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On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles Part 5

On our last day of the trail (at least for the present), we visited the el centro of Uruapan and visited the featured taco vendor.

Downtown Uruapan was quite impressive. Of course, there was a cathedral, actually several, and a large central park.

Not surprisingly on a Sunday morning, folks here were worshiping.

The el centro park was lovely, a tree and bench filled stretch of land providing a respite from the bustle of the city.

Most fascinating to me was the long line, a very long line, of shoeshine booths. How often do you see people wearing shoes these days that can even be shined? I guess they do here in Uruapan.

After visiting another city park, we headed over to our final food stop, Carnitas As de Oros.

In the Taco Chronicles, we’re introduced to this restaurant by one of the chefs at Cocina M, the upscale restaurant in Uruapan that we visited and recounted here. The chef came here to source their meat that she would then use to make dumplings (which were very yummy!).

She spoke with the gerente (manager) of the store and finally here I got to meet one of the “stars” of the Taco Chronicles.

We proceeded to enjoy a simple and scrumptious meal: a plate of pork, tortillas, and salsa.

Wonderful food and meeting a star. What a day!

Remember the film crew I wrote of in the last post on the Taco Chronicles? They informed me that a second season of the show was in the works. I sure hope so.

And I hope that we’re able to visit more of the locations and sample the foods from the first season.

We loved it!

On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles Part 4

Leaving Morelia, we headed for Uruapan, planning to enjoy some more great food and hoping to meet at least one of the people making these wonderful tacos that were featured in the show. [If you need to catch up on our Taco Chronicles adventure, you can do so here and here and here.]

We arrived in Uruapan in the middle of the afternoon and after some wondering around, we found our hotel. A lovely place called Pie de la Sierra, a little ways out of town and up on one of the surrounding mountains. We did have a spectacular view however.

It’s a rustic kind of place. Log cabin-y. Nice and clean and well-appointed.

We headed into town with an objective of arriving at Cocina M, the upscale restaurant featured in the series, around 7PM. Alas, sometimes Google Drive seems to get confused and we ended up driving in the wrong direction for some miles before realizing our error and backtracking. We did learn, however, on this wild goose chase that Uruapan is the avocado capital of Mexico. Mile after mile of avocado trees lined the highway. No avocados in bloom, but at least we can think of it as we enjoy the avocados we buy at the local mercado.

Finally, we found Cocina M.

I’ve eaten at a few fine restaurants in my life. Not many, but at least a few. Emeril’s at the MGM in Las Vegas. Le Cirque in New York City. And Cocina M was right up there.

Cocina M features some classic Mexican food with a twist and a flourish.

Not long after we ordered a group of young men and women, about 20 in total, were seated at a large table not far from us. Our neighbor thought they were cartel guys. At one point, a more senior man came over to their table and addressed them all. Were they or weren’t they? Not sure, to be sure.

The next morning we headed up to the (free) breakfast buffet at the hotel. And who should I run into but a few of the guys who had been at that other table at Cocina M. Turns out they were a film crew shooting a documentary in the area and were celebrating the end of shot with a splash-out dinner.

They did me the honor of pointing out which of the breakfast choices had a lot of spice. Just what I want!

Welcome to Mexico!

 

 

Happy New Year from and in Chapala

Just after Christmas, a new addition to the malecon started construction.

In fact, right next to the Chapala sign.

I don’t know if the new addition is in honor of the symmetry of the year or if 2020 is the anniversary of a significant event in the history of Chapala.

Still, it’s always interesting to watch changes on the malecon.

Of course, the sign got a paint job.

And then it was shrouded, awaiting the celebratory unveiling.

Meanwhile, a few banners appeared around town announcing a big dance on New Year’s Eve starting at 10PM. Interestingly enough, the banners didn’t say where.

But it seemed that everyone knew.

On New Year’s Eve, having just returned from Guadalajara, our neighbors and I walked down to the malecon. Oddly, the thoroughfare next to us was empty. Usually when events are happening on the malecon, it’s jammed.

And the eastern side of the malecon was empty. But we heard music and saw a stage and lots of lights by fisherman’s pier. Sure enough, the party was there and rockin’ and rollin’.

