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Musical Guilty Pleasure: El Colesterol

I would like to share another musical guilty pleasure with you, which I just discovered today in Atlanta. My job brings me to Atlanta on occasion to visit clients, and there’s definitely a larger Mexican population there than the DC area. One benefit of this is the food– while I’ve not yet had any autentico tacos, I have seen documented evidence of tacos al pastor!! This is very exciting to me.

Equally exciting is the music– I try to take advantage by tuning in to a Mexican-style radio station while I’m zipping around in my tiny rental car. While the prevalence of norteña does sometimes push my ear drums to their limits, I usually hear enough good songs to make it worthwhile. Which brings to me to this afternoon, when I came across a gem that I’d never heard before.  Usually I can barely make out the lyrics to songs in English (we’re talking “hold me closer Tony Danza“-style, folks), much less songs in Spanish.  But today I was struck by a catchy tune that kept mentioning chaparritas (the term witty strangers constantly used to refer to me in Mexico) and chicharrones… and the refrain seemed to be “Me sube el colesterol” (my cholesterol is rising). Huh? I was intrigued.

I jotted down the lyrics at a stop light, and checked things out tonight on the Google.  The song is indeed entitled “El Colesterol” by Fito Olivares, who hails from Tamaulipas. I wouldn’t exactly call this an award-winning song, but there are two reasons to listen/watch:

  1. the lyrics are at least semi-amusing
  2. the video combines wearing horrible suits while dancing (and by “dancing” I mean “swaying back & forth like you’re in junior high”) with what feels like a poorly-made documentary of one man’s visit to a low-end hospital

Anyway, I know this is song is from 8,000 years ago but for those like me who are a little behind the Mexican music times, I present “the official video” of El Colesterol:

If you find lyrics tricky like I do, check them out here or watch the subtitles in Spanish on this YouTube video. For you non-Spanish speakers, the song’s basically about how this guy’s doctor tells him he’s fat, his cholesterol’s too high, and he needs to cut out sweets/sugar/flour/fat. AND THEN he gets home & his honey calls out from the kitchen, “Do you want some fried pig skin, a piece of ham, or some fried chicken, love?” So he explains how his cholesterol’s rising & his doctor has ordered him to put on his belt….no pig skin for him!

Even if you don’t find the song entertaining, it should win some sort of award for Awkward Music Video.  Some portions feel like Grey’s Anatomy… if they filmed Grey’s Anatomy in a tired office building with doctors who, instead of constantly having affairs with each other, moonlight as cumbia band members. Replace secret trysts in the break room with secret saxophone practice sessions. Someone needs to write this pilot & send it to NBC….or Univision… We’re sitting on a goldmine!

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Are you a Mexico fan? Tell us about it & win $500!

Have you ever been sitting at your computer, paging through this blog, and thought to yourself, “You know, Julie is not the only one with stories to tell about Mexico…. I too have lots of witty/touching/inspiring/riveting things to share about this country! When will I be given the chance to share my stories about Mexico??”

My friends, this time is now!  The Mexico Today program that I’m a part of recently launched the Mexico Today Social Magazine on Facebook.  This is a pretty slick online publication that will profile stories & submissions from a variety of Mexico bloggers & influences, including me + my 23 Mexico Today Ambassador pals. The content will be community-driven from folks who are fans of Mexico, and the goal is for the Social Mag to have fresh, dynamic content for readers interested in Mexico’s culture, economy, environment, food, etc.  Right now we’re in “gather content” mode, and then in November, you’ll be able to see the second phase with the contributions all prettied-up into an online magazine.

So how does this impact you? We want your Mexico stories!  Tell us about that time you had the best cup of esquites from that street food stand in Puerto Vallarta. Tell us about your amazing destination wedding that you pulled off for 100 of your dearest family & friends on the white sand beaches of Tulum.  Tell us about your trip through Copper Canyon on the only passenger train left in Mexico & meeting the Tarahumara Indians profiled in that book,”Born to Run.”  Tell us about that time you had one too many shots of lighter-fluid-grade tequila at Señor Frogs…er, wait. On second thought, that is one Mexico story that we might pass on. ;)   But ALL THE REST of those stories– those we want.

And the best part? You might win $500 for sharing your Mexi-insights online! Each month, they’ll be drawing 10 winners, which makes me feel like you actually have a chance at some $$$.  (And those are dollars, not pesos people!)

If you had an experience like this in Mexico, don't you think it's only fair to share it with someone else?? :)

Here’s all you need to do:

  • Go to the Mexico Today facebook page at www.facebook.com/MexicoToday, and click on the link on the left that says Social Magazine.  Or get to the mag directly at this link.
  • Click on the green box that says “Submit your story or link for the launch!”
    • Don’t get freaked out by the ol’ Facebook “this app needs to access your info/settings” warning– we promise not to e-stalk you.
  • If you have a blog, great- you can just submit the link to what you’ve written.
  • No blog? No worries! Just scroll a bit farther down the submission form under the “Write Your Story” heading. Here, you can type in any anecdotes you’d like to share!
    • If you are a friend of mine, this will probably be either a) how visiting Julie & John is Mexico City was totally the best trip you’ve ever taken in your life, or b) how you have this friend who is constantly talking/writing about how great Mexico is so you’ve decided to plan a trip there just to get her to shut up.
    • If you aren’t a friend of mine, you should have more latitude in your topic selections. ;)
  • That’s it– thanks for sharing your Mexi-story with the world. Now just sit back, relax, and keep your fingers crossed that $500 gift card will soon be winging its way towards you!

