Mexican countryside

Mexican countryside

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Double Anniversary

photo taken from the web
The 1985 quake

Today marks a tragic double anniversary for Mexico City.  

At 7:17 A.M. on September 19th, 1985, the city was struck by an 8.0 earthquake. It was the worst disaster in Mexico City's history with at least 10,000 deaths (the exact death count will never be known), and 412 collapsed buildings.

Fast forward to 2017, the 32nd anniversary of the quake.  At 11:00 A.M. the city held its annual earthquake drill.  Just over two hours later, the real thing occurred... a 7.1 quake wreaked havoc in Mexico City and in the neighboring states of Morelos and Puebla.   More than 300 people died, the majority of them in the capital.

My friend Alejandro tells me that today will be marked with a moment of silence... and the annual drill.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Happy Birthday Mexico

It was 208 years ago today that a parish priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo ran the bell of his church in the little town of Dolores, gathered his parishioners together, and in a stirring speech began Mexico's War of Independence against Spain.

Society in the Spanish colonies was very stratified.  At the top were native-born Spaniards, "peninsulares", who occupied all positions of power.  The "criollos", the people of pure Spanish ancestry who were born in the New World, were considered inferior due to the fact that they were not born in Spain.  They were often wealthy and well-educated, but they had no role in the governance of the colony.  Below them, the "mestizos", people of mixed Spanish and native ancestry, the indigenous peoples and Africans were oppressed underclasses.

In the early 19th century, many "criollos", resenting their lack of political power, toyed with the idea of breaking away from Spain.  When Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and installed his brother as King, the movement for independence gained momentum, and "criollos" could support such a cause without appearing disloyal to the Mother Country.  Although the "criollos" were inspired by the writings of the philosophers of the Enlightenment... books that were banned by the Inquisition... most of them were not really interested in equality for all.  They simply wanted to assume the power held by the "peninsulares".

Father Hidalgo was himself the son of a wealthy "criollo" family.  However, he was interested in the downtrodden masses.  He cultivated grapes and raised silkworms to create new industries to benefit his poor parishioners.  These activities violated the laws which protected the Spanish monopoly on wine and silk production. 

After proclaiming his crusade to fight against the Spaniards, Hidalgo quickly gathered together a ragtag army of 800 men.  They left Dolores, and, as they marched across the countryside, more and more people joined the rebellion.  Most of them were poor Indians and "mestizos".  They killed any native-born Spaniards they encountered and looted the towns through which they marched.  By the time they reached the rich, silver mining city of Guanajuato, Hidalgo's army had grown to more than 20,000.  The Spanish loyalists of the city barricaded themselves within the fortress-like granary building, but the insurgents broke through, and killed more than 500 men, women and children.  The violence unleashed by the rebellion horrified many of the "criollos" who had previously supported a separation from Spain. The saw their privileged position threatened by the rabble, and switched their support to the Spanish colonial government.

Hidalgo marched on to Mexico City.  He now had an army of 100,000.  He reached the mountains above the city, and had forced the Spanish army to retreat to the capital.  Then, with victory in his grasp, Hidalgo turned back.  Historians have debated the reason behind his decision.  Perhaps he feared that Mexico City would be subjected to a bloodbath even more horrific than that in Guanajuato.  In any event, that was the turning point.  Spanish forces gained the upper hand and pursued Hidalgo northward.  He was captured just six months after he had started the rebellion.  He was defrocked and excommunicated by the Church, and then found guilty of treason by a military court.  He and three other leaders of the revolt were executed on July 30, 1811.  Their bodies were then decapitated, and their heads were hung from the corners of the granary building in Guanajuato.

It was a serious blow to the struggle for independence, but the war continued until 1821.  Ironically, it was only after a liberal regime took power in Spain, a regime that conservative "criollos" saw as a threat to their status quo, that Mexico finally achieved its independence... an independence much different from what was envisioned by Father Hidalgo.   

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Another Gig as "Tour Guide"

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I thoroughly enjoy playing the "tour guide" for friends and family members who travel with me.  You also know that this October I will be showing my friends Nancy and Fred around Mexico City, the first time that I have planned a tour there.

Well, now I have yet another gig as "tour guide".  In January I will once again be showing the sights in Mérida... this time to one of my former students and her husband.  Meredith was in my high school Spanish class many years ago, and she was an excellent student.  We have kept in touch, and she is a frequent reader of my blog.  She and her husband Chuck have done a lot of traveling, but they had never been to Mexico.  Meredith  mentioned that they should go down there sometime with me.  A few weeks ago, I asked them if they would like to go to Mérida, and they accepted my invitation.  They will be spending four days with me in the lovely capital city of the state of Yucatán.  I have reserved two rooms in my favorite hotel there, "Luz en Yucatán".  It is very popular place, and we were fortunate to get the last two rooms available for those dates!  

I have given the tour of Mérida eight times over the years, and it never gets boring for me.  Everyone who has gone with me to the Yucatán has loved Mérida, and I am sure that Meredith and Chuck will too.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

Hello Dollies

I have known Amy, the daughter of one of my former teaching colleagues, since she was a baby.  Whenever I would travel to another country, I would buy her a doll.  Over the years, she accumulated quite a collection... a collection which she has kept.  

Now Amy is a grown woman with a little daughter of her own, Angela.  During my trip to Mexico City last April, there was an international fair with booths from nations from all over the world.  Many of the booths were selling handicrafts, including dolls in traditional attire.  I immediately thought of Amy and Angela, and I bought several dolls from countries which I had never visited.  When I returned home, I shipped them to Amy via UPS, and they were thrilled.

On my latest trip to Mexico City I was at another handicraft fair, and when I saw more dolls, I couldn't resist.  Next week I must get these dolls packed and sent off to Amy and Angela.

