Category Archives: Travel

Los Amigos Del Taconazo

I have found that local bars are good places to practice Spanish, as the patrons and proprietors are generally friendly and ready to strike up conversation.

You may remember my periodic reports from Jose’s cantina in Merida, which I would visit a couple of times each week. Jose’s is what I would call a very funky place, others would probably think it seedy, and still others disgusting; and I couldn’t honestly argue with either point of view. After all, it rained almost as hard in the bathroom as it did outdoors and Jose was often exceedingly drunk. One night, in fact, he was so drunk that he walked around his place apparently unaware that he had pissed his pants. Shortly thereafter he took one of his periodic rides on the wagon.

I have been visiting the bars in my neighborhood here in Xalapa and have found a few that I enjoy. The other day, however, I hit the jackpot just a couple blocks from my apartment, when I stumbled upon Cantina La Negrita. Stumbled upon, because, like many of the bars in town, from the outside La Negrita carries no indication that there’s a bar inside. The other day as I walked pass I heard accordion music emanating from the doorway so walked in.

Here is what I found.  You can certainly tell that I’m a videography neophyte.

Los Amigos Del Taconazo play Norteno music, which features a diatonic (meaning a different note results from a pull on the bellows than from a push) button accordion (in this case a Hohner Corona) and usually a guitar and bass. The bass in the video is 90 years old, and really, really looks it. Los Amigos, who have been playing together for twelve years and play every afternoon at La Negrita, told me they dream of going to the USA to play.

Another serendipitous occurrence in Mexico.

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Filed under Norteno, Travel, Xalapa

Plaza Xalapenos Ilustres

Having researched options for extending the range of WiFi receivers and broadcasters I ran across lots of designs for home made antennas, some with ranges of many miles. My curiosity piqued I decided to build a very long range “double bi-quad” antenna.

I needed a piece of scrap 12 or 14 gauge household wiring, a short piece of half inch copper pipe, a piece of sheet copper about 5″ x 9″, and some low loss coaxial cable. So off I went scrounging.

I was able to get the scrap wire and copper pipe with no problems from a scrap dealer up the street not to far and ordered 15 meters of the right type of coaxial cable and necessary connectors from a vendor on Mercado Libre, Latin America’s eBay affiliated online market place. Finding a piece of copper sheet, however, has been difficult.

I have checked in every hardware, electrical supply, and kitchen equipment store in Centro and in the area of the Mercado Los Sauces with no luck in finding copper sheet. A couple of days ago, though, I asked in a local plumbing supply store and the nice proprietors directed me to a metal dealer just off Avenida Lazaro Cardenas, a good ways North from my apartment.

So yesterday morning off I went to locate the metal dealer. Being Sunday I knew it would probably not be open for business, but I need the exercise and it was a beautiful sunny morning for an urban trek, up and down through the hills of Xalapa.

My map of the city doesn’t include a scale so I don’t know for sure how far I walked before locating the metal dealer in a very nice Colonia Rafael Lucio part of town, but I had been walking for an hour and a half. It was another hour and half to return. I plan to go again this morning.

The real treat of my long walk was encountering the Plaza Xalapenos Ilustres, a tree lined pedestrian plaza which separates the to and from lanes of Avenida Xalapa and which stretches from block upon block from the Avenida Presidente (Lazaro Cardenas) to Avendia Americas. The stretch of Avenida Xalapa passes the Pantheon Xalapeno (a large cemetery), a large sports school, and the famous Museo Antropologia.

The plaza, according to an informational sign, contains 1733 trees, predominately Sweetgums, Mexican Sycamores and Shamel Ash.

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My Trip to Guanajuato

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Nestled in a bowl amongst the semi-arid hills of, what I think is considered, the Central Mexican Highlands is the lovely city of Guanajuato. The very tidy, vibrant city is rich in history, architecture, museums, theaters, universities, and references to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and his Quijote de Mancha.

I traveled to Guanjauto early last week by intercity bus, taking the ADO line from Xalapa to Mexico City and the ETN line to Guanajuato. Thanks to my sister-in-law; I’ve not seen in twenty five years; and my wonderfully grounded niece, I’ve not seen in ten, for the invitation to join them in their visit.

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The Mexican intercity bus system, like its intracity systems with which I am familiar, is comprehensive and economical. The luxurious ADO GL bus I took for the four and a half hour trip to Mexico City was $246 pesos; and included a very comfortable seat, a refreshment, and a movie. The even more luxurious ETN bus I took for the four hour trip to Guanajuato was $350, had only three seats across the cabin, padded leg rests, and included a sandwich, refreshment, and movie. There are, I learned, less expensive carriers which I did not find online but of which I learned at the stations.