If you’re curious to see what others have been submitting for the Mexico Today Social Magazine, check out this great summary from fellow ambassador Laura.  Also, you can review the legalese on the Facebook page, but you have to be a legal US/Canadian (but not Quebec) resident in order to win, and not living in my house….sorry, John.

Looking forward to see what gems y’all have to share, so keep me posted if this inspires you to send anything in!  If you win, I will be happy to serve as a consultant on what Mexican-themed food & goods to spend that money on– free of charge, in exchange for just one tamale. :)

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.

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A race to the finish: our final days in Mexico City!

One year ago last weekend, John & I were on our way to the Mexico City airport for the flight that would end our 2+ year experience as chilangos. All our worldly possessions were packed, all our kitschy souvenirs had been purchased, all the tacos al pastor that one person should ingest in a one-month period had been ingested, and most of the tears had already been shed. (Luckily our flight was so early that our driver wasn’t able to see me crying in the dark during our pre-dawn trip to the airport.)

Having lived in several cities now, I’ve experienced a lot of these permanent departures which usually involve a period of “holy crap, we have to do all our favorite things one last time before we leave!!!” combined with “I can’t believe we haven’t been to place x; we have to go before leave!!!” I thought it might be amusing to reflect on what made the Final Hurrah list for us in Mexico City.

  1. Eating. At a lot of places. Repeatedly.

This should come as a surprise to no one, as obviously I wasn’t able to maintain my corn-fed, Midwestern figure by NOT gorging myself on the amazing food in Mexico City. But which were the top priorities??

Tacos Don Guero: corner of Rio Lerma & Rio Guadalquivir in Colonia Cuauhtemóc

John was such a regular here that it merited a photo on his last day of work. Great source of al pastor & bistec (beef), or ask for “a la gringa” to get it on a larger flour tortilla with tasty Oaxacan cheese.

John informed me that the "good" taquero is working in the background.... along with a whole lotta pastor!

Dulce Patria: Anatole France 100 in Polanco, in the Las Alcobas hotel

If we were still in DF, this place would have definitely become our go-to when visitors are in town for fancy, “modern” Mexican food. Much has already been written about Dulce Patria + Chef Martha Ortiz but let me second—the food is amazing, presentation is gorgeous, service is impeccable, and while prices are not cheap, I think they are very fair for the neighborhood + the quality of the food. Don’t skip the trendy drinks either.

I had a fantastic salmon dish...

...as well as a savory huazontle tart

P.S. -Learn more about huazontle from Lesley here!

Restaurante Lampuga: Ometusco 1 at the corner of Nuevo Leon in Condesa

Friends Scott & Aryani tipped us off to this great seafood spot . While many may argue for Contramar as the seafood go-to in Condesa (which I agree is amazing), Lampuga is open in the evening & has a nice bistro atmosphere with great food + reasonably priced wine. Great option for a seafood-centric dinner where you want to sample a variety of dishes among friends.

The Coyoacán Trifecta: start at Tostadas Coyoacán in Mercado de Coyoacán on Ignacio Allende, between Malintzin and Xicoténcatl

It would be hard to count how many times we did this circuit with friends/family on a Saturday afternoon.  First, find the brightly-colored yellow Tostadas Coyoacán stand inside Mercado de Coyoacán. Order an assortment of AMAZING tostadas—be sure not to miss the jaiba (crab), camarón (shrimp), and ceviche, and don’t be shy about trying the salsas on the counter. Get an agua de sandia (watermelon), jamaica (hibiscus flower) or maracuyá (passion fruit) to drink.

I could eat the tostada de camarón all day, especially with a glass of agua de maracuya

Next, leave the mercado & get to the intersection of Ignacio Allende and Malintzin. Walk south down Allende (in the opposite direction of vehicle traffic) until you see Café el Jarocho, where you’ll order a café de olla—basically dessert coffee with cinnamon & piloncillo (brown sugar). Continue a few more steps & pop into the Churreria on the same side of the street. Order either a bag of churros or an individual churro filled with dulce de leche. Dip these in your café de olla.

Everyone loves a churro

Then, go sit on the edge of the coyote fountain & reflect on how much food you just ingested.

My dad Larry and I, preparing for a rest post-churro.

Astrid y Gaston: Alfredo Tennyson 117 @ Masaryk in Polanco

I don’t think I’d tried many Peruvian ceviches before living in DF, where there are several high-end Peruvian restaurants: Astrid y Gaston, La Mar, and Restaurante Mankora. FYI—they are amazing. I’d always lumped most Pervuian food in the “variations on a theme of meat and potatoes” (which you’d think coming from the Midwest, I would have been more excited about). But Astrid y Gaston does an amazing job sexing up the traditional dishes as well as whipping out several flavorful, spicy ceviches. The service can be annoyingly hit-or-miss, but the food was solid. Don’t forget the popular Peruvian cocktail—the pisco sour. Thanks to my many Peruvian MBA classmates for introducing me to this fan-favorite. Though note to self: they go down easy but cost probably ~$150 pesos each at this joint, so budget accordingly!

I liked the "sampler" appetizer that let you test out several traditional Peruvian dishes.... I believe this was the "piqueo limeño para dos."

