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Playing Tourist–Guadalajara Zoo

This year, the elementary school I work at, had its class trip to the Guadalajara Zoo.  Never one to miss an adventure, I signed us up. Overall, it was a nice experience and one I would reccomend for tourists visiting Mexico.

Despite the agonizingly long bus trip to and from Guadalajara, the class trip to the zoo went pretty well.  The animals seemed well cared for.  There were even babies in evidence, showing adequate food and living conditions.  

The aquarium was small but nice.  The penguin exhibit seemed a bit lacking in penguin stimulation opportunities.  A snow slide or two would have been nice.  Maybe a dancing penguin.  Nope.  Nothing like that happened here.

No happy feet here.

No happy feet here.

There were two shows available, birds and reptiles.  Both were short and entertaining even though there was some snake kissing going on.

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The sky zoo was out of commission, but my son said that was just as well.  They seemed a bit rusty and unreliable to him.

The “train” ride wasn’t really worth it.  It went entirely too fast and the same route can be covered on foot.  These animals were in smaller enclosures, not in an open area like the safari.

The Safari Masai Mara was much better than BioParque. Our guide almost seemed authentic with his brightly colored robes on and dashes of Swahili in his scripted presentation. The animals had both shade and adequate water. They didn’t seem listless and hungry.

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The giraffes were mighty friendly. Also more ecologically sound was the fact that our guide gave us handfuls of food to feed the giraffes rather than a cup, reducing our ecological footprint (again, unlike BioParque).

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The Rancho Veterinario was pretty lame. There were a handful of small animals behind glass, Shetland ponies, mini-donkeys, a Clydesdale, a cow and a hairy pig. La Yacata has more variety. Although there was a short discussion about what it means to take care of animals, the animals were not interested in interacting with the students and the students seemed abnormally horrified at all the pooping going on. This part can be skipped completely.

The food was typical fast food, greasy and overpriced. You are allowed to bring your own food into the park, so that is what I would recommend.  Souvenirs are 3 times what you can get at a regular store, but better quality than most.  We bought a little Masai drum to add to the Jaguar whistle and Carved Skull from Teotihuacan.

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One bit of the trip that made my heart soar was the fact that so many of the kids referenced something we had discussed in English class when seeing the animals.  In fourth grade, we just finished discussing extinct and endangered species.  When we passed the mountain goat section, a fourth grader shouted out that the Pyrenean Ibex was extinct.   In fifth grade, we are discussing forms of communication. We watched the video about Koko and gorilla sign language.  That topic came up as we passed the gorilla enclosure.  In third grade, we just finished discussing animal abilities with can and can’t.  Of course, the students already knew that the giraffe can clean its ears with its tongue and that penguins can’t fly.  Even my lackluster student in sixth pointed out that a certain bridge would be perfect for bungee jumping (extreme sports being our current theme).  Validation as a teacher!

However, as I mentioned, that LOOOOONG trip there and back prevents it from being a repeated activity, at least for us.

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Claudia’s San Pancho Marine Turtle Adventure–Exploring Puerto Vallarta

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I felt lighter walking because I didn’t have to haul my bothersome suitcase in order to explore the place. The first thing I did was take a good look at the sea, so blue and distant. I also wanted to try and see if I could understand the significance of the enormous monument placed at the beginning of the seawall path.

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While I was looking at all this, I saw a small path of rocks on the beach in the sand. I decided to walk along the rocks instead of the seawall. I picked up some rocks, only enough so that their weight wouldn’t tire me. This wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. I could have left my chosen rocks and returned to pick them up so as not to carry them the whole time, however, my emotion betrayed my reasoning. Although I didn’t really feel the weight because for every rock that I picked up, I also picked up all the trash in that area. It was a sad and disagreeable sight. I hope people are more conscientious about the trash on the beach and in the sea. I don’t understand why it seems like so much work to them to throw the bottles in the trash can. There were many there.

