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Cheese Tourism in Mexico: a visit to Finca Vai

Cheese and dairy products in general are one of my favorite things to eat. So when I learned via Querétaro’s robust tourism board of a nearby farm that combined cheese-making with a barnyard animal petting zoo, it seemed like a no-brainer.  The fact that it was basically a simulated visit to the Midwest was just an added bonus. :)

Finca Vai is located about half an hour east of the city of Querétaro (just past the airport), or about 2 hours north of Mexico City. We were a little concerned as to whether it would be easy to find in the Queretaran countryside, but I should have had more faith:

The large Q-U-E-S-O lettering was a sure sign that we were on the right track!! (Dirty photo courtesy our windshield)

Welcome to the land of cheeeeeese, Gromit!

I love me some well-organized tourism, so I was pleased to see that tours were indeed run as regularly as promised: each hour between 11AM – 3PM on weekends, and by appointment during the week ($35 pesos/head). Their website even offers an agenda!  We started off learning about the cheese making process– this part was a little slow for us adults, but I think the kids in the group were entertained. The tour guide demonstrated the old-timey method, stirring a massive vat of murky-looking  “milk”. In a move that would make a semi-professional magician proud, the guide drew our attention to something on the opposite wall while her assistant popped out from behind a door and dumped a bunch of yellow sponges into the vat. Turn back around kids!! Cheese curds have already formed!!

Cheese-making barrel photo courtesy the Finca Vai website, as I was apparently too riveted to take out my camera during this portion of the tour.

After we learned about how wet yellow sponges instantaneously turned into plastic-wrapped cheese, we moved on to the cheese maturation zone!

Here's the cellar where cheese might have been stored to give it time to mature, in the days before better refrigeration options existed...

Finally it seemed that we had learned enough to be allowed to EAT THE CHEESE. They sat us down in a cute little roofed area with hay bales for chairs– a nice farm-y touch.

John prepares himself for a degustacion de quesos...

We got to sample 4 kinds of cheese on little branded Finca VAI plates:

I believe these were reblochon, ranchera, a panela with chipotle, and maybe a manchego?

I recall being a fan of the reblochon, as well as of the smoked provolone that they sold in the gift shop. After the tasting, we were off to discover the source of these cheeses: barnyard animals!!

First stop: the cattle! They were very willing to be petted.

Plenty of sheep were lurking around ready to offer their services.

The baby animals had their own little pens & were awaiting our arrival:

I was impressed that this girl was able to get a grip on the lamb.

John had no similar problems commandeering the same lamb.

This calf was in search of anything to suck on within a 10 foot radius.

I don't think this rabbit played an integral role in the cheese production process, but he was cute nonetheless.

And with that, our cheesery tour was over. We had the opportunity to spend more money in their store, so we snapped up some smoked provolone for the road:

All the cheese your little heart desires, available for purchase at the Finca VAI gift shop

Would I recommend the Finca VAI tour to others? If you have kiddos, I think this would be a great spot to bring the kids for an afternoon. The tour is very child-friendly, lots of opportunities to participate/answer questions/etc. (well, particularly if your child speaks Spanish).  And what kid doesn’t love petting farm animals!

For adults, the tour can be a little slow, but we were still entertained by the visit to the countryside + supporting a local business. That said, if you’re interested in sampling some cheese but aren’t a fan of sheep and cows, there’s a great alternative in nearby Tequisquiapan at the Museo del Queso y Vino. The word “museum” might be a slight overstatement, but it does deliver on Finca VAI cheeses!

The Museo del Queso y Vino offers lots of good photo opps with faux-cheese

As well as its own tasty treats!

Check out the Museo just off the square in downtown Tequisquiapan at Salvador Michaus 3 in the centro.

And as for Finca VAI, there’s a vague map on their website, but I’ve also tried to map its general location on Google + directions from Mexico City.  Enjoy your visit & México’s nascent cheese tourism industry thanks you for your patronage. 😉

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Visiting the Alebrije Hotspot of Oaxaca

One of my favorite parts of my trip my recent Oaxaca trip via Mexico Today turned out to be the visit we made to the small town of San Martín Tilcajete. When John & I visited Oaxaca back in 2009, we’d heard from friends about all the little villages specializing in various handicrafts that are located within an hour’s drive from the city. To be honest, I was skeptical.  You’ve seen one Mexican handicraft, you’ve seen them all, right?

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill handicraft!! I *loved* this turkey alebrije @ Jacobo and Maria Angeles' shop.

