Greetings to everyone, wherever you are. I noticed that after my last post about the eye bank I had more visits than in the more than 3 years that I have been writing this blog.
While my purpose is to alert people to the unexpected situations in which they might find themselves in a foreign country, and how I was able to handle those experiences, I also wanted to share the culture and daily lives of the people of my adopted country.
However, I know that you may have questions or wish to learn about other aspects of life abroad, or of Rotary, and so I am sending out this message to all of you – Is there any new topic you would like covered? Anything into which you would like me to dig more deeply?
Please send me your comments, critiques, and I will be happy to address them and create more content in which you are interested. That would include any comments about my writing style – I will not be offended as long as your critique is constructive.
Thank you again for following along with me in my journey through life. Take care and I eagerly await your comments and suggestions. Have a great day !!!!!
Greetings again and I hope everyone is enjoying their summer, wherever you are. Last October I wrote about going to the Mexico-USA Friendship conference in Acapulco and my committee choosing three projects for our Rotary Club to help support. In March I talked about visiting the General Hospital of Cholula, Puebla where the eye bank will be. Now I am pleased to be able to announce that the eye bank has had its inauguration, is open for business and has had its first client from day #1.
On June 28th at 4pm, Rotary club members, hospital staff and dignitaries gathered in the General Hospital of Cholula, greeted by someone in a giant eyeball costume, complete with an optic nerve protruding from the back of the “eyeball.”
After mingling, we were called to order and presentations were given by the people up on the stage – various government ministers, the Director General of the Hospital Dr. Francisco Javier Enríquez Reyes, the head of ophthalmology Dra. Marcela Tejeda Mondragón and the president of the Club Rotario Puebla Campestre Real Mónica (Maby) Flores.
After the speeches we were led into the eye bank. There we were able to see the culmination of all the efforts of Rotary in collaboration with the hospital administration and staff. There was a table set up with gleaming new instruments. There was a new refrigerator which enabled storage of the donated corneas.
For me, the crown jewel was the microscope. This instrument did not resemble what you would think of when you hear the word “microscope.” It was a cylinder set on top of a square container next to a computer screen which was also attached to a printer. The cornea is placed into the microscope and its image appears greatly enlarged on the screen. This enables the doctors to view it in great detail at the cellular level and detect any problems which might disqualify it from being transplanted. I must say that I am constantly amazed at the progress in the field of medicine just in my lifetime, but that is a post for another day.
After the tour there was a reception during which we had many separate discussions with our colleagues from this endeavor. In addition, several more short speeches were made, including by Dra. Tejeda Mondragón and Mónica Flores.
While the inauguration was the purpose, and would be the highlight, of my trip, there was still more to come. After a good night’s rest, it was time for a road trip.
The Rotary year begins on July 1st with dinners officially celebrating the changing of the guard being held around this time. This dinner was for the district governor of Rotary District 4185, which includes the states of Puebla, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Morelos and Guerrero.
The dinner was being held in Veracruz, so after spending the night with Maby and her family, we packed ourselves into their car and off we went – me, Maby, her husband, son and daughter.
I slept for part of the way, and for part admired the landscape on the way, including wind farms. On arrival, we checked into the Galería Plaza Hotel, where the dinner would be held, and it turned out that I had a very nice room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The dinner started at 8:30pm so we had plenty of time to relax.
The dinner began with traditional dancers, speeches, presentation of the outgoing district governor (Ing. Cipriano Navarro Maya) and the incoming governor (Jesús Pita Barcelata). Plenty of photos were taken and a delicious dinner was served. Kudos from this gringa from New York to whomever prepared the menu. Only a single hot/spicy (picante) item, which was a crouton floating in the crab soup. The rest was delicious and thoroughly enjoyed.
I don’t even remember what time I returned to my room for a good night’s rest, refreshed in the morning and ready to see some of the sights of Veracruz before returning to Colima on my 4:30pm flight.
As I said, Veracruz is right on the Gulf of Mexico, so it reminded me of many little seaside towns on the east coast of the U.S. Souvenirs had mainly seaside themes, the fresh fish was absolutely delicious and one tourist attraction reminded me of Acapulco. In Acapulco there were cliff divers who earned money by having tourists watch them dive from cliffs into narrow stretches of water. The divers in Veracruz would dive from the docks to retrieve coins tossed into the water. I noticed that when they stood up, the water was only waist deep. However, a ship was also docked a little ways away. I was told that the ground beneath the water was flat until it almost reached the ship and then there is a steep drop.