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At the end of the pier, there were many beautiful stores, bars, discos, jewelry stores, and restaurants of every style and theme imaginable. There was a jewelry store that looked like a mine with mining cars, stones, and quartz. There was a jungle-themed bar with various fiber and glass animals and cages for people. I could only image the type of dancers that frequented this place, however, at the moment there was a child inside the cage. His dad was taking pictures. I decided to take advantage of the situation and asked the man to take a picture of me too. I didn’t take many pictures of these places because really I enjoyed only looking at them and I felt that taking out my camera would distract me and steal much of my limited time. I walked a lot and photographed various statues. My favorites were the mermaid and Triton statues. It broke my heart to see poor Triton without an arm.  There was a seahorse and some chairs that resembled strange sea creatures around the stature.

 

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I arrived at the Playa Los Muertos (The Dead Beach). It was a shame that I didn’t arrive from the gay side. I discovered that the beach was divided into two parts thanks to two friends that I will talk about a little later. I met up with Mr. Willi, an artist that has spent 26 years carving wood to create his beautiful marionettes. I have never seen any marionettes so well made as his. The typical marionettes that I had seen were made from cloth with the head, hands, and feet made of plastic. However, these intrigued me so much that I couldn’t resist buying a beautiful Pinocchio. I asked Mr. Wili to teach me how to move it. If you are interested in acquiring one of his magnificent creations, you can find him in front of the pier, in front of the condominiums “Molina de Agua.” His phone number is (322)125-2461 and he can do special requests as well.

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After I explored part of the pier, I finally paid attention to my stomach and arrived at a restaurant “Cuates y Cuetes” that has been around since 1993. They offer mainly seafood but also have hamburgers, sandwiches, and grilled meat. It’s not very expensive and I left feeling well satisfied because the meal portions were a good size.13900460_1099327436782035_1124338750_n

I ordered a seafood dish, a mix of fish and shrimp, that came with a good quantity of crackers and tortilla chips. To go with my meal, I ordered a drink called Red Sky, beer with lime, salt, and tomato juice.

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Here I met Mrs. Irma, the cashier at the restaurant, and the head waiter Jacinto who has very friendly while attending me. If you have the urge to have a good conversation about the stories of Puerto Vallarta, he is who you should speak with. It was he who told me about the coconut oil, some small seeds that were found on the beach that resemble exactly small coconuts a little bitter than a nut. He told me that the seeds came from upper parts and were carried down to the beaches by the rains. He said that before they were collected for their oil which was sold on the beaches as suncream, but this custom has been lost. The restaurant is on Francisca Rodríguez #101 Col. Emiliano Zapata. The email is cuatesycuetes@gmail.com and the phone number is (322)223-2724. You can find almost everything on the pier, food, banks, souvenir shops, etc.
Getting around by bus is easy. The routes are marked by color and signs on the front of the bus. After my little walk through Puerto Vallarta, I finally started my journey to Nayarit and arrived in San Pancho that night.

