Monday, February 19, 2018

Toritos and Catrinas


Patzcuaro is one of our favorite places and we wanted to experience Carnaval with the Toritos again this year.  Carnaval takes place on the three days before Ash Wednesday. The celebration begins on Sunday and ends late Tuesday night. Loud booms and fireworks announce the approach of groups of Toritos as they roam through the neighborhoods.We saw 2 or 3 groups on Sunday and heard them again on Monday and Tuesday. I guess the idea is to party, party, party before giving things up for Lent!

One version explaining the origin of the Toritos is that they were introduced in the 16th century to Michoacan lands by Vasco de Quiroga.  Their purpose was to attract the attention of the indigenous peoples who had taken refuge in the Sierra mountains before the arrival and cruelty of the Spaniards.

Another version of their origin mentions that the bulls were invented by the indigenous people to mock the bullfights practiced by the Spaniards and that Vasco de Quiroga only improved and organized them. Each town and its inhabitants were forced to help with the construction and decoration of the bull and to present it three days before Ash Wednesday

The Toritos dance traditionally contains several elements. There are those who dance around, usually 10 or more males dressed as women and the bull. There is a male who gets inside the frame of a bull and is the one who is responsible for giving life and movements to the bull with jumps and leaps. The men dressed in drag are pretty entertaining. We think they are called Maringuias and represent the women of the town the particular Toritos group is from. At least one person is disguised as the devil and more than one represents death. Interesting to see one of the Toritos in a Donald Trump costume.

Although Patzcuaro is always an interesting place to visit, coming for Carnaval and the Toritos is especially fun!


About 20 miles or so to the northeast of Patzcuaro off the new Autopista Cuitzeo Patzcuaro is the town of Capula where Catrinas are made. Catrinas are mostly doll size ceramic figures of a skeleton dressed in many and various elaborate costumes. We took a road trip with our friends Jerry and Paula and roamed around Capula, looking at literally thousands of these figurines. Yes, we did make a purchase or two. We see Catrinas all over Mexico but Capula is the world capital of Catrinas. There is a giant Catrina statue at the entrance to Capula, which is a very small town.

The Catrina was created by José Guadalupe Posada and made famous by the muralist Diego Rivera. It was presumably Diego Rivera who called her Catrina, a name with which she later became known, converting her into a popular Mexican character.

Although its image is associated with the Day of the Dead, the Catrina refers to many social situations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The caricaturist José Guadalupe Posada made an illustration of a skull with a hat, which he named La Calavera Garbancera . At that time, it was called garbancera, named for those who sold garbanzas or chick peas. They were commonly of indigenous origins but ashamed of their roots and pretended to be European. With this skull, Posada criticized many Mexicans who, despite being very poor, seemed to follow the European way of life.

There were so many Catrinas in Capula that it was a bit overwhelming. There is a wide range in quality, which is reflected in the price of a Catrina. The prices, however, are considerably less in Capula than we have seen elsewhere. Makes sense since that's where they're made. The Catrina shown below is one of the ones we bought - love the detail as well as her pose.

We found a nice restaurant for lunch that had some fabulous murals depicting Catrinas.

The mural below from the restaurant shows Diego Rivera with Freda Kahlo. The detail in the mural was quite remarkable and very surrealistic. If you click on the photo you can zoom in to see some of the weird creatures.

This appears to be a Catrina of Freda Kahlo painting Freda. Interesting.

Some of the figures in the mural are similar to the Albrijes we saw in Oaxaca.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Patzcuaro, Old Man Dance

One of the things that Michoacan  is known for is the Danza de los Viejitos, or Dance of the Little Old Men and it's performed regularly in Patzcuaro. There are several explanations for its origin. In one version of the story, the dance of the Viejitos was originally the dance of the dissed. According to this account, the stiff, lurching, rhythmically challenged dance originated as a way for the indigenous population to make fun of their elderly Spanish overlords. This explanation seems supported by the dancers' pink masks, the color of a fair skin that has encountered tropical sun for the first time.
Other sources say that it is a celebration of old age and reflects traditional veneration of the elderly. They contend that the dance was performed in the region even before the European conquest. Whatever the truth to its origin is, we always enjoy watching it performed. The dancers wear wooden shoes that are kind of split, which gives the 'tapping' sound heard.

