conquest it became a popular drink 
for all.   Pulque is low alcohol, about the same percentage as beer, and has health, even medicinal, benefits and is used in hospitals with anemic patients to raise their red blood counts.  It is my personal favorite, as well.

Production of pulque is labor and time-intensive, with the slow-growing agave plants needing twelve years to mature.  The fermentation process of pulque is on-going so it must be consumed soon after it is produced, which is why it is not exported.  

From my experience, there is a regional variance in pulque.  Pulques in Oaxaca 
tend to be clear and slightly fizzy, whereas in the state of Mexico, the pulque is cloudy, 
more viscous and comes with different flavorings. 

Pulqeria,Mexico City, MX
The photo above is from a popular pulqueria in Mexico City.  As can be seen, their 
pulques are offered in several flavors- oatmeal, peanut, pineapple, pine nut, guava  and others. Consuming pulque is a leisurely pursuit and people come to pulquerias to sit, visit and enjoy the snacks offered.

Pulqueria, Mexico City MX
Pulqueria, Mexico City ,,MX

Below are typical presentations of pulque in Oaxaca, where it often is sold at weekly markets in small towns around the city. The second container labelled tepache is another drink, low alcohol,  made form the fermented rinds of pineapples.  The process is much faster than that of pulque, taking only a few days. Its origins are pre-Hispanic, but it never had the significance of pulque.    

Typical Pulque and Tepache container, Oaxaca MX

Pulque vendor, O

Pulque vendor, Oaxaca MX

Atole, seen being made below, is another popular Mexican beverage with pre-Hispanic origins.  It is made from ground corn (masa), sugar, cinnamon, with other flavorings such as chocolate sometimes added. It is stirred with bare hands and served to customers in small bowls.

Atole in process in market, Oaxaca, MX
Buen Provecho!                       

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hidden Gem of the Taos High Road: Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Las Truchas NM

Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church exterior, Truchas NM
Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church exterior, Truchas NM
Las Truchas, named after the trout found in its streams, is one of the small historic communities of New Mexico's Taos High Road.  This 56 mile road winds through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos connecting the tiny Spanish Land Grant and Pueblo Indian villages in its path.  Initially built as a walled compound, Truchas was created in 1754 as a buffer to protect Santa Fe and Rio Grande villages from raids by roving Apache and Comanche bands. 

Las Truchas' church, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, was finished around 1805 and is still used for worship in the summer months.  It contains important altar screens (reredos) by famed New Mexican santeros Pedro Antonio Fresquis, the "Truchas Master", and Rafael Aragon. 

The adobe church is small and narrow, with a single aisle and wooden beam roof typical of New Mexican churches. A choir loft is present in the back of the church.

Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church, Truchas NM
Back of Church showing Choir Loft, Nuestra Señora del Rosario Church, Truchas NM,

The main altar, seen in the photos below, was created by the "Truchas Master", santero Pedro Antonio Fresquis between 1800-1818. The santero style was unique in the Colonial world for reasons I discuss in my  September 9, 2014 post  "Understanding New Mexico's Santos". ( Note that photos enlarge when clicked to better show detail).

Main Altar by "Truchas Master" Antonio Fresquis, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM
Very top: God the Father- it is convention of place this image at the very top of altars.
Top row from viewer left to right:  San Juan Nepomuceno (St. John of Nepomuk, 14th century Bohemian saint), Our Lady of Carmel, Our Lady of the Rosary for whom the church is named, St. Francis, St. Gertrude the Great. 
Bottom row viewer L to R: St. John the Evangelist, St. Josep, empty niche, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Barbara.
The Latin inscriptions above the altar in the scroll-shaped pieces, Ave Maria and In Gratia Plena, are the opening words of the Hail Mary.  In front of the empty niche on the bottom row is a small bulto (statue) of the Crucified Jesus.

Bulto of Christ, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM

Two beautiful bultos of the Virgin Mary are located on top of the front altar.

Bulto of Virgin Mary, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM
Bulto of Virgin of the Rosary, Nuestra Sen1ora del Rosario, Truchas NM

On a small table to the left of the altar is a bulto attributed to the Santo Niño Santero, who was most know for his exquisitely carved crucifixes.

Bulto of Jesus by Santo Niño Santero, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM

On the wall the left of the main altar is a retablo by the famous and prolific santero Rafael Aragon, born in Santa Fe sometime between 1783 and 1790.  This retablo from viewer L to R shows St. Paul, Jesus and St. Peter.

Retablo by Rafael Aragon, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM

To the right of the main altar, and seen below, is another retablo by Pedro Antonio Fresquis, this one dated 1821. Top: Trinity depicted as three men, a Colonial Mexican convention that was continued in New Mexican religious art.
Second row  L to R: the Crucifixion, Our Lady of Sorrows
Bottom:  Our Lady of Carmel, St. Gregory's Mystical Mass

Retablo by Pedro Antonio Fresquis, Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Truchas NM

The Truchas church provides an opportunity to see images usually only found in museums (such as the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe or the city's Museum of International Folk Art)  in the setting for which they were originally created.  The retablos and bultos were not pieces of art, but liturgical art that was used in worship and very significant in the religious lives of the people of colonial New Mexico.  These images differ from the religious art you will see in other parts of the Mexican Colonial world for reasons explained in my Sept. 9, 2014 blog post.

It is difficult to visit the Truchas church since it is open only during the summer and then at limited times.  Special permission from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe is generally necessary for admission to the church and photography is strictly forbidden, except with special permission which this writer was fortunate enough to obtain.  During the High Road Art Tour, which is always the last two weekends in September, the church is said to be open at certain times but it is best to check before going.