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Me sentía más ligera para andar porque ya no tenía que cargar mi molesta maleta para explorar el lugar; lo primero que hice fue echar un ojo al mar tan azul y lejano, también ver y tratar de entender el significado del enorme monumento que había en el comienzo del camino del malecón.
Mientras observaba vi que había un pequeño tramo de piedras en la playa en lugar de arena, decidí caminar por las piedras en lugar de arriba del malecón. Tomé sólo las suficientes piedras para no cargar mucho peso y cansarme, no fue muy inteligente de mi parte haber hecho eso; pude haber dejado mis piedras seleccionadas y después volver por ellas para no cargarlas durante todo mi camino. Jeje la emoción traiciona mi razonamiento, pero hasta eso que no sentí el peso porque por cada piedra que tomaba levantaba una basura del lugar, fue algo triste y desagradable ver al comienzo, ojalá la gente tome más conciencia de la basura en las playas y el mar, no sé porque les cuesta trabajo tirarlos a los botes de basura, ¡Había muchos ahí!
En fin, todo el camino en el malecón había hermosas tiendas, bares, antros, joyerías y restaurantes de todos los estilos y temáticas. Había una joyería que parecía una mina y había vagones mineros, piedras, cuarzos. Un bar/antro con temática de la selva; tenía varios animales de fibra de vidrio y jaulas para personas, me imagino para las bailarinas que ambientan el lugar, pero en ese momento era un niño quien estaba dentro de una y su papá le sacaba fotos, aproveche para hacer lo mismo y pedirle el favor de tomarme una foto igual. No tomé muchas fotos de esos lugares porque realmente disfrutaba de sólo verlos y sentía que sacar la cámara me distraía y robaba mucho de mi tiempo limitado. Caminé mucho y fotografíe varias estatuas, mis favoritas fueron la Sirena y el Tritón; se me partió el alma ver sin brazo al pobre del Tritón, el famoso caballito del Mar y unas sillas de extrañas criaturas marinas.
Llegué hasta “Playa Los Muertos” fue una lástima fue no llegué hasta el lado gay, descubrí que se dividía en dos partes gracias a dos amigos con los que hablé más adelante; pero en el camino encontré al Señor Willi, un Artesano que lleva 26 años tallando madera para crear hermosas marionetas. Nunca había visto unas tan bien elaboradas como las suyas, las más comunes que he visto son los de tela con cabeza, manos y pies de plástico. Pero éstos me cautivaron tanto por su trabajo, que no pude resistirme a comprarle un hermoso Pinocho y le pedí al Señor Willi que me enseñara cómo manejarlo. Si están interesados en adquirir una de sus maravillas, él se encuentra en el Malecón frente a los condominios de “Molino de Agua” su número es: (322) 125 24 61, también elabora pedidos especiales.
Después de explorar parte del Malecón, por fin le hice caso a mi estómago y llegué al Restaurante “Cuates y Cuetes” que existe desde 1993. Ofrecen principalmente platillos del mar, pero también tiene hamburguesas, sándwiches y carnes asadas. No es muy costoso y te deja satisfecho porque son buenas porciones de comida la que viene en el platillo; mi orden fue un ceviche mixto (pescado y camarón) acompañado de una buena cantidad de galletas y totopos y para acompañar, una bebida llamada “cielo rojo”, cerveza con limón, sal y clamato. Ahí conocí a la Señora Irma, quien es la cajera del restaurante y al capitán de meseros Jacinto quien fue muy amable en atender mis órdenes. Si tienen muchas ganas de tener una buena conversación de historias de Puerto Vallarta él es el indicado, fue él quien me contó sobre el “coco de aceite”; unas pequeñas semillas que encontré en la playa y que precisamente parecía pequeños cocos del tamaño un poco más grande que una nuez. Me contó que son semillas que provienen de las partes altas y son arrastradas a las playas por las lluvias; antes se recolectaban para sacar su aceite y venderlo en las playas como bronceador, pero esa costumbre ya casi se perdió. La dirección es Francisca Rodríguez #101 Col. Emiliano Zapata. cuatesycuetes@gmail.com y teléfonos (322) 223 27 24, se dirige con Paco (Fco. Castro Gonzalez). Se puede encontrar casi de todo en el Malecón, comida, bancos, recuerdos, etc.
Andar en micros o autobuses es fácil de ubicar sus rutas por los colores de cada micro y los letreros en la parte de enfrente. Después de mi pequeño paseo por Puerto Vallarta por fin tomé rumbo hacia Nayarit y llegué a San Pancho por la noche.

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Fogatas, tapetes and San Miguel Arcangel –Bonfires, sawdust and Michael the Archangel

Uriangato, the neighboring town that also believes itself to be a city, has an incredible community festival in September to honor their patron saint, Michael the Archangel. It begins on September 19 and is followed by 8 days of activities, finishing with an event called La Octava Noche on September 29.

From September 19 to September 28, each household lights a small bonfire with ocote wood (a type of pine native to Mexico) in front of their homes each night. These fires are called candiles literally translated as lightings as they are said to light the path of San Miguel Arcangel during this novena (9 prayer days).

