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Entries about outdoor

Fresh air, mountains and a lake

Valle de Bravo, Estado de México

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About an hour and a half's drive from Mexico City, on the new motorway that cuts out slow windy roads threading their way through the mountains, lies Valle de Bravo. This small town and its surrounding area is a popular place to escape from the big city, the traffic and the murky air which we are so used to. For a while you feel like you are far away in the mountains, inhaling fresh air and taking in deep breaths of scented pine forests and getting your eye's fill of wide horizons. We decided to head out there one day mid-week, when the chilangos (residents of Mexico City) weren't milling around.

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Valle de Bravo itself is a typical colonial-style town squatting on the mountainside above the lake. Red tiled-roofs, cobbled streets, a central square with shady trees and a kiosko in the centre, and a large Catholic church are some of its main features. It's one of Mexico's 62 Pueblos Mágicos or Magical Towns, a special status given to towns which are outstanding in one way or another, either because of the surrounding area or because of the historical and cultural treasures they contain. Thank goodness they changed its name. It was originally known as San Francisco del Valle de Temascaltepec, a real mouthful for anyone to say.

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We literally whizzed down the motorway which now coughs you out almost into the town itself and arrived to find it totally empty of tourists. It wasn't dead though. The bustling local market was in full swing with some ladies in their local dress and stands piled high with vitamin-filled fruit and vegetables. It was fascinating to wander around watching vendors scraping the spines off the cactus to make them edible, locals buying their jitomates, jjicamas and mamey fruit and young mothers with their brood of kids hovering around them. One pick-up truck was almost invisible underneath a cargo of sweet-smelling pineapples. The streets, overlooked by wooden balconies, were chaotic with pedestrians and vehicles vying for right of way. It wasn't exactly quiet. But there was a rural feel to it which Mexico City lacks.

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The best views of the lake can be seen from La Peña, or The Cliff. We asked at the local tourist information booth how long it would take to walk there. "Diez minuntos...!" Just ten minutes! It sounded reasonable so we set off, sweltering in the intense sunshine. Ten minutes later we weren't even out of the town, let alone near La Peña which we could see still in the distance. When we finally made it to the bottom, we asked how long it would take to walk up to the top, "Veinte minutes, más o menos!" Another 20 minutes? "Pues, si quiren ir en taxi, son 10 minutes." Taxi? Well now, that sounded good. We took the taxi as far up as we could, a steep ride along a one-way trail. Then came the walk up. A lady was at the gate. How long will it take to climb to the top? She told us about 15 minutes and asked us to sign a book. "Just in case." In case of what, we wondered? Was it a dangerous walk? "Mmmm, un poquito... Just a little, there are no railings. It's best not to go with small kids or if you're drunk!", she cheerfully informed us.

The views were spectacular, especially on a day like we had chosen. But the walk is definitely for those who don't get dizzy spells when looking down, or whose imaginations don't tend to run amok like mine. I declined to go up the very last part, to the very top, up those rocks.. with no railings, no nothing.. My mind was already seriously producing films of us slipping accidentally and tumbling down the rocky crags, plunging into the green water below, never to be seen again. The road down was steep. We chose to walk down rather than take another of those taxis. You never know.

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By the time we got down to the bottom again, our tongues were stuck to the roofs of our mouths. It was time to find some refreshment which turned out to be no problem at all in the main square which was surrounded by eating places and restaurants. A cold Mexican beer, enchiladas suizas, quesadillas and a fresh salad did the job.

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Then it was off for a walk down by the lakeside. Lake Avandaro was empty today. There were no sailing boats out at the moment but the weekends are usually a popular time for enjoying boating, sailing and water-skiing. Actually, the water didn't look particularly inviting along the shore and we certainly weren't tempted to go for a dip. Maybe in the middle of the lake it's cleaner. One or two hang-gliders could be seen drifting above us. Valle de Bravo is the venue for the World Hang-glinding Championships.

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We returned to the car and chugged our way along the pine-clad mountainside, following the lakeside which appeared from time to time through the trees. Cycle tracks lined the road, as did luxurious mansions, holiday homes, and even a golf course. We were searching for the "Velo de Novia" waterfall. Eventually after asking directions, we came to a sign indicating that we were near. A 15-minute walk through tall pines and along the river took us to this beautiful natural area where the falls splash down high black volcanic rock cliffs. For those who like horse-riding, this is also an option here.

