Tag Archive: expat blog Mexico

China map

Itinerary: 21 Days in China

Thanks so much for your patience while I’ve taken a break from my  blog to complete work on my just-published books (more info on them below)!

I’ll resume posting on Sunday, July 26 with the first in a series from my recent 21-day trip to China.

The China trip begins with a long weekend in booming Shanghai, continues for 12 days along the Yangtze River and wraps up in  Xi’an (home of the ‘Terra Cotta Warriors‘), and Beijing.

21 Days In China is a chance to look beyond current headlines for firsthand insight into the culture, history, cuisine, and faces of today’s China!


Two of my books previously first released only as digital editions are now available for the first time in paperback on Amazon!

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LIFELINES: AN AMERICAN DREAM (2014).  My second book and first novel is the story of two families who abandon their pasts to pursue the American dream, and whose lives intersect in the melting pot of the industrial Midwest.

This is a collection of intimate snapshots that brings to life a history fast fading from collective memory. Rich in historical detail, it is set against the backdrop of America’s emergence as a world power in the twentieth century, and the rise and fall of organized labor.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

Laguna Tales digital version 5x8 cover hi-res full size

LAGUNA TALES (2011).  My first book, a collection of short stories, draws on my own experiences to capture the lifestyle of the expat community in and around a mountain village in Mexico.

Six Americans from different walks of life arrive at personal crossroads that separately lead them to begin new lives along the shores of Mexico’s Lake Chapala.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

ETF cover 06 Digital

EMBRACING THE FOG (2015).  I’ve partnered with three American writers from  the Lake Chapala area on  this new short story collection, which includes five previously-unpublished pieces.

These eighteen short stories are studies characters at life’s crossroads  in settings that span four continents and more than a century.  They run a gamut of styles from sobering to whimsical, and from stark realism to the fanciful.  Find it in Paperback or for Kindle and other e-readers here on Amazon.

Mexico Sunshine And Shadows 21MEXICO: SUNLIGHT & SHADOWS (2015).  I’m honored by the invitation to  contribute one of my pieces to this just-published collection of short stories and essays by some of the most widely read English language writers in Mexico.

This anthology captures the work of twenty-two published authors who write and live in Mexico full time, and who share a view of life there as seen through their eyes.  Find it for Kindle and other e-readers ONLY here on Amazon.

THE MIRASOL REDEMPTION (coming soon).  Watch for the August, 2015 release of my second novel, in digital and paperback editions on Amazon.

Mirasol Redemption cover design

Enjoy the read!


Bohemian Barranco

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima

Barranco is the Spanish word for “ravine”, and Lima’s Barranco District takes its name from a ravine that was once a riverbed, but is now the site of a pedestrian walkway – the Bajada de los Baños – a ramp that connects it to the beach below.

The forest of glittering high rises that has sprouted in neighboring Miraflores has not yet crept this far down the coast, and it still has the feeling of a village.

Bajada de los Baños, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Puente de los Suspiros Bridge of Sighs, Barranco, Lima, Peru

The ravine, though, is not the only unique feature of Barranco’s geography or its appeal.

Cliffs extending out from the shoreline to the south shield it from cold and damp southern winds to create a comfortable micro-climate.

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La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

On a side street, a hostel sign proclaims “backpackers welcome,” and through its open lobby door well-worn surfboards stand stacked against a wall.

Lima has been ranked Number 6 among the World’s 50 Best Surf Spots, and Barranco still boasts a marina and yacht club.

Barranco was originally a fishing village, and its maritime heritage is celebrated by the Eglesia de la Ermita.

Legend has it that a group of fishermen lost in the sea mist at last saw a distant light and rowed toward it.  When they came ashore, they found that in the spot where they had seen the light was nothing but a wooden cross in the sand, and built the church in thanksgiving.

Cupola of La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Cupola of La Ermita church, Barranco, Lima, Peru

La Ermita is now abandoned, its fractured ceiling a exposing earthquake-proof construction techniques that date back to pre-Columbian times that substitute light and flexible bamboo and stucco for heavy brick or stone.

Late 1800’s, the District became a fashionable beach resort where well-to-do  Limeños built casonas – their summer homes.


