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Way back we spent a lovely week exploring San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico.  Home to both local craftsman as well as foreign artists San Cristobal is a shopper’s dream.  Tom and I definitely did our share of perusing the markets but our best find comes from Bela who showed us the most amazing shawl in modern colours.

Often the Mayan fabric, thought intricate and impressive, has pretty brash colours, at least to my eye, so when I saw a hand-woven scarf with rich purples mixed with bright lime greens and tiny details of teal I was interested to find out who made them.  Leave it to the French to track down a women’s co-operative of weavers, suggest a few modern colour combinations and, as they say, Voila!  Amazing fabrics in great colours.  Bela explained where the co-op was (well sort of) and we decided to track it down before we left.

On a whim, after returning from a visit to San Juan Chamula, I pulled Tom off the bus in the middle of nowhere convinced that the co-op was close at hand.  The soccer field and a white building where the two main landmarks Bela mentioned and after a bit of aimless wandering a group of construction workers pointed us in the right direction.

We arrived to a few small buildings, a play park and a couple of cars.  We poked around and were greeted by friendly gal who took us straight to the stock room.  Shelves from floor to ceiling were jam-packed with thousands of scarves, table linens, bags, tea-towels and shawls. It was pretty overwhelming and even more overwhelming to think every item was woven by hand, thread by thread.  We treated ourselves to a few things.

Modern Colours

Jolom Mayaetik, meaning “Mayan Women Weavers”, is a co-operative made up of 250 women from 11 different communities within the Chiapas Highlands.  A group of three women from each community form a General Assembly. The General assembly represents the co-op with different organizations in both Mexico and other parts of the world.  The women in Jolom Mayaetik are trained on the back-strap loom as well as the pedal loom and, for some, the sewing machine.  Many of the women receive training in book-keeping, administration and design.

Backstrap Loom
The products at this collective are by far some of the nicest weavings I have seen thus far.  Expect to pay fair prices, quite a bit more than in the markets.  You can check them out here (though the link seems to be down at the moment) or if you are in San Cristobal take a bus to La Quinta San Martin, get off at San Martin, walk to the right until you come to a big white house.

Mexico and Central America have an abundance of delicious and unique fruits.  As a person who could probably live off fruit, I have been happily stuffing my face with delectable tropical fruit like mangoes, tuna (not the fish–it is also known as prickly pear), pineapple, papaya and loads of other treats from good ol’ mother nature.

After a rather crazy fishing trip where I caught and ‘helped’ to reel in a 12 pound dorado, I was lucky enough to learn a very simple but tasty recipe for mango salsa — heavenly when served over freshly caught fish.  This simple salsa has worked its way into our meals whenever we find the ingredients and have a kitchen available.

Mango Salsa

  • 2 ripe mangoes cubed
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 whole serrano chile (add to taste and remember the seeds are the fire so remove them if you prefer just a little spice before chopping.  Make sure to wash your hands well after chopping up chilies, a little lime juice works wonders to remove remaining chili juice*)
    *if you make the mistake of touching your face with chili-laden hands a little plain yogurt can relieve the spicy sting.

Mix up ingredients in a glass bowl, chill and serve over fish, with chips, rice or whatever you please.

Try it on chicken and rice

Try it on chicken and rice

Stuck in cold Canada with no exotic fruit available?  Check out More than Mangos, a company dedicated to importing the best quality and freshest tropical fruit into Alberta and BC grown in locales like Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala. Here you can find and order some pretty amazing fruit and also check out their serious repetiore of recipes.  Say hi to Senor Fruit for me!

After a meal of tortillas and chicken as well as a delicious dessert of churros, we headed to bed early and got up on Nov.8 ready to cross the border into Belize. Both of us were expecting it to be a mission so we were up and out the door by 7:30am to try and beat the crowd. protein shakes

We arrived to relative calm, a shocking sight all on its own and managed to be some of the first to cancel our tourist permits. We paid the $20.00 departure fee and, after waiting for half and hour the temporary car permit office opened and we were able to cancel the permit without any hassle. If you don’t cancel you car permit at the border the Mexican government assumes that you have left or sold your vehicle within the country – both of which are illegal.

I have to admit that arriving in a country where English is the national language was a relief. No trying to explain in Spanish why we’re driving and that yes we really did want to bring our car in. In fact, it was pretty straightforward, though we did have a self-appointed assistant who moved us through the process. All we had to do was get our passports stamped, visit customs to import our car and purchase insurance for the time we were here. The officials were pretty friendly and our “helper” even assisted in getting us a good exchange rate for our pesos to the Belizean dollar though he made sure we only had bigger bills and ended up getting a fair-sized tip.