But this was before I had a true appreciation for Mexico’s many incredibly-specialized small towns. For instance, are you interested in seeing every piece of home decor that could possible be made out of onyx? Tecali de Herrera in the state of Puebla is your answer for all your onyx lamp needs! Hoping to buy as many trendy leather shoes for $200 pesos each as can fit in your suitcase? Head over to Leon in Guanajuato state, hub of all things leather (except for women’s shoes in size, ahem, 12 or 13).

So three years after being introduced to my first alebrije (including some extra-large ones scattered along Reforma in Mexico City), I was more optimistic about visiting the small town that’s bursting at the seams with alebrije action!

Oversized alebrijes seemed to escort us as we drove into the town of San Martin Tilcajete

For those wondering “what is that word she keeps using?”, alebrijes are colorful fantasy animals that are traditional folk art in both Oaxaca & Mexico City. There’s one history on the origination of alebrijes here— those in DF were papier mache, but those from Oaxaca are carved out of wood. Fellow blogger Alvin has more great detail on the unique tree that Oaxacans use for their alebrijes– the copal–and their sustainable farming practices.

A smattering of Oaxacan alebrijes

Many of my other blogger pals have highlighted the gorgeous finished alebrijes that we saw at the workshop of Jacobo and Maria Angeles. But I wanted to share my favorite part– the shelves of naked alebrijes, categorized by animal & awaiting their coats of paint to make themselves presentable to the world. :)

You can almost hear the howling of that dog with his back to the camera.

This bear was one of the more agile looking bears I've seen, and also one of the more pouty.

These guys were great-- frogs ready to party, some with guitars and other with jugs full of moonshine. (yes, I know; anthropomorphize much?) ;)

Here was one of the alebrije carvers hard at work, with a flurry of copal wood scattered around him.

The unique aspect about the alebrijes at this workshop was their amazing level of detail– like nothing I’d seen elsewhere in Mexico.

This gentleman carefully puts the finishing touches on this wacky dragon

Still a little dragon tail left to be painted, but look at that detail (not to mention, how did they carve the tail like that??).

And here's one of the amazing finished pieces.

How do I get to San Martin Tilcajete?

If you’re ambitious & are driving, Moon Travel Guides has a great, fairly detailed map of all the villages around the city of Oaxaca. You’ll take Highway 175 south from the city, and San Martin Tilcajete is about 23km out. It took us about an hour to get out there when you include some slow-moving traffic in the city + a festival of topes (killer speedbumps!) on the way out of town.

Look for this sign to mark the inauspicious entrance to the town of San Martin Tilcajete!

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a tour guide, I can only speak to the experience I had with the tour company with whom the Mexico Today folks made arrangements– Turismo El Convento de Oaxaca. Ulises Bonilla Martinez and his mother Maria Esther Martinez Ricardez both did a great job, and she in particular had the gift of story-telling that added a lot to the experience. The prices outlined on their brochure I received for various tours around Oaxaca state start from $180 pesos for half-day trips to Monte Alban or the nearby artisan villages, and $300 pesos for full-day outings. You can email info@oaxacaexperts.com for more details. If you want to do some shopping around, here’s a list of some other tour options to consider.

Finally, there is a great list here (in Spanish) of recent/upcoming events in Oaxaca, so be sure to monitor that for 2012’s Feria del Alebrije schedule as you plan your travel– you know how much I love a good niche festival!!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  I was also invited to an all-expenses paid trip to Oaxaca as part of my role and for the launch of the program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Upcoming Random Events in Mexico City & beyond!

As part of my continuing “Live Vicariously Through My Friends in Mexico” program, I wanted to alert y’all to some upcoming events in DF, Quintana Roo, and Hidalgo state that I thought may be worth checking out. Rest assured I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of kitschy activities despite my absence from Mexico, all in exchange for the small request of merely a few of your cheesy photos to make me feel like I was there. 😉


That’s right folks– the month of July once again brings us the annual Lucha Libre: La Experiencia!! The dates are July 23 & 24 at Centro Banamex. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what it would be like if a bunch of luchadors and lucha libre super fans got together and hung out for two days at a tradeshow that also has a professional wrestling ring set up?” Now is your chance to find out!! For fond memories of LuchaFest 2009, check out my prior post.

Recall this photo of me with a veritable "Who's Who" of up-and-coming lucha libre stars.

Their Facebook site may merit a visit, as there seem to be some hot prizes & giveaways happening in the final feverish moments leading up to the extravaganza.