2. Finally taking a photo of someone sleeping in their car

This is one of those things where once you notice it happening, you suddenly see it EVERYWHERE. It made sense, as what else were the many drivers in DF to do while waiting on their passengers to emerge from their appointments/lunches/etc.?  But the sheer number of car sleepers we saw made it oddly fascinating to me. Finally I got the nerve to snap a pic, albeit from a healthy distance.

De riguer for the streets of Mexico City

3.       Stock up on guayaberas & lucha libre items

Check out our guayabera source here, and a smattering of possible lucha libre souvenirs here. The week before we left, I purchased yet another lucha libre purse, as well the lucha heads that are now gracing our bathroom….

4.       A few carefully selected museums

While I am generally not a huge museum fan (see #1 for where I am probably spending my time instead), Mexico City does have some amazing options. I made a special effort to get to-

Museo Dolores Olmedo: Avenida México 5843, La Noria, Xochimilco– you can drive or take the Xochimilco light rail (el Tren Ligero) to the Estación La Noria, after first taking the blue metro line #2 to Tasqueña. The metro & the light rail each cost 3 pesos.

Not only does this museum have a great collection of pieces from Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and beyond, but the property/gardens are gorgeous. Check out these two amusingly-divergent obituaries of Dolores Olmedo herself, one from her museum website & one from the Times.

A view of the gardens + main building at the Museo Dolores Olmedo

Some may be drawn to the screeching peacocks that roam the grounds, but the highlight for me was the collection of xoloitzcuintlis (or “Xolos” among their friends). These hairless dogs are rather fascinating, and the best part is that they all hang out sunning themselves next to a statue of a xoloitzcuintli. This results in hours of entertainment while you try to distinguish actual hairless dogs from statues of hairless dogs.

Dog vs. dog statues: you be the judge.

Casa Luis Barragan: General Francisco Ramírez 12-14, Colonia Ampliación Daniel Garza. Easy taxi ride from Polanco/Condesa/downtown, or take the subway to the Constituyentes stop. Tours cost $150 pesos.

This architect’s home is totally off the radar for most DF visitors, but I highly recommend a visit, particularly if you’re an engineer-y/architect-y type. There’s a little more prep involved, as you have to call (+52) 55.5515.4908 or email casaluisbarragan@gmail.com to make an appointment for a tour (available in both English & Spanish). When friend Brandi & I went, we had a great tour guide who offered lots of color commentary—but I may have been biased because he was so excited to have me on the tour. Apparently I am the same height that Luis Barragan was (6’2), so the guide regularly paused for my input of what various perspectives were like since I would be experiencing it the way Barragan did. :)

So why is this place cool?  Barragan won the Pritzker prize in 1980 (which is *the* award to win for architects, so he must be good, and he also designed the Torri Satélite that you may have seen driving north out of DF). There are several tall-guy tricks, like floating walls that were high enough for only him to peer over to spy on people & furniture designed to accommodate his tall frame.. There’s a staircase consisting of wooden planks sticking out from the wall, and fascinating mixtures of paint/shadows that offer really different perspectives depending on where you’re standing. The bedroom where his female guests slept was the only room in the house to have no religious iconography in it, which I found amusing. This description is obviously not doing it justice, but just trust me that it’s worth a trip. :)

Unfortunately I was not able to take any interior photos, as I was told there exists some tricky arrangement where his heirs sold the rights to a foundation in Europe & they own all images of his work… However, I did find a couple blogs with a few pics. All I can share with you is the rather uninspiring street view to assure you that this nearly-unmarked door is indeed the entrance to Casa Luis Barragan.

If you're looking for the Luis Barragan house, you've come to the right barely-marked place. :)

Basilica de Guadalupe: Plaza de las América #1, Colonia Villa de Guadalupe. Take either metro line #3 up to Deportivo 18 de Marzo (if you’re going from the Centro Historico) or line #7 up to El Rosario (if you’re going from Polanco), and transfer to line #6 in the direction of Martín Carrera.  Get off at the La Villa Basilica station, and walk north 2 blocks.

While this is more than a museum, I’m bucketing it here due to its historical value. This is a must-do for anyone intrigued by the history of the Catholic faith in Mexico. You can visit both the old & new churches, see the cloak that Juan Diego brought back after the Virgen appeared to him (while you’re on a moving sidewalk), light a candle, be sprinkled with holy water, get your photo taken while riding a fake horse, etc. etc.  This merits a full blog post to really describe the experience, but I’ll whet your appetite with a few highlights.

Moving sidewalks to control the crowds viewing Juan Diego's cloak w/the image of la Virgen

The unique roofline of the new basilica (since the old one on the left is sinking, like many other historic buildings in DF)

Doesn't this just scream "Christmas card photo"??

5.       One more visit to Mercado Jamaica

My “top market in Mexico City” rating for Mercado Jamaica was recently seconded by an unbiased third party. :)   Besides flowers, they always have a great assortment of accoutrements for whatever holiday is coming up on the horizon; I made one last trip to pick up some papel picados around Mexican Independence Day for my future decorating needs.  And don’t forget to visit for all your flower animal purchases!

This flower frog is not only precious, but he also had a button you could press to make him ribbit. Hilarious, people!

6.       See the Ballet Folklorico: performing at the Palacio de Bellas Artes; tickets can be purchased on Ticketmaster

I had unwisely assumed the word “ballet” in the title equated to “boring,” but after enough friends tried to convince me otherwise, I finally brought my dad to this when he visited a couple months before we left. It was awesome. Great music, amazing dancing, a guy dancing like a deer while wearing a deer head, what’s not to love? Put the Ballet Folklorico on your list, people!