We were on the road at about 10am in Belize and managed to make our way to Placencia, the Caye you can drive to, without many roads signs in about six hours. At one point when we must have looked terribly confused an entire bus-stop of people pointed the direction we needed to go.

We drove the beautiful Hummingbird highway, passing tonnes of people on bikes, just about every person waved and gave us a huge smile. But, the drive wasn’t without a few hiccups as the country was still recovering from some pretty heavy rain fall and tropical storms couple of weeks earlier.

Driving in Belize from Kels M on Vimeo.

Boho Revolution

Sigh. I know that hippies will be around for always and that diversity is the spice of life. But how come whenever you go certain places there are those people who never leave and they adapt a weird type of uniform. It is just kind of cliché to me. For those of you who have been to Thailand you will have seen people with newly created dreadlocks, no shoes, fisherman pants and one too many Chinese character tattoos. I get it, you are young and want to be “free” and smell like patchouli for a few months. But my question is, would you dress like this at home?

Anyhow without further ado I give you the look of San Cristobal: The Boho Revolution. Marina Sirtis Boobs

Yep the Zapatistas meet bellydancer meet hippie/boho. Leg warmers, sandals, skirts over pants, shaved heads and a plethora of mullet mutations are part of the criteria.


Revolution in the streets

I have been waiting to see Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) since I was a kid. For some reason I find this celebration absolutely fascinating, perhaps it is because the Mexicans seem to have a really great relationship with death or maybe because I love Halloween and three days of it seems too good to be true.

We were told that the place to be on Nov.1 in the San Cristobal area is a small town about 30 min outside called San Juan Chamula. The people here are a very independent group of Mayan descendents called the Tzotzil. They speak a Mayan dialect (yep, called Tzotzil) and follow a very unique religion, which mixes some Christianity with traditional Mayan beliefs.

We arrived with a tour group, led by a Zapatista supporter, to find the graveyard brimming with people. Kids were playing among the graves, grandmothers wailing sorrows and all the men were well on their way to becoming extremely drunk.

The graves are covered in pine needles with marigolds laid out to create a cross on the graves (there are crosses in the Mayan faith so these are not necessarily Christian crosses). The smell of the flowers and pine surrounded us as we watched the festivities taking place. According to our guide the pine is very important to the Tzotzil and it constantly covers their church floor. This gets changed three times a week and I can’t help but wonder if it is a trap for curious foreigners as I saw a few of us just about wipeout in the church.

In the church we were able to see the odd mixture of Mayan belief and Christianity. The last Catholic priest was ousted from the community in 1969 although they do allow a priest to return once a month to baptize the children. The church is filled with all the saints and of course the Virgin Mary, Jesus and Joseph though for Day of the Dead these three were covered with cloths so that bad spirits who return are not able to see them. There was a funeral table set up in the middle of the church and many of the men and women were busy participating in what they called a “ritual”.

No photos are allowed in the church, of church leaders or of any ritual so all we can do is explain what we saw. We did return to the church a few days later to see the usual events which include tonnes of candles in varying colours which represent different things, chickens (an offering which I believe starts off alive…) and soda pop, the more affordable option versus posh (kind of like moonshine). It is pretty wild to see Coca-Cola and Fanta bottles in front of the Virgin Mary.

After our church visit we were able to visit a religious leader’s house for a “donation”. Though it is very expensive to be a leader, as they have to provide everything for all the rituals that occur the whole year. This includes incense, all offerings, candles and fireworks! A woman was unwrapping hundreds of scarves from a saint while a small band played music. Every 5 minutes of so one of the men would yell our “fireworks!” in Tzotzil and then someone outside would send a firework off…in their hand. I was surprised that there were not any injuries from holding fireworks and letting them go. We were offered some posh and some goof tried to refuse it, which is not very polite especially when we were invited in. I figured since it was about 99% alcohol there was a pretty slim chance of getting sick…I did avoid drinking the bugs that were floating in it though.

The following day Nov.2, All Soul’s Day (Day of the Dead is actually more like 4 days) we headed off to the Panteon (grave yard) in San Cristobal de las Casas. It was packed with people visiting the colourful graves of loved ones, mariachis for hire (to sing to the dearly departed), vendors selling tasty treats and indigenous women selling pine needles and marigolds.

The graves are more like condos for the deceased. They are covered structures, with doors, windows and altars housed within. I think everyone from the town was there. We did not stay too long as we hate being those tourists who sit and stare while people are just doing what they normally do but it was a very cool thing to get to witness. gallbladder diet after surgery

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