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Evening crept up on us before we knew it. The light was fading as we headed back for Mexico City but we felt we had re-charged our batteries even if we'd only spent one day in the outdoors. The smell of pine trees lingered in the car for some time. That's the effect Valle de Bravo has on you.

Posted by margaretm 15:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged lakes food markets nature mexico outdoor valle_de_bravo estado_de_méxico Comments (1)

Fresh air, mountains and a lake

Valle de Bravo, Estado de México

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01-IMG_3698.jpg

About an hour and a half's drive from Mexico City, on the new motorway that cuts out slow windy roads threading their way through the mountains, lies Valle de Bravo. This small town and its surrounding area is a popular place to escape from the big city, the traffic and the murky air which we are so used to. For a while you feel like you are far away in the mountains, inhaling fresh air and taking in deep breaths of scented pine forests and getting your eye's fill of wide horizons. We decided to head out there one day mid-week, when the chilangos (residents of Mexico City) weren't milling around.

27-IMG_3824.jpg
30-IMG_3841.jpg
58-IMG_4048.jpg
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Valle de Bravo itself is a typical colonial-style town squatting on the mountainside above the lake. Red tiled-roofs, cobbled streets, a central square with shady trees and a kiosko in the centre, and a large Catholic church are some of its main features. It's one of Mexico's 62 Pueblos Mágicos or Magical Towns, a special status given to towns which are outstanding in one way or another, either because of the surrounding area or because of the historical and cultural treasures they contain. Thank goodness they changed its name. It was originally known as San Francisco del Valle de Temascaltepec, a real mouthful for anyone to say.

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We literally whizzed down the motorway which now coughs you out almost into the town itself and arrived to find it totally empty of tourists. It wasn't dead though. The bustling local market was in full swing with some ladies in their local dress and stands piled high with vitamin-filled fruit and vegetables. It was fascinating to wander around watching vendors scraping the spines off the cactus to make them edible, locals buying their jitomates, jjicamas and mamey fruit and young mothers with their brood of kids hovering around them. One pick-up truck was almost invisible underneath a cargo of sweet-smelling pineapples. The streets, overlooked by wooden balconies, were chaotic with pedestrians and vehicles vying for right of way. It wasn't exactly quiet. But there was a rural feel to it which Mexico City lacks.

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The best views of the lake can be seen from La Peña, or The Cliff. We asked at the local tourist information booth how long it would take to walk there. "Diez minuntos...!" Just ten minutes! It sounded reasonable so we set off, sweltering in the intense sunshine. Ten minutes later we weren't even out of the town, let alone near La Peña which we could see still in the distance. When we finally made it to the bottom, we asked how long it would take to walk up to the top, "Veinte minutes, más o menos!" Another 20 minutes? "Pues, si quiren ir en taxi, son 10 minutes." Taxi? Well now, that sounded good. We took the taxi as far up as we could, a steep ride along a one-way trail. Then came the walk up. A lady was at the gate. How long will it take to climb to the top? She told us about 15 minutes and asked us to sign a book. "Just in case." In case of what, we wondered? Was it a dangerous walk? "Mmmm, un poquito... Just a little, there are no railings. It's best not to go with small kids or if you're drunk!", she cheerfully informed us.

The views were spectacular, especially on a day like we had chosen. But the walk is definitely for those who don't get dizzy spells when looking down, or whose imaginations don't tend to run amok like mine. I declined to go up the very last part, to the very top, up those rocks.. with no railings, no nothing.. My mind was already seriously producing films of us slipping accidentally and tumbling down the rocky crags, plunging into the green water below, never to be seen again. The road down was steep. We chose to walk down rather than take another of those taxis. You never know.

42-IMG_3897.jpg
41-IMG_3889.jpg
43-IMG_3917.jpg
46-IMG_3925.jpg
48-IMG_3928.jpg
50-IMG_3948.jpg
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By the time we got down to the bottom again, our tongues were stuck to the roofs of our mouths. It was time to find some refreshment which turned out to be no problem at all in the main square which was surrounded by eating places and restaurants. A cold Mexican beer, enchiladas suizas, quesadillas and a fresh salad did the job.