7.       Get your picture taken with the Ángel: intersection of Reforma + Eje 2 (a.k.a. Rio Tiber or Florencia)

When a city has one icon widely associated with it, I feel moving away without a photo of you + that thing is ill-advised. In Mexico City, this icon is the Ángel de la Independencia, located on the main east-west drag through town. I recommend doing this on Sundays when Reforma is blocked off to vehicle traffic. This will significantly reduce your odds of getting run over while posing with the Ángel.

This is about as iconic as we're going to get folks, outside of me draped over a green VW bug.

8.       Attend a bullfight: Plaza México in Ciudad de los Deportes, tickets available on Ticketmaster once the season kicks off in November 2011. Take metro line #7 to San Antonio station, or take the Metrobús to the Ciudad de los Deportes station.

Attending a bullfight wasn’t on my “favorite things to repeat” list, but I did feel like I had to experience it + Plaza México once before leaving Mexico. The spectacle is fascinating, albeit a bit depressing. The phrase “not very sporting” kept running through my mind as we watched the bull be weakened by successive rounds of picadors + banderilleros before the matador even came onto the scene…  But it was interesting, many tasty snacks were served, and I’m glad I went. FYI for the sensitive among us if you decide to brave it—there are 5 or 6 rounds (each with its own bull), so go towards the end to ensure you’re watching the good matadors who make the process as quick & painless as possible.

Early on in one of the bull fights at Plaza México

Now I know this isn’t a comprehensive Mexico City to-do list …. You may be asking, “But where is the Anthropology Museum? Xochimilco? A street food tour? Attending a lucha match??  The Centro Historico??”  Do not fear– this is just a combination of our favorites + places we didn’t prioritize when moving there but later realized we had to do pre-departure.  :) Former and/or current Mexico City residents—what else have I missed?? Anything unusual spots or activities that were/are on your DF bucket list (or lista de cubeta, rather) before you leave this amazing city??

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.

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Baja California Sur Roadtrip: Part 1-Todos Santos

When we assessed our options for a longer vacation in Mexico over Semana Santa last year, we asked ourselves the question that most tourists as themselves: what would Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio, & Cindy Crawford do for their vacations?   Well, as it turns out, what they would do is prance around in their swimsuits at an expensive resort in Cabo.  We decided to slightly modify that option by expanding it to all of Baja California Sur, spending less money, and minimizing the amount of time I would spend being photographed by paparazzi while scantily-clad (a constant battle, I assure you).  :)

I’d heard lots of rave reviews of Baja California Sur (even from non-celebrities!), so we plotted a Wednesday-through-Tuesday road trip to take in all the highlights over the long Easter weekend last year.  The plan was fly into La Paz, rent a car & head straight to Todos Santos (one of Mexico’s heralded Pueblos Mágicos).  We’d spend a night there, then two nights in Cabo San Lucas, then make a leisurely drive back to La Paz for three nights with a stop for lunch in San Jose del Cabo.

We had a bit of a rough start when we got bumped off our Wednesday afternoon flight from DF to La Paz for reasons yet-unknown.  But we didn’t want to admit defeat & return to our apartments, so we took Aeroméxico up on their offer to put us up in an airport hotel for the night.

Here we are, awaiting the arrival of the free shuttle to the Hotel Riazor in Mexico City... I think most of us look cheerier than how we were actually feeling at this stage.

As a side note here, for anyone in need of a hotel close to the Mexico City airport, the Hotel Riazor was actually decent/clean/convenient. For anyone in need of being in Baja California Sur, it was none of those things. :)

We made it out the next morning & arrived safely in La Paz, with great coastal views as we passed from the mainland to the peninsula.

A view of La Paz from the air

I will save the details of renting a car in Mexico for another day & time (note to self: investigate insurance options well in advance because the “but my US credit card covers rental cars!” argument doesn’t carry much water here), but we soon got on the road!  It’s about 55 miles from La Paz to Todos Santos.

Luckily driving around Baja California offers much clearer signage than Mexico City!

I wish I could offer a review of lodging in Todos Santos, but alas, our one night was foiled by our flight delay. However, I can tell you that I research hotels obsessively and had settled on Casa Bentley as the boutique hotel worthy of our love, so please check it out & report back!  The interesting thing about Todos Santos is that it doesn’t sit directly on the beach– but it’s only about a 5-minute drive or ~25 minute walk to get down to the beaches. Casa Bentley has a great map here to give you a better idea.

Clean & cute town square within Todos Santos

We spent some time wandering around the shops of tiny Todos Santos– definitely a cute little town, with kind of a up-and-coming San Miguel de Allende feel. (For those who’ve not visited San Miguel, this means lots of gringo-friendly stores & restaurants owned by a mix of Americans & Mexicans, lots of American artists peddling their wares, it’s easy to get by in English, and there’s a tendency towards gringo prices.)   It was a prime example of what John & I had realized several times during travel to more popular tourist destinations in Mexico– if we hadn’t been living in Mexico City for a year+, we would have considered the prices quite reasonable. But after living in “normal” Mexico, you become irrationally outraged at higher prices in tourist spots. :)

This is what I mean by "gringo-friendly".... Let's just say it's unlikely to see this sort of signage in DF. :)

After eliminating a couple of the pricier restaurants I’d sussed out online, we decided to have lunch at the Hotel California at its La Coronela Restaurant & Bar.  (I think this menu is a couple years old, but it gives you an idea of the food.)  It was tasty & had fun decor + a nice palapa area to sit under outside in their courtyard.

