Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Four Places in Mexico That Changed My Life

I often think of the places in Mexico that I have gone that have made the most impact on my life.  Most were not anticipated as having a significant impact, but did.

The one that I don't have a photo of, but could definitely find one from the 70's, is Puerto Vallarta.  That is when I first went there.  It was pristine beauty.  A small town at that time with no development other then two houses in Mismaloya.  No highrises along the road from there to PV and few tourists.

It changed my life in the fact that I was there remodeling a house.  The first house built there in the 50's by an expat. It was such a big deal that National Geographic did a photo essay and article on it back in those days.
It was located overlooking the river that flows through town to the ocean.  I loved the house and PV. My client sold that four bedroom house with three baths overlooking the ocean for $85,000USD~!  In fact, for quite a while after being there for six weeks, my mind was made up that that was where I was going to live.  At that point, one could buy a house behind the church for $35,000USD with an inside pool.  But, it obviously did not happen.  However, Puerto Vallarta planted the seed of retiring in Mexico.  I had just turned fifty years old.  Nine years later, I was living in Mexico!

Patzcauro is a village surrounded by a beautiful lake that I exported from for about twenty years. It was not a place that I was able to get to often because the suppliers would meet with me in Guadalajara when I was on buying trips.

When I did start going there more frequently after moving to Mexico, it was apparent that I needed to go for Dia de los Muertos.  Oh my, it was a life altering experience, to put it mildly.
It is hard to describe the sensuality of the fragrance of the incense and flowers, the light of the millions of the candles as you enter the cemeteries and the beauty of the families sitting quietly all night long.  Families of grandparents, parents, teenagers, little children sitting in the freezing cold all night long.  Never before or since have I seen anything that touched my soul to the degree that visiting the small cemeteries, off the beaten path, caused for me.  Tears welled in my eyes from the whole experience.  To think that people care enough about their departed family members to clean the graves, decorate the graves and to sit vigil was overwhelming for me.

If you haven't and you want to, plan on going but find someone to take you to the smaller cemeteries where there are not tons of tourists.  Start planning a year ahead so you can get accommodations and make arrangements.  The first time I went, I was amazed at how many Europeans were there.  Obviously, it is world renowned.  Go for a few days beforehand so you can see the flower markets and experience the town and the surrounding villages as well. 

Xochimilco are the magnificent gardens about 20 minutes from downtown Mexico City.  Developed thousands of years ago, they are still used to grow flowers for sale and to raise cattle on the floating islands built by the Aztecs!

The most important thing is to make arrangements to go through the locks into the areas that the tourists do not go so you can see the real life of the people who live in this magnificent place.  The huge cypress trees, flowers everywhere and the cleanliness of the area make one marvel at how close a city of 26 million people are to it.  Go, if you ever get a chance.

The Sierra Gorda where the five missions of Father Serra and Las Pozas near the village of Xilitla are the last that I'm writing about today.  It is not easy to get there.  From San Miguel it is a six hour drive, but, so, so well worth going to see.

Father Serra, after finishing the five missions in various tiny villages, then traveled by foot across Mexico and up the coast of California to oversee the building of all those missions.  That man had stamina!  Each mission in the Sierra Gorda is different with outstanding decoration and architecture.  The journey to get to each is exquisitely beautiful.

Then Las Pozas is a mystical, magical architectural wonder and a natural wonder.  I'm not going to relate the whole story of Edward James because there are many videos and articles on the internet about him.  I first read about him in a Smithsonian magazine then in Texas Monthly early in the 90's.  It caused me to fly with a group from Houston to see Las Pozas.  The article was wonderful but it in no way prepared any of us for the beauty of the area or what James had created.  The waterfalls are magnificent.  The Sierra Gorda is a biosphere area and so the butterflies, birds and other flora and fauna (wild orchids) are staggeringly beautiful.  If I were to be able to go back to the beginning of time on Earth, I think it would be as beautiful as the Sierra Gorda.

I've been back many times.  One year I went there for Day of the Dead.  The altars were all covered with orchids!  Very, very few tourists which adds to the enjoyment for me.  Lovely place.  The BBC series, Around the World in Eighty 80 Gardens  includes both Las Pozas and Xochimilco in their wonderful places in the world to see. 

I feel honored to have been to both and enjoyed the natural beauty of this magnificent country.  Hope you see them some day as well.


Christine said...

Thank you for that post, Babs! Really well written and very intriguing. Christine

Anonymous said...

Babs - The painted churches of Sierra Gorda are so worth seeing, but those blind hairpin curves on the narrow road high above almost a lunar-looking landscape certainly terrified me. And Las Pozas is magical....

Babs said...

Hi Ive never heard of the churches referred to as the "painted" churches since the color comes from the color of cantera, at least I thought so........AND indeed, the drive is something else. Someone said there are 285 curves! Ahh, but when you get to the green area, it is beyond incredible. Right now, we have had SO MUCH RAIN, that everything every where, even the desert is green~~

Christine, thanks. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Barbara Lane said...

I learn more about Mexico from you than anything or anyone else. I save it all to savor one day. Thank you!

Babs said...

Thank you Barbara for such a lovely complement.

Retired Teacher said...

Wow! I've been to Mexico more than 50 times in my life, and I've never been to any of these places! Just goes to show you how much there is to see in Mexico.
Thanks for a very interesting post.

Peter Kouwenhoven said...

A great post! I hope that I will experience these things too some day.

Babs said...

Bill, I'm surprised that you haven't been to these places......yet! Hopefully you will get there soon before they are discovered.......

Peter, I so hope you will too........Hopefully in 2016!

Anonymous said...

Really, Mexico is *so* different from the USA that you can really discover something totally different in so many places. I have learned so much in my travels, not only about Mexico, but about my own culture and its silent assumptions and norms.

Though I've never been in Pátzcuaro during the Day of the Dead, the place is amazing at even the most ordinary times.

As for Xochimilco, I've been a couple of times, but not to the places you mention. I must go back some time.

And I hope to get to Las Pozas some day. There's something compelling about the combination of madness, creativity, and an infinite budget.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we at best have only two out of three.

Babs said...

Kim, it is worth the inconvenience to get there. The first time I flew into Tampico.
Had a driver to take me and the group I was with to Xilitla. The driver stayed with us as we went to Las Pozas and to all the missions.

Interestingly Las Pozas architectural beauty is so tied to the natural environment. The amount of different butterflies I saw there is something I'll never, ever forget.
I also saw a puma in the wild.

The tiny villages that the churches are in are surrounded by pristine, green fields of agricultural crops.

The whole area is truly a wonderland of one beautiful thing after another..........

Shannon said...

You have just reminded me that there is still SO much more to see in my adopted country! I have not yet been to either Xochimilco or La Pozsas. I definitely agree about Patzcuaro though, after living there for 6 years my heart is still there, and the experience of Day of the Dead there is impossible to put into words that do it justice.

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