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I have to say that the first time I witnessed this event, I was startled. It’s quite a sight, fire after fire, street after street. Of course, it’s origin is prehispanic.

From what I understand, this local tradition was associated with the god Curicaueri, whose name in Purepecha means great fire, and who was credited with the foundation of the state of Michoacan. (Uriangato is a mere hop, skip and jump from the present day border of Michoacan.) Curicaueri was considered the oldest of the gods and was honored by the lighting of bonfires with ocote wood.  Some of this long ago origin remains in the form of indigenous dancers that perform during the events.

There are peregrinaciones (pilgrimages) over several days usually in the form of parades made up of local civic groups.  The parade route takes the pilgrims to the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, the main Catholic church in Uriangato.

The other major event associated with this festival is the creation of tapetes, floor mats. These are labourously created with colored sawdust, seeds, and flowers along the roads in Uriangato. They usually take the form of a variety of Catholic images and are tread upon by the passage of the image of Michael the Archangel on October 6, known as La Octava Noche (the 8th prayer day in the novena). The tapete tradition is said to have begun in 1966 and each year becomes more and more elaborate.

The custom to take out the image of San Miguel and walk through the town at night, in a similar fashion to El Senor de Esquipulas in Moroleon, began after the Spanish conquest. It seems that only the Independence War and the Cristero War kept the procession from well, proceeding. It starts and ends, naturally enough, at La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel and covers an area about 5 km long.

The image is carried by different groups of volunteers with rest and prayer stations found along the route. This year, the image has been covered in protective glass, which better protects the 50 ornate vestments from the elements.

Here are some of the outfits.

It really is a unique festival and should you happen this way during the holy celebration, it is definitely worth checking out.

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Playing Tourist–Teotihuacan

Pyramid of the sun

The Pyramid of the Sun is quite an impressive structure. That’s a person way up there on top.

About 20 years ago, which seems a lifetime ago, I came to Mexico for a study abroad summer session. One of our day trips was the pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was an incredible experience that I now wanted to share with my son. So I did.

My son thought he’d be super cool and not try to nap before we left. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a teenager. I opted to wear my granny rebozo instead of a jacket, reasoning that it would double as a blanket on the trip. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a middle-age adult. However, besides those obvious lapses in judgment, our trip was mostly disaster free for once.

We left at 1 am from the bus station in Moroleon for our trip to Central Norte de Mexico (North Central bus terminal in Mexico City). This was the most costly leg of the journey at $497 pesos one-way per person. I noticed while we were checking in, that there were discounts up to 50% available for students and teachers during vacation periods. Unfortunately, neither my son or I have school identifications to take advantage of the reduced rates. I plan on remedying that situation before our next trip!

We arrived shortly before 7 am in Mexico City. We opted to splurge on cappuccinos (31 pesos per cup) to help wake us up. We also had to shell out 5 pesos each bathroom trip. However, it was totally worth it. The bathrooms were clean, and toilet paper was unlimited even if it required a bit of hokey pokey to get through the full-body turnstile.

Buy your tickets to see the pyramids here!

Buy your tickets to see the pyramids here!

After freshening up, we set out to find the ticket counter for the pyramids. We ended up turning the wrong way in the terminal so it took us a bit longer than anticipated to get going, however, the blue pyramid was a big clue that HERE we could buy the tickets. We arrived 5 minutes before the next scheduled bus out to the site was due to depart. Tickets to and fro were 46 pesos each way per person, and the trip took about 45 minutes.

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You can take a hot air balloon tour over Teotihuacan.

We had arrived before the compound was open for business, so we sat in what seemed to be the security guard break area and watched the hot air balloons pass by for about 20 minutes. My son said there was no way he was getting in a one of those, so we crossed that off the things to do list.