54-IMG_4030.jpg
55-IMG_4041.jpg
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57-IMG_4043.jpg

Then it was off for a walk down by the lakeside. Lake Avandaro was empty today. There were no sailing boats out at the moment but the weekends are usually a popular time for enjoying boating, sailing and water-skiing. Actually, the water didn't look particularly inviting along the shore and we certainly weren't tempted to go for a dip. Maybe in the middle of the lake it's cleaner. One or two hang-gliders could be seen drifting above us. Valle de Bravo is the venue for the World Hang-glinding Championships.

64-IMG_4069.jpg
66-IMG_4075.jpg
63-IMG_4065.jpg
62-IMG_4063.jpg

We returned to the car and chugged our way along the pine-clad mountainside, following the lakeside which appeared from time to time through the trees. Cycle tracks lined the road, as did luxurious mansions, holiday homes, and even a golf course. We were searching for the "Velo de Novia" waterfall. Eventually after asking directions, we came to a sign indicating that we were near. A 15-minute walk through tall pines and along the river took us to this beautiful natural area where the falls splash down high black volcanic rock cliffs. For those who like horse-riding, this is also an option here.

67-IMG_4096.jpg
69-IMG_4114.jpg
74-IMG_4154.jpg

Evening crept up on us before we knew it. The light was fading as we headed back for Mexico City but we felt we had re-charged our batteries even if we'd only spent one day in the outdoors. The smell of pine trees lingered in the car for some time. That's the effect Valle de Bravo has on you.

Posted by margaretm 15:15 Archived in Mexico Tagged lakes food markets nature mexico outdoor valle_de_bravo estado_de_méxico Comments (1)

Mazamitla, in the mountains of Jalisco

The closest thing to a Mexican alpine village

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Tucked away somewhere in the pine-clad mountains in the Mexican state of Jalisco, a 2-hour drive from Guadalajara and not too far from Lake Chapala, is the pueblo mágico called Mazamitla. It's probably the closest thing Mexico has to an alpine village... I say "alpine" and not "Swiss" because it lacks the squeaky-clean, orderly Swissness. In other words, it still has its Mexican feel to it. But with its stone streets and houses with red-tiled roofs and wooden balconies, many lined with geraniums in pots, it has a real mountain town feel to it. Its altitude (2200 m - 7200 ft) and cool climate help reinforce that sensation.

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We first stumbled across Mazamitla three years ago when we went to pay a visit on Christmas Eve to some friends who had moved there more than a decade earlier. This year we decided to repeat the experience, attracted by the thought of escaping from the concrete and traffic of the big city and spending Christmas among the pine trees, warmed by a real log fire. Due to the prolonged rainy season this year, the whole area was even greener than usual. Three years ago, it was quite a different story. Driving to the town from Zamora, we looked expectantly for the sight of what we had read was Mexico's little Switzerland. "Switerland? This looks more like Africa!", Cristina commented. And it did look rather yellow and dry. That is until we were almost in sight of Mazamitla. Then the Sierra del Tigre, the local mountains, appeared clad in pine trees and wooden cabañas or log cabins began to peep out from the greenery. This year, we were not disappointed and spent a relaxing 3 days there.

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As this was our second visit and we were staying in the same hotel, we breezed up to what I think is the town's only traffic light and patiently waited for our turn for the green light. After our daily battles to get anywhere in Mexico City without spending half the day at red lights and stuck in traffic, this was a willing wait. We were in no hurry, we were on holiday. A few pick-ups ambled down the street, and an old man of 103 and a long white beard crossed the street at a pace that was consistent with his age. The fresh air and outdoor life must stretch the life expectancy here. We remembered the way to avoid the "busy" town centre and took a small stone-clad road which led up the mountainside.... we fondly call it the Periférico in honour of DF's congested ring road. We met two other cars and a man and his donkey.

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After settling into the rustic hotel and re-acquainting ourselves with the view from the balcony, we sauntered down the hilly street straight into the central square of Mazamitla. Lined by small two-storey buildings with red and white walls, chunky roof tiles and wooden balconies, it seemed sleepy enough even though there was a wedding event going on at the church. A shiny red pick-up with a wedding bouquet on the front waited to take the newly-wed couple off. At least 70% of the vehicles here seem to be either ancient or massive pick-ups so I suppose it was a natural choice. When it rained the following day and turned the nearby mountain tracks into sticky red trails, we understood why these vehicles were so necessary. But today was clear and sunny and surprisingly warm. Our thick jumpers were relegated to our waists.

