A Travellerspoint blog

Pink October

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While in other parts of the world October brings vivid orangey-yellowy-red autumn colours, in Mexico City it is associated with pink. Nothing to do with the leaves on the trees. October is the month when monuments and other buildings turn a rosy-pinkish hue at night. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month when we remember that in Mexico, every two hours, someone's mother, wife, sister, daughter, grandmother, aunt or friend dies of breast cancer. Many of these women are poor and by the time they are diagnosed, it's too late. They can't afford the treatment either.

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El Angel in Paseo de la Reforma lit up pink

With a view to raising funds and awareness, on Sunday 30th October, Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma will be flooded with pink as thousands of women (and men this year) participate in Avon's 10-km Run or 5-km Walk for Breast Cancer to raise money for this cause and bring hope. Some participants are survivors, others are battling with this type of cancer. The rest of us haven't felt the icy grip of fear or dread while awaiting results or the debilitating nauseous infiltrations of chemotherapy but we all know someone who is battling.

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This year's leaflet

Last October, I took part in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk held in Mexico City, along with a group of friends from our church. The bus, bulging with pink caps, pink T-shirts and heaps of latent energy, dropped us off as near to the Zócalo as possible that early Sunday morning. The enormous square blushed in the soft light with hundreds of pink balloons reaching for the sky and tables set out with thousands of shiny medals on fuscia ribbons, pink roses and bags with goodies in. The Zócalo was already filling up with a mass of pink-clad ladies and their accompanying families and friends. And dogs. Next to me was a beautiful husky dog with a pink handkerchief knotted around her neck and a tiny chihuahua wearing a minute rose-coloured jumper.

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Group of friends participating

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Medals lined up on the tables

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Rose and T-shirt

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A husky dog aptly dressed

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One of the smallest participants

As we made our way to the start, loud music and a bubbly lady DJ kept us entertained, waking up anyone who was still asleep within a 5 km radius. Then as the ribbon was cut, a mass of perky pink balloons went airborne colouring the sky and thousands of trainers kicked off. It was an amazing sight to see a fast-flowing river of pink caps and T-shirts let loose like a flood through the streets of the Centro Históric. As we walked the route, lined by family and friends holding posters, we all felt immensely grateful for our good health and thought of all our friends and the ladies we know who have had to walk through the dark valley of breast cancer. Some have won the battle, others lost it and some are in the middle of it.

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Leaving the Zócalo with the Cathedral in the background

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In good company

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Off to a good start

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A pink river

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Roadside cheerers

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One of the youngest participants

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Walking the route

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Runners on their way to the finishing line

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Over 15,000 women took part last year

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The men watched and cheered last year; this year they can take part.

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Arriving back at the Zócalo

Last year Avon raised 9.5 million pesos which has saved the lives of many women. So for the Elenas, Rosers, Frans and others like them, we'll be participating again this year.

Posted by margaretm 06:06 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Fast food Mexican-style

Eating out

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A while ago, a Mexican friend of mine asked me a question which I thought was rather strange. "¿Cocinas en casa?" Do you cook at home?" Maybe she thought my husband was the chef in our house. "I mean, the food in Mexico is SO cheap and fresh and you can get it everywhere that it's hardly worth cooking yourself!. I rarely cook," was her reply. Ah, now I understood what she was getting at.

For those of us who come to Mexico from other parts of the globe, it's one of the first things we notice. Food, in every imaginable shape, colour, form, texture and content, impregnates street life with its characteristic fragrance and is literally as commonplace as the air particles you breathe here. It would be as impossible to dissociate food from Mexico's streets as it would be to bleach the colour out of its buildings and textiles or wrench religion from the heart of its people. Everywhere you go, at all times of the day, you will be confronted with one of the major aspects of Mexican life, their national hobby... eating out. Not in a restaurant, but on the streets.