The admission price was $65 pesos per person again with a discount for Mexican teachers and students which we couldn’t take advantage of. We were literally the first people through the gate. We stopped to use the facilities again and delightfully found them to be quite clean. Two for two– score for the bathrooms! The souvenir shops at the entrance were not open yet, but some of the mobile vendors were already there.

The first man we came across was selling lovely silver bracelets. Of course, we really had no need of lovely silver bracelets, so we didn’t buy any. However, he was amiable enough. He said we should follow a particular path and leave at a different gate to get the bus back to the central. He also stated that we should buy the items from the indigenous vendors as their items were hand-crafted rather than the cheap Chinese imports that the little stores sold. He said we should climb the Pyramid of the Sun and hold our left hand up to the sun in a fist at noon to absorb the blessing of the sun in the form of cosmic energy. We thanked him and went on.

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Some of the remaining Plumed Serpent heads at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan.

Our first stop was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Although the structure itself appeared in ruins, there was a lot of activity going on. Apparently, archeologists have recently discovered sacrificial victims buried around the site leading to previously unknown information about the unknown ancient culture that built these massive structures in Teotihuacan. Both the Temple and the human remains have been dated to sometime between 150 and 200 CE.

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The archaeological dig near the Temple is extensive.

One of the even more recent discoveries is the tunnel beneath the structure, 15 meters below ground and 130 meters long, that ends in what appears to be funeral chambers beneath the pyramid, discovered in 2011. The tunnel and chambers are also dated to about 200 CE. In 2014, large quantities of mercury found in one of these chambers along with jade statues, jaguar remains, a box of carved shells and rubber balls.

There is some speculation that the Temple was actually a large calendar. At one time, the structure may have had up to 260 feathered serpent heads. Each head has an open mouth which may have held a moveable marker.

Centuries later, much of the original pyramid was covered by a stone platform. This renovation, which occurred sometime in the 4th century, drastically changed the appearance of the structure and is thought to be a result of changing ideologies, from spiritual to political domination.

My son and I climbed around on the structure for a bit. Access was limited with the idea of monument preservation in mind.

We headed back to the Avenue of the Dead and heard the strangest animal sound. Turns out it was a jaguar whistle. Oh, we just had to have one of those! Unfortunately, the vendor wanted 200 pesos for it, which seemed a bit high. So instead, my son bought a crystal pyramid from a different vendor. The asking price was 70 pesos, but the vendor said as it would be the first sale of the day, he’d lower the price to 50 pesos. Trato hecho (Done deal)!

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Atop the Pyramid of the Sun with the Pyramid of the Moon in the background at Teotihuacan.

Our next stop was the Pyramid of the Sun. Scaling its 246 feet was made easier than my ascent 20 years ago by the addition of cables, but it still was quite a feat! This pyramid is the third largest in the world and the largest structure in Teotihuacan. Although the monument is currently associated with the sun, it’s more probable that it was dedicated to Tlaloc, the water deity whose ancient name translates as “encierro del sol” (He that entraps the sun). The pyramid was built over sacred caverns which are only now being explored. Additionally, the remains of child sacrificial victims have been found at the corners of the building thought to have been made at the ritual dedication at the start of construction. In 2004, 12 human remains and several animal remains were found in a vault in the pyramid also thought to have been sacrificed.

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Local lore states that to absorb the cosmic energy present at this holy site, you should stand at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun and raise your fisted left hand.

We didn’t have enough energy to climb the Pyramid of the Moon, which is the oldest of the three primary structures. In this courtyard, ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, also known as the Chalchiutlicue, companion to Tlaloc, were held.  She was the goddess of fertility, childbirth, marriage, water and crops.  She personified both life and death as she was the destroyer of the fourth world, causing the devastating flood in retaliation to Tlaloc’s abuse against her.

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The ancient Great Goddess of Teotihuacan

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Some archaeologically digging in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.

There was some excavating going on here too. However, I wasn’t able to find any information on what may or may not have been discovered recently.

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Standing in front of the Pyramid of the Moon with the jaguar whistle.