El Matador is on the right, accompanied by famous "mini" luchador Mascarita Dorada. (photo courtesy El Matador)

Since you folks let me down on live reporting from the Feria Nacional de Burros (which, btw, was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle online!!), I have already nailed down a correspondent for this event. Friend and luchador El Matador, who has also recently relocated back to the DC area, will be flying down to Mexico City for the craziness. Keep an eye out for the gentleman on the right– if you are lucky, perhaps you can get one of his action figures, which currently is gracing my cubicle at work. I have not yet inquired as to whether El Matador will be doing any wrestling here in DC, but I feel like come election time next year, there will surely be some enterprising politician looking for a popularity boost by taking on one of the rudos…!

MEXICAN MICROBREWS: Yes, Virginia, there is a beer besides Corona in Mexico

If you ask the average person about Mexican beer, you’ll probably get an answer restricted to either the Grupo Modelo brands (Corona, Victoria, Pacifico, Negro Modelo, ) or those of FEMSA (Dos Equis, Sol, Indio, Bohemia, Tecate). But a revolution has been brewing, my friends!! (pun intended)

Mexican craft beer festival? Sold!

A number of craft breweries have emerged around Mexico, and they will have their wares on display September 1-3 at the World Trade Center in Mexico City during the Congreso Cerveza México 2011: Por La Cerveza Libre festival. You will be able to sample more than 100 beers for a mere $150 pesos/day (with advance registration)! This event is part of the Gourmet Show that happens at the same time/place– check out last year’s pics here to see if it merits a visit.

WHALE SHARK SEASON IS NOW!! Come swim next to a fish with a 6-foot-wide mouth!

Swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo state in Mexico is one of those wildlife-interaction experiences that I think you have to do at least once, just like a safari in Africa, seeing the giant tortoise in the Galapagos, and visiting prairie dogs in Nebraska. John and I made it down last June & stayed at the Holbox Dream hotel (thumbs up; great air conditioning, which quickly became my main criteria for a hotel on an island in the summer).

We were too cheap to pay for a guide that took photos of us underwater, but check out my friend Joy’s amazing photos or Kelly’s story & pics on their blogs. While the average whale shark is 25 feet long, they can be up to 40+ feet in length– they are the world’s largest living fish! Even the Washington Post is getting in on the whale shark action. They’re really an added bonus to what is already a lovely beach vacation.

The view from our hotel room on Isla Holbox, Mexico

México Desconocido has further tiburón ballena details, for those who read Spanish, and if you search for “whale shark” + “Isla Holbox” or “Isla Mujeres” (the other jumping-off point for tours), you’ll find reams of additional details. In fact, el Festival del Tiburón Ballena is happening July 15-17 on Isla Mujeres.


I will caveat this alert with the fact that I know nothing about this festival in honor of grilled meats except for the announcement on the México Desconocido calendar that is backed up by the announcement on the town of Actopan’s homepageTHIS weekend, folks, in scenic Actopan in the state of Hidalgo, a meat festival (probably lamb) is awaiting your arrival. The website indicates the primary attraction at this festival is the competition to win the title of Best Barbacoyero of the Year. The word barbacoyero is not one I’ve come across before, but I will translate it loosely as “one who makes barbacoa“. :)

This photo seems to confirm the event actually exists, though according to this blog we still seem to be awaiting further details…but last year’s agenda was quite thorough!  So don’t let the silly logistical details keep you away! Commit wholeheartedly & with low expectations- this is my travel motto & it never fails. If you show up in Actopan on Saturday with the goals of eating barbacoa & meeting a talented barbacoeryo, I can almost promise your expectations will be exceeded. 😉

The 2009 logo for the Feria de la Barbacoa was the best I could find, but I felt it lends a certain air of authenticity. Also, please note the ambitious "463rd anniversary". Just think what might be in store for the 465th year!!

In summary, have a fantastic time wearing a mask to wrestle a whale shark while drinking a Mexican craft beer and eating barbacoa. What a summer Mexico has to offer!!

The Burros are Back!!

Some things are so important to alert my readers to that I have to emerge from my 2-month blog hibernation to do so.  Any guesses what could possibly make that exclusive priority list? The Feria Nacional del Burro, of course!!

