Wednesday, August 27, 2014

VERACRUZ, VERACRUZ: A WONDERFUL MELTING POT





Welcome to the exciting Mexican state of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico! I refer to Veracruz as the state of wonderful variety because of the differences found in its cultures, climates, topography, cuisines, music, and industry. Each city and each region offers an intriguing opportunity to experience and explore what seems like many different states, but they are all conveniently wrapped up in one.



We will be visiting three very different cities which to me illustrate the wonderful variety to be found in the state of Veracruz. The first will be the exuberant city and port of VERACRUZ and is the subject of this post. My second post will cover the vibrant capital of XALAPA (aka JALAPA) and the enchanting colonial coffee town of XICO.



I believe it would be good idea to understand in general terms the climate of the state of Veracruz. The large variation of altitude in Veracruz results in a large mixture of climates from cold snow capped mountain tops to warm and wet tropical areas on the coast. Thirty two percent of the state is classified as hot and humid, fifty two percent as hot and semi humid, nine percent is warm and humid, six percent as temperate and humid, and one percent is classified as cold. Makes you want to grab a cold drink just thinking about it doesn't it! 



The city of Veracruz is classified in the hot and humid zone. The cities of Xalapa and Xico are found in the warm/temperate and humid category What this means is that there is a lot of climate variation which makes for interesting changes. So if you are ready, let’s go!


Driving from Mexico City or Puebla to the city of Veracruz we pass Pico de Orizaba (a dormant volcano) at 18,000 feet which is the highest in Mexico and third highest in North America.



 Veracruz is serious coffee country, but this is cactus, not coffee! 


Then we pass through the rich, productive countryside in the state of Veracruz.


Veracruz also has an abundance of rivers, lakes, and gorgeous tropical mountains to explore and enjoy.


NOW FOR YOUR LITTLE HISTORY LESSON:  

The city of Veracruz is officially known as “Heroica (heroic) Veracruz” because of its amazing role in the dramatic history of Mexico. Veracruz is a major port city on the Gulf of Mexico and is also the name of the municipality and the state in which it is located. When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519 he founded a settlement here. 

He named it Villa Rica (rich place) de la Vera Cruz (true cross). This name was in reference to the area’s gold and also in dedication to the "True Cross" which was because he landed on the Christian holy day of Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion. It was the first Spanish settlement on the mainland of the Americas. Over the course of centuries the city of Veracruz and the state of Veracruz have played significant roles in Mexican history.

Veracruz is Mexico’s oldest, largest, and historically most significant port since European colonization. It was the port of entry for the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in the “New World” to conquer the native people and for the Spanish priests who arrived to save and convert the native people to their Christian Catholic beliefs. Both the “men of the sword” and the men of the cloth” were unbelievably successful in a relatively short period to time.

The port of Veracruz was also the port of export for the country's natural resources, including vast amounts of silver and gold, that were plundered and shipped home to “mother” Spain. With time, the shipment of native food products and spices also became very lucrative. The “importation” of the Spanish culture, language, and religion would forever change not only Mexico, but also other Latin American cultures. The “New World” in the western hemisphere was to be forever changed after the arrival of the Spaniards.


There is a significant Mexican Navy presence in the large commercial port of Veracruz.




 
Modern sculpture at the port of Veracruz. I think it's doubtful the Catholic Conquistadors would have approved of this art!

Veracruz also has a well-deserved reputation for being boisterous and fun loving with people dancing and listening to music in the plazas late into the night only to wake up early the next morning to drink coffee at the sidewalk cafes. The pre-Lent celebration In Veracruz with its colorful and riotous Carnival has been celebrated every year since it was started in 1866 during the reign of Emperor Maximilian. From what I understand it is one of the best Carnival celebrations in Latin America and not to be missed!

                                        

The action is a blur on a typical Saturday night on the plaza dancing under the hot tropical moon.


Carnival in Veracruz with gorgeous floats, gorgeous ladies, and hot, hot music.


The Plaza de las Armas, which is commonly referred to as the zocalo (an indigenous word for plaza) is the main plaza in Veracruz. It is a lovely tree-filled square which is the center of social and cultural life in Veracruz. It is occupied from morning until late at night with people playing dominoes, selling food, cigars, cold drinks, playing music and dancing.



A bird's eye view overlooking the cafes which surround the main Plaza in Veracruz. Cafe or rum anyone?


The Cathedral of Veracruz on the Plaza de Armas are built in the customary Spanish layout which embodies the heart and soul of Mexico.