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Fast food served on the street

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Dishing out quesadillas

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Roasting corn

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Night-time stall

Take where we live, for example. Street food wafts into our house, not as an aroma, but rather in the form of sounds. We hear the loud, metallic nasal sound of a Donald Duck voice blasting through a loudspeaker... "tamales oaxaqueños, ricos y calientitos"... as the man comes round the streets on his tricycle packed with energy-giving fare. Or the shrill whistle of a contraption, stoked with burning wood, which is pushed up and down the nearby hill. Back home in Europe it would be used for roasting chestnuts, but here it roasts corn-on-the-cob from which the grains are extracted and drenched with lime and chilli powder or chipotle-flavoured salsa. Walk just metres down from our house and you'll bump into a large bulky pick-up truck which is often parked inconveniently half over the narrow pavement, on a blind corner, opposite a parked car. In the back sits a man who looks like he's about to play a home-made drum kit. Large pots and pans gather around him, some steaming, and he dishes out things I've never seen in my life before. Amazingly, there is always a numerous little group of people standing around in the road and on the pavement, platicando or chatting away, totally oblivous to the fact that cars and buses are having difficulty in passing.

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Lady selling tamales

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Two women cook for workers from nearby offices

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Some people even barbecue in the streets

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Wheeling lots of fresh fruit around

Move on a little further down this street and you'll come across the lady who arrives most mornings in her small blue Hyundai Atos car before daybreak. As I walk my dog, I watch her open the hatchback, and start setting up her table and stool, heaving buckets of cool water and crates of Coke bottles to the pavement, and carefully arranging the snacks and sweets on her table. Then she sweeps the road all around her mobile "shop" and settles down to do some sewing or reading. In the cold weather, she sets up on the sunny side of the road. In the warm weather, on the shady side.

But that's not all. We have just reached the main road and as we turn the corner, right by the bus stop, is the next eatery. This one specialises in breakfast. I'm not sure when these people arrive as they are usually busy cooking, boiling or warming breakfast items on a stove which is roaring away when I arrive. They've put out a few upturned plastic buckets and stools for clients who sit or stand around with steaming cups of something (I have yet to determine the exact identity of the liquid), biting into tortas, tacos and tortillas while they wait for the bus. Several times, Ozzy our dog has rounded the corner and almost landed in the pot.

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Breakfast stop by the bus stop

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Outdoor cooking

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Father and daughter selling sincronizadas

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Food stalls in Coyoacán

Then if you turn right into Paseo de la Reforma, about 500 metres down the road, on the other side, you'll see a rather curious sight around midday. At the bottom of some shiny blue high-rise office buildings, parked half on the busy road and half on the pavement, obstructing the bus stop and the five lanes of fast-flowing traffic trying to condense into three, is often a battered old silver VW Beetle, with its bonnet up, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Since I was usually busy trying to avoid being crushed by the solid tidal waves of vehicles engulfing me on either side, I found it difficult to see what everyone was so interested in. Until one day, I led the traffic for once and managed to sneak a peek. There was a lady energetically dishing out lunch from a series of cauldrons, squeezed tightly into the tiny space where other cars normally put their engine. No wonder there were so many suit-and-tied men around. They weren't chivalrously attempting to fix her engine at all!

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Quick business lunch in the street

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Small van specialising in esquites

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This man has even set up a fridge for cool drinks!

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Bright-coloured candyfloss being sold in Chapultepec

It doesn't matter where you go, you will come across Fast Food servers at every turn in Mexico. It may be the housewife in her bright apron and folding stool with a basket of churros by the road. Or the family who parks near some offices, unloads tables and plastic stools and a gas container from an old car boot. Within seconds, the fire is roaring, you can hear the chop-chopping of meat and vegetables being slaughtered, and the familiar smell of carnitas or tacos al pastor begins to saturate the air. In heavy congestion, where any possible vehicle movement has been strangled by road works or congealed traffic, an army of men, women, boys and girls march along between the cars offering gorditas de nata, pushing large plastic dustbins on wheels containing ice-cold water or Coca Cola or carry sticks hanging with fluorescent-coloured abañicos, Mexican snacks. Outside schools you can see people with push-along trolleys selling plastic cups of freshly cut-up mango along with a small plastic fork to make it more pleasurable for your fingers. A really healthy snack for a few pesos. I even remember wandering around the Alameda Park not too long ago and seeing some ladies pushing wheelbarrows full of jicaletas, sprinkled red with chilli powder, and other snacks. Now that's ingenious, I thought. Everywhere, Mexicans eat outside, on the street, in their car, in the park, at the corner, from the back of a truck or car, on the metro and in a million other creative places.