I do love me some bull-themed decor...

...supplemented with fresh cala lilies!

Note requisite fountain + palapa in the distance! We arrived too late to snag an outdoor table-- popular spot.

After a final round of verifying that we didn’t need to make any large purchases, we took a few photos next to some noteworthy cacti and headed back to the car.

Here's the rest of the crew posing on the sidewalks of Todos Santos

My ~2 hours in Todos Santos did not allow me to suss out all that it had to offer, so I encourage you to review some other  assessments here, here, and here.  After our brief stop, we headed back out to our next destination– the famed Cabo San Lucas!  More to come on the sweet VRBO house we stayed in blocks from the beach in Cabo, followed by the best swimming I’ve ever had outside of La Paz!!

While you await my next post, keep yourself entertained wondering about this photo I snapped on the road from Todos Santos to Cabo:

"Hieleria" translates to "store that makes/sells ice". Note the sign in the middle-- No hay hielo!! There is no ice! Looks like there hasn't been ice at this spot for a while, folks...but the signage confirming that is appreciated.

And let this last photo lead you down the highway to Cabo San Lucas.... Will we see a celebrity??!? Watch and find out!

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.

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16 Tips for a great Mexican Independence Day

Have you ever wondered whether Mexico gets as excitable for its Independence Day as the United States does for the Fourth of July?  Are you curious what traditions Mexico has that parallel the American traditions of eating your body weight in grilled meat, dressing up in a t-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle wrapped in a US flag holding a shotgun in its claw, and trying not to lose any digits while lighting off firecrackers?  Have you been too afraid to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day because you just weren’t sure what to wear?? My friends, I am here to help. :)

First, don’t be fooled by Mexican Independence Day’s better known brother, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th, but most of the festivities take place the night before on September 15th. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Mexico for THREE Independence Days in a row– one in Acapulco and two in Mexico City. This string culminated in 2010’s Bicentenario frenzy, a.k.a. the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. By this time, we’d settled in & become as well-versed in the ways of the Grito as we could hope for. So today, I pass along to you some of the tips we’ve gathered for ensuring you have a great Mexican Independence Day experience!

1. Nourish yourself with patriotic foods.

The above "chile en nogada" taco is basically the lazy man's version of this classic Mexican dish.

One of the most recognizable foods that emerges towards the end of summer is the chile en nogada. This consists of a chile poblano stuffed with a combo of meat/veg/fruit, covered in a walnut sauce & sprinkled with pomegranate seeds + cilantro. Note the colors of the Mexican flag! I sampled the above delight at the (apparently one-time) Tacos & Mariachi Festival last year, but I highly recommend you check out Cristina’s post of how to cook a chile en nogada and Lesley’s on where to do a chiles en nogada tasting in Mexico City.

2. Quench your thirst with patriotic drinks

Pretend this tall lime juice shot is a bit greener, and you'll get the Mexican flag patriotic feel... Bandera is the name for this 3 drink combo, whose color scheme matches the Mexican flag (in Spanish, also "bandera"!)

For those who have never had a bandera (the drink kind, not the actual flag kind), this is a fan-favorite combo in Mexico year-round, but it’s particularly appropriate when all those Mexican flags are waving across the country. There are a couple banderas visible in the photo above– it includes a shot of tequila, a shot of fresh lime juice, and a shot of sangrita. (Check out my current fav sangrita recipe scribbled in this pic, right side of the page, middle column, black ink starting with “3c tomato juice!”) The key here? These 3 shots are all SIPPED in sequence, not chugged. You’d order this from a waiter as “una bandera con _____” and insert whatever type of tequila you’d like there.

3. Remember that Independence Day falls within rainy season

Note the rather damp conditions that accompanied the Fiestas Patrias in 2009...

…and plan accordingly. Our 2009 celebration on the plaza in Coyoacan in Mexico City was a little wet, but as you can see above most of the locals planned accordingly with their umbrellas and rain coats!  It did put a slight damper on my themed dressing, unfortunately, and all I managed for 2009 was this:

A headband + a single flashing Mexican flag pin? This is Independence Day attire for rookies, people. Consider this the bare minimum of personal decor. :)

4. …but try not to let rain stop you from dressing up like an enthusiastic moron.

Needless to say for the Bicentenario in 2010, we got our act together and purchased as many Mexico flag-themed accoutrements as we could find for either us or our friends to wear. Street vendors are out in full force weeks before September 15 to make sure you are fully kitted up for the big day with not just clothes but also mascots.

I thought I was scoring a unique item by purchasing Señor Jalapeno in Querétaro, but of course I later saw versions of him for sale by every vendor + their pet dog in Mexico City.

John & I peaked with my tri-color mohawk, John's clown hat, flag stripes on cheeks, a necklace of tiny sombreros, and fake red/white/green braids clipped into my hair. Here we are, in the Zocalo on Sept 14th, 2011.

This crazy styrofoam foam hat was also a bold move.

I enjoyed the more traditional cowboy theme + masquerade masks that this group was sporting.

You also have the option to pick one patriotic color for your whole outfit and then add lots of meaningful messages all over the back of it... including the years of the centennial celebration & the actual Grito, as if to imply you attended those events wearing this shirt.

Dressing like a cactus is also socially acceptable... albeit more so when you are in a parade with 200 of your other closest cacti.