We found standing room amidst table after table of Mexican families replete with food and drink, listening to the music and waiting for the big countdown.

Mexicans do know how to party.

Sure enough, there was a countdown, diez, nueve, ocho, seite, seis, cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno!

Cheering and hugging and hooting and hollaring ensued. Along with the biggest sparklers I’ve ever seen. And the 2020 addition to the Chapala sign on the pier was unveiled.

Of course, there were fireworks, lovely as always.

We even got souvenirs to take home!

On New Year’s Day, the malecon was totally packed despite blustery, cool weather. Still, everyone seemed to be enjoying the start of the new year.

We wish you all the best in 2020!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Chapala 2019

Feliz Nochebuena y Feliz Navidad! (Happy Christmas Eve and Happy Christmas!)

Nochebuena is also the Spanish name for the so-called Christmas flower, the poinsettia. That’s why so many poinsettias are set out for display here in Mexico. They’re everywhere!

Christmas preparations start really early here in Mexico. Earlier even than in the U.S. We visited the Andares Mall in Guadalajara back in September and found the Christmas department up and running at Liverpool, one of the major department stores in Mexico.

Here in Chapala, the Nativity scene appeared in el centro in early Demember, right out in front of City Hall. And City Hall itself sported a Christmas tree. Here in Mexico there’s no whining over the use of public spaces for Christmas. It’s done and everyone seems okay with it. Mexico is pretty much a live and let live country when it comes to social norms.

The Nativity scene seems to change slightly every year with 2019 being no exception.  This year a multi-colored deer found its way into the crowd of animals around the manger.

El Centro is especially beautiful at night.

And City Hall and other buildings in El Centro are decorated as well.

Christmas Day itself was lovely. The malecon was jammed with people enjoying the glorious weather and the festive atmosphere.

Lovely to be here, my friends!

 

 

On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles Part 3

Before we left Morelia for Uruapan, we decided to find and explore the city’s zocalo. Every town and city we’ve visited in Mexico has one. Basically, a zocalo is a square or rectangle of park (although sometimes they are stoned such as in Mexico City), typically in the geographic heart of the city and typically with a cathedral as one of the anchors.

Morelia’s was relatively easy to find, although, as usual, we needed Google to provide directions. In Morelia, the zocalo is at the top of a hill; the cathedral spires were visible from quite a distance. It did, however, take some time to find a parking space relatively close. But we did and made our way there.

We discovered we were on a street named Morelos. Seems too that every town and city in Mexico has a street or avenue or boulevard named Morelos. Jose Maria Morelos is revered in Mexico. He was a Catholic priest and revolutionary leader, prominent in the events leading to Mexican independence. And he was born in Morelia.

The cathedral was truly inspiring in Morelia, standing in the middle of the zocalo.

The interior was just as, or possibly even more impressive than the exterior.

On either side of the church stand large open areas: one side stoned, the other, more park-like.

One one of the streets that formed the border of the zocalo, preparations were underway for a parade later in the day. Performers were already gathering.

 

Alas, we needed to be on our way to make dinner at our next restaurant stop on the trail of the Taco Chronicles.

Part 4 soon to follow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers

This is Ernesto.

Ernesto and I had a delicious lunch of tacos barbacoas at a pop-up mercado on a Sunday afternoon in Mexico City. How we got there is the story. Here it is.

Ernesto is an Uber driver in CDMX. He’s also a husband, a father, and a sibling.

He’s also my new friend.

He picked me up in the early afternoon outside the BnB where I was staying to take me to a Tacos Barbacoas and Pulque Festival in a Mexico City neighborhood. I’d seen the festival in an article in Mexico News Daily and it sounded interesting.

Better still, it was fairly close to the BnB, per Google Maps.

I put the street address in Uber and out came Ernesto to take me there.

He spoke very little English and I am still working on Spanish, yet we managed to chat a little and enjoy the trip. I told me about the festival and we talked a little about pulque, the slightly alcoholic beverage made from cactus milk.

However, when we arrived at the destination, it didn’t look anything like a festival. And it wasn’t. It was a wedding.

Ernesto checked the address. It was correct. But it was the wrong neighborhood.