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Eating lunch in the street

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A typical outdoor eating place

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Man preparing tacos

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You can buy healthy snacks like fresh fruit

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Man with his wheelie bin making his way up between the lines of traffic

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Using a wheelbarrow to take his snacks and sweets around

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Two daughters helping their mum

Mexico's national hobby is alive and well and I can safely say that, barring a major catastrophy, you'll never starve in Mexico. In fact, just seeing and smelling all that Mexican-style fast food will give you your fill most days. And to answer my friend's question, "Yes, I do cook at home." I haven't seen them selling spaghetti bolognaise or Indian curry on the streets yet.

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A snack stand in Chapultepec park

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Sitting by the roadside selling fruit

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Man preparing tacos al pastor

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A nun selling home-made food outside a church

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Bringing lunch to you on the canals at Xochimilco

Posted by margaretm 12:40 Archived in Mexico Tagged food Comments (0)

Bitter sweet sixteen

A birthday party

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Marisol turned sixteen last Saturday. Sweet sixteen.

Dressed in a bright pink jumper, her eyes sparkling, she looks so pretty as I watch her putting the last-minute touches to the pillow she's making. A little while later, when she comes in for her birthday party, I see her eyes fill with tears. The cake, a light chocolate sponge interleaved with strawberries and cream and topped with 16 blazing candles, takes her by surprise. She bursts out crying with the emotion. She hadn't expected anything like that.

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Sewing class

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Marisol's birthday party

A few days earlier, when I discovered it was her birthday on Saturday, I told her we would have to celebrate. Instead of excitement and joy, I detected a look of sadness in her eyes. She hugged me tight and whispered in my ear, "I miss mi mama. Every time I have a birthday, I realise another year has gone by without seeing her." So that was the reason for her sighs. Yes, every teenage girl needs her mother to confide in, to feel loved, to share life's moments. "It must be very hard not to be with your Mum, but for the moment, you've been given another family. This is your family now. We all love you."

Unlike many other girls her age, whose priorities are most likely to be chatting with friends on Facebook, going to the cinema to see the latest film, wandering around the shops looking for clothes, or maybe keeping up with Maths and Mexican History at school, Marisol has been burdened with extra responsibilities. Barely a girl herself, she is also a single teenage mother with a two-year old daughter to bring up on her own. Literally on her own. Brenda Lupita is running around among the bright balloons, happily making as much noise with them as possible. Marisol would love her mama to see her beautiful cheeky little girl but she lost track of her mother's whereabouts a long time ago due to the circumstances in her life. They haven't seen each other for many years. Nor her little brother. And she's just turned bitter sweet sixteen.

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Mother and daughter

The other girls sing Happy Birthday in English to Marisol as we've taught them in our classes. I'm so proud of them. Then it's time for another song, "Las Mañanitas", the Mexican equivalent. Marisol is wiping the tears away from her cheek using a serviette decorated with party balloons. "Blow the candles out!" everyone shouts. She has a go. Unknown to her, they are magic candles which mysteriously light themselves again. This brings a smile to her face. Others help her until the candles are lifeless wax sticks.

I think back to the day when Marisol arrived at Casa Daya, almost a year ago. It was a cool crisp day up in Cuajimalpa when I arrived to give my class. The girls were sitting in the sunshine outside, warming themselves and holding their babies and kids. As I went round hugging each one, I suddenly came face to face with Marisol. She had recently arrived. Her face echoed sadness, fear, tears, hurt, uncertainty, doubt.... She clutched at me and wouldn't let me go. I still remember the exact words she said to me, "¡Me siento tan sola!" She felt terribly lonely, so alone. Her little girl clung on to her. "Welcome to Casa Daya then!" I said, telling her she would soon become one of the family.