After touring Veracruz, we went to the airport, where I was told I could not take my flowers on board. Maby had given me a nice bouquet and I believed that since I was still traveling within Mexico I could take them with me. I was told by the agent that it was not allowed, that it didn’t matter if I was not leaving the country. I don’t know if she was correct or not, so Maby kept the flowers and I kept the wooden box in which they came.
So there ends my latest tale, but I will leave you with one thought. How lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful organization such as Rotary International – a worldwide volunteer organization. I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful, caring humanitarians whose volunteer work makes the world a better place one person and one project at a time.
If you have a Rotary club near you, you might want to check it out, be a guest at a meeting and see what we do. If you are not inclined to join, you may want to help them in some of their activities. In addition, or even instead of, it is a wonderful experience to travel and meet other people from different countries, different cultures. You will see that deep down we are not so different after all.
I have been living here in Mexico for three years, and have been a permanent resident for two of those years. Because this is my permanent home, I figured that it is about time to obtain a Mexican driver’s license. About two weeks ago, a neighbor and I drove to the motor vehicle bureau, called the Secretaria de Movilidad. There, I asked a bunch of questions and left with a paper telling me what I needed to have in order to get that license.
Since I was already a licensed driver in the United States, I did not have to take the written test, but what I did need was my passport, a valid driver’s license, proof of where I live (such as my electric bill) and lab work showing my blood type. The proof of where I live must not be more than two months old.
Just as each state in the U.S. has its own license, so do each of the 31 states in Mexico. I live in the state of Colima, and our motor vehicle office is in the center of Colima City – a bit of a drive that I was not looking forward to making.
For those of you who have not read any of the posts which describe the village in which I live, let me say this:
Cofradía de Suchitlán is a rural village of about 1500 people. We have no post office, no bank, no ATM, no supermarket, no government office except for a small medical clinic and the small office of the mayor of Cofradía. It is the same with several surrounding villages. Therefore, I was very pleased when a car with a loudspeaker attached to its roof made its way through our streets yesterday announcing that people from the Secretaria de Movilidad would be here today to allow people to obtain or renew their licenses. They would begin at 9am at the cancha (sports court) within the village.
This being Mexico, I didn’t know if they would show up, if they would show up on time, or what would actually happen, but I didn’t want to take a chance, so I walked to the cancha at 8:15am and thankfully found only about a dozen people waiting.
Around the cancha was an ambulance, police and employees from the Secretaria setting up their equipment. The man in charge gave a speech telling us what was to take place and divided us up into two groups. I ended up being in the renewal group since I already had a license, even though it was from a different country.
He then gave each of us a ticket with a number on it, and I was number eleven. Eventually they called my number and I turned in my paperwork and I.D. and my Spanish was almost good enough, but for questions such as marital status, if I wanted to be an organ donor and who to call in case of emergency, it took me a few seconds to understand.
One thing that did concern me was for them to register my correct birthdate. In the U.S., numerical dates are written month-day-year. Here in Mexico they are written day-month-year, so I gave them my Mexican residency card first as opposed to my U.S. documents.
After that, I went to pay for the license. Yaayy – 50% off today so I only had to pay 380 pesos ($19.87 USD) instead of 760 pesos ($39.74 USD), and I didn’t even have to use my senior citizen discount I.D.
And as an aside, if you are looking anywhere that lists prices, the dollar/peso symbols are almost exactly alike with one exception. The peso sign is an “S” with one line through it, and the U.S. dollar sign has two lines through it. More than one gringo has almost had a heart attack seeing what they thought was an exorbitant price when they were actually looking at the price in pesos.
So the next step is being photographed and fingerprinted. The photograph went fine, but the fingerprinting (since this was my first Mexican license so my fingerprints weren’t in the system) was a bit of a problem. This is the rainy season, but today was bright and sunny, so the electronic machine was put in a cardboard box with a piece of cloth over it to hide some of the light. I eventually stopped counting how many times it took for the machine to capture all ten of my fingers satisfactorily, but ultimately we were successful, then I just waited for my name to be called and I had my brand new Mexican driver’s license issued by the State of Colima.