This is classic Mexico: the presentation of the flag on the main zocalo (plaza) under the bell tower of the Cathedral 365 days a year.

The Plaza de las Armas is even more crowded in the evening when almost every night of the week the danzón is danced. This dance was brought over to Mexico from Cuba by refugees in the 1870's. It was originally restricted to the lower classes but eventually gained accepted by all levels of society. The state's best-known musical style is called the "son". A is a musical variation which traces its origins to Spain and developed during the 17th and 18th centuries. It is the state’s most popular musical style which shows influences from the many cultures who have lived in Veracruz including indigenous groups, Portuguese, Italians, Africans, French and others.


The traditional dances and dancers of Veracruz are stunningly beautiful!


Now that we have thoroughly exhausted ourselves with the exuberant city of Veracruz I believe it’s time to hit the road and head up to the lovely capital city of Xalapa and to the peaceful colonial town of Xico. Please see the following blog post for a visit to these wonderful places which are also in the state of Veracruz.


I remember many, many years ago hearing that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so following is a link to my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting. 

VERACRUZ PHOTO ALBUM

I always appreciate hearing from my blog visitors. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Until next time, saludos and muchas gracias. Laura



                                       Memories are just a click away!



Saturday, August 16, 2014

BOCAS DEL TORO, PANAMA: A STUDY IN NATURAL BEAUTY




                 

The islands of Bocas del Toro are the essence and the mirror of Caribbean Panama. This archipelago has the perfect combination of nature with historical and cultural traditions. The incredible variety of aquatic species, coral reefs, mangroves, tropical forest, beaches with crystal clear water, and undisturbed jungles with a myriad of flora and fauna can take your breath away and leave you in total awe.



The stunning aquatic beauty of the reefs in Bocas is incredible!


The lavender sunsets in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro are amazing!

Without doubt, the most famous visitor who arrived at this piece of paradise was Admiral Christopher Columbus on his fourth and final voyage to the New World in 1502 while searching for a passage to the Pacific Ocean. It goes without saying that he was someway confused or mislead, but I cannot help believe that he must have been seriously impressed by the beauty of the area. And in fact Columbus was so taken by the Bocas area that he affixed his name to many sites including Isla Colon (Columbus Island), Isla Cristóbal (Christopher Island) and Bahía de Almirante (Admiral’s Bay).



The reefs are teeming with marine life and waiting for you to visit.



Water taxis are the main form of transportation from the mainland and between the islands of Bocas del Toro and definitely a great way to see the area.


FYI: For those of us who might get a little confused as to how to address Admiral Columbus it depends on the speaker’s language. For example: English: Christopher Columbus; Italian: Cristoforo Colombo; Spanish: Cristóbal Colón; and Portuguese: Cristóvão Colombo. 








I really enjoy maps and this one was especially easy on the eyes for those who want to know the layout of Bocas del Toro.



Bocas del Toro is located on the northern Caribbean coast of Panama. Four hundred years after Columbus’s last voyage to the area, the province of Bocas del Toro was founded. Bocas del Toro translates to “mouth of the bull” and is the name of both the province and its capital. The province of “Bocas” extends from the lush tropical mainland to the islands of the archipelago which has 9 main islands, 52 cays (or smaller islands), and thousands of islets. The capital of “Bocas” is located on Columbus’s namesake island of Isla Colon and is the most populated and commercial of the islands.



This was one of the docks where we spent a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, and sunning in Bocas del Toro.  



The range of vibrant coral colors and types of coral is spectacular.



Our canine friend is the "official greeter" at our very eco-friendly and casual Bocas retreat.


The origin of the name Bocas del Toro is not certain. However, there are many theories which include, but are not limited, to the following: It has been said that when Christopher Columbus landed on one of the fantastically beautiful beaches he saw waterfalls in the form of "bocas del toro" (mouth of the bull). It has also been said that Columbus made note of a large rock on Isla Bastimentos that has the form of a bull lying down. Another theory suggests that the sound of the immense waves which pound on the large volcanic rocks on Isla Bastimentos makes a sound similar to the roaring of a bull. There is also the belief by the local indigenous people that the last "cacique" or chief of the region was known as "Boka (Boca as in "loud mouth"?) Toro." Whatever it’s true derivation, Bocas del Toro is certainly a unique and powerful name for a magnificent area.


For those who wish to alternate snorkeling and diving with surfing there's a tube waiting for you!



Celebrating another birthday in Bocas with another beautiful night is certainly a wonderful birthday gift.