This very elegant doll is dressed in the traditional costume of the state of Yucatán.

The more primitive doll to the left was created by the native women of the Mexican state of Chiapas.   The little fellow to the right is similar to the dolls that you see being made and sold on the sidewalks of Mexico City, except that this one is of a "muchacho".

I hope that Angela enjoys these additions to her collection!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tis the Season

(image taken from the web)

The calendar says that it is early September.  The temperature is forecast to hit 91F today, and it feels like the middle of August.  Nevertheless, it is time to work on this year's Christmas card.  As always, I am painting a picture to use for my card, and I am presently about half-way done with the painting.  I usually scan the picture to my computer, and then print the cards myself at home.  This year, however, I am planning to make life easier, and take the completed painting to a professional printer.  A friend of mine, who is an artist, recommended a printing company.  They will print the card inside and out, fold the cards, and even provide envelopes.  That will save me a whole bunch of time!

It has always been a bit of a crunch to get my Christmas cards ready before I leave on my October / November trip to Mexico.  I take the cards with me, and during my free moments I make them out.  By the time I return home just before Thanksgiving, my cards are ready to send.

So what is the subject of the painting for this year's card?  That is always a secret until the cards have been mailed, so you will have to wait until December to see.  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Advisor is Back

(image taken from the web)

I used to be a frequent contributor to TripAdvisor.  (In case you are not familiar with it, TripAdvisor is a website where people write reviews of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions from all over the world.  They also have travel forums in which people can ask questions about their upcoming trips.)  I was active on the site between 2005 and 2011.  During that time I wrote 52 reviews and 462 posts on the forums. I was classified as a Top Contributor, and they sent me a nice canvas bag that I still use when I travel.  My user name on the site was (is) "wmsf".

I enjoyed sharing my travel experiences and giving advice on the forums.  In spite of controversy about fake reviews, I have also found it helpful when planning trips, especially for picking hotels.  I never had a bad experience with a hotel that had received mostly good reviews.  I found restaurant reviews to be much more subjective, and there were a number of times when a restaurant that received rave reviews on TripAdvisor was disappointing to me.

Anyway, after six years, I got away from posting on TripAdvisor.  My last review was in November of 2011, and my last forum post was in December of 2013 (about the same time that I started my blog).  A couple days ago I returned to being an active contributor again.

As I have mentioned, I will be playing tour guide in Mexico City this autumn when a couple of my friends travel down there.  In spite of spending so much time in Mexico City, there were a couple things about which I wasn't sure... and, after all, the tour guide should know everything!  It had been so long since I had logged in that I guess my password was no longer valid.  They had to send me a new one.  Even though I had not written anything for so long, "wmsf" was still there as a "Top Contributor".  Well, actually, they have changed the classifications since I was last on the site.  I am now ranked as a "Level 6" contributor, and they give badges for participation.  I have earned 30 badges, including "Top Contributor" for writing over 50 reviews, a "Helpful Contributor" badge for receiving over 200 "thumbs up" votes from members, and a "Readership" badge for having been read by over 20,000 members. 

So I logged in, and posted a couple of questions on the Mexico City Travel Forum.  I wanted to know how much the authorized taxi would cost for my friends to go from the airport to their hotel near the World Trade Center.  Within in a day, someone had given me an answer... 254 pesos.

I also had a question about the ruins of Teotihuacan, the enormous archaeological site north of the city.  From end to end, it stretches about 2.5 miles... quite a bit of walking to do, especially if we plan to climb both pyramids as well.  There are several entrances to the site.  I asked if one can park at one entrance, see what there is to see, go back to the car, drive to another entrance, and be able to reenter with the ticket stubs.  Within an hour, I had received a response.  Yes, you are allowed to drive from one parking lot to another, and reenter the site with your ticket. 

I also wrote some restaurant reviews.  I had never done a review of my favorite restaurant in Mexico City, Angelopolitano, so I wrote a glowing recommendation.  (I noticed that most of the other reviews were very favorable also.)  I then wrote a scathing review of the terrible place where we ate in Cholula.  There were also a couple restaurants which I had reviewed some years ago.  The first time I ate at El Cardenal, for some reason I was not that impressed, and I wrote a so-so review.  Now the place is one of my favorites, so I rectified my old review with a second more favorable one.   There was another restaurant that got a rave review from me seven years ago.  They serve "chiles en nogada" all year long, and I would go there on every trip.  But a few years ago it seemed that the quality had gone downhill, so I wrote a second review saying, "Sorry, they are not as good as they used to be." 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

New Money

I just read that a new 500 peso bill will enter circulation in Mexico today.

(image taken from the web)

One side has a portrait of national hero President Benito Juárez.  (He is already featured on the twenty peso bill.)  In honor of the nation's natural heritage, the reverse side shows a gray whale.  This new bill will replace the existing 500 peso note which honors painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  (I never thought that the likenesses of those two were very good.)

(image taken from the web)

The 500 peso bill is what I always dread receiving at the ATM.  Even though it is only worth a little more than $25 US, it seems that small businesses never have change for it.  Whenever I use the ATM in Mexico, I immediately go into the bank and ask to exchange the 500s for something smaller.

I read in the same article that in next two years new 200 and 1000 peso bills will be introduced.  The reverse of those notes will also feature ecological themes.  (By the way, I have never seen a 1000 peso bill, and many businesses will not even accept them.)

Finally, on another blog I read of plans for a new 50 peso bill.  The blogger did not mention whose portrait will be on the front (presently it has Morelos, a hero of the War for Independence).  However he showed the design for the reverse side which has a picture of an axolotl.

(image taken from the web)

An axolotl is a highly endangered amphibian related to the salamander.  It lives in the waterways of Xochimilco on the south side of Mexico City..  The blog did not mention when this new bill will enter circulation.