It’s good for four years and only took three hours from the time I arrived at the cancha until I was walking away with my prize in my hand. And I was number 11 in the line. I felt really sorry for those with higher numbers and hoped that they had eaten breakfast before they arrived, as I believe there were more than 50 people by the time I left.
So that was my adventure for today. Until next time…………….
When people hear the word “pyramid” the first thing they usually think of are the great pyramids of Egypt. Would it surprise you to know that the tallest pyramids in the world are actually here in Mexico? With a total volume of 4.45 million meters squared, with a 4-sided base measuring 450 x 450 meters and a height of 66 meters, the Cholula Pyramid is the largest pyramid in the world.
However, the word “pyramid” in the singular form is misleading, as it was originally 8 pyramids, one atop the other. With erosion, only 5 or 6 pyramids are currently in existence.
At first, this pyramid could be mistaken for a hill. When the Spanish invaded, that is exactly what they imagined it to be, and built the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (The Church of Our Lady of Remedies) on top of this hill. Little did they know what lay beneath the ground on which they were standing.
Somewhere around 200 BC the first of eight pyramids was built. In reality, it was not so much a pyramid as it was a temple to the god Quetzalcóatl. As each culture was supplanted by another – The Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs – the complex grew.
Unlike other pyramids, there are stairs on all four sides of the pyramid, so it can be climbed from any direction. Archaeologists have dug 5 miles of tunnels through the pyramids, so tourists such as myself can explore them from inside. they have also reconstructed one side of one of the lower segments of the pyramid.
One of the objects found during the archaeological exploration was a mural of adults drinking. A replica was created on the grounds of this site.
But the pyramids are not the only structures at this site. As with many ancient ruins, there were also altars and evidence of human sacrifice. There is evidence of the sacrifice of children with various explanations given. One explanation was that during a drought, the priests believed that children should be the messengers to beg the rain god, Tlaloc, to bring rain to the land. Two of the decapitated children discovered at this site had severely deformed skulls, so there may have been other, or additional, explanations for this practice because of the children’s deformities.
Also within this complex is a stone plaza, where, if you stand in a certain place and clap your hands, you can hear the call of a bird called the quetzal. Here is a video of the actual bird and its call:
Link to the video of our guide clapping his hands in the plaza to make the sound of the quetzal bird. You can also see a stone slab at the center and the Church of Our Lady of Remedies (Nuestra Señora de los Remedios) at the top of the earthen mound under which the pyramids are buried.
Beginning over 2000 years ago, Cholula grew from a small village to a city ruled by the Olmecs, Toltecs, the Aztecs, and finally was conquered by the Spanish under the leadership of Cortés. It is an incredible feeling to stand among the remains of this temple and ponder the lives and events of the living, breathing people who inhabited this place so long ago.
First, I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the world. It is celebrated in many countries, but not all on the same day. In the United States it is always on a Sunday, but here in Mexico it is always May 10th.
This year, May 10th fell on a Friday, and here is how we celebrate in my village.
On Thursday, May 9th, many in our community went to the village cemetery to clean off the graves and place flowers on them. Many of the graves and mausoleums are covered with tiles, so buckets with soap and water and mops were everywhere in evidence, and flowers were placed once the cleaning was finished.
The next morning, the actual Mother’s Day, we gathered at Lourdes’ house to exchange gifts, which mostly consisted of flowers. As I mentioned when I began this blog, this village gives one a feeling of stepping back in time. No supermarkets, no bank, no post office. Small mom-and-pop stores called abarrotes which sell a variety of things from fresh vegetables and fruits to canned goods, etc. Then we have specialized shops – 3 butchers, a bread bakery, tortilla makers, coffee roasters, carpenters, stone masons and metal workers. And for Mother’s Day, one of the women who works at our literacy project, Project Amigo, was selling roses and other flowers out of her house, and this is where I bought the flowers.
After greeting each other and exchanging gifts, we went into the next village for breakfast at a new restaurant, which, of course, was very crowded with all the mothers of many generations getting together with their families.
One thing that has always impressed me about Mexico, or at least in the area in which I live, is how cohesive the families are. You will find several generations living either under the same roof or within walking distance of each other. And if you are not a blood relative, you might be a comadre, an honorary member of the family/ close neighbor/ friend.
This being a very religious community, there was also a Mass in the Catholic Church at 6pm, though not as long as the regular Sunday Mass.
