Our Favorite Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) of Mexico

May 24, 2012

In 2001, the Mexican Tourism Secretariat started its Pueblos Mágicos (magical towns) program.  These towns range from tiny, almost undiscovered villages on the coast to sizeable inland cities. What they all have in common is that they have some truly special cultural, historic or social importance.  Towns accepted into the program have access to federal funds for publicity and improvements.   Each year, new towns are added to the program.  Currently, there are 54 Pueblos Mágicos in Mexico.

Charlie and I heard about this program early in our Peace Corps service from another volunteer and decided to visit as many as we could doing our time in Mexico.  It was a chance to see another side of Mexico that most tourists don’t see – the smaller unique towns.  In our 2½ years in Mexico, we were fortunate enough to see 22 of these Pueblos Mágicos.  Here are the ones that we found most interesting.

  • Bacalar (Quintana Roo State).  This town is known for its beautiful freshwater lagoon, which has seven shades of blue.  We really enjoyed eating on its banks, snorkeling in its waters and watching its changing colors throughout the day.
  • Taxco (Guerrero State).  The steep, winding streets of Taxco make it a fascinating place to visit.  The church of Santa Prisca has one of the most ornate facades in all of Mexico and the silver jewelry in town can’t be beat.  Visiting Taxco during Semana Santa to witness their unique religious processions is an unforgettable experience.
  • Pátzcuaro (Michoacán State).  The lake and the many artisan villages specializing in different crafts make this Pueblo Mágico an interesting destination.  Don’t miss seeing the manual process of making copper plates and vases in nearby Santa Clara del Cobre, another Pueblo Mágico.
  • Tepoztlán (Morelos State).  This Pueblo Mágico is near Cuernavaca and offers the annual carnival week tradition of the bouncing dance of the Chinelos, performers wearing bearded masks and colorful costumes.
  • Valle de Bravo (State of Mexico).  The Monarch butterflies can be seen nearby when they migrate to Mexico for the winter (November – March) and a man-made lake is located in the downtown area.
  • Bernal (Querétaro State).  The peña (monolith of solid rock), which is the third highest in the world, dominates the town.  During the equinox, indigenous dancers fill the squares and mystics pay homage to the rock.
  • Izamal (State of Yucatán).  A town painted in yellow.  Every building in the downtown area was painted yellow in honor of the Pope’s visit in 1993.
  • Tequila (Jalisco State).  Blue agave plants can be seen all around this town.  Many of the local distilleries provide tours and samples.
  • Jalpan (Querétaro State).  A great starting point to see the five Franciscan missions in the Sierra Gorda area.
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas (Chiapas State). The churches and plazas of this medium-sized town maintain its Spanish colonial style with red-tiled roofs and cobblestone streets.  The nearby town of San Juan Chamula has some very interesting traditions, including the local church whose floor is covered with pine needles.  The faithful sit on the floor surrounded by hundreds of lit candles.
  • Real del Monte (Hidalgo State).  An old mining town, where the workers were from Cornwall, still serves pasties (like empanadas).
  • Jerez (Zacatecas State).  A nice downtown area with several historic buildings, including a theater that is supposed to look like Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  We weren’t convinced.  The archeological site of La Quemada is outside of town.

Forbidden Mexico

May 15, 2012

After Charlie and I finished our Peace Corps service on April 20th, we traveled to the Mexican state of Michoacán.  Due to narco violence, we were not allowed to travel to this state as PC volunteers so we waited until our service was over to go.  While we were there, we had no problems and saw no violence.

The capital city of Morelia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has retained its beautiful colonial historic center with stately mansions and wide boulevards.  It was founded in 1541 and has one of the most majestic cathedrals in all of Mexico.  One of the heroes of the Mexican Independence movement, José María Morelos, was born here; many monuments and museums have been created to honor his heroism.  We enjoyed sitting in the main plaza, eating in sidewalk cafes and seeing the 17th century aqueduct (although the one in Querétaro is more majestic).  Mexico’s last renowned muralist, Alfredo Zalce, lived in Michoacán and many of his greatest murals are located in various government buildings in Morelia.  He never sought fame, so his name isn’t very well known.

Pátzcuaro, located about 30 miles southwest of Morelia, is a place I have wanted to visit for many years.  It’s located on Lake Pátzcuaro and is surrounded by many small towns – each known for a different artisan skill.  For example, Santa Clara de Cobre is known for its beautiful hand-beaten copper plates, sinks and vases, Tzintzuntzán for its green-glazed pottery and straw products, and Quiroga for its lacquer ware.  I did buy some of these beautiful pieces, but not enough!  On November 1 and 2 this area is inundated with tourists to see the elaborate Day of the Dead graveyard ceremonies.

Besides Lake Pátzcuaro, we also visited the smaller, and more pristine, Lake Zirahuén surrounded by pine trees and colored a deep blue, and several archeological sites, including the ruins of the ancient capital of the Purépecha kingdom outside the town of Tzintzuntzán.  The state of Michoacán has many beautiful places.

Semana Santa 2012 in Taxco

May 13, 2012

Taxco was one of the great silver mining cities of colonial Mexico.  It is located in the State of Guerrero and the trip there from Querétaro takes about six hours by bus, including a transfer in Toluca.  Julie, her sister Sylvia, and I headed there to observe the famed religious processions of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and to purchase some of Taxco’s renowned silver jewelry.

The city is built on steep hills and you have to be prepared for climbing up and down during your visit.  The Hotel Los Arcos, where we stayed, is a beautifully restored colonial building in the center of town near the main plaza and the Church of Santa Prisca.  The church has an elaborately carved facade of pink stone and two tall bell towers that can be seen from anywhere in the area as a point of reference.

The activities related to Semana Santa reenact the Passion, including Roman soldiers wandering the streets looking for Christ, the crucifixion depicted by the carrying of statues from the various churches in Taxco through the streets of the city, and — most dramatically — black-hooded penitents walking through the town in varying states of anguish.  The largest group of penitents carries heavy bundles of thorned blackberry canes, each weighing about 100 pounds, on their shoulders.  A group of women bearing heavy crosses in their arms and chains on their ankles walked stooped over through the steep streets.  Finally, a small group of men carrying heavy crosses stop in the procession and flagellate themselves by hitting their backs with whips until they draw blood.  The Catholic Church authorities discourage this last practice, but it still has numerous adherents.

If you can turn away from the medieval drama before you, Taxco is a pretty town with good restaurants and fine shops.  The Bender sisters found many places that offered quality silver jewelry.  We also visited a silver museum and learned that the modern silver industry was created by a resident American professor (William Spratling) during the 1930s and 1940s.  The luxury Hotel Monte Taxco is located on a hill outside of town and has a cafe that overlooks the valley and offers a great view of the city below.  Finally, no trip to Taxco would be complete without sampling pozole, a corn-based soup and meal in a bowl that is popular throughout Mexico, but especially noteworthy here.

Festival de Comunidades Extranjeras / Festival of Foreign Communities

March 27, 2012

The fifth Festival de Comunidades Extranjeras  or Festival of Foreign Communities took place on March 2-4, 2012, at the Parque Bicentenario in Santa Rosa Jáuregui (located in the suburbs of Querétaro).  The Festival is an annual event that showcases the culture, gastronomy, and tourism of the many nations represented by the foreign residents of the Querétaro area.  