Electric trolley museum, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Electric trolley museum, Barranco, Lima, Peru

It was so popular that an electric trolley line once connected it to downtown Lima, and one of the trolley cars is now on display here as a permanent museum.

There’s more to Barranco, though, than its connection to the ocean

The District is also considered to be Lima’s most romantic and bohemian neighborhoods.

Cafe mural, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Cafe mural, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Peru’s leading writers, artists and musicians have lived and worked here for more than a century, and there are more than a dozen galleries here, including the first permanent exhibition of internationally known Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino.

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Restaurants and gardens, Barranco, Lima, Peru

The heart of the District covers a dozen or so square blocks.

It’s easy to cover on foot and very secure to walk.

The central plaza retains its original Spanish colonial flavor, and parks and streets are flower-filled.

Shops sell artisan goods tapestries and ceramics.

Street art adorns walls and homes.  Facades of casonas built in the Republican style retain all of their elegance and charm.



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Bajada de los Baños (Bridge of Sighs), Barranco, Lima, Peru

The walkway to the sea, the Bajada de los Baños, is spanned by the Puente de los Suspiros foot bridge.

Its name translates into Bridge of Sighs, so called because it is a frequent meeting place for lovers.






Dining car restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Dining car restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru


Here you’ll find no chain restaurants, but only owner-operated establishments, each brimming with its own unique charm.

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Peruvian restaurant, Barranco, Lima, Peru




If Barranco is a pleasant way to pass the day, it comes even more alive in the evenings, when the bistros, bars, and cafes are crowded with young adults.


Restaurant at night, Barranco, Lima, Peru

Restaurant at night, Barranco, Lima, Peru

I settle over a latte to watch passers-by stop to play a piano that sits beneath an outdoor canopy.

"Play Me" piano, Barranco, Lima, Peru

“Play Me” piano, Barranco, Lima, Peru

It’s only one of dozens placed in city parks and other public spaces by the city, and I sit nearby as a young man plays a flawless rendition of a work by Debussy.

It’s a perfect end to a perfect day, but I’m still looking forward to tomorrow’s culinary tour of Lima!  Click here to come along!

Street scene in Pisac, Peru

Street scene in Pisac, Peru

It’s only a few blocks drive along Pisac’s narrow streets before the central plaza appears.  Only one side of the plaza is visible on this Thursday morning, and scattered among its handicraft shops are a café with wi-fi, a pizzeria, and an ATM.

Artisans' market lane, Pisac, Peru

Artisans’ market lane, Pisac, Peru

The other sides are hidden by the sea of market stalls which covers the plaza, sheltered by a canopy of plastic tarps connected overhead one to the other and billowing in the occasional breeze. Pisac has the looks of a place able to house no more than a couple of thousand souls, but today is a market day and the stalls spill into narrow side-streets.

Jewelry vendor at the artisan market, Pisac, Peru

Jewelry vendor at the artisan market, Pisac, Peru

The quality and originality of the work offered here blurs the distinction between artisanship and art. The unquestioned centerpiece of this market is an awe-inspiring array of hand-woven textiles in brilliant natural dyes that employ both traditional and original designs. Here these fabrics can be found fashioned into everything from alpaca sweaters and scarves to sturdy backpacks.

Native artisan weaving on a simple belt loom

Native artisan weaving on a simple belt loom

There’s also plenty of visually arresting work in wood, leather, and stone – including acres of jewelry – and artisans can sometimes be seen working on a new piece while tending shop. A knowledgeable collector with deep enough pockets can find great values here, but no small number of the more moderately priced items turn out to be available at artisan markets across Perú.

Artisan bakery at the market, Pisac, Peru

Artisan bakery at the market, Pisac, Peru

The smell of freshly baked bread drifts from a brick oven, and there’s no way to resist sampling a still-warm loaf before departing.  A dozen guinea pigs –  soon to be  bound for the dinner table – graze in a nearby pen.

The Spanish built the present-day town of Pisac along the Urubamba River half a century after the Conquest, but the surviving terraces of its predecessor, Inca Pisac, are still draped across the mountains above less than three miles drive away.