For any readers who had the misfortune of missing my live coverage from the National Donkey Fair 2010, rest assured that you can review both the emotional buildup to the event and the actual event here. Even though I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to attend Otumba’s premier annual tourist draw this year, I have been trying to monitor the innerwebs for further details to share with my many friends in Mexico City who will surely be dying to go. I was almost sidetracked from this quest by starting a new job (yipee!), but it appears I uncovered this year’s DonkeyFest just in time!!

You can review the full agenda for the 2011 Feria Nacional del Burro here. My instinct says that the day to go is this Sunday, May 1st, as that is the day of both the carnival & the burro races, as well as some burro polo. Sunday is the last day of the festival, and I have to say, all the other festival days seem heavy on bands/dance troupes and light on DONKEYS DRESSED LIKE AN AMERICAN TOURIST.  So choose your day wisely. Furthermore, do not dally or foolishly sleep in on Sunday– the good events (i.e. the burro polo) start at 10AM, and it will take you around an hour to get to Otumba from Mexico City.

The website http://otumbariam.wordpress.com/ appears to be the source of info for this year’s gathering (and they are also twittering up a storm). While it is not as witty as their now-defunct website from the 2010 event, I am going to give the Feria Nacional del Burro organizers the benefit of the doubt– surely they’ve chosen to invest their hilarity/sarcasm in donkey costumes rather than html coders. The below poster with a donkey in a frame also bodes well:

How could this event possibly disappoint you??

If you’re uncertain on how to get to Otumba, check out the ever-reliable Google Maps, or hire a taxi– Otumba is just a bit past the pyramids (a.k.a. Teotihuacan). I reckon you could negotiate a <$1000-peso rate for a taxi for the day. Once you arrive in town, just follow the braying & the clip-clopping of delicate hooves.

While I wither away this weekend in the donkey-less capital of Mexico’s northern neighbor, I am going to be relying on my faithful readers in DF to allow me to live vicariously through you. Please, report back on how the Feria has grown to be bigger & better than ever. Get your photo taken on a brahma bull. Purchase an inordinate amount of burro-themed crap. Adorn yourself in burro ears. I will be awaiting word. :)

Subtle Messages…

We fly out of Mexico City bright and early tomorrow. As sad as we are to leave, I do feel we’ve been getting small, subtle signals from Mexico that our time here is meant to come to an end.

1) We got rear-ended last Thursday, 3 days after having $6000 pesos of car work done to fix up the Maxima from all the ills and suffering of driving in Mexico. We were stopped trying to merge off one major road onto another, as was the car behind us, and someone flew up & slammed into that car which then hit us. The best part was, John didn’t even stop. We just kept on going; it just wasn’t worth talking about it. :)

John mockingly offers the Mexican "thanks" gesture in the area of our bumper where we now have an imprint of a stranger's license plate. Luckily that was the only very minor damage we had. :)

2) The closest I got to seeing the much-heralded Michael Phelps at the Festival Olímpico Bicentenario was in these photos for sale on the street.  (But I did read a great quote from another Mexican athlete that it would have been much cheaper for the Mexican government to have hired some strippers to take their shirts off & entertain the crowd instead of Phelps doing the same for roughly 2 hours @ a price of $100,000.)

This was unsatisfying.

3) I unintentionally viewed several middle-age men prancing around wearing what seemed to be baggy leather boy-shorts. To be clear, men who shouldn’t have been wearing leather boy-shorts.

This image is seared into my mind forever. What sport was this anyway?

4) While on our hotel’s 16th-floor lounge/roof deck, we discovered we could still hear an organ grinder on the street level of Zona Rosa. For those who haven’t heard this sound, remove all preconceptions of “precious, old-timey music makers” from your mind. These sound like dying cats.

Stop. Please. Just stop. Learn a real instrument. Or consider having that one tuned. But in the interim, just stop.

5) A bird with serious gastric distress unloaded on our car while it was parked on the street near our hotel. Really, I’m no vet, but this bird *probably* needs some sort of medical care. ASAP.

You know it's bad when you drive around Mexico City for a day & no one volunteers to wash your windshield at a traffic light.

6) I saw an advertisement for food in the subway that almost made me want to throw up a little bit in my mouth. Just because your product has a new image doesn’t make me want to eat your Sphinx-shaped potato substitute.

What is happening here, exactly?

7) And last but not least, I was nearly attacked by a massive owl. I think he felt threatened by me.

This was a narrow miss.

It brought back terrifying memories of that time John was almost eaten by a lizard. I believe this owl attack may have been brought on by me mocking his family earlier this week.

I dropped & broke my camera that could actually take decent night photos, so you will just have to live with this vague image of me using my sweater to simulate owl-wings in front of this horrific movie poster.