In the meantime, it wouldn’t be Mexico without music. Here is a song from a son to his mother (I dare you to listen to the words or read the English subtitles without crying)…
And another video of musicians playing the tune La Mañanita (a traditional birthday song) with the words changed for Mother’s Day.
Last week my sister in the United States visited me here in my home. Before arriving she said that she would like to visit the beach and tour our volcano. We did spend a day at the beach, and last Thursday she got to see our volcano up close.
There is a local woman who does group and private tours. For those of you who live locally or plan to visit some day, her name is Lucie, her company is Meshico Magical Tours and her web site is Meshicomagical.com
I had been worried that our tour would need to be cancelled because a few days before we were notified of a yellow alert due to the sensors detecting increased activity. The exclusion zone was changed to include the area within 8km of the volcano. I didn’t see any increase of activity when looking at the volcano with my naked eye, but the Civil Protection authorities are very diligent about keeping the public informed of any danger and precautions that must be taken. The volcano is constantly monitored by members of the Volcanological Observatory and the Committee for the Evaluation of Risk of the University of Colima – the Centre of Exchange and Research in Volcanology.
Thursday morning dawned with no increased severity of warnings, which Lucie also monitored, and so my sister Mary and I gathered up our water bottles, hats, walking sticks and backpacks and headed off to see the volcano.
Actually, there are two volcanoes visible today from nearby villages, such as where I live. There is the Volcán de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, which is the active volcano and the Volcán de Nieve, or Volcano of Snow which is the inactive volcano. They are part of the Colima Volcano Complex (CVC).
Fuego is actually composed of two superimposed volcanic cones, the older one being the collapsed Paleofuego volcano whose activity ended with a southward-directed sector failure in the Holocene era. The younger, active Fuego is built inside the horseshoe-shaped depression of Paleofuego.
According to the Journal of Geophysical Research, there is a 5 km wide, 130-250 meter deep depression on the southwest side of the Fuego active crater near Yerbabuena Village.
Within the past few years, there had been an evacuation of Yerbabuena village, and today it is practically a ghost town. A few people remain, but many buildings stand empty, including a school. The people who remain believe that if they evacuate, then the government will take their land and they will be unable to return
On the road to the volcano we stopped to look at this raised, triangular formation. Lucie told us that behind and beside this formation was a crater lake. In the distant past, much of this land was covered with volcanoes, and over time as a result of much geological activity, we now have the landscape that we were looking at.
As we approached the Volcán de Fuego, we came upon an avocado orchard, within which is a tree called the Guardián del Volcán, a tree which some estimate to be about 200 years old. It is said that if the tree is destroyed, that people in the area will no longer be protected from the volcano. Evidence of this belief is reflected in this graffiti:
The house at the entrance to the orchard is privately owned, but now people are allowed to pass through the gate to visit the sacred tree, The Guardian of the Volcano.
From a distance it looks like one tree with branches and leaves forming a huge dome. Up close, it appears to be many trees growing together. You can see in the photo what appears to be many bare branches hanging above the ground. Lucie told us that they are actually roots heading towards the ground which will then be anchored there. I see many trees here in Colima which have shoots come down from the branches which then anchor into the ground.
After visiting the Guardian and the avocado orchard, we headed back towards the coffee plantation La Yerbabuena. Here, the volcanic soil creates a good environment for growing delicious coffee. Unfortunately, when the volcano is active, the ash also disperses acid into the air, which is very destructive for the coffee plants. I witnessed this in 2016 while living in the volunteers’ residence at Project Amigo as I watched the leaves of the bushes in our courtyard sadly turn yellow.
After enjoying our cups of prepared coffee, we headed towards the crater lake. On the way we saw this bird:
We searched through a guidebook, but could not identify what type of bird it was. Then I saw it start to fly away with a little gecko in its beak – I wasn’t quick enough to get a good picture – the camera was focusing on the foliage instead of the bird – but what the heck, I’ll share it anyway. At some point in the near future, I will go on a bird-watching tour and get some good photos at that time.
The crater lake was very tranquil and beautiful. I tried to imagine it being the crater of a volcano so many eons ago. At times, I wish it was possible to view in time lapse various parts of the world from billions of years ago to the present, such as the continents crashing together and then pulling apart, and I wished I could do the same here – to see the land go from being many volcanoes with violent eruptions to gradually having many of them collapse, cool off and leaving a few to remain active while the ground beneath turned into fertile soil for the life-sustaining fruits and vegetables that now grow in this state from the highlands down to the sea.