The video shows part of the dance performance.

All of the dancers aren't old men but there seem to be a variety of ages represented, depending on which group happens to be performing.

We spent time with friends Barb and Sal, Paula and Jerry while wandering around town and had a nice lunch at Lupitas restaurant.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Patzcuaro, Rancho la Mesa

We're in Patzcuaro once again at Rancho la Mesa RV Park, restaurant and hotel. We love it up here and are always happy to return. The view of the town, lake and island of Janitzio is stunning.

The variety of animals and birds make our walks interesting and keep us entertained.

At the moment there are several RVs here, nice group of people. Although the road coming in is a bit rough it doesn't seem to stop RVers from staying here. Lots of room with big spaces and decent hookups.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato

Our internet connection has been sporadic so I haven't been blogging - this will catch us up a bit.

San Miguel de Allende

The holiday season in San Miguel was a bit more crowded than we had anticipated but we still enjoyed ourselves. Every time we go to San Miguel we notice the increase in cars and people. This year it was so crowded that the streets around the central Jardin were often completely close for many blocks. There was simply nowhere left for anyone to park, so the police were only letting taxis, buses, and motorcycles through. We tried taking a taxi into town, but then faced the difficulty of trying to find an empty one to take us home. Fortunately things relaxed a bit after Three Kings Day.

Lots of people around the Jardin. We always enjoy seeing the Mojigangas parading through town.

Interesting sculpture.

The RV park at San Ramon is about 3 kilometers out of town, more quiet and rural. One day we spotted a couple of unusual birds which we found out are called Crested Caracaras. They have an interesting history. Historians say that when the Aztecs were wandering through Mexico their god told them to look for a place where they would find a large bird eating a snake, on top of a cactus growing out of a large rock, in the middle of a lake. Their god told them that when they found this place they were to establish a city and build a temple. The place was Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec Empire. It's believed that the bird the Aztecs saw was a Crested Caracara and it was depicted on the original Mexican flag, but changed to a Golden Eagle on the current flag. The ruins of Tenochtitlan are still being excavated in Mexico City.

Atotonilco Church

Atotonilco is a small town close to San Miguel. The church there has been called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, and though we've been there many times it always worth another visit.

Mineral de Pozos

There's an old mining town about an hours drive from San Miguel called Mineral de Pozos. We had been there before but took our friend Meridith and her daughter Harper there with us on a day trip. We met Meridith, her husband Gary and Harper at San Ramon RV Park. They're from Lafayette Colorado, very close to where we used to live and pretty fun to hang around with.

There's a womans' cooperativa in Pozos that raising money by making very elaborate clothes for dolls. Each doll represents an area or culture in Mexico and is dressed accordingly. I bought a doll several years ago, and Harper got one this year.


It's always a pleasure to be in Guanajuato, a beautiful silver mining city and one of our favorites.  It's in a narrow valley with houses and roads climbing up steep hills around the historic center. It's a walking city and because of its topography it has narrow winding streets that connect a series of small plazas. A view from the Panoramica Drive around and above the city shows the colorful homes going up into the hills.

Small plazas with little cafes and narrow alleyways, some with cafes or homes built on the bridges above them, are found throughout the city.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are popular figures in Guanajuato. There is a Don Quixote Museum and the International Festival El Cervantino is held in the city each fall. The origins of the festival are from the mid 20th century when short plays by Miguel de Cervantes were performed in the city's plazas. It has now been expanded with more international events, and has become one of the four major festivals of its type in the world.