All these signs combined make me think it is probably time to go, for now at least.

I’ve been considering continuing with this blog for a few more months, at least while I get through the backload of hundreds of photos I’ve snapped, trips we’ve taken, tasty restaurants we’ve discovered, hot Mexico tips we’ve learned, etc. There are still a variety of posts I’ve been meaning to get around to (Yucatan/Quinanta Roo trip, Huatulco trip, Baja California Sur trip, how to become a luchador, my friends’ witty anecdotes of dating in Mexico, where the mother lode of guayaberas can be found in the Centro, Bicentenario photos, etc.).

So, if y’all still have any interest, I may try to keep doing the occasional post until I run out of Mexico experiences to discuss. :)  And I promise to largely avoid the topic of our impending dull, American lives back in Washington D.C. unless something happens that is super-hilarious or Mexico-relevant. What do you think?  (And don’t worry; I won’t be offended if you tell me, “Julie, you just posted a photo of bird-doo on your car windshield… maybe it’s time to close-up shop.”) 😉

Pork Consumption: China’s beating you, Mexico…

To further the undeserved reputation I have of being a crazy bacon/pork advocate, I thought it was time for another pig-related post. Two years of living in Mexico has opened my eyes to a whole new level of involvement between pigs & your daily food intake. The sheer number of chicharrones (fried piggie skins) on display at every corner + the frequency with which I see massive bubbling pots filled with assorted internal piggie organs & snouts & tails made me think that perhaps I was residing in the hub of pork consumption.

Then I went on this trip to China, and I realized that Mexico has some catching up to do.  To be fair, I guess the whole “China is 5x larger in area and has almost 12x as many people” thing helps give them an edge in sheer numbers. But regardless, China is totally kicking butt with about 50% of the world’s pork production (446 MILLION piggies in 2008 vs. a mere 15 million in Mexico acc. to porkmag.com) and over 50% of the world’s pork consumption. Someone in Shanghai told me that China eats as much pork in a day as Mexico does in a year, but I haven’t found any data on the internets to back up this audacious claim.

In paging through my China photos upon my return to Mexico, I realized I had subconsciously managed to capture a few pork examples (sheer luck, I assure you). Perhaps if Mexico adopts enough of these, we will be able to move even further up the pork consumption ladder??

Award for best use of pork: pork-n-broth-filled dumplings. These things were magical little pockets of flavour, with a tasty porky-meatball center swimming in pork broth.

Award for plate that most merits being licked clean: short ribs at South Beauty restaurant in Shanghai

Award for most mysterious pork source: these random meat skewers in 'street food alley' in Beijing. I'm 90% sure something in that case has to be pork. On top of the counter, note the bonus starfish and live scorpions. You can't see how vigorously they were writhing around in this photo, but let me assure you that they seemed displeased about having a wooden skewer shoved through their little scorpion bodies.

Award for weirdest pork shape: barbecued pork strips/sheets in Macau. I tried a sample of this from one street vendor-- a little sweet for me, but overall pretty tasty. One of things where you don't want to know too much about how they're made...

Award for wittiest pork product name: Porkablock, as seen at a bakery in the Oriental Plaza mall in Beijing. Porkablock sounds like something that would top the list of "Weight Watchers' Things Not to Eat": fluffy bread filled with pork & topped with some cheese just for good measure. I particularly like the "preview windows" built into the bread.

Award for best pork shout-out that's not made of pork: this blown sugar pig. Who could eat a pig with a smile like that? Sidenote: as per the two open bottles in this photo, apparently it requires a LOT of beer to make it through a long day of blowing sugar animals. Hmm.

(Note: China-related posting will continue until I feel I have sufficiently bored you all with the highlights of my recent trip. Sorry to all of you assuming that a blog entitled “Midwesterner in Mexico” would be only about Mexico…)  :)

What is the Best Festival EVER in Mexico? Ask the burros!!

Let me start by saying: Feria Nacional del Burro 2010 *exceeded* our expectations. Get ready for some heavy photo coverage, folks. :) As I mentioned on Thursday, I’d gotten wind of this Burro Festival on Twitter, and after seeing how witty their website was, I had no choice but to go. Besides, having a fond place in my heart for all farm-animals, I felt that the donkey should get its day in the sun.