We bought one of those jaguar whistles here from an indigenous vendor in the courtyard in from of this pyramid. As it was his first sale of the day, he reduced the price to 100 pesos. It’s the coolest thing, and my son frightened all his friends with the weird, wild sound.

Getting a little cranky with all the up and down walking.

Getting a little cranky with all the up and down walking.

Then, we took a wrong turn on our quest for the on-site museum and were in this series of never-ending up and down courtyards for awhile. Our legs were already jelly and that bright idea of staying up all night that my son had, finally caught up with him. He started to get a bit cranky.

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The model at the museum was neat but not nearly as amazing as the Pyramid itself.

We turned on what appeared to be a goat track and fortunately, found ourselves in front of the museum which turned out to be well worth the effort. Our entrance tickets were good for the museum, so there was no additional cost, which was just dandy. There was a good selection of artifacts on display and a huge model of the entire Teotihuacan complex.

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Some of the vendors had their own altars set up asking for blessings on the day’s earnings.  However, you won’t find any Hail Mary images. The old gods are honored here.

There was a little store beside the museum, so we did a bit of shopping. My son bought a hieroglyphics necklace, which broke almost immediately after we arrived home. However, the quartz and obsidian necklaces that he bought from the indigenous vendors more than made up for that poor buy.

We started getting hungry, so we set off with nourishment in mind. There seemed to be no restaurants anywhere. We followed the smell of frying onions to the back of a shop where there were a few tables set up behind the rows of chips and soda. They only had tortas de huevo which kinda resembled an egg McMuffin on a croissant, but we were starving so anything at that moment would have been fine. Two sandwiches, two teas, and a bag of chips nearly broke the bank at $200 pesos. Well, we were starving.

Smack dab in front of the souvenir shop/restaurant were the remains of a residence. Of course, we had to tour it, even though Mr. Crankypants hadn’t fully recovered, even with a full belly.

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The front of the residence we toured.

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The remaining walls of the residence

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The inner courtyard of the house.

We wandered around a bit more and discovered a herb garden. There were only a few plants. However, each had a marker with its name and its traditional medicinal use. This is the type of stuff I love!

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Palo dulce is one of the medicinal plants my husband uses to treat our animals.

There was also a nice area of statuary.

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Our next stop was to take a little siesta under a tree not far from the garden. I dozed for about 15 or 20 minutes or so, but my stubborn son did not close his eyes. When I woke up, the clouds were darkening, so we decided to head toward the exit.

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Napped a bit under this tree.

We joined the swarm of people heading out, stopping just long enough to buy some ceramic skulls that the vendor offered for a two for one deal because of the impending rain. We made it to the bus stop right before the heavens opened up, only the bus was already full, so we had to wait about 15 minutes for another one.

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The view from atop of the Pyramid of the Sun.

We arrived back at the bus terminal hours before our scheduled trip home. Taking the bull by the horns, I went and successfully changed our tickets at the ticket booth. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself and my Spanish skills on this trip. Yeah me!

We had just enough time to treat ourselves to Subway subs before the bus back to Moroleon left. My son had the intention of sightseeing via the bus window, but the moment he sat down, he was out for the count. He slept the entire trip back, which took twice as long as the journey to DF. I watched 4 movies on the bus tv screen, dozing a bit during the boring parts. It really seemed like a never-ending bus ride, but we did finally get back in one piece.

A little more history about Teotihuacan:

The name “Teotihuacan” was given to this area by the Aztecs when they discovered the ruins around 550 AD. It translates approximately as “the birthplace of the gods.” or “place of those who have the road of the gods” reflecting the Aztec belief that the gods created the universe here.

The once thriving city was abandoned centuries before the Aztec arrived. Evidence of the burning and destruction of the temples and upper-class dwellings supports the theory that there was an internal uprising. This civil strife was probably the result of a period of drought related to global climate change after a catastrophic volcanic eruption and subsequent ash fallout.

These ancient ruins make the list of the 13 wonders of Mexico and are definitely worth a visit.

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