5. Just because your friend buys a Mexican flag-colored mohawk, doesn’t mean you can’t buy the same one.

Great minds think alike?

6. Don’t make people guess whether your dog hates Mexico. Dress him up too.

This dog obviously spotted someone else taking a photo of him in his colorful Mexican dog football top.

Let everyone know that a Mexican Muppet is driving *your* dog on Mexican Independence Day, sombreros & all.

7. If you’re a man and you’re not feeling very confident about how to apply your Mexican Independence Day makeup, ask another man to do it for you. As long as you’re both wearing manly, fake mustaches, there’s nothing unusual about it.

Nothing to see here, people.

8. If you see the below patriotic-themed person wandering the streets, don’t let him/her touch you.

Terrifying. No idea what's happening here, but I think there may have been a curse involved. The weirdest part was this person never spoke, just did a lot of lurking. Furthermore, I'm not sure any hand sanitizer was used before that glove silently caressed most of Luis's face.

9. If you’re not very good keeping track of dates and times, try to attend the next Mexican Independence Day centennial event, i.e. in 2110 for the tricentennial.

For any of you who aren’t very good with details, Mexico really helped out last year by installing massive clocks in many of the larger cities to remind you just how of many days/hours/minutes/seconds remained until the Grito. Some of these clocks survived past the bicentennial, continuing to count upwards to an unforeseen future event, but apparently that event has also passed.  Most likely, you will have to wait until 2110 (or 2109 if you’re lucky) for this level of countdown granularity to be provided again. But in the interim, you can take advantage of all the special driving routes that the Mexican government has tagged with signs for the bicentennial.

This clock serves a similarly-important purpose as that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

10. If you see a massive tray of what looks to be festively-spoiled eggs, buy them!

Refrigeration be dammed, I say! There is little dispute among food scientists that these confetti-filled eggs are fine to store at room temperature.

I don’t know why the egg-shell-filled-with-confetti is not a more popular confetti delivery mechanism here in the US, but these things were awesome.  Not only do these enable you to dump celebratory Independence Day confetti on your pal, but you may temporarily trick him into thinking you are breaking a raw egg on him! Oh, the hilarity! Well, that is, as long as he doesn’t see you carrying this:

Often it is hard to use your ninja sneak-attack moves when carrying a tray of 30 confetti eggs.

11. Learn at least the first few words + the tune of the Mexican National Anthem (Himno Nacional Mexicano).

Susie has the best summary I’ve seen for the national anthem, with not only the lyrics & translation but also video of hot soccer players singing it. Trust me that this WILL be sung on September 15th, and you’ll feel like less of a jerk if you can *at least* mumble things in tune.

12. Learn the Grito– this one’s easy.

The actual Grito de la Independencia (Cry of Independence) is done at 11PM on September 15th. If you’re in any town in Mexico, some important city official will stand, ring a bell, and between rings shout out the names of various war heroes. He does the hard part– remembering all these names. All you have to do is vigorously shout “¡Viva!” whenever he pauses.  Got that?  Check out a full sample Grito from Suzanne here.

13. You can never buy too many fake mustaches too far in advance.

More mustaches, more better. We actually found that some vendors had RUN OUT OF FAKE MUSTACHES by September 14th. Plan your mustache shopping well in advance.

14. Be prepared to get sprayed by a can of foam if you are in the Zocalo for the Grito on Sept. 15.

For the big celebration in 2010, we actually went down to the Zocalo a day early to check out all the preparations/lights/vendors/etc.  It was great; there were still plenty of people out, but we didn’t have to go through security, risk wall-to-walls seas of people, or get doused in foam. I know it’s not the same as being there for the main event, but it was the next best thing!

Note the lack of spray foam coating our clothing.

15. Don’t forget to check out the annual Military Parade on Sept. 16 in Mexico City…but be careful where you sit.

The day after all the Grito craziness, there’s a fascinating show of Mexico’s military presence in a slooooow parade down Reforma. (Hint: wear good shoes.)

These armed ladies were a crowd favorite.

A number of the military companies had a B.Y.O.H. policy (bring your own hawk).

Here is my “where not to sit” photo montage:

I was constantly watching these children, and was amazed that their porta-potty roof seats did not collapse before a policeman finally suggested they relocate. I don't recommend you sit atop a porta-potty.

16. And last but not least, don’t forget that even though your 20-story office building might seem soulless, perhaps he would also like to participate in Mexican Independence Day.

My question: is there a row of windows under there whose inhabitants have to live in darkness from August to September?

While you’re here, check some of my fellow Mexico Today bloggers who are also writing about the mes de patria this month! You can click on the logos below to visit their sites. Enjoy!

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.

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Sparkling Wineries in Querétaro: Viva Freixenet!

Who can forget that first bottle of "champagne" you purchased from the local convenience store? ;)

I’ve shared before how I’m a sucker for well-branded tourism, so Querétaro’s efforts to promote their wine & cheese “route” certainly did not fall on deaf ears during my time in México. Even before we made our trip to Finca Vai for some cheese tasting, we drove from Mexico City to the same area in Querétaro to check out our nearby winery options.  (One has to prioritize, people.)  Cavas Freixenet was the first place to catch our eye, as I was quick to recognize the Freixenet brand name. “Aren’t they the people with that jet black bottle & trendy gold writing at a $10 price point?” I asked John.