And oh, how it did. We rolled into Otumba at 10:15AM this morning, after about an hour-and-15-minute drive from the middle of Mexico City. Lacking a detailed map of the Burro Festival, we were hopeful that it would become obvious where to go/park/walk, etc.  Otumba had most of the main street leading into the Zocalo blocked off & lined seductively with food/beer stands and assorted vendors, so we abandoned ship in the nearby parking lot (for $30 pesos) & began exploring!

I was able to find some burro ears in time to watch the race as one of the true, committed fans. :)

First observation: numerous people were wearing burro ears, a burro visor, or burro hat. I instantly committed to myself that I would join this elite echelon as soon as an ear vendor was spotted. We slowly perused the merchandise while arriving in the heart of the action just in time to see the start of the Parade of Decorated Burros. I was kind of expecting donkeys wearing a hat or a cape or something lame-o. Um, no: these costumes were not screwing around. Some of my favorites follow:

This construction worker burro was well-adorned with tools, though the beers & bottle of liquor were a nice touch.

Sign reads "We join the gay family-- Ricky Marty." (Unclear if they meant Ricky Martin or if Marty was intentional.) Please note the pink eyelashes.

Emiliano Zapata, complete with pistol attached to side of business trousers + shoes.

One of my favorites, the Tourist Burro. Note that his fur has been painted white, he is wearing sneakers, he has blond hair, a sun visor, a camera dangling from his neck, and a cell phone hanging off his shorts. Brilliant.

Miguel Hidalgo's burro replica. Best part of this, besides the white wig he's wearing & the Virgen poster reading "Viva Guadalupe"? The little kid walking alongside wearing a fake mustache.

Uh, a "Zebra and Peacock". Led by the donkey from Shrek. Don't ask questions, people.

This one was slightly horrifying, but innovative nonetheless. You can't see "Burricornio's" full horn, but just trust me that he is a Unicorn Burro. (or at least that is how I prefer to think of him, rather than a donkey who's been tarred and feathered. After all, I'm sure that glue is organic?)

Happily-wedded burros. I just liked the expression on the face of the right burro. But maybe that's just the effect of her wig & lipstick. Yes, that's right: lipstick.

Can I just say-- that is a bigggg man who was wearing those jeans before this burro was.

After the parade ended, we were a little unclear as to what was next on the agenda (since surprisingly, things didn’t appear to be adhering tightly to the schedule we’d printed off the website). So we did some shopping to kill time.

Yes! You can get a burro-shaped keychain with (assumably) burro fur on it AND your name engraved on the back so you don't lose it-- all for only $10 pesos!! (aka ~80 cents)

Visiting co-worker Tim purchased this sweet burro visor with Otumba emblazoned on each ear.

We also saw this man selling a "lesser" burro ear visor during the parade. (You can see the Pippi Longstocking burro in the background.)

For the more artistically inclined, burro wall decor was also available for sale.

Of course it wouldn't be Mexico if the guest of honor's likeness was not made into a piñata.

I'm not even really sure what this dangling head is promoting, but I just want to point out that John totally initiated this photo on his own-- no peer pressuring was involved on this one (for a change).

Finally, we heard an alert that it was time for the Burro Races!! This was confirmed when we observed the stringing of suuuuper strong yellow rope in front of the spectators who were lining the street around the zocalo. We noted with a mixture of amusement and concern how it was virtually impossible that a burro could penetrate this impressive barrier:

Burro Rope Barricade: another excellent "what could go wrong" example. Also note the two children wearing donkey tails.

We managed to squeeze ourselves in among the throngs of spectators in a spot along the straightaway. This seemed safer than near the 90-degree corners the burros would be required to maneuver 4 times to go around the entire zocalo.

Earlier, we captured this photo of the bleachers surrounding the start/finish of the burro race. As you can see, one must arrive early to get the premier seats for the festivities.

One of the race contestants storms down the straightaway, "riding crop" in hand.

This dude is *barely* hanging on to the rear of this burro. We didn't have a clear line of sight, but we're pretty sure he fell off while trying to make the 90-degree turn at full gallop.

After watching a few heats of the races, we wandered through the courtyard surrounding the large church just off the zocalo. The courtyard had some impressive topiaries.

Pigeon and Burrogirl. Still life, circa 2010.

This got us inspired to take our photo with real, live animals.

This un-manned donkey was a safe bet for a free photo to capture the theme of the day.

John had to pay for a photo with Mr. Brahma Bull, but it was well worth it. This guy was massive.

Emily also got in on the Brahma excitement.

After the burro-viewing & photo opps, we debated whether to participate in any of the carnival rides.