There are four major intercity bus stations in Mexico City. I changed buses at the Mexico Norte station on the way to Guanjuato and on the way back took a $75 pesos taxi trip from the Norte station to the TAPO station in the East part of the City. The TAPO station was quite nice and convenient, constructed in a circle with the various terminals radiating from the circle; and with restaurants and an internet café at the center.

I had a tasty, authentic breakfast at the Norte station served by a friendly fellow who speaks English quite well. He explained that he had lived for a time in Salt Lake City where he operated a stucco business which employed six folks and where his wife and child continue to reside. He had been expelled from the USA by the immigration service and his wife is now processing the paperwork necessary for his return, a process, he said, would take three months to a year.

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I arrived in Guanajuato about midday last Monday and, after a $50 peso cab ride, checked into my room at El Castillo de Santa Ceclia, a sprawling castle complex of stone and brick, complete with arches, towers, surrounding defensive walls, and suits of armor standing guard in the common spaces. One could even ascend a tower, via a spiral staircase, to the top of the entrance gate and enjoy a panorama of the city below.

Santa Cecilia, I have since read, is the patron saint of musicians and of the blind.

hotelstatue.jpgThere is in the hotel courtyard a bronze statue of Quijote de Mancha, which, the accompanying sign explained, was symbol of liberty. I later learned that the city hosts an annual Cervantes festival and encountered references to Cervantes and Don Quixote statues throughout the Centro area.

I should also note that the hotel provides wireless internet service which one can access while sitting on the patio around the pool enjoying a morning cup of coffee from the Extra store around the corner. The hotel restaurant offered coffee that was tepid and a bit insubstantial for my taste at $20 pesos per cup, thus the morning trip to Extra.

aliciaarmor.jpgThe hotel was at about only 20 % occupancy, as it is now the off season. I was told that the hotel is full during August and September, as well as during Semana Santa and Christmas.

When I again visit Guanajuato I will seek out more economical accommodations in one of the many older Centro hotels, but a stay at the rather pricey El Castillo ($120 USA per night) is well worth the experience.

Guanajuato and the nearby pueblo of Dolores Hidalog figured prominently in the revolutionary war that ultimately ended Spanish colonial rule. The Alhondiga de Granadies (granary), now a museum in the city, was the scene of the opening battle of the Mexican revolution, a couple of weeks after Father Miguel Hidalgo issued his famous El Grito, or call to arms, from a balcony in Dolores Hidalgo on September 10, 1810.

largestaturonhill.jpgTowering over the city is a huge, cantera stone statue of El Pipila, Juan Jose de los Reyes Martinez, who on September 28, 1810 set fire to the gates of the Alhondiga de Granadies, where Spanish soldiers were stationed, enabling rebel forces to enter the granary and to win the first battle of the revolutionary war.

There are at least three major theaters (below is the El Teatro Juarez) in Guanajuato, many museums, and the University of Guanajuato, all contributing to a rich art and musical atmosphere. The buildings housing the theaters, museums and university feature locally quarried beautiful pink and green caltera stone, as are the opulent churches in both Guanajuato and Dolores Hidalgo.

teatrojuarez.jpgCantera stone, a well as brick, was used also to construct the deep, arched beams that support the streets and building above Calle Hidalgo, a subterranean, serpentine roadway network constructed in 1965 through a river bed under the city, with the aim of relieving traffic congestion on Centro streets.

City buses ply the tunnels taking on and discharging passengers waiting at the many underground bus stops accessed by periodic stone stairways to the surface. It is a quite stunning engineering, construction, and artistic feat.

microbrewpubstainedglass.jpgThere are a number of well tended plazas and parks in Centro Guanajuato, surrounded by cafes with outdoor seating, pubs, and shops. Particularly in the evenings these public areas are filled with families, university students, diners and shoppers. The parks and plazas also provide a location for some of the public art that pervades the city.

microbrewpubstill.jpgFronting on the Jardin Union, the largest downtown park, we encountered a pub which featured beer and 100% blue agave tequila brewed and distilled in a nearby city. The pub offered four beers, one which included tequila and lime, one which included coffee and chocolate, and more conventional dark and light beers. The street side entry way of the beautiful colonial building housing the pub contained a sales room for a variety of fine 100% blue agave tequila and gifts, and in the rear was a beautiful antique bar in which was an old copper still and a stained glass ceiling. It was all very well and very beautifully done.

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Amongst Guanajauto’s many museums is the four story home of famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera, where there is on display many, many of Rivera’s works, as well as some of those of his wife Frida Kahlo and three of his students. Rivera moved with his family when fairly young to Mexico City, where he entered art school at the age of eleven. He was officially shunned for many years because of his communistic sympathies but is now recognized for the exceptional artist he was. The museum is well worth a visit.