We headed out near the town of Ezequiel Montes in Querétaro state, just north of Tequisquiapan, to visit the Mexican arm of Freixenet (the mother ship is headquartered in Spain).  I kept my expectations low, as I had observed that their website listed a number of special events happening at the winery… If I had learned nothing else from my time living in Virginia & touring its wineries, I had developed a hypothesis that there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of wines produced by a vineyard and the number of special events the vineyard has to host to sucker you into visiting & drinking its wine. :)

Once you see this sign, you have arrived in sparkling-wine-ville.

Cavas Freixenet offers free guided tours on the hour between 11AM & 4PM on the weekends, so John & I decided to check out the inner workings.

Their machinery seemed to be well-kept, in as much as I am familiar with winery equipment... (which is: not very)

Next, we descended into the bowels of the winery...

I was actually quite impressed with their cellars... massive arched brick tunnels...

...and wine stacked as high as the eye could see....

We also learned about the aging process, how they move the angle of the bottle to let the sediment collect in the neck & then be "disgorged."

After trotting around the cellars, then we headed back up to the courtyard for the real action: the tastings.  Most of their product line is available by the glass at very reasonable prices from carts in the courtyard, and then you can pop into the shop to buy any bottles you want starting at <$100 pesos.  In honor of my former days of drinking pink champagne with my roommates in Boston, I went with one of their rosé options.

This is how I was meant to live.

So how was the Freixenet wine?  Actually not half bad!  In another page from my Virginia winery experiences, I realized that enough sugar can hide a world of ills when it comes to wine…. but even their brut options were pretty drinkable.  We stocked up on several bottles of either the Petillant Brut or the Sala Vivé (my memory fails me) with an eye towards a mimosa-fueled brunch in our future, plus a few rosé for any upcoming girls’ nights out.  Definitely worth a visit if you have any sparkling wine-oriented parties coming up, as I think the bottles we bought were around $80-some pesos each.  On the way out, we verified that grapes are indeed grown here:

The vines of Freixenet in Querétaro state, Mexico

If you’re interested in a visit to Cavas Freixenet, there’s a good map on their website. But much like my prior cheese tourism post highlighted Finca Vai’s little shop in Tequisquiapan as an alternative to visiting the source, you can also experience the Freixenet wines at their shop in Tequisquiapan! During our next trip through Querétaro up towards Xilitla in February 2010, our schedule didn’t permit a winery visit, so we checked out the wine bar instead.

The Freixenet World's Wine Bar is tucked down a little side street off the main plaza in Tequis: Andador 20 de Noviembre

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of bubbly outside the bar...

Tell me where in the States you could polish off a bottle of brut + 2 orders of snacks for <$20 dollars? :)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I don’t think all Queretaran vineyards are created equal…  We didn’t manage to visit La Redonda vineyard, but we were feeling bad about that so instead we ordered a bottle of their red wine at dinner in Tequis.  Let’s just say our group was not enthused:

The table offers a verdict on La Redonda's innovatively-named "vino tinto"

We were unimpressed and feeling like we got a bad deal, until we noticed the back of the bottle:

I think it's safe to say anyone who orders a bottle of wine whose labels aren't even applied in the right direction, shouldn't be hoping for much in the quality department.

The upside-down label perhaps should have been our first clue…

In summary, Cavas Freixenet can be an amusing day trip from DF, particularly when combined with cheese eating and photo opportunities with taxidermied birds in the entrance of a random Tequisquiapan hotel:

I always say, nothing tops off a evening of wine tasting like a stuffed ostrich.

Enjoy, and if you want to learn more about Mexican wines, check out my friend Lesley’s blog here or ask her about wine tasting tour options in Mexico City. And I would love to know– what other Mexican wine favorites have I been missing out on??

UPDATE– Check out even more wine & cheese tips from friend Alvin, who runs a B&B in Oaxaca!

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.

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Is the word “exposé” overly dramatic for a post about avocado prices in Arlington, VA?

Two of the highlights of life in Mexico City that we were the most sad to leave behind were 1) the amazing array of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat available to us at incredibly reasonable prices, and 2) the new world of fantastic Mexican food that we’d discovered (vastly unlike what we’d been exposed to at Chili’s in the Midwest). ;)   While the Washington DC metro area is not one of the biggest hubs of Mexican immigrants in the US, we were pleased to at least be returning to an area with lots of other Latino immigrants (i.e. from El Salvador, Bolivia, etc.).  This gave us hope that we might continue to get our bargain fresh fruit & veg fix at Latino-oriented markets to continue our Mexican cooking efforts, like my favorite smoked tomatillo salsa.  (#2, amazing Mexican food, continues to be a challenge… though our friends at District Taco have certainly done their part to keep us fat & sassy.)

Before we moved to Mexico City, we’d discovered a spot called Glebe Market less than a mile south of us in Arlington, VA.  Both the merchandise and the clientele had a Hispanic bent, and it quickly became our go-to grocery store for picking up ingredients for a nice salsa verde or some tostadas.  As John & I progressed in our Spanish lessons, we also used the check-out experience as an opportunity to nervously test out our Spanish with the staff.  We came to regard Glebe Market as a great source for cheap fruits, vegetables, and meat, but we still usually had to make an additional visit to the default yuppie grocery store (Harris Teeter) for our fancy-pants ingredients like brie, real maple syrup, raspberries, sourdough bread, sushi-grade tuna, etc.