This one was simply too depressing. Poor horsies get their noses put to the grindstone while their burro brethren are off being lauded & cooed over.

Although this "Giant Claw of Death" ride looked exciting....

.... I saw one too many ride structures jacked up on pieces of wood (many less stable-looking than this) to manage to convince myself to jump on.

Finally, it was time for some lunch. Luckily, there was no shortage of establishments to choose from that were busily pumping out amazing grilled meat smells.

We plopped down at some street stall, and ended up with this amazing array of chicken, rabbit, goat, guac, onions, salsas and beers on our table. Everything was fantastic.

While we were eating, we flagged down this passing vendor selling these "I love Otumba" t-shirts. John translated the t-shirt as "I love ass", but the rest of us disagreed. Our group of 4 people purchased 6 shirts in total. :)

Recall my previous "rabbits: from playmate to plate" comment? Well, here are a few examples a bit closer to the "plate" side of the equation.

There was no shortage of pulque drinking opportunities at the Festival...

Including this pulque offering from the back of an SUV!

At this point, we felt like we’d seen the bulk of what we’d come to see. We also felt we’d injected as much of a financial boost to Otumba as possible, each of us having purchased no fewer than probably 6 items between food/beverages/souvenirs. It was time to leave our friends, the burros of Otumba, and return to Mexico City.

On the way out, we made a quick pitstop to snag a Pigcajete that we’d seen on the drive in but clearly couldn’t stop for at that point (and risk missing the fashion show?? I think not!). Pigcajetes, for those of you not in the know, are molcajetes shaped like pigs.

These stacks of Pigcajetes on the side of the road were a principle buy if I ever saw one.

Upon our arrival home, we realized we’d purchased a slightly awkward number of burro-themed items.

Our proud purchases: burro keychains, burro ears, Pigcajete, I love Otumba/ass t-shirt, BurroFest shot glass, and two hats that fold up flat.

In summary, the Feria Nacional del Burro was a wild success. Possibly one of the most entertaining celebrations I’ve been to in our two years in Mexico. John even agreed that it ranked highly, and that’s saying something. Definitely mark your calendars for next year’s Mexican Labor Day (May 1st), which should keep you apprised of the 2011 festival. In fact that day was chosen specifically to recognize the burros who do all the hard work for the rest of us! And I’d like to give a special shout-out to the town of Otumba in Estado de Mexico for putting together quite the array of burro-oriented activities, carnival rides, unique shopping, food & drink. Way to go Otumba, and way to go burros. :)

No Weekend Plans? How about the BURRO FESTIVAL??!?

Trying to keep up with the young hipsters of today, I created a Twitter account several months back & vaguely monitor my fellow “Twitteros” (as they are called here in Mexico). While parsing through Twitter’s mountain of 140-character data bursts is truly a “diamond in the rough” kind of situation, every now and then I come across a piece of information that makes it all worthwhile. This happened to me yesterday courtesy http://twitter.com/mexdesconocido.

While one might not instinctively click on a tweet reading “Feria Nacional del Burro 2010, en Otumba, Estado de México. http://bit.ly/dCv4U8“, two things about it appealed to me:

  1. Estado de Mexico (the state that surrounds much of DF) is within driving distance, so I could actually drive to a festival there, in the thriving metropolis of Otumba.
  2. The Festival is celebrating BURROS (a.k.a. donkeys), and it’s a NATIONAL event, meaning these burros must really be important.

Mexico Desconicido (translation: Unknown Mexico) is a magazine + website in Spanish that offers a general guide to Mexico travel & tourism, and as the name would imply, does a good job covering things slightly off the beaten track. (FYI, the print magazine is much easier to read & has better visuals than the text-heavy articles on the website.) Even if your Spanish isn’t great, it has pretty useful data & lots of pics in the mag version.

What about this image doesn't promise that you are going to have some fun times??

Its online article regarding the Burro Fair was pretty good, but it left me wanting more. Especially after I saw this fantastic logo (right). So, I was off! To the innerwebs!

The innerwebs led me here: http://feriadelburro-2010.ololiuqui.net, and this brings me to the reasons I am blogging about this today. One reason is to make you aware of this fascinating burro event that we are SOOOO going to on Saturday. But the OTHER reason is to show you possibly the most sarcasm-filled website that appears to be (possibly) sanctioned by Mexican government I’ve seen in Mexico. (I haven’t encountered nearly as many ironic/sarcastic publications as I would like here in DF.)