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The Hotel Huerta Real in Mazamitla

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The church is rather intriguing and certainly not the usual colonial-style building we have become accustomed to in Mexico. Freshly painted white with red trim, it conjures up vague images of a Chinese pagoda which seems to have mistakenly turned up in a Mexican dream. The bells rang and the bridal party emerged, one or two of the ladies tottering on heels that were totally out-of-keeping with this hilly town.

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It doesn't take long before you notice lots of references to venado (deer) and arrows. The name Mazamitla in the Náhuatl language can mean any of a number of variations on the same theme: "the place where deer-hunting arrows are made". I'm sure that in earlier times, the surrounding forests were teeming with deer just waiting to be hunted. And wood... lots of it. It is obviously one of the main raw materials here... wooden balconies, wooden furniture, wooden souvenirs, wooden cabañas, wooden doors.... I was surprised to see that the benches in the main square were made of iron.

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Perhaps the busiest place in this town was the small indoor market area a couple of streets away from the central plaza. Apart from that, small shops had their tiny interiors crammed full of just about everything, including the locally-made sweets such as cajeta de nuez, a kind of caramel with nuts in it and rompope, a sweet eggnog-like liquor which must do wonders in this cool climate. No-one was frantically buzzing around doing late shopping for Christmas presents. In fact, I was beginning to wonder whether Christmas had come and gone in this town, or if they only celebrated Los Reyes on the 6th of January. Except for a couple of piñatas, a few strings of lights and one or two paper lanterns, you wouldn't have guessed it was the 21st of December.

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Early the next morning though, when I slipped into town before everyone else was up, I was relieved to find that the plaza was being hosed down by a group of four people, outnumbered by the pigeons by 200:1, while a familiar sound was being piped into the crisp morning air. It was the Spanish Christmas carol, Los Peces en el Rio. "Aha", I thought to myself, "they've remembered it's Christmas after all!" My hasty conclusion came to an abrupt end when the next song began. It was "Fame" ("I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly.."). Actually, the local Moustache Contest seemed to have made a greater dent in the calendar than Navidad. I think I saw who won the competition but didn't want to ask him if I could take his photo. The notoriety might have disturbed his peaceful existence. But when he wasn't looking, I snapped a shot from behind... his moustache was still more than visible from this angle.

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That first evening, we set off for the restaurant La Troje, its walls literally covered in photographs and posters, in search of some real food after a meagre sandwich for lunch on our journey here. When we arrived, it was just closing. "So early?" we chorused. We were directed across the road to the pizza place, a small rustic cabaña. It was cold and dark outside but as we opened the door, we were greeted by wooden walls, simple wooden tables and chairs on a gravel floor and a brick oven from where the smell of freshly-baked pizzas wafted. It all looked warm and inviting. No luxuries here but pure mountain refuge style. Our stomachs asked for home-made burgers and salad and baked potatoes and even a small pizza. The owner of the restaurant, a Belgian man, was a survivor. He had started off selling clothes but when times were hard, changed to selling crêpes out of a trailer. At our comments about the delicious pizza, he replied, "Well, I'd never made a pizza before but one day I thought, hey, I'm going to start making pizzas too!"

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The Christmas feeling arrived in Mazamitla on Christmas Eve, after a very heavy early morning rainstorm. The outdoor market began to set up in the centre and large tents of plastic sheet were pulled over the stands. As we made our way among the stalls, mingling with a growing number of locals who had appeared from somewhere, I knew what presents the people of Mazamitla would be getting. For the children, there were colourful plastic balls and toys, for the adults woolly jumpers and hats. And maybe a few bottles of rompope. Yes, now Christmas really had come.

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I hadn't imagined a wet Christmas Eve but fortunately the weather cleared up by the afternoon and when we set off in search of our friends' restaurant, lost among pine trees, we found a roaring fire and an international group around the table. Several courses later, with one of the little dogs clearly delighting in the warmest place in the house right in front of the chimney, we were ready to make our way back to the hotel, light our own fire and hang Marc's stocking up by the chimney. Who knows? Father Christmas must surely be able to find this place... he would feel at home here in this Alpine village!