Upon our return from Mexico, we started up this routine again– Glebe for produce, the Teet for spendy Kalamata olives & wine not sold in a jug.  But some of the luster was starting to fade– the dingy building housing Glebe Market was, well, still a little dingy.  Sure, it had a new sign, but it lacked the vibrant energy of the mercados of Mexico City (not to mention the availability of esquites around every corner).  And I was lazy– was it really worth driving to TWO DIFFERENT PLACES that are roughly FOUR WHOLE BLOCKS apart for our grocery run? (sarcasm intended)

What could possibly solve this dilemma, you might ask? Data!!! Since I am a dork with math teachers for parents, I took the receipt from our Glebe Market visit 2 weekends ago and brought it into the Teeter that same afternoon. I jotted down all the per pound or per unit prices of the fruit-n-veg like a total weirdo, and then came home and calculated what we would have paid if we’d bought the same stuff at Harris Teeter instead. (That’s right; I made a spreadsheet.  Analyzing the prices of avocados and more. Yep. Drop it.)

So any guesses what this array of items cost us at Glebe, and what we would have paid at Yuppie-landia?

Here's our fresh produce haul for your consideration. Count everything except the tofu, because I forgot to look its price up @ the Teeter. Nebraska friends-- please look away and pretend you never saw that tofu. It was the first time we bought it. I swear. Usually we just buy hulking sides of beef. Honest.

I know, I know– the suspense is killing you!!  Here’s a preview: avocados at Glebe– $1.59 each…  Avocados at the Teeter: $2.99 each….  What?!?!

Proof of my intense price-comparing efforts. When I go bat-shit crazy & start turning into one of those "extreme couponing" nutjobs, this photo will probably be held up as testimony for when people sensed I first started to go off the deep end.

Drumroll, please.  Glebe Market price: $27.  Harris Teeter price: $50

Teeter patrons are paying almost double, people!  Oh, the humanity!!

While my blog may currently exist on your mental list of “resources to look at when planning a trip to Mexico City,” please go ahead and now add it to your list of “blogs with their finger on the pulse of yuppie America that offer hard-hitting exposes of grocery prices in Arlington, Virginia with the intent of encouraging people to consider shopping at Hispanic-oriented markets that are way cheaper in part because they don’t have a big tray of provolone cheese samples lying out for you 24/7.”

Luckily, I suspect that 2nd list may have some open space on it.

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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.

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Guayaberas: the must-have men’s summer shirt of Mexico

One excellent souvenir for any man visiting Mexico is the guayabera. To me, this is the consummate summertime shirt for men who want to look good but can’t be bothered to wear a stuffy suit. I won’t get into the historical debate about its origins, but within Mexico it originated in the Yucatan. Some Americans refer to it as a Mexican wedding shirt, and there is certainly no shortage of beach weddings that have taken place with the groom sporting one of these.

In Mexico City, I observed that guayaberas were standard slightly-less-formal attire for spring/summer wedding attendees, as well as a great option for an nice evening out. Heck, even Mitt Romney (random fact of the day: his father was born in Mexico!) has been spotted wearing them!

This light blue guayabera is one seeing regular wear by John on hot summer weekend nights here in DC.

For those of you who are residing in or passing through Mexico City, you may be wondering, “But where can I get a good quality guayabera without trekking down to the Yucatan?”  Luckily, I have your answer!  The store I’ve outlined directions to below isn’t really on the tourist circuit– it seems to cater more to wholesale business, e.g. I don’t recall seeing a dressing room, they’re not open on weekends.  However, the prices for the higher-quality linen shirts seemed as good as John had found anywhere in his searches and they have a solid selection of designs & colors organized by size for easy shopping.

If you’re in the market for gifts to bring back from your trip to Mexico & know your recipient’s shirt size, this could be even better than the 8,000 lucha libre masks we’ve distributed to 50% of our family and friends (albeit also a bit more $$). :) This store also had sizes down to 2 years old, which definitely made my list of “precious gift options for toddlers!”

Directions to a great guayabera store in Mexico City’s Centro Historico

Name: Guayaberas Yucachen
Address
: La Academia 6, Piso 1, Centro, Mexico DF
–> just south of the intersection with Republica de Guatemala
Link to Google Maps Street View

Closest Metro Stop: Zocalo. From the Zocalo Metro, walk east on Seminario and take a left in ~3 blocks on Academia.

Phone Number: 55.5542.0537 acc to the Yellow Pages
Hours: Our vague recollections are this place was *not* open on the weekends or Mexican holidays and closes up shop by 6PM.
What else to know: lino means linen and algodon means cotton. There are also various fabric blends available. Linen costs more, but is the more traditional option.

As you walk north up Academia, look for the white GUAYABERAS sign overhead on the east (right) side of the street.

The entrance to the store (located on the 2nd level of the building) is inside this unassuming parking garage...

...and up these dingy stairs... The window displays filled with guayaberas will help you know you're on the right track!

Once inside Guayaberas Yucachen, row after row of shirts await your perusal!

In traditional Mexican retail store fashion, the salesperson will carefully follow your every move. ;)

Tell me these little guayaberas for 4-year-olds aren't the perfect gift that his mom will think is precious. (And yes, let's just ignore the fact that the 4-year-old will think it sucks because it's not a truck & you will become forever branded as the relative who always gives him clothes.)

Once you’ve made your guayabera purchase, expect to receive regular compliments on what a trendy hipster you are if you’re wearing it back in the US. If you are wearing it in Mexico or Cuba, this will not be as novel so don’t hold your breath. :) Take good care of it, and you will be able to constantly relive that beach wedding you may or may not have had!

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.

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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.

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