First, let me highlight the bests parts of Saturday’s agenda (as I understand it):

  • 9AM: Presentation of the Queen of the 45th Burro Festival
  • 10AM: Burro Polo.  Location? the burrodromo. ha! of course!
  • 11AM: Grand Carnival of Decorated Burros
  • 12PM: Exciting Burro Races: Formula 1 and Formula 2.
  • and more!!

That was enough to get me excited. But the good stuff really comes in the “Convocatoria” section (announcement or call) where they outline the rules, prizes, etc. (If you want to see some of them translated into English, use Google Translate & check the “Historia” page here.) If I may list a few:

  • Ningun burro participante podrá hacer campagña politica a favor de sus candidatos a Presidentes de la Republica ni Gobernadores.
    • No burro participant will be able to do political campaigning in favor of its Presidential or Governor candidates.
  • Ningún burro con problemas de alcoholismo y drogadicción podrán participar, porque existirá el alcoholímetro.
    • No burro with problems of alcoholism or drug addiction will be able to participate, this is why there will be a Breathalyzer.
  • Se prohibe competir a burros con motores arreglados con propulsión a chorro y pezuñas anchas.
    • It is prohibited for burros to compete with souped-up motors with jet engines and wide hooves.
  • Ningún burro deberá ser analfabeta.
    • No burro should be illiterate.
  • Para evitar contagio de influenza deberá todo burro porta cubre-hocico
    • In order to avoid contagion of influenza, all burros should wear a muzzle-cover. [ala the face masks of swine flu days gone by…]
  • Los burros que atenten contra los derechos humanos no podrán entrar a Burrolandia
    • Burros that threaten against human rights will not be able to enter Burrolandia.

Previous years’ rules included:

  • Aquel burro que desee competir con patines de hielo, no podrá hacerlo en esta carrera, pero podrá competir en nuestros juegos de invierno en burrolake el próximo mes de diciembre (inscripciones abiertas).
    • Any burro that desires to compete with ice skates won’t be able to do it in this race, but will be able to compete in our winter games in Burrolake next December (open enrollment).
  • Los burros que den asilo al ex Sha de Irán, no podrán participar en estos eventos especiales.
    • Burros that give asylum to the ex-Shah of Iran will not be able to participate in these special events.
  • Los burros Ayatolenses serán aceptados en igual número de rehenes que sean liberados.
    • Ayatolan burros will be accepted in equal number as # of hostages released.
  • Los burros braceros de otros países no se admitirán ni en el desfile, ni en la carrera.
    • Burro laborers from other countries will not be admitted to either the parade or the race.

In section outlining rules for participation, the slogan appears to be: “Tienes burro, que esperas?” (which I believe could translate as either “You have a burro, what are you waiting for?”, or “Do you have a burro, then what are you waiting for?”)  :)  The prizes for the Burro Polo and Decorated Burros competitions are actually quite respectable– $5,000 pesos for 1st place in the race and $8,000 pesos for the best-dressed!!

Anyway, this is all so droll that I can hardly believe it is a real event (in which case both the town of Otumba and Mexico Desconocido will receive a sternly worded letter from me on Sunday). I am going to keep my hopes up for the moment.  And local readers, please advise if I should keep an eye out for you Saturday morning at the one, the only, the 2010 NATIONAL BURRO FESTIVAL!!! Yeah!!!!

The true dangers of Mexico City

I’m sure you’ve all heard the rumors– “it’s too scary to go to Mexico City; there are dangers lurking around every corner; blah, blah, blah.” Well, I suppose it’s time we confess the truth. We had a narrow escape this past weekend here in Mexico City.

John totally almost got eaten by an oversized chameleon.

This chameleon was clearly out for blood.

Luckily John managed to use his cat-like reflexes to escape.  Whew.

Mexican Weather Barometer

As seen in the courtyard of the Museo del Queso y Vino (Museum of Cheese and Wine) in Tequisquiapan:

A "Barometer of Bad Weather", whose key functional unit is the cow tail.

I have got to find myself one of these. In case it’s not very clear from the pic, the “measurement” part of this barometer is the cow’s tail, which is a piece of rope. The translation:

  • If the cow has a dry tail: good weather
  • If she has a wet tail: rain
  • If she has a frozen tail: snow
  • If you can’t see her: fog
  • If the tail is moving: wind
  • If it falls down: earthquake

This reminds me of home, because this is exactly the kind of thing a Nebraskan farmer’s wife would display outside her house. LOVE IT.

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