I also visited the Museo de las Momias, the famous mummy museum. There seem to be various explanations as to why the bodies were disinterred but the bodies were apparently naturally mummified as the crypts in which they were buried were sealed such that oxygen was not present to enable the growth of agents of decomposition.

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Amongst the other museums in the city, which I did not visit, are the Alhondiga de Granadias; Casa de las Leyendas, a museum of legends I’m told is fun; the nearby Mina de Valenciana, a still active mining operation; a couple of haciendas; and the Museo Iconografico del Cervatnes.

Guanajuato annually celebrates Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of Don Quixote. I was told by a taxi driver that 30 or so years ago some university students conducted some sort of Cervantes celebration and that some time later the city adopted the cause. Today the city contains many references to Cervantes and a number of statues of Quijote de Mancha. I guess I will now have to read the book.

hidalgotalavera.jpgA visit to Guanajuato, I think, would not be complete without a bus ride to the nearby historic pueblo of Dolores Hidalgo, famous not only for Hidalgo’s El Grito but also for its brightly painted talavera ceramics. The bus may be boarded along the Avenida de Valenciana. Look for a bus with Hildalgo noted on the front window.

Colonial centro Hidalgo includes a beautiful, tidy central plaza across the street from a truly magnificent cathedral (and, given the grand cathedrals in every Mexican city and pueblo, that’s really saying something). The church is constructed entirely of pink cantera stone, with the stone around the entry way intricately carved.

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Hidalgo has shop after shop vending talavera ceramic bowls, planters, dishware, shot glasses, ashtrays, and etc., etc., etc. One shop had an entire talavera bathroom set, including a toilet, basin, and towel and toilet paper racks. Should I ever build a house here, I will definitely go to Dolores Hidalgo and fill my little pickup with tiles and household furnishing.

hidalgocityhall.jpgI don’t know what else to report, except that I will certainly return to Guanajuato for further explorations, as I like it very much. Even better, though, than exploring the city was spending time with and getting to know my sister-in-law and niece.

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Ursulo Galvan

Today I drove to take a look at Ursulo Galvan, a colonia a bit off the road between Coatepec and Xico. Entering the pueblito one must cross a bridge over this rio.

The pueblo is nestled on a hill side overlooking the rio and is surrounded by the typical forest found in this area, often with an under story of coffee plant and banana trees.

I continued on to visit the pueblo of Texim, a pueblito a few miles beyond Teocelo, a bit off the road to Cosautlan.

I stopped on the way home at his restaurant in Coatepec and had a delicious late lunch of shrimp in a type of mole sauce, with rice, salad, and a couple of Negra Modelos. I took this shot while sitting at my table.

This flower arrangement, of what I think are some type of Lilly, adorned my table.

The beautiful church below is in Centro Coatepec.

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Filed under Coatepec, Teocelo, Travel, Ursulo Galvan, Veracruz, Xalapa

Teocelo Sculpture

I really like this clam shell sculpture facing Calle Cinco de Mayo in the yard of building across the street from the Centro park.

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My Aborted Trip To Hautusco

Sunday I had intended to drive to Hautusco, a town of about 30,000 a couple hours South of here. So off I went toward Coatepec, turning just before entering the city, following the sign to Cordova. However, I didn’t encounter additional signs directing me and eventually ended up in Las Trancas, at the opposite side of Xalapa from where I had left.

If I had looked at the Xalapa map I had with me, which I didn’t do until I had arrived home, I would have learned that the road to Jacomulco, with which I am familiar, leads to Hautusco. One of my frequent dumb ass moments.

treeepiphytes.jpgArriving back in Xalapa I drove through town and again headed for Coatepec. I had decided to drive to Teocelo and ask as to the route to Hautusco, which I thought I could reach from Teocelo.

Arriving in Teocelo I headed toward the bar at which I had stopped the other day to ask directions. The proprietor, Senor Crescencio (Chencho, as he said most folks call him) Martinez, was tending the bar and talking to his son Carlos.

I ordered a Negra Modelo and asked the gentlemen how I would go to Hautusco. Carlos asked his father for a sheet of paper and drew me a detailed map, not only showing the route to Hautusco but the routes to all of the area pueblos as well. He also told me that the name Teocelo derives from Teo Ocelotl of the indigenous Nahualtl language, which in Spanish is Dios Tigre and in English God Tiger.