Bocas del Toro is also home to two national parks: Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park, Panama’s first marine park, and La Amistad International Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute operates a research station on Colon Island just northwest of Bocas Town. You may go to the following for more information:

http://www.stri.si.edu/english/research/facilities/marine/bocas_del_toro/





There is a local population of manatees in Bocas which may be visited by organized tours. Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows.These gentle giants are endangered and hopefully protection efforts will be successful.



A vast variety of accommodations are available in the Bocas area. Doesn't this tropical villa look lovely? Warning: you might never want to leave!

Bocas del Toro offers the modern-day visitor or “explorer” so much to enjoy and experience that I can’t help but believe that Senor Christopher Columbus would very much regret all he left behind! Bocas has lush tropical rain forests with abundant fauna and flora, sunny islands with beaches that compete with the Caribbean best, coral reefs set in crystal clear water, and mysterious mangrove islets for exploring.



Water, water everywhere and waiting to be enjoyed, explored, and treasured.



When we were in Bocas there was only one national beer for refreshment and this "still-life" photograph brings back some very cool and refreshing memories.



We had never seen a garden of starfish before and we were enchanted with this one.


The outer islands of Bocas del Toro are easily accessible by boat ride from Isla Colon and have some of the world’s most pristine waters and white sand beaches which are ideal for snorkeling, diving, fishing, surfing, or just relaxing in the tropical sun. The ecosystem on the islands is very diverse with hundreds of species of birds, fish, dolphins, monkeys, toucans, sloth, as well as other marine and wildlife including manatees.




The three-toed sloth are tree-living mammals and are found in the jungles of Bocas. With their slow metabolism and their very slow movement they are perfectly adapted to the tropical climate. See the following for more on slothshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-toed_sloth



Taking a small and rustic water taxi to another beach to be "discovered" brings a smile to my face.

Bocas del Toro is also a fascinating mosaic of cultures including Spanish, Indian, English and French-speaking West Indian natives, Europeans, and North and South Americans.



An introductory swimming lesson for one of the local girls was great fun for both of us.



A colorful and fun-looking backpacker accommodation in Bocas town. This building is typical of the colorful clapboard construction in Bocas.

Culturally, the islands and the lowlands on the mainland around them support a distinct group of Indians, the Guaymas. They still live by fishing and subsistence farming, travel mostly by canoe, and reside in wooden, thatch-roofed huts. The Guaymi language is still commonly spoken, although many converse in Spanish, or Gali-Gali, the distinct Creole language of Bocas delToro that combines English, Spanish, and Guaymi. This dialect had its origins among the Jamaicans brought over to harvest bananas. Descendants of these workers are a major segment of the population. The third group found in the area is the “Latinos” of mixed Indian and Spanish ancestry. The blend of cultures makes Bocas del Toro a real delight and much more than just a "pretty place"!



Dining on the water and watching the local boats is a great way to spend a little time in Bocas Town, the capital and commercial center of the province of Bocas del Toro.



A diving beauty as seen in the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. An archipelago, sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of islands.



Oh, mama mia, another gorgeous setting sun on another gorgeous Bocas day.

There is definitely something to interest and enchant every type of visitor to the Bocas area. I realize and apologize if I am starting to sound like a travel agent, but my enthusiasm for the delights of Bocas is difficult to contain. So enough talk already.  It’s time to visit Bocas with additional photos at the following link to my album:

BOCAS DEL TORO PHOTO ALBUM



I hope they do justice to the beauty and magic of delightful BOCAS. Enjoy and gracias until next time! Laura



                                                    Memories are just a click away!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

OAXACA, OAXACA: AN AMAZING CITY


         OAXACA AND THE ICONIC CHURCH OF SANTO DOMINGO

                         

After living in and loving the state of Yucatan, Mexico it was time to move on. I had what my husband calls my “itchy feet” syndrome which manifests itself approximately every eighteen months, more or less. And when the feet get the itch to hit the road there is no denying them. After taking many factors into consideration we decided that our next living adventure would be in Oaxaca, the city and capital of the state of Oaxaca. We had visited Oaxaca as visitors twice in the early years after we moved to Mexico and remembered it as a fascinating place. It was time to relocate and become Oaxaquenos as the natives and residents of Oaxaca are called.



Can you find the state of Oaxaca? Hint: it's in the southern part of Mexico and its color is Green.


It is never too soon to learn the traditional dances of Oaxaca!