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Restaurante Gigi's near Mazamitla: http://mazamitlapueblomagico.gob.mx/detalleAnunciante/ver/82

Posted by margaretm 04:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains mexico christmas outdoor mazamitla Comments (0)

Mazamitla, in the mountains of Jalisco

The closest thing to a Mexican alpine village

IMG_5541m.jpg
IMG_6211m.jpg
IMG_5608m.jpg

Tucked away somewhere in the pine-clad mountains in the Mexican state of Jalisco, a 2-hour drive from Guadalajara and not too far from Lake Chapala, is the pueblo mágico called Mazamitla. It's probably the closest thing Mexico has to an alpine village... I say "alpine" and not "Swiss" because it lacks the squeaky-clean, orderly Swissness. In other words, it still has its Mexican feel to it. But with its stone streets and houses with red-tiled roofs and wooden balconies, many lined with geraniums in pots, it has a real mountain town feel to it. Its altitude (2200 m - (7200 ft) and cool climate help reinforce that sensation.

IMG_5596m.jpg
IMG_5568m.jpg
IMG_5581m.jpg
IMG_5380m.jpg

We first stumbled across Mazamitla three years ago when we went to pay a visit on Christmas Eve to some friends who had moved there more than a decade earlier. This year we decided to repeat the experience, attracted by the thought of escaping from the concrete and traffic of the big city and spending Christmas among the pine trees, warmed by a real log fire. Due to the prolonged rainy season this year, the whole area was even greener than usual. Three years ago, it was quite a different story. Driving to the town from Zamora, we looked expectantly for the sight of what we had read was Mexico's little Switzerland. "Switerland? This looks more like Africa!", Cristina commented. And it did look rather yellow and dry. That is until we were almost in sight of Mazamitla. Then the Sierra del Tigre, the local mountains, appeared clad in pine trees and wooden cabañas or log cabins began to peep out from the greenery. This year, we were not disappointed and spent a relaxing 3 days there.

IMG_5671m.jpgB75A764B2219AC6817F66BEC009F596C.jpg

As this was our second visit and we were staying in the same hotel, we breezed up to what I think is the town's only traffic light and patiently waited for our turn for the green light. After our daily battles to get anywhere in Mexico City without spending half the day at red lights and stuck in traffic, this was a willing wait. We were in no hurry, we were on holiday. A few pick-ups ambled down the street, and an old man of 103 and a long white beard crossed the street at a pace that was consistent with his age. The fresh air and outdoor life must stretch the life expectancy here. We remembered the way to avoid the "busy" town centre and took a small stone-clad road which led up the mountainside.... we fondly call it the Periférico in honour of DF's congested ring road. We met two other cars and a man and his donkey.

IMG_6056m.jpg

After settling into the rustic hotel and re-acquainting ourselves with the view from the balcony, we sauntered down the hilly street straight into the central square of Mazamitla. Lined by small two--storey buildings with red and white walls, chunky roof tiles and wooden balconies, it seemed sleepy enough even though there was a wedding event going on at the church. A shiny red pick-up with a wedding bouquet on the front waited to take the newly-wed couple off. At least 70% of the vehicles here seem to be either ancient or massive pick-ups so I suppose it was a natural choice. When it rained the following day and turned the nearby mountain tracks into sticky red trails, we understood why these vehicles were so necessary. But today was clear and sunny and surprisingly warm. Our thick jumpers were relegated to our waists.

IMG_5396m.jpg
IMG_5319m.jpg
IMG_5466_mJPG.jpg
IMG_5368m.jpg
IMG_5369m.jpg
IMG_5371m.jpg
IMG_5364m.jpg
IMG_5378m.jpg

IMG_5350mJPG.jpg

The church is rather intriguing and certainly not the usual stone colonial-style building we have become accustomed to in Mexico. Freshly painted white with red trim, it conjures up vague images of a Chinese pagoda which seems to have mistakenly turned up in a Mexican dream. The bells rang and the bridal party emerged, one or two of the ladies tottering on heels that were totally out-of-keeping with this hilly town.