Rather than letting me out to fend for myself, Ernesto told me he’d get me to the right place.

Off we went.

We drove for quite a while and then drove into a neighborhood with lots of traffic stuffed into narrow streets. We crawled along.

In the meanwhile, Ernesto called his son, who spoke English to confirm the address and the neighborhood and the name of the festival. Yes, we were headed in the right direction. However, the neighborhood didn’t look all that promising.

Ernesto’s son told me that his dad would take me to the festival and then stay with me to make sure I was safe–if that’s what I wanted. Or, Ernesto would take me anywhere else I wanted to go.

On we forged.

Finally, we arrived. Ernesto parked the car and we went off in search of pulque and tacos.

The streets were teeming with people. But all we found was (very) loud music and lots of pulque and no tacos. Ernesto got me a sample of pulque and after two sips, I knew it was not for me. We poked around a little more and then agreed that we would leave. I paid Ernesto for the trip thus far. It seemed quite inexpensive for all the time and effort he had put in.

I asked him to take me to where I could get some good tacos.

After a short ride, we arrived at the pop-up mercado and were served scrumptious tacos on which we feasted.

By this point, we were both using spanglish and we seemed to be communicating just fine.

Ernesto told me about his family. His sister lived nearby.

After I took his picture, he took mine and a selfie of the two of us. I noticed the photo on his phone which he told me was his daughter and he told me a little about her. Turned out too that his son is an opera singer which I enthused about.

Finishing lunch, I saw Ernesto reaching for his wallet. I insisted that the cuenta (bill) be given to me, that lunch was my treat. He was effulgent with thanks.

Before we left however, Ernesto stopped by the to see the cook and get a take out order. For his mother, he said.

Mexicans take care of their families.

Then Ernesto and I headed back for my BnB. I moved from the back seat to the front and we rolled on. When we arrived, Ernesto pulled over and played me videos of his son performing opera. A very talented young man.

I tried to pay for the ride back, but Ernesto would not hear of it.

He told me that anytime I visited Mexico City to let me know and if he was available, he’d take me where I needed to go.

A stranger at first, and then a friend.

This is Mexico.

A Visit to Calaverandia

As part of the Day of the Dead celebration, an innovative Guadalajara-based entertainment company staged a pop-up theme park dedicated to highlighting the origins and practices of Day of the Dead. Our neighbors and I made our way to Guadalajara before the actual Day of the Dead to take in the park.

We were a little hesitant. The admission prices ran $500 to $1000 pesos or about $25 to $50 U.S. dollars. Pricey for around here. We’re glad we didn’t let that stand in our way.

The evening was wonderful.

The theme park was staged in an actual city park. Even on a Tuesday night, lots of people were in attendance. We waited for about fifteen minutes to park and the parking was free!

Stopping to buy our tickets, we were intrigued by the variety of lights and sounds emanating from the site. Up at the ticket booth we learned that seniors get a 20% discount! Lovely!

And, finally, the grand entry:

There were lots of workers doing maintenance, keeping the park clean and giving information. Others roamed the park allowing visitors to buy wristbands loaded with pesos that had to be used for any purchases made in the park. No money could be used in the park. Only the wristbands, which could be loaded either using cash or, definitely preferred, credit or debit cards.

Displays were everywhere. And photo ops.

There were several stages in the park with different shows. These were typically short productions with music, dancing, acrobatics and lights.

And there were several walking displays. One took us on the journey that the dead take in the stories here in Mexico. Mythical and interesting.

Of course, there was a grand altar at Calaverandia in honor of all the dead in Mexico.

Calaverandia is a reference to the tradition of Catrina, originated early in the twentieth century. The Calavera Catrina.

It was indeed a night to remember.

Of course, there was lots of food available and well-priced. And looked totally yummy. Next time, we won’t eat before we go!

Lots of fun and lots of memories.

 

 

 

El Dia de Muertos 2019

Chapala celebrated the Day of the Dead last Saturday, November 2.

We’ve learned a lot more about the celebration and could appreciate its richness even more this year.

One of the essences of the holiday is to mock death itself. The “dead” live on in the hearts and memories of those living. The holiday is one of remembering and celebrating those who have passed on to another existence and yet are well-remembered here.