The places I've written about in this blog are all places that we have visited and blogged about before. For more pictures and more extensive information about them, use the 'search' window on the top right side of the blog and type in the name of the city or area.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Crazy Trip from Laredo TX to San Miguel de Allende

As we made our way across Texas to cross the border into Mexico near Laredo we were surprised to encounter snow, as were the people who lived along the border. Many of the people we talked to had never seen snow before so it was a bit of an event. 
Brian wrote up a few emails describing our trip from Laredo to San Miguel de Allende that I'm just going to cut and paste for the post, along with some pictures we took and got off the internet.

Day 1

Record breaker – I think. We left the Laredo, TX area around 8:30am Fri and by about 10:45am were stopped by a huge traffic back up. By around 6pm we had gone probably less then 2 miles. It is our understanding the road over mountains north of Monterrey was closed due to snow and ice. Trucks and cars were backed up for many miles. We pulled over to the side where there happened to be a wide area due to an old closed exit east of Sabina Hidalgo. Traffic finally started moving around 9pm but there were several trucks stopped on both sides of the road along the same wide spot we were in so we decided to stay the night not knowing exactly what was up ahead. Snow is so rare they don’t seem to have equipment or material to take care of snow and ice on roads so they just closed the pass. During the time we sat we saw no police or other government entities coming along the road. The truckers and some of the other people did seem to know what was going on. We called our friend Chris who lives near Monterrey and were told that not only the road north of Monterrey was closed but the road south of Monterrey was closed too. So we hope to be back on the road before daybreak to see how far we can get. Traffic is moving here now. We are fine in our self-contained little house – warm and fed and securely locked in. Chris gave us some info on the Federal Police website  which came in handy

Pictures from the internet showing why the roads were closed.

Day 2

Coming into Monterrey after our first night of literally spending the night on the road.

Today (Dec 9, 17) it took us about 12 hours to go 99 miles! Seriously. Map below. The road going south from Saltillo toward Mexico City was closed due to snow and ice and no way to remove it apparently. No one told us until we were on the road between Monterrey and Saltillo at which point we were stuck with no way out and no end in sight. The Federales twitter website did say the road was closed but who knew they would not get it open all day? We left our roadside wide spot [1] well before sunup at about 6 AM. We got to the road between Monterrey and Saltillo between 7:30 AM and 8 AM. And then we saw the backup of vehicles. There are two main roads – one free and one toll – we were directed to the free road by Federales so had no choice. But no matter as both roads were backed up all day. We finally got to another wide spot [2] by a Pemex station still several miles from the exit to head south at about 6:30 PM. Very tired. Nowhere else to go. Traffic still stop and go – mostly stopped – until maybe 8 PM when for some reason things began to move. We have no idea why they can’t open the pass during daylight but can open it at night. We are safe and secure and warm and fed and can still get satellite TV for some reason so we are fine. If tomorrow is like today we will probably be up by 5 AM and head out hoping for the best. We are supposed to be in San Miguel de Allende tomorrow but since it is still about 400 miles away we may not make it. Watching the Today Show this morning we saw people in NYC not needing jackets or coats outside on the plaza. Something about the weather these days. So traveler tip for Mexico – if you hear it snowed (check the weather) be prepared to sit in your vehicle all day or find a nice place to wait it out.

Brian climbed up a hill and took the photo below while we were stopped for hours. The arrow points to the Bus.

Day 3

The road was open and we got an early start. Things weren't too bad going south but apparently the road going north was closed at the pass just past Saltillo. We really couldn't figure out why since it looked like a couple of dump trucks with sand could have taken care of the northbound lanes over the pass and through the tunnel. We kept track on the odometer and the line of stopped trucks went on for 30 miles. Emergency vehicles were delivering food and fuel, and people were building fires in the median and alongside the road to keep warm. Trucks were parked at truck stops and restaurants as well. I think the news said that over 2,000 trucks were waiting for the road to open.