IMG_5548m.jpg

IMG_5349m.jpg
IMG_5973m.jpg

It doesn't take long before you notice lots of references to venado (deer) and arrows. The name Mazamitla in the Náhuatl language can mean any of a number of variations on the same theme: "the place where deer-hunting arrows are made". I'm sure that in earlier times, the surrounding forests were teeming with deer just waiting to be hunted. And wood... lots of it. It is obviously one of the main raw materials here... wooden balconies, wooden furniture, wooden souvenirs, wooden cabañas, wooden doors.... I was surprised to see that the benches in the main square were made of iron.

IMG_5501m.jpg
IMG_6139m.jpg
IMG_5555m.jpg

Perhaps the busiest place in this town was the small indoor market area a couple of streets away from the central plaza. Apart from that, small shops had their tiny interiors crammed full of just about everything, including the locally-made sweets such as cajeta de nuez, a kind of caramel with nuts in it and rompope, a sweet eggnog-like liquor which must do wonders in this cool climate. No-one was frantically buzzing around doing late shopping for Christmas presents. In fact, I was beginning to wonder whether Christmas had come and gone in this town, or if they only celebrated Los Reyes on the 6th of January. Except for a couple of piñatas, a few strings of lights and one or two paper lanterns, you wouldn't have guessed it was the 21st of December.

IMG_5573m.jpg
IMG_6039m.jpg
IMG_6040m.jpg
IMG_6143m.jpg
IMG_5634m.jpg

Early the next morning though, when I slipped into town before everyone else was up, I was relieved to find that the plaza was being hosed down by a group of four people, outnumbered by the pigeons by 200:1, while a familiar sound was being piped into the crisp morning air. It was the Spanish Christmas carol, Los Peces en el Rio. "Aha", I thought to myself, "they've remembered it's Christmas after all!" My hasty conclusion came to an abrupt end when the next song began. It was "Fame" ("I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly.."). Actually, the local Moustache Contest seemed to have made a greater dent in the calendar than Navidad. I think I saw who won the competition but didn't want to ask him if I could take his photo. The notoriety might have disturbed his peaceful existence. But when he wasn't looking, I snapped a shot from behind... his moustache was still more than visible from this angle.

IMG_5500m.jpg
IMG_5576m.jpg
B69F1DFB2219AC68172A3850073684FB.jpg

That first evening, we set off for the restaurant La Troje, its walls literally covered in photographs and posters, in search of some real food after a meagre sandwich for lunch on our journey here. When we arrived, it was just closing. "So early?" we chorused. We were directed across the road to the pizza place, a small rustic cabaña. It was cold and dark outside but as we opened the door, we were greeted by wooden walls, simple wooden tables and chairs on a gravel floor and a brick oven from where the smell of freshly-baked pizzas wafted. It all looked warm and inviting. No luxuries here but pure mountain refuge style. Our stomachs asked for home-made burgers and salad and baked potatoes and even a small pizza. The owner of the restaurant, a Belgian man, was a survivor. He had started off selling clothes but when times were hard, changed to selling crêpes out of a trailer. At our comments about the delicious pizza, he replied, "Well, I'd never made a pizza before but one day I thought, hey, I'm going to start making pizzas too!"

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The Christmas feeling arrived in Mazamitla on Christmas Eve, after a very heavy early morning rainstorm: The outdoor market began to set up in the centre and large tents of plastic sheet were pulled over the stands. As we made our way among the stalls, mingling with a growing number of locals who had appeared from somewhere, I knew what presents the people of Mazamitla would be getting. For the children, there were colourful plastic balls and toys, for the adults woolly jumpers and hats. And maybe a few bottles of rompope. Yes, now Christmas really had come.

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I hadn't imagined a wet Christmas Eve but fortunately the weather cleared up by the afternoon and when we set off in search of our friends' restaurant, lost among pine trees, we found a roaring fire and an international group around the table. Several courses later, with one of the little dogs clearly delighting in the warmest place in the house right in front of the chimney, we were ready to make our way back to the hotel, light our own fire and hang Marc's stocking up by the chimney. Who knows? Father Christmas must surely be able to find this place... he would feel at home here in this Alpine village!

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Posted by margaretm 04:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains mexico christmas outdoor mazamitla Comments (2)

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