View from terrace of the Pisac ruins

View from terrace of the Pisac ruins

The signature terraces – stacked 40 high –  are visible throughout much of the switch-backed drive from the market.  Their design takes advantage of mountain runoff by channeling it through the fields on its way to the river below.

The terraces also served to prevent erosion and landslides, and contained rich soil hauled from the valley below that enabled Inca farmers to produce crops otherwise unsustainable at these altitudes.

Farmers' homes top the terraces

Farmers’ homes top the terraces

Stonework first visible as no more than a thin line along the terrace crown resolves itself at closer range into the buildings of a village which once housed several hundred inhabitants.

Inca ruins at Pisac, Peru

Inca ruins at Pisac, Peru

The buildings are scattered across nearly two square miles of the slope, and include fortifications, aqueducts, granaries, homes, and ceremonial spaces.

Ramparts above homes and terraces, Pisac, Peru

Ramparts above homes and terraces, Pisac, Peru

The ramparts of the Q’allaqasa – the citadel – contain 20 towers that overlook the site from a perch on the ridge above the terraces.

Ramparts seen from above, ruins at Pisac, Peru

Ramparts seen from above, ruins at Pisac, Peru

At the temple to the sun god,  shadows cast by a rock outcropping known to the Incas as “the hitching post of the sun” are believed to mark the change of seasons.

Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

What appear to be the mouths of small caves in a nearly inaccessible hillside across a ravine from the settlement are actually the face of an Inca cemetery not yet fully excavated by archeologists.

Incredibly enough, skeletons are still visible in some of the open-air crypts.

Close-up of Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Close-up of Inca burial caves, Pisac, Peru

Two thoughts stay with me on the ride back down the mountain.

The first thought is that while lowlanders’ perspective of mountains is bottom-up, the Inca hung their fields from mountain ridges and villages which anchored them, connected by mountain trails known only to them.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, since the Inca migrated to the Sacred Valley from higher altitudes to the south, but it reflects a valuation of geography that’s fundamentally different from that of the Spanish conquerors.

The second thought is sheer amazement that the Inca society – without benefit of the wheel, the arch, or the horse – managed to produce such monumental architecture in the space of about only 100 years.   It begs the question of what contribution the Inca might have made to human development if not for the Conquest.

Tomorrow is reserved for even more spectacular ruins and charming village of Ollantaytambo, where urban Inca construction can be seen in homes still in use today.

Street in Ollentaytambo, Peru

Street in Ollentaytambo, Peru

Machu Picchu is the first image which comes to mind at the mention of the word Perú, but any visitor who limits a tour of this incredibly diverse country to the iconic ruin will only scratch its surface.

Motorcycle taxi in Urubamba, Peru

Motorcycle taxi in Urubamba, Peru

In fact, the real dilemma in planning a tour of Perú is not what to leave in, but what to leave out.

The Andes Explorer stops at La Raya, Peru

The Andes Explorer stops at La Raya, Peru

Archeological sites in the Incas’ Sacred Valley which tell which the story of the Incas’ rise and fall are a tour essential, but a visitor could easily spend a month elsewhere without retracing any steps.

Floating islands near las Islas Uros, Peru

Floating islands near las Islas Uros, Peru

Peru is large enough to stretch from the U.S.\Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

Terrain ranging from Pacific beaches to mountain peaks and rain forests has spawned dozens of micro-climates that produce a staggering and often unique array of plant and animal life.

Lake Titicaca as seen from Isla Taquile, Peru

Lake Titicaca as seen from Isla Taquile, Peru

Pre-Incan ruins sit side by side with west coast beaches on the northern Pacific coast. the NAZCA lines score the surface of the arid south, and dugouts ply the jungle headwaters of the Amazon

Street in historic center of Cusco, Peru

Street in historic center of Cusco, Peru

The Quechua language spoken by the descendants of the Inca is only one of a dozen languages spoken by nearly 100 indigenous tribes and clans, each with their own distinctive dress and customs.