Senor Crescencio informed me one of his other sons is selling a small rancho in Texin, not far from Teocelo along the road to Cosautlan, and gave me his son’s name and phone number. I plan to contact his son to arrange to look at the property.

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Teocelo

I had been to Teocelo only once before my visit to the Ranchito Coyolopan, and then only to the edge of town where I had turned off to the pueblito of Santa Rosa from where I walked to visit the Cascada Texolo.

When passing through on the way to visit the ranchito a couple of weeks ago I noticed what a tidy little town it is, and when we stopped in Centro during the return trip for a bite to eat I noticed how very attractive is the central park. During my visit last Sunday to the home of Lorena and her father Franco, before returning to the Ranchito Coyolopan, I had even a better look of the town and decided that I wanted to return for a longer visit.

So Wednesday I walked to the tourist information booth across from the Parque Juarez, here in Xalapa, and asked from where I would board a bus to Teocelo. The very pleasant woman staffing the booth was able to tell me that I must go to the Mercado Los Sauces, about ten blocks from Parque Juarez. So off I went.


I located a bus parked adjacent to the mercado which indicated Teocelo on its front window and asked the driver, who informed me from where I should catch it. So off I went down Calle Bolivia to the bus stop. The bus may also be boarded at the route’s origin at La Rotonda on Calle Revolucion , about 12 blocks North of my apartment.

The bus was a very comfortable Mercedes and the young driver sported a gelled hair do that put to shame the greaser “duck tails” popular in my adolescence. Unlike the local buses one does not pay the fare upon boarding. Rather, there is a fellow riding shotgun who approaches each passenger that boards, determines their destination, and collects the fare. The fare to Teocelo is $13. pesos.

The route passes through Coatepec and continues toward Xico. Just before reaching Xico the road diverges, winds its way up and over a mountain pass, drops down into the valley of the river into which the Cascada Texolo falls, and snakes its way up and over another pass before dropping down into Teocelo. The scenery along the route is spectacular, including sheer rock faces, of well over one hundred feet in height, on each side of the narrow river valley the route traverses.

I debarked in Teocelo just around the corner from the central park and spent the next couple hours walking the streets looking for signs announcing houses for rent or sale, though I encountered none. I stopped into the cable TV office and inquired if they offered internet service and as to the prices for TV services. The very nice woman staffing the office indicated that the company does not provide internet service and insisted that she write down for me the TV connection and monthly services charges.

A bit further along in my tour I stopped into a bar that was about only 8 feet wide, ordered a Bohemia, and began grilling the proprietor with questions about the town. When I asked if he knew of any houses for rent or property for sale he indicated that he was selling a home around the corner. He informed me that the house, constructed only about five years ago, has fourteen bedrooms and five bathrooms. I finished the beer and continued on my way.

I am impressed with how clean the town is and how friendly the folks are. Almost without exception those I passed greeted me with a “buenas tardes” or “adios”, as is a common greeting here. The buildings are colorful, most of the streets and sidewalks are of stone common to the area, and the central park is amongst the most beautiful I have encountered.

Returning toward the central park I inquired of a gentleman I encountered if he could recommend a restaurant he likes. He directed me to the Dona Ofe restaurant across the street from the North end of the park. The tidy restaurant has about eight tables in the front room of a colonial home, with the food preparation in the rear. The tables are surrounded by beautiful caned chairs with frames constructed of rough hewn tree trucks or limbs.

As is typical of coninas economicas here, Dona Ofe offered a choice of two meals, carne asado, a thinly sliced beef flank steak, or chuleta de cerdo, a pork chop. Each meal was of three courses, a delicious pasta soup, followed by a plate of rice with peas and corn, and finally the meat plate with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber. The meal included sweeten lemon water, corn tortillas, and tortilla chips with a fairly picante salsa. The meal was $30. pesos, which at today’s exchange rate is about $2.75 USA.

Following lunch I walked through the park to Don Franco’s bakery and home, located across the street from the end of the park opposite the restaurant, as I wanted to thank him and his daughter Lorena for their hospitality the previous Sunday and for their help with communicating with the owners of Ranchito Coyolopan.

Franco greeted me warmly, we talked for a few minutes, he encouraged me to visit any time and assured me that his home was also mine, and he directed me as to where to catch a bus home and which bus to take.

The bus in which I returned to Xalapa was a Blue Bird school type bus with high backed seats. It was an exciting trip home, as the driver maneuvered the bus along the winding mountain roads as if he were driving a sports car.

Teocelo is an enchantingly beautiful, very clean, quiet pueblo of friendly folks. I recommend to those visiting Xalapa a day trip by bus to Teocelo. I intend to return next week for further explorations to include a bus trip to the nearby pueblo of Cosautlan.

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