Colorful and traditional folkloric dances in the square of the Basilica del Nuestra Senora de La Soledad in Oaxaca City.


 
The Church and former monastery of Santo Domingo is the setting of choice for a memorable photograph of a very pretty bride.


The Cathedral of Oaxaca and the main zocolo (plaza) of Oaxaca are all decked out with poinsettias (which are native to Mexico) for the Christmas holidays.


There was and is a large indigenous culture that makes it one of the two largest indigenous populated states in Mexico.


 
The Dance of the Plumes (feathers) performed during Easter week is a very traditional indigenous dance and an exhausting workout.


 

A lovely lady from one of the many indigenous groups of Oaxaca wearing a traditional huipil top.


 
A local woman with child selling vegetables on the street of Oaxaca.


Two of the most important archaeological ruins in Mexico,  Monte Albán and Mitla, are located in Oaxaca.


Monte Albán located just outside the city of Oaxaca was named a World Heritage Site in 1987 - truly outstanding.


The ruins of Mitla are a showcase of artistic stone fretwork which is found nowhere else in the ancient Latin world.

The stone carvings at Monte Alban are really stunning.

Oaxaca has a fabulous culinary tradition with some of the most outstanding food in Mexico including moles, tamales, and chocolate.



Traditional foods including handmade tamales with different fillings are sold daily in front of the Benito Juarez Mercado.



Traditional foods are prepared daily to either eat at the mercado (market) or "para llevar" (to go). Decisions are hard to make when there are so many great choices.



Women from the surrounding pueblos bring their produce to the city to sell and to also catch up on the local gossip.

There are fabulous traditional fiestas including Semana Santa (Easter Week celebrations), Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead celebrations), the Radish Fiesta (unique to only Oaxaca City); and the annual Guelaguetza, the traditional folk dance festival which is famous not only in Mexico, but internationally as well.


The Good Friday processions are HUGE in Oaxaca City!



The Good Friday processions are especially dramatic at night with the candles, smoking incense, and mournful sounding drums.



The annual Guelaguetza dance festival is held each summer and visitors come from many, many countries to to enjoy.



Oaxaca is also known for its exuberant Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festivities each year on November 1st and 2nd. "Altars" are constructed by families in remembrance of dearly departed ones.



The Radish Festival is unique to Oaxaca City and is celebrated on December 23rd each year. The main square is filled with competitors who vie for awards for the most uniquely carved radishes and artistic corn husks.


And if these attributes were not enough, the arts, crafts, and the outstanding textile tradition of Oaxaca are beyond comparison. A visitor cannot be anything but thoroughly enchanted with all that Oaxaca has to offer.


Alebrijes are individually hand carved from local wood and hand painted. These unique creatures are a Oaxacan specialty and are prized by collectors.



A visit to the Rudolfo Morales Gallery can be combined with a visit to the weekly market in Ocotlan. The gallery is one of our favorites.

 Individually carved masks are worn in traditional dances which predate the arrival of the Spanish and are popular with collectors.


Check out the embroidery detail on this huipil, the traditional "blouse" of indigenous Mayan women.



The textiles of Oaxaca are ART to be worn with pride and the motifs vary according to the region of origin.


 In addition to the magic of Oaxaca City, the entire state Oaxaca has something to entice and enchant travelers of all interests. The surrounding pueblos, or small towns, were fascinating to visit during their weekly markets where the locals gather as they have since pre-Colombian times to buy and trade foods of every type of imaginable product. These traditional weekly markets (tianguis) are exciting and colorful beyond words.



The overwhelming selection of produce at one of the weekly markets outside of Oaxaca City is amazing! And enjoying the action of commerce is a real experience!



Looking for the perfect chilies in this massive pile! I think I might also need some garlic from the lady checking me out.



I call this photograph "Lost in the Banana Patch" - can you believe the quantity???

                            AND MY FINAL CLOSING SHOT OF OAXACA! 



I hope this handsome piece of meat isn't on the market at the market! Notice that his keeper has brought some nice greens to keep him busy and out of trouble.

I hope that this small introduction to Oaxaca has planted the seed for a visit. I plan on sharing more of the magical pueblos that surround Oaxaca City including Ocotlan and Zaachila which are two of my favorite pueblos. I will also be posting on the beautiful Pacific Coast beaches of Oaxaca including Puerto Escondido.

I remember many, many years ago hearing that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so following is a link to my WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting. 

OAXACA WEB ALBUM

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. Until next time, saludos and hope to see you again very soon. Laura


Memories are just a click away!