We had a long day but we got to San Miguel de Allende and pulled into our spot at San Ramon Hotel and RV park before dark. Glad to be settled in, and never hope to repeat a journey like that!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Time to Remodel

While recuperating from my hip replacement last year I spent some time watching HGTV and decided it was time to remodel the kitchen. Fortunately Brian went along with the idea.
The kitchen had very dated pickled oak cabinets, cheap laminate countertops and the floor tile was old and chipped. The guest bath had the same cabinets and tile.

We spent much of the spring looking at numerous options and purchased most of our materials at that time. When we returned after our summer travels on the East Coast and Canada we got the rest of the materials and got started. Following is a very brief description of some of the steps we took.

We tore out the old cabinets, but had to assemble the new cabinets before we could install them. The new wall cabinets go all the way to the ceiling, and the new base cabinets are drawers.

When we were shopping for flooring we had a difficult time deciding what to use until we came across Karndean Looselay Luxury Plank Vinyl.  Absolutely love it.  We didn't have to tear out the old tile or remove baseboards and door frames. Brian roughed up the existing tile with a sander and filled in the old grout lines. We installed the planks, and Brian was able to do the cuts with a utility knife. Some of the cuts were complicated, but he figured it out. The photo below shows the guest bath floor before installing the new flooring. We did the flooring in stages depending on what the next part of the project was.
We also got rid of the old cabinets in the bathroom. We purchased new cabinet doors in the Shaker style to match the kitchen. Brian painted the doors and cabinet frames to match, which was a much easier option than trying to tear them out.

We did much of the floor in the kitchen and laundry room before starting on the base cabinets. Once they were installed the next step was to get started on the granite tile countertops.

Our choice for the countertops was 12x24 granite tiles. I chose a tile I really liked but of course it didn't come with a bullnose option. Among other things, Brian invested in a tile saw, and a tool that bullnosed and polished the granite tile. It was a tremendous amount of work and really did a number on his back but he did a great job.We had to set up our cutting/bullnosing/polishing shop in the garage since it was way too hot to be working out in the sun.

We tiled the stove side of the kitchen first - the goal was to keep the kitchen functional while we were working and we pretty much accomplished that. In addition to laying the tile on the countertop we had to cut and lay tile for the fascia. Once that was done everything had to be grouted and sealed, quite a production but done in stages.

One of the biggest challenges was the kitchen sink. The company that we ordered our cabinets from didn't have an option for a farmhouse sink cabinet so Brian modified a wall cabinet and built the support for the sink around the cabinet. He also designed and built a pull-out drawer under the sink - took several days but he's a meticulous planner and it turned out really well.

The floor under the base cabinets of the sink side was anything but level so it took a while to get that accomplished so the flooring could be installed, the base cabinets installed, and the dishwasher re-installed.
Once the base cabinets on the sink side were installed and level we began the tiling project on that side. We spent a lot of time making sure the sink was properly installed and level. Brian installed all new plumbing for the sink and new faucet and came up with a clever idea for leveling the sink. He put metal on the side supports for the sink, then installed bolts that he could adjust up or down as needed while I held the level on top of the sink and countertop.

Once the cabinets, dishwasher, sink and tile were pretty much done we got to work on the bar. We tore out the old bar and built a new countertop base and fascia which we tiled, grouted and sealed. 

Almost to the finish line and we still had to decide on a backsplash. When we returned to the place that we bought our granite tile one of the designers showed us glass subway tile that we thought went pretty well with the countertops. Brian came up with the idea of using a few lighter tiles to break things up and I think it worked out quite well. We thought the backsplash would go up pretty quickly but it didn't. It came in sheets with 8 tiles on each, and the spacers we had to use kept falling out. It took close to 3 days to install, very difficult but it turned out well.

Obviously I've skipped many steps and this is just the basic description of what we did. As usual with projects like these challenges kept presenting themselves, but we got done in about 6 weeks which is pretty good for a major remodel. We're very happy with the results!