This trip is planned for two weeks, so the itinerary narrows down to these destinations:

  • The Incas’ Sacred Valley, from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
  • Lake Titicaca, arriving via stunning views from the Andean Explorer train, with service that hearkens back to the golden days of rail travel.
  • Perú’s oceanfront capital Lima, brimming both with Spanish colonial charm and glittering high rises towering above gardens, promenades, and world-class restaurants.

The trip begins here!


Some tips on travel to Perú:

  • Security is outstanding.  The streets feel safe and police are rarely out of eyesight wherever tourists most often gather.
  • Wireless is widely available in cafes, restaurants, and hotels in areas most frequented by tourists.
  • Electricity is 220 volts, so an adapter for 110 volt appliances is a must unless you intend to turn them into a toasters.  Consider whether you’ll also need a 3-to-2 prong outlet adapter; most electrical outlets are ungrounded (2-prong).
  • Take altitude very seriously unless you want to spend a day of your vacation in a clinic.  Thin, dry mountain air means less oxygen, faster dehydration, and less protection from the sun.  Make the going easier with a hat, long-sleeved shirts, sun block and sunglasses, lip balm and skin moisturizer and water, water, water.  Consider also taking along an altitude medication such as Diamox.  The coca leaves and tea which are widely available in hotels reflect the centuries-old practice and learning of Andean peoples, and they know what they’re talking about.
  • Not every site is ADA compliant. Visitors with mobility issues can have a fulfilling experience, but many of the archeological and many cultural sites require a good walk or climb to be fully appreciated.
  • Use of shared transportation or a taxi for ground travel anywhere in Peru is highly recommended;  traffic both in the city and in the countryside is an organized chaos, the rules of which defy comprehension by the uninitiated.
  • And, of course, take your camera; the stunning landscape and picturesque people make it practically impossible to take a bad photo.

Gone full circle

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The Jalisco villages of Cajititlan and San Juan Evangelista face each other across a couple of kilometers of lake, but on the day of my visit they’re also separated by 300 years of Mexican history.

I can’t take credit for planning this trip to Cajititlan on the Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) but – as these photos show – the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

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Candlemas observes the Biblical presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, but here it’s also the last observance of the Christmas holiday season.

Figures of the baby Jesus first displayed in Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve are given presents from the Magi on el Día de los Reyes (King’s Day, January 6).

On the Día de la Candelaria (February 2) they’re dressed in fine clothes and presented at the church for blessing.  Family and friends also traditionally gather on this day to eat tamales.

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In Mexico, this holiday is a follow-on to Kings’ Day, when children receive gifts and families and friends break share generous loaves of Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with a figurine hidden inside.

Whoever finds the figurines in their portion must host a party on the Día de la Candelaria.

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We arrive in Cajititlan to find streets jammed with cars that surround blocks of the city center cordoned off for a great street festival.

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On the approach to the central plaza and the local parish church, the sound of drumbeats grows ever louder.

The narrow street opens suddenly onto the plaza, where at least 40 dancers in full Aztec ceremonial garb move about in intricately choreographed lines.

The costumes are elaborate and the pageantry is stunning. The dancers are men and women of all ages, and even a few children participate.

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As I draw closer I can hear faint strains of a violin, and in a moment see a fiddler walking among the dancers, an impresario guiding the procession toward the church.

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The church is packed as the procession makes its way up the central aisle toward the altar, the drums continuing their steady beat.

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Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 10

Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 11

It’s startling to see this spectacle of pagan-rooted pageantry occupy a place of Christian worship.

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As as the ceremony ends and the procession backs slowly down the aisle and back into the sun-washed plaza, though, its leader makes the sign of the cross and kisses his fingers.

I study the dancers more closely, and can see crosses hanging around the necks of many.

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Nearly 500 years after the Conquest, and 400 years after native artisans surreptitiously integrated icons of their native religion into the design of the church in nearby San Juan Evangelista, native tradition has re-emerged as such an integral part of mainstream Catholic ceremony in Mexico that it’s no longer possible to imagine one without the other.

Things have, indeed come full circle.

Read the 3 other posts about my trip around Lake Cajitlan:…

Made-from-scratch tortillas on a wood-fired, clay comal

Made-from-scratch tortillas on a wood-fired, clay comal

No less than for county fairs north of the border there’s both a sameness to Mexican village fiestas and yet always some feature that uniquely ties each to a single place.


Cajititlan’s fiesta del Día de la Candelaria proves itself no exception.


As the ceremony on the plaza ends we plunge into a street fair which begins at its edge, lining the curbs of a dozen or more square blocks that slope gently down to the lake.


Canopied booths line both sides of the cobblestone streets and the crowd threads its way through the narrow passages between.

A young fathers cradles his infant son

A young fathers cradles his infant son





The crowd is a mix of villagers and day-trippers from nearby Guadalajara; I seem to be the only gringo within eyesight and the sense of total immersion is a refreshing break from gringi-fied Ajijic.

An artisan prepares to apply color to plaster masks

An artisan prepares to apply color to plaster masks


Market stalls feature the predictable mix of street food, artisan crafts, household items, bootleg CD’s and DVD’s, and clothing.

Diners sit family-style at long tables where women hand-form tortillas from masa ground on-the-spot using stone metates and grilled on clay comals over wood fires.

Tacos don’t get any fresher than this!

Roscas de Reyes, King's Day bread

Roscas de Reyes, King’s Day bread




The very last of the Roscas de Reyes – the King’s Day sweet bread – sit forlorn on a baker’s rack in their final day-old sale of the year.

A street vendor cooks unshelled garbanzo beans

A street vendor cooks unshelled garbanzo beans


We pass a centuries-old building that once housed a convent.  It’s closed to the public on this holiday, but I make a mental note to see it on a future visit.




A street vendor cooks bright, unshelled garbanzo beans over a gas-fired griddle.

I buy a small bag and pop the steaming beans free of their pods, eating them by handfuls.  Delicious!

Corn roasts over glowing embers curbside.


Freshly roasted corn cool on a curbside grill

Freshly roasted corn cool on a curbside grill


Under expansive canopies pitched in the soft breeze along the malecon at the water’s edge, a guitarist strolls among families singing ranchera as his listeners share the season’s traditional tamales.

Families share tamales under a canopy along the malecon

Families share tamales under a canopy along the malecon

Weekenders depart from the pier on Cajititlan's malecon

Weekenders depart from the pier on Cajititlan’s malecon



At the pier along the malecon families board small launches for leisurely cruises on the lake.

A musician plays for the crowd on Cajititlan's malecon

A musician plays for the crowd on Cajititlan’s malecon

Nearby a musician absently fingers the keyboard of his accordion, squeezing out tunes so often played that his fingers move unthinkingly over the buttons and keys.

Parish church on the plaza in Cajititlan

Parish church on the plaza in Cajititlan

I can’t help but smile in satisfaction as we retrace our steps to my parked car, passing the now deserted plaza.

This fiesta has been a perfect ending to a perfect day spent driving the villages around Lake Cajititlan.

The bright lights of cosmopolitan Guadalajara are but 30 minutes’ drive away, but here in the country villages along the lake traditional Mexico is alive and well.

Read other posts about my trip around Lake Cajititlan:…

Mexico’s coded past

Cemetery and church in San Juan Evangelista

Cemetery and church in San Juan Evangelista

I’d have counted it a very rewarding day if it ended with my visit to the studio of barra (clay working) maestro Martín Ibarra Morales in Jalisco’s San Juan Evangelista.

I turned out instead that the studio visit was but a taste of what would soon reveal itself along the shores of Lake Cajititlan.

Spanish soldiers and Catholic missionaries arrived here on horseback within 50 years of Columbus’ first arrival in the New World and within 10 after Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) fell to Cortes, pressing toward the Pacific Ocean and ever in search of more gold.

From its first expansion beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, Catholicism has time and again promoted conversion of pagan peoples by incorporating aspects of their religions into its own imagery and rituals.

In few places is its chameleon bent as widely evident as in Mexico, and nowhere in my experience as pervasively as in San Juan Evangelista.

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Stone arches at the church of San Juan Evangelista

Martín guides me and my Mexican artist and friend Jesús López Vega across the street to where a church dating from the 1600’s stands adjacent to a graveyard.

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Front facade, church of San Juan Evangelista

Like many buildings of the period in this part of the world, this church was constructed by indigenous craftsman under the direction of priests.

Martín explains the facade imagery to Jesús.

Martín explains the facade imagery to Jesús.

Church belltower in San Juan Evangelista

Church belltower in San Juan Evangelista

To the untrained eye it looks like many Spanish Catholic churches, but Martin knows better and he shares his insights as he points out features of the building’s architectural detail.  It becomes quickly apparent that things are not what they first might seem.

If the priests believed that ministrations backed by Spanish arms would quickly and irrevocably convert native peoples to Christianity, they were indulging far more in wishful thinking than they were ever to know.

Detail of church facade, San Juan Evangelista

Detail of church facade, San Juan Evangelista

Hidden within the elaborate stone façade are icons of the native religion, speaking in seditious code to a people conquered, but undefeated.

In Christian tradition the serpent is a personification of the Devil, but in native religion the plumed serpent is a deity that archeologists say first appeared in Mexico about the time that Christ was born.

Martín sketches in the dust

Martín sketches in the dust

Soon the artist in Martín can resist no longer and he stoops to reproduce the façade’s scrollwork in the dust, showing how its unusual double-scroll pattern is actually a serpent.

Doorway in carved cantera stone

Doorway in carved cantera stone

Feline faces that adorn drain spouts just below the roof line high above are decidedly un-Christian images of jaguars.

Worn and weathered church door, San Juan Evangelista

Worn and weathered church door, San Juan Evangelista

We enter the church through a side door that shows every sign of being part of the original construction, its edge worn smooth by worshipers’ hands over the course of more than 300 years.

Church door lock and hasp

Church door lock and hasp

Inside, Martín points out more indigenous icons hidden within the three-story-high carved imagery behind the altar, and in designs of carved cantera stone above the doorways.

He recounts a story long told in his village that priests discovered – years after completion of the construction – that the native workers had hollowed out statues of saints which adorn the interior, and placed within their hollowed spaces images of their native gods.

Church alter tableau in carved and gilded wookd

Church alter tableau in carved and gilded wood

Detail of church alter tableau, San Juan Evangelista

Detail of church alter tableau, San Juan Evangelista

It’s a remarkable demonstration of faith and passive resistance that can’t help but inspire.

If I concluded on the strength of this visit that such pagan imagery within Catholic churches was a thing of the distant past, though, my view was soon to be set on its ear by what I next saw as we rounded the western edge of the lake and doubled back on the other side toward the town of Cajititlan…

More on this blog about Mexico’s native artisans…

Maestro in clay

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Jesús enters through door in an adobe wall

I first met maestro Martín Ibarra Morales last November when – as one of the artisans invited to Ajijic’s annual Feria Maestros del Arte – he and his family were my houseguests.

Egg-shaped globes, clay virgin, and clay whistles

Egg-shaped globes, clay virgin, and clay whistles

Martín is a clay sculptor whose work is collected worldwide.  His renowned artisan father taught him his craft, and he’s most well-known for his intricately formed and painted virgins and globes.

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He lives on the shore of Lake Chapala’s smaller cousin, Lake Cajititlan, in the village of San Juan Evangelista which is – as the crow flies – not 15 kilometers from Ajijic.  The driveable route around the mountain is about twice the distance.

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Clay mask with an unforgettable face

Traveling with me is friend and Ajijic artist Jesús López Vega, who has an abiding interest in native artisans and is a welcome bridge over the gaps in my Spanish.

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Sol y luna motif

Our directions fail us just a few blocks short of our destination, but we park along the principal plaza opposite the church and graveyard and strangers direct us to a home walled in adobe brick; Martín is clearly also a local celebrity.

A small foyer opens into open air patio, its brick walls adorned with framed news clippings and certificates of recognition, and tables covered with some of the maestro’s work.

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Not an inch of unused studio space

Clay virgin, nearly finished

Clay virgin, nearly finished

We turn the corner into the studio, a Spartan room in aged brick and stucco.

On a table at its center sits one of Martín’s celebrated virgins, which looks to my untrained eye nearly finished.

Work in progress covers every inch of the studio

Work in progress covers every inch of the studio

Martin and his articulate hands

Martin and his articulate hands

Works in almost every stage of completion seem to take up every square inch of the room, ranging in size from clay whistles that rest easily in the palm to Aztec statuary nearly as tall as Martín’s diminutive frame.

Jesus and Martin compare notes

Jesús and Martín compare notes

Martín is soft-spoken, but not shy, and as he warms to the conversation he talks animatedly, punctuating remarks with his hands.  Often he’ll move the conversation to a quickly sketched explanation of his point.

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Joker or devil?

He and my artist friend Jesús quickly plunge into rapid-fire Spanish, comparing notes from old texts of art history that trace the origins of their work back to pre-Hispanic traditions.

Their Spanish soon races past me and I wander the studio as they talk.

Timeless theme

Timeless theme

A statue looking for all the world like a recently excavated museum piece stares at me impassively.

A devilish mask simultaneously smiles and leers at me from the wall behind it.

Finished work sits above the kiln

Finished work sits above the kiln

In one corner finished work sits on a mantel above a brick kiln, its face smoked black by decades of use.

Jesús and Martin

Jesus and Martin

Just as it seems that the visit is about to draw to a close, Martín points through the gate past the cemetery to the church beyond, and asks if we would like him to take us on a tour.

Church yard cemetery just across the street

Church yard cemetery just across the street

It’s a hospitality not to be refused, and we walk into the bright sunlight and across the street.  What he shows us there turns out to be as memorable an experience as the opportunity to see his workspace, and it’s the topic of my next post, so stay tuned…

More about Martin Ibarra Morales…

Glorieta Chapalita 02

Some of Guadalajara’s most memorable public art, like its monumental Minerva Fountain and the Niños Héroes statuary, are centerpieces for its traffic circles (glorietas).

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In the Colonia Chapalita, the glorieta appears as far more intimate public space at Chapalita Circle, a delightful pocket park that covers the space of a small city block.

Glorieta Chapalita 04

Glorieta Chapalita 05

Here seven streets intersect at the edge of a quiet and well-established residential neighborhood.

This glorieta is a verdant urban oasis of wrought iron benches painted immaculate white and nestled among fountains, beds of roses, and human scale statues.

At its center stands a classic gazebo.

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Palm trees tower above, and rows of Italian cypress screen much of it from the sights and sounds of circling traffic.

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In some spots only the top of the 42-story Hotel Riu, a kilometer distant, reminds that this place is not far from the heart of the city.

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On a typical Saturday visitors here might include pets and their owners, couples, and parents with young children.

On Sundays, though, it’s transformed into an open-air art gallery where artists display their canvases on easels and park benches.

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Theme, genre, and scale varies, although on the day of my visit there were lots of contemporary pieces.

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It’s not uncommon to see some paint as they pass the time, and most are more than glad to chat with browsers about their work and their artistic journey.

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This art show pairs very well with a brunch before strolling through the art, or lunch or dinner after.

The restaurants facing the glorieta are but a few of the dozens within blocks, so you can park once and take in the entire day’s experience on foot.

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These eateries range from upscale to fast casual.

You can top off your meal with a cappuccino from a nearby café or pastry dessert from a neighborhood repostería.

Find out more on the Glorieta Chapalita’s web site.

For the more ambitious visitor, a Sunday at Chapalita Circle fits well into a day including a promenade on the Avenida Vallarta,or a visit to Guadalajara’s open-air antique market.

You may also want to check out also these posts for more things to see and do in Guadalajara:


Redeeming works

Santa Cruz de la Soledad is less than 4 kilometers east of Chapala, but by many measures it’s separated from Chapala by light years.  It sits back from the coastline, connected to a string of even more remote villages by a road that seems to shrink as it unravels, seemingly a road to nowhere.

Alberto in the carpentry shop:  Contagious enthusiasm

Alberto in the carpentry shop: Contagious enthusiasm

The villagers here have fished or farmed for generations, but these days more of Santa Cruz’s 1,700 souls farm maiz, calabasas, and frijoles than fish the lake.

It’s not a lucrative occupation, and it only takes a quick walk through the village streets to confirm that prosperity has largely passed this place over.

I’m here with my Cuban-American friend Alberto to see in action a program that teaches carpentry skills to at-risk youth, and which he has helped to jump-start.

A modest home for the carpentry shop

A modest home for the carpentry shop

Upon arrival we pass through a modest house and small courtyard to reach the carpentry shop.

Carpentry instructor Joel with students

Carpentry instructor Joel Morando with students

Here Joel Morando, carpenter and volunteer instructor, patiently watches and coaches a dozen children doing everything from operating a jigsaw to painting items that they’ve fabricated.

Their finished work is sold to the public, both to help make the program self-supporting and to teach the children not only how to make their products, but also to market them.

The kids are singularly focused

The kids are singularly focused

These children are 9 or 10 years old, but there are no childish hijinks going on here.

All are intently focused on the work at hand, watching earnestly as each takes a turn at working the power tools.

About one-third of the students are girls

About one-third of the students are girls

About a third of the students are girls.  Alberto tells me that there’s a waiting list of students hoping to enroll in future classes.

The kids are at first a bit shy.

The kids are at first a bit shy.

The children seem at first shy as I begin to snap photos, but then one asks to see the digital image on the camera screen and suddenly I’m surrounded by others asking me to take their photos.

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After each shot I’m obliged to turn the camera around so that all can see each image, and there’s lots of laughter and chatter as each portrait is revealed.

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As a parting gift Joel is presented with the donation of a first aid kit that’s been on his wish list.

Older kids are just beginning to arrive for their advanced apprenticeship as we depart.

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Antonio Morales.

Alberto next takes me a few doors down and introduces me to community advocate Antonio Morales, where in short order I come to understand that the children’s carpentry program is only the tip of Santa Cruz’s self-help iceberg.

Antonio is quick to laugh and his compassion for his neighbors shines through when he talks about projects – some already launched and others not yet hatched – for their betterment.

There’s also a steadfastness about him that leaves no doubt about his willingness and ability to drive hard bargains where the welfare of his neighbors is concerned.

On this day it’s less than a week after the Dia de los Reyes Magos – Three King’s Day – and as we pass through the plaza a life-sized nacimiento is still arranged there. These figures were annually borrowed for many years until Antonio talked the owners into donating them to Santa Cruz.

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The features of thes statuary are predictably, if incongruously, European. The village, though, has placed its own subtle stamp on the tableau: At the edge of the scene beneath a Mexican clay pottery basin hangs a hand-woven blanket that Antonio tells me is nearly as old as the village itself.

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In Antonio’s nearby house it becomes obvious that the nacimiento gift pales in comparison to donated goods of every kind that he’s collected.  Clothing.  Walkers for the disabled.  Books.  Children’s toys.

It resembles a flea market except that nothing’s sold here, but rather freely distributed within the community on the basis of need.

On a table in the jardin out back sits a bottle of Antonio’s favorite tequila, and as our visit draws to a close we’re obliged to accept his profered hospitality.  Purists may drink it straight up, but for everyone else he has set out mixers:  There’s the perennial Squirt, which makes a sort of lazy man’s margarita, or (the first time I’ve seen this) Coca Cola!

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As we sip the elixir, the air is suddenly split by an announcement in blaring over a loudspeaker, and it recalls for a moment the recurring P.A. announcements in countless episodes of M.A.S.H.

In a town without its own newspaper, loudspeakers perched on poles strategically situated throughout the village are the way that folks get their local news. It’s a low-tech solution perfectly suited to the need.

It’s almost time for us to leave as Antonio begins talking enthusiastically about another unfolding project that will teach local farmers how to raise moringa trees, the leaves of which are so rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins that they’re often called “the super food”.

The fast-growing crop fetches a healthy price on the world market, and promises to help even more of Antonio’s neighbors pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. A few local farmers have already sprouted the first moringa seedlings, learning how best to cultivate and care for them so that their experience can be shared with others.  Hopes are for a first crop before this year’s end, and I’m eager to return and see the result!

Afterwards as we head back through Chapala, I reflect on the amazing enterprise demonstrated by people who so ably apply what little they have to better themselves and their community. There’s little here by way of a social safety net except the support that these villagers readily give to one another… but which is clearly priceless.