We saw people enjoying the tranquility, canoeing or fishing, or just enjoying the scenery while eating lunch, as we were. Meanwhile, we also admired the variety of birds, the likes of which we had not seen while living in the United States.
There was also a tree next to the lake which I found very curious. It seemed to have one end of the trunk in the ground, curve around and have its other end also in the ground. I’m sure if I had taken a more intensive look, I could have figured out what was going on, but I didn’t. It seems that I am always surprised to find new plants, trees and animals that I had never seen before.
I am always amazed at how easily things grow here. Put something into the ground and it will grow. Even if it looks dead during the dry season – even if you would bet money on it being dead – it springs back to life once the rainy season begins. With the rains, everything is explosively blooming, and everything turns green and clean.
In case you want to learn more about the volcanoes of our regions here are two links:
I hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about our volcanoes and that the narrative has not been too hard to follow. There was a little bit of something for everyone, no matter your level of interest, from detailed geological history to general knowledge to nice photographs. So until next time, be well and take care.
As many of you know, I am a member of Rotary International – a service organization which began in Chicago, USA and now has clubs worldwide. Our common purpose is eliminating polio. In addition, each club has their individual projects. Our six areas of focus are:
Peace and conflict prevention/resolution
Disease prevention and treatment
Water and sanitation
Maternal and child health
Basic education and literacy
Economic and community development
Since moving from New York State, I could no longer attend meetings at my former club, The Monroe-Woodbury Rotary Club, and so I joined an e-club, The Rotary e Club of the Southwest USA. Our membership extends around the world, including USA, Mexico, Japan, Nigeria and many other countries. Our meetings are online, which I have grown accustomed to. Originally, I missed face-to-face meetings and physically working on projects together, but now it is nice to be able to attend meetings from home, sometimes signing in at midnight in my pajamas, and meeting Rotarians from around the world (The meetings are asynchronous, being posted every Monday, with a requirement to attend by the following Sunday night).
I don’t know where my mind was, but right before I went to visit my friend Martha in Puebla, I suddenly realized that my club was donating to a project there, and so I contacted the club president Mónica and arranged for me and Martha to visit them and see their project.
First the backstory – Last year there was a conference called the Mexico-USA Friendship Conference. Clubs would gather in Acapulco from the USA and Mexico and proposals for projects would be presented. Each club attending could decide which projects they would help support. Since I already live here, it was decided that I would go to represent our grants committee. Well, 18 projects were presented, I asked many questions and took copious notes, then conferred with my committee via phone and email and we picked three projects to support.
One of those projects was The First Eye Bank in the State of Puebla (The 6th Eye Bank in Mexico). And once their Global Grant was approved, we sent them our donation.
The Rotary Club of Puebla Campestre Real is quite a dynamic little club, composed of 30 members – all women. Because they did not meet the day I was there, we met at the hospital which would be the recipient of the grant.
We met at the Hospital General de San Andrés Cholula, Puebla.
Currently, there is neither a public nor private eye bank in the state of Puebla. All analyzed corneas in the private sector are bought from United States eye banks. Without special facilities, those corneas are only good for 24 hours. In addition, there is a lack of public education about organ donations, with people being afraid to become organ donors.
The global grant will provide a speculum microscope which will allow the specialists to examine donated corneas to certify that they are suitable for transplant. The grant will also provide medical instruments for cornea care, medical instruments for cornea transplants, a refrigerator that will enable the corneas to be stored for anywhere from 7 days up to a month (depending on the quality of the tissue) before transplantation and an information and awareness campaign about donation and transplants to the community, schools and hospitals.
Doctors in other facilities will be taught to do transplants and the public will be educated about transplantation. As in the United States, there are many scary stories and misconceptions regarding organ donation and transplantation. With this grant, the number of cornea transplants, donors and beneficiaries will increase in Puebla, the surrounding areas and nearby states.
Here we are with some of the educational posters.
Many times children are the ones who needs transplants, or maybe one of the family members are in need. In this case, there are ways to make it seem less scary for them.