Every part of the holiday is imbued with meaning. Sure, there’s lot of fun involved too. Costumes, face painting, dressing up. And lots of art and artistic expression in building pop-up monuments to the departed.

Everywhere you go you encounter lots and lots of Calavera Katrinas. This tradition was founded in the early part of the twentieth century artist Jose Guadalupe Posada who satirized Mexicans who were trying to emulate Europeans in dress and style. The satire caught on and now Katrinas are everywhere.

Here’s one with me!

Centro Historico in Chapala is dedicated to the celebration of El Dia de Muertos.

Celebrants start early in the morning building their altars and monuments and then these are displayed during the day and lit up with candles at night.

This year, the theme seemed to be teachers and educators. Even to the founder of Montessori.

Each tier of the displays have particular meanings.

Notice the intricate artwork and the time and effort that goes into each of these monuments. Quite inspiring.

And there were several Xolos, the hairless Mexican dog breed that is thought to be a guide for the recently deceased on their journey to their next existence.

It was quite a day. We look forward to next year’s.

More Changes in Chapala

There are several indicators that Fall has arrived in Chapala. One is that the rainy season ends. Another, that the pelicans return to the lake. Yet another is that repair and construction projects go into high gear.

This Fall there are a number of projects.

First, the main drag, the carretera, is under repair. Admittedly, it’s a bumpy ride. Over the years, the heavy traffic through the town has left the carratera a wavy undulating surface rather than a smooth flat surface.

It’s not paved; it’s not being paved. Instead, the carretera is bricked.

It’s being repaired block by block, involving an army of workers, moving earth and smoothing, bulldozing and flattening. And then, the bricks are being laid by hand. It’s quite a process.

Along with the carretera being repaired, there are a number of building projects along the carretera. Excavating into the hill and taking out old decaying buildings and rebuilding. One project will be a number of apartments. The others? I’m not sure. We will see.

Not only is repair work happening, street artists are out decorating stairs and walls.

And the main carretera that runs along the lake is being repaved. At least we think it’s going to be. Right now the only work we see is the installation of a bike path. We’ll see.

Finally, the pelicans are returning! How glorious!

On the Trail of the Taco Chronicles, Part 2

Prior to our visit to our stay in Morelia on our first Taco Chronicles run (which you can read about here), we went to find La Casa de Blanca, the owner of which appeared prominently in the series.

Turns out the restaurant is in one of Mexico’s fabled Pueblos Magicos, so we thought we’d get a twofer–seeing the pueblo and having a wonderful meal. It was not to be.

Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Tzintzuntzan, nestled on the shore of a grand lake, Lago do Patzcuaro.

And true to its title, Tzintzuntzan lived up to its appellation. Driving in, it just felt magical.

First, we stopped at the malecon which could pass as a big rest area in the U.S. A few boats dotted the lakefront which was covered with shrubs. No beach here. Notice below the proverbial dog, lazing by the lake. So far, every town and city we’ve visited in Mexico sports lots and lots of dogs, just hanging out.

Every angel must get its wings and here at last, Bonita got hers!

We drove through the town, letting Google Maps guide us to the restaurant. At last we parked in front of the town’s mercado and went across the street to our destination.

But alas, the restaurant wasn’t serving, so we went away disappointed.

Despite that, the mercado and our exploration of the town proved most delightful.

The mercado, it turns out, features brightly and brilliantly colored Christmas decorations as well as many other local works of arts and crafts.

The main attraction however is the Monastery of San Francisco, founded in the sixteenth century. 

Typically, both towns and cities in Mexico have a square, an el centro, which is anchored by a cathedral. Here in Tzintzuntzan however, not so. We were wondering where to local cathedral was and, as we had read about the monastery, where it was as well.

One of the merchants pointed us toward a wall at the back of the mercado. We headed that way and walking past dozens and dozens of vendors hawking all kinds of merchandise and art, we passed through a gate in a wall into a garden of tranquility that is the monastery.

A truly lovely and almost otherworldly place, it features three cathedrals. I could go on and on here, yet, I’ll go by the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll leave you with a montage of the stately place.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. (And come visit!)