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A photo of Marisol giving me a hug on her arrival at Casa Daya

Casa Daya is a home for single teenage mums or pregnant girls who have nowhere else to go and no-one to support or help them. It offers a safe place for these girls and their children, most of whom have traumatic past histories and have been the victims of severe violence in their homes, abuse, rape, exploitation, abandon and rejection or who have been living on the streets. Here they receive psychological and medical care, are taught how to look after their children and take turns doing the housework, cooking and caring for the children. They are also encouraged to continue their schooling. Those who have never been to school are taught to read and write first. Some of them are learning a trade such as cookery or computer studies and they all learn new skills in workshops, like sewing and crafts. Their children go to the small Montessori kindergarten which is also part of Casa Daya. But perhaps most importantly, they find a home and family.

It often takes them quite a long time to settle down, to trust adults again, to open up and share. These are girls with broken bodies and broken minds, some of whom have such a low self-esteem they can't look you in the eye. Others, understandably, have difficulty in relating to their children. For so long they have been told they are"good-for-nothings", that they believe it. Although they've already lived a lifetime of abuse, they are just starting to heal and discover they are special and have talents. Casa Daya is helping them to find help, hope and and faith.

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Casa Daya, Cuajimalpa

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One of the girls' bedroom

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Some of the mums and kids

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Many hands make light work

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A big family

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Children in the Montessori kindergarten

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Doing an activity with the girls

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Artwork as therapy

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Perla with her newborn baby

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Playing the recorder

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Learning about nutrition

Now it's time for another Mexican custom. The candles have been removed and the birthday girl has to take a bite into the cake. Marisol stoops down and sinks her teeth into the soft chocolate sponge and creamy topping. She emerges with white smudges all over her face, provoking howls of laughter from the others. Then I watch her as she proudly helps hand round a piece of cake to everyone. The children get chocolate-flavoured milk and some yoghurt with fresh papaya cut up into it. There's fruit juice for the adults. She's come a long way, I think.

I remember a certain day, sometime back in January when she had already been at Casa Daya for a few months. Marisol drew me aside and said she wanted to show me something. I was intrigued. Out of her bag came a dog-eared notebook which she had covered with some pink paper. She handed it to me. "Can I look inside?" I asked, making sure she wanted me to see. She nodded and I opened the notebook to find pages and pages of emotion-filled writing and illustrations by her. Amo a Lupita, I love Lupita.... cropped up many times. Sitting down with her, I read her writings, profound descriptions of how she felt, her hurting soul, her heartbreaking past, her fears, her doubts... it had all gushed out from her pen. And on other pages she'd scribbled touching texts about the simple beauty of the stars and flowers, her love for her daughter. I turned to her, astonished. "But Marisol, you are a poet! You are very talented!" You see, she hadn't even let anyone know that she could write and in fact we had just started doing literacy with her. That day marked a turning point. We encouraged her to open up to the others, start sharing her feelings with them, and to our surprise she began to write letters to us and the other girls, decorated with photos she'd been given and stickers. It was a hopeful beginning.

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Marisol's notebook

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A budding writer

The party is almost over and as I turn to say goodbye, she hugs me tight and says, "Muchísimas gracias por todo. Thanks so much for everything!" I take her aside. "You have changed so much this year. You are a completely different girl, a caring mum. I watched you as you served everyone here too. You've really gained a lot of self-confidence. You have so much to celebrate this birthday! Happy Sweet sixteen!"

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The girls doing an activity

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Rocio goes to cookery classes and shows us how to make spaghetti

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Jonathan watches us cook from a safe spot

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The girls make cards in their crafts workshop

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And warm scarves... to sell

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Mums and children at the Christmas party

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Jaqueline with her sweet baby

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Having fun making choco-crisps

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An excursion to the park

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Having some teenage fun

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Happy to start school!

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Cute little girls

Posted by margaretm 12:55 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Aztec ruins, an Augustinian monastery, and exhuberant nature

Malinalco, one of Mexico's 38 Pueblos Mágicos

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Aztec ruins at Malinalco

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The town is packed with colour

On the map, Malinalco looks as if it's just around the corner from Mexico City. Driving there is a different matter, though. On average, it will take you a good two hours to get to this small mountain town, depending on how many ancient wheezing vehicles you get stuck behind, how potholed the road is after the rains, whether any of the villages you go through are having a fiesta and other equally diverse reasons.

On leaving Mexico City, you first have to climb up over the mountains to about 3000 m (over 9000 ft) and then make your way along the small roads. The trip itself can be quite entertaining. You'll probably see sheep sharing football fields with players, wayside stalls selling bright green sausages, shrines along the way where someone went off the road or had an accident, people riding horses and donkeys, hundreds of stray dogs, a place selling frogs and lots of small disorganised villages with tangles of black spaghetti hanging over the roads which supposedly are electricity lines. Depending on the weather, you may even have to drive through thick cloud which whites out everything in front of you and on either side. But then suddenly, you look down on a beautiful lush green valley with strange lumpy mountains all around and you drive down into a different world.

Malinalco may be fairly close to Mexico City and Cuernavaca but it has a kind of remote, cut-off feel to it. It's a charming little town with its cobbled streets, colonial-style houses and hidden secrets tucked away among exhuberant vegetation. Colour is everywhere... thick blue skies and bubbly white clouds, succulent jungle all around, bougainvilla and other eye-catching flowers, multi-hued buildings, vivid market stalls.... a real photographer's paradise. For a small mountain town, it's also got more than its fair share of cultural sites, which include impressive Aztec ruins high up on the mountainside affording spectacular views over the valley below, a 16th Century monastery with unique frescos depicting cactus plants, trees and birds, totally in keeping with the surrounding natural environment, a museum, arty places and a string of interesting festivals. As we also discovered, it's a great place for trying out some delicious Mexican dishes.

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Looking up a cobbled street

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Fountain and shady trees in the main square

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Girl and donkey making their way up a cobbled street

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Bougainvillia and other colourful flowers

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El Convento del Divino Salvador

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Beautiful frescos in the cloisters

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Close-up of cactus fresco

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Decorated arches

We'll never forget the first time we went there. We had only been in Mexico for a few weeks when some friends of ours said they would take us to a picturesque little town for lunch, called Malinalco. "Where is this Malinalco?" I asked. "You have to go up to La Marquesa and then it's further out that way. We'll be leaving at about 1.30pm." Well, La Marquesa is about 20 minutes away so we guessed it would be maybe another 40 minutes or so after that. We assumed wrong. Following their car, we made slow progress and as the time ticked by, our stomachs began to protest noisily. Breakfast had been around our usual 8.30 time and we'd had nothing else to eat. By the time we reached Malinalco and parked, it was getting on for 4 pm. Now that's not an unusual time of day for Mexicans to eat lunch, especially at the weekend, but we were definitely not used to eating so late.

We forgave Malinalco for being so far away, though. Set in a beautiful, nature-blessed valley, off the main tourist trails, it really was worth a visit and we soon filled our ravenous stomachs up with all sorts of tasty Mexican dishes at a curious, colour-drenched restaurant in the main square. This was followed by a leisurely stroll around the markets to help the digestion process, and a peep inside the Convento del Divino Salvador which was built by the Augustinian monks and dates back to 1540. What was a huge monastery like this with its magnificient cloister and unusual frescos doing right out here in the sticks? I wondered. (On our subsequent visit, three weddings were underway in this enormous church.) That was as far as we got that first day since we then had to make our way back home to Mexico City. But it was a great appetizer.

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Inside the restaurant

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Paint-splattered floor

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Dish with chorizo and queso

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Market stall with fruit and vegetables in neatly stacked piles

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Bride on her way to her wedding at the church, passing through the market

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One of the many small churches in Malinalco

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Church tower with the mountains behind

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Horse riders

Since then, we make our annual pilgrimage to Malinalco and have discovered the impressive ruins high above the town. To reach them, you have to walk up 358 stone steps cut out into the mountainside which lurks somewhere beneath a thick cloak of moss, flowers and trees. Your lungs tend to protest more than your legs at this altitude but it's well worth the wheezing. This important Aztec site and ceremonial centre perched up on Cerro de los Idolos (Hill of Idols) towers 215 m (720 ft) above the town and was used as a centre for training and educating young recruits to the Imperial Aztec forces. If you're lucky, a guide will explain what the different structures were used for, and will point out the 13 steps, flanked by two headless jaguar statues, which lead up to the Templo de los Guerreros Águila y Tigre, with its thatched roof. This site is unusual in that it is one of the few places in the world that have temples carved into the mountain itself and is unique in America. Even if you aren't particularly interested in the history and archeology, the views are breathtaking and the exercise helps you work up an appetite. Looking down on Malinalco is like peering at a miniature town, complete with its daily noises wafting upwards.

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Handicraft stalls at the start of the climb up to the ruins

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Well-kept path and stone steps

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Thick vegetation and surrounding mountains

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Aztec ruins

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Guide explaining the history of the site to visitors

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View looking down over the valley

All around the town are a whole range of restaurants and eating places. This year we ate at Las Pilares, enjoying delicious chiles en nogada, a tasty dish often eaten over the Dia de Independencia festivities. Its green, white and red ingredients represent the colours of the Mexican flag: green chile poblano, stuffed with meat and fruit, covered in a creamy white walnut sauce, and decorated with red pomegranate seeds.

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Chiles en nogada

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People gathered in the centre for the Independence Day celebrations

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A small boy enjoying the festivities

Fruit and vegetable markets, handicraft stalls, stands dishing up Mexican delights, and a glimpse into the daily life of the people in this town also make Malinalco an interesting place to visit. Once a simple mountain pueblo, it started becoming the weekend residence for a certain sector of people in Mexico City and now it's beginning to attract an arty community. Yet it continues to be off the main tourist trail for foreigners. And maybe that's a good thing. Let's keep its a secret.

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Handicrafts

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Mural depicting the Independence fighters of Mexico

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Close-up of artistic panel around entrance to small church

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Another church in the mountains

Posted by margaretm 12:57 Archived in Mexico Tagged churches food ruins archaeology independence malinalco Comments (1)

Aztec ruins, an Augustinian monastery, and exhuberant nature

Malinalco, one of Mexico's 38 Pueblos Mágicos

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Aztec ruins at Malinalco

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The town is packed with colour

On the map, Malinalco looks as if it's just around the corner from Mexico City. Driving there is a different matter, though. On average, it will take you a good two hours to get to this small mountain town, depending on how many ancient wheezing vehicles you get stuck behind, how potholed the road is after the rains, whether any of the villages you go through are having a fiesta and other equally diverse reasons.

On leaving Mexico City, you first have to climb up over the mountains to about 3000 m (over 9000 ft) and then make your way along the small roads. The trip itself can be quite entertaining. You'll probably see sheep sharing football fields with players, wayside stalls selling bright green sausages, shrines along the way where someone went off the road or had an accident, people riding horses and donkeys, hundreds of stray dogs, a place selling frogs and lots of small disorganised villages with tangles of black spaghetti hanging over the roads which supposedly are electricity lines. Depending on the weather, you may even have to drive through thick cloud which whites out everything in front of you and on either side. But then suddenly, you look down on a beautiful lush green valley with strange lumpy mountains all around and you drive down into a different world.

Malinalco may be fairly close to Mexico City and Cuernavaca but it has a kind of remote, cut-off feel to it. It's a charming little town with its cobbled streets, colonial-style houses and hidden secrets tucked away among exhuberant vegetation. Colour is everywhere... thick blue skies and bubbly white clouds, succulent jungle all around, bougainvilla and other eye-catching flowers, multi-hued buildings, vivid market stalls.... a real photographer's paradise. For a small mountain town, it's also got more than its fair share of cultural sites, which include impressive Aztec ruins high up on the mountainside affording spectacular views over the valley below, a 16th Century monastery with unique frescos depicting cactus plants, trees and birds, totally in keeping with the surrounding natural environment, a museum, arty places and a string of interesting festivals. As we also discovered, it's a great place for trying out some delicious Mexican dishes.

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Looking up a cobbled street

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Fountain and shady trees in the main square

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Girl and donkey making their way up a cobbled street

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Bougainvillia and other colourful flowers

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El Convento del Divino Salvador

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Beautiful frescos in the cloisters

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Close-up of cactus fresco

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Decorated arches

We'll never forget the first time we went there. We had only been in Mexico for a few weeks when some friends of ours said they would take us to a picturesque little town for lunch, called Malinalco. "Where is this Malinalco?" I asked. "You have to go up to La Marquesa and then it's further out that way. We'll be leaving at about 1.30pm." Well, La Marquesa is about 20 minutes away so we guessed it would be maybe another 40 minutes or so after that. We assumed wrong. Following their car, we made slow progress and as the time ticked by, our stomachs began to protest noisily. Breakfast had been around our usual 8.30 time and we'd had nothing else to eat. By the time we reached Malinalco and parked, it was getting on for 4 pm. Now that's not an unusual time of day for Mexicans to eat lunch, especially at the weekend, but we were definitely not used to eating so late.

We forgave Malinalco for being so far away, though. Set in a beautiful, nature-blessed valley, off the main tourist trails, it really was worth a visit and we soon filled our ravenous stomachs up with all sorts of tasty Mexican dishes at a curious, colour-drenched restaurant in the main square. This was followed by a leisurely stroll around the markets to help the digestion process, and a peep inside the Convento del Divino Salvador which was built by the Augustinian monks and dates back to 1540. What was a huge monastery like this with its magnificient cloister and unusual frescos doing right out here in the sticks? I wondered. (On our subsequent visit, three weddings were underway in this enormous church.) That was as far as we got that first day since we then had to make our way back home to Mexico City. But it was a great appetizer.

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Inside the restaurant

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Paint-splattered floor

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Dish with chorizo and queso

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Market stall with fruit and vegetables in neatly stacked piles

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Bride on her way to her wedding at the church, passing through the market

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One of the many small churches in Malinalco

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Church tower with the mountains behind

Since then, we make our annual pilgrimage to Malinalco and have discovered the impressive ruins high above the town. To reach them, you have to walk up 358 stone steps cut out into the mountainside which lurks somewhere beneath a thick cloak of moss, flowers and trees. Your lungs tend to protest more than your legs at this altitude but it's well worth the wheezing. This important Aztec site and ceremonial centre perched up on Cerro de los Idolos (Hill of Idols) towers 215 m (720 ft) above the town and was used as a centre for training and educating young recruits to the Imperial Aztec forces. If you're lucky, a guide will explain what the different structures were used for, and will point out the 13 steps, flanked by two headless jaguar statues, which lead up to the Templo de los Guerreros Águila y Tigre, with its thatched roof. This site is unusual in that it is one of the few places in the world that have temples carved into the mountain itself and is unique in America. Even if you aren't particularly interested in the history and archeology, the views are breathtaking and the exercise helps you work up an appetite. Looking down on Malinalco is like peering at a miniature town, complete with its daily noises wafting upwards.

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Handicraft stalls at the start of the climb up to the ruins

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Well-kept path and stone steps

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Thick vegetation and surrounding mountains

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Aztec ruins

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Guide explaining the history of the site to visitors

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View looking down over the valley

All around the town are a whole range of restaurants and eating places. This year we ate at Las Pilares, enjoying delicious chiles en nogada, a tasty dish often eaten over the Dia de Independencia festivities. Its green, white and red ingredients represent the colours of the Mexican flag: green chile poblano, stuffed with meat and fruit, covered in a creamy white walnut sauce, and decorated with red pomegranate seeds.

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Chiles en nogada

Fruit and vegetable markets, handicraft stalls, stands dishing up Mexican delights, and a glimpse into the daily life of the people in this town also make Malinalco an interesting place to visit. Once a simple mountain pueblo, it started becoming the weekend residence for a certain sector of people in Mexico City and now it's beginning to attract an arty community. Yet it continues to be off the main tourist trail for foreigners. And maybe that's a good thing. Let's keep its a secret.

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Handicrafts

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Mural depicting the Independence fighters of Mexico

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Close-up of artistic panel around entrance to small church

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Another church in the mountains

Posted by margaretm 12:57 Archived in Mexico Comments (2)

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