One more subject for discussion was organ donation. Fear and lack of knowledge about what is involved in donations requires education, and part of the grant will go towards public education. One of the visual aids is this large “donation card.”
After the tour we met with some of the hospital personnel for questions and answers and to express our gratitude for the work they are doing and will continue to do for the community.
This collaboration with the medical community to improve the lives of others is a beautiful example of dedicated Rotarians living the Four Way Test:
Is it the Truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build good will and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
After the tour, Martha and I were treated to a nice meal at a very fancy restaurant (no prices on the menu!). We had a wonderful time getting to know each other better in a very pleasant setting with excellent food. I also met Valentín, a French exchange student whom they are sponsoring.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience, Martha and I made new friends (hopefully, she will consider becoming a Rotarian…) and I look forward to returning to Puebla in the future.
Greetings once again. Today I will focus on a building that we visited whose inside walls are covered with depictions of the life and history of this area of Mexico. Since I mentioned the volcano Popocatépetl, I will begin with that.
Popocatépetl is the active volcano of Puebla and next to it is the extinct volcano of Itzaccihuatl. Both names are from the Nahuatl language. To the ancients, Itza resembled a sleeping woman, as seen in the picture below.
And so the legend sprang up that Itza and Popo were once human beings. Popo was a warrior and Itza was a princess, and they fell in love. Itza’s father would not grant permission for them to marry until Popo had proved himself in battle, and so the warrior went off to prove his worth to his beloved’s father.
While he was away, a rival told Itza that he had died, even though he was still alive. She died from a broken heart, and when Popo returned victorious, he was devastated to find that his love had died.
He took her body into the mountains in order to build a funeral pyre so that he could die beside her. The gods took pity on them and turned them into the volcanoes so that they could be together forever.
In another part of the wall is a relief of Benito Juarez, honoring the patriotism and valor of the residents of Atlixco who participated in battle. The sign in front of his chest days “Peace is the respect for the rights of others.”
Another section of the murals shows a traditional Mexican altar. The person they are honoring is Javier Solis, a popular mariachi singer born in Metepec Atlixco. He also sang other types of songs, was an actor and was the third member of the Tres Gallos Mexicanos (Three Mexican Roosters), the other two members being Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante.
Yet another section paid homage to the labor movement in Mexico
There were also scenes of landmarks and daily life in Atlixco.
And one event which I was fortunate to witness – the voladores. These men would climb a very high pole. At the top was a small platform on which a man would stand and play music. The other men would tie ropes to their legs and slowly twirl about the pole, getting closer and closer to the ground, until they were standing on the ground. It was dizzying to watch, and I admired their lack of fear. I know that I would never be able to do what they were doing….
There were so many murals depicting myths, pre-Hispanic life and landmarks of Puebla. It would take so much more space to go into detail about every one, so I will simply put up the pictures with brief descriptions as indicated.
And finally, the inside of the building from a distance, so you can admire the architecture:
And so I will end this post now, and try to write up and publish the next one in a more timely manner. Adios !
When I lived in New York, one of my friends was a Mexican woman married to an American. Her name is Martha, and in January, she messaged me that she was in Puebla visiting her mother, and invited me to come over and stay with her for a few days.
Thinking about the cheapest way to go, I considered the bus – until I found out that it was about a 13 hour ride. One friend suggested that I fly into Mexico City and then take the bus to Puebla, which I did. Returning home, it was only a 40 minute ride to the bus station, a 2-hour bus ride to the airport and a 90 minute-or-so flight to Colima Airport. Getting there, however, was quite an adventure. My 4:25pm flight from Colima left at 6pm (good thing I didn’t have to catch a connecting flight, and the reason I usually plan for several hours of overlay between flights when I do) and the 8:15 bus, I was told, would be delayed until 8:50p because of traffic. A baggage handler took my suitcase, and I took the opportunity to go to the bathroom and get a bite to eat. Returning in plenty of time, I waited for my bus, only to be told that it had already left with my suitcase. However, there was room on the actual 8:50 bus, and when I got to the station, my suitcase was waiting for me. Whew !!!
I felt really bad for Martha, as we didn’t finally arrive at her home until midnight, but she assured me she was ok because her brother had accompanied her. After a good night’s rest, I was ready to explore Puebla.
We did so much exploring during the three full days that I was there that my time will be detailed over several blog posts. Firstly, the rural area where my friend lives is called Atlixco. It is pronounced Aht-lees-ko and when said, sounds very much like Jalisco (ha-lees-ko) – one of the states that borders Colima state, where I live. So it was very confusing when I heard people say the name, and I would wonder why they were talking about Jalisco.
Atlixco is a designated Pueblo Mágico, or magic town, which means it is deemed to have cultural, historical, gastronomical or natural treasures that are exceptionally special and meaningful to Mexico’s heritage. These are always wonderful towns to visit, and I will get into all the details in upcoming posts.
One feature of this area which is evident wherever you are is the volcano Popocatépetl. This volcano is continuously active and stands at 5426 meters (17,802 feet). This is higher than the two volcanoes in my area – the Volcán de Fuego (Colima Volcano) at 3839 meters (12,595 feet) and Volcán de Nieve (Nevado de Colima or Volcano of Snow) at 4260 meters (13,976 feet). It was really quite impressive, and when I say it is continuously active, that means there was a non-stop plume of smoke arising from the caldera.
And while Colima is an agricultural state known for coffee, bananas and sugar cane, the economic backbone of Puebla is the floral industry, growing flowers for export.
One of the first places we visited was a bonsai museum. In Japan, a man by the name of John Naka taught many people the art of bonsai, and many of his students then settled in other places continuing to teach others this art. A man named Emigdio Trujillo Sanchez learned this art from maestro Chen in San Francisco and maestro Yamaguchi in Los Angeles.
As a result of his interest and studies, he created the Museum of Bonsai and the Mexican School of the Art of Bonsai. The outdoor museum holds about 200 samples of trees between 20 and 100 years old. Periodically, the school also invites international teachers of bonsai who give demonstrations and classes.
Here are photos of some of the bonsai trees:
And so ends today’s blog post. More next time as my adventures continued in Puebla.
Recently, I have increased my knowledge of quite a few things, from way back in history up to the present time, which just goes to show that no one knows everything and there is value in questioning the origins of cultural practices, even if you’re pretty sure you know the answer – many times you will be surprised that you actually don’t know the answer at all.
I lived in New York for 66 years before moving to Mexico, where I have been living for the past 3 years. Having lived in New York, I was aware of Groundhog Day and what it means if the groundhog sees his shadow or doesn’t see it. Here in Mexico, I was introduced to the experience of Candelaria. Upon researching it, I now have a greater understanding of the origin of Groundhog Day, which has nothing to do with animals seeing their shadow. And so, I will start this post going way back to celebrations of February 2nd before animals were a part of it, and continue the thread right up to the present day Mexican celebration.
February 2nd marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The ancient Celts celebrated this time with the pagan holiday of Imbolc, heralding new beginnings with the upcoming birth of new livestock and planting of new crops.
For Christians, February 2nd is 40 days after Christmas Day. The tradition is that women were considered unclean for 40 days after giving birth, and so Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have gone to the temple on that day for Jesus to be blessed and for Mary to be purified. This date is referred to as Candlemas by Christians.
A superstition that evolved from the pagan and Christian beliefs can be summed up in an old English poem:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
There are variations of this poem in Scotland, Germany and, of course, the United States. Of course, if the day is “fair and bright” any animal will cast a shadow, foretelling winter having “another flight” and if there are “clouds and rain,” then there will be no shadow and “Winter will not come again.” In Germany, a badger was watched for a shadow and in Pennsylvania, USA, the groundhog is the animal of choice.
The Mexican version of Candlemas is Día de la Candelaria. Preparations actually begin on January 6th, Three Kings Day. On this day, people get together for parties and to eat the Rosca, a pastry which has a small figure of a baby cooked inside. Whoever get the piece of Rosca with the figure must then host a celebration on February 2nd and provide tamales for everyone.
Tamali comes from the Náhuatl word “tamalli” which means “wrapped.” Náhuatl is one of the indigenous languages of Mexico. Tamales are made with corn dough, either plain or with meat, fruit or other ingredients added, then wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. I have been told by my neighbors that tamales are eaten because they are the traditional food from the time of the Aztecs. Besides eating tamales, we drink atole, which is a hot drink made from corn.
During my investigation, I also read that according to the Aztec calendar, our February 2nd is also the date that the assistants to the rain god Tláloc were honored.
If you would like to read more about Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Candelaria, here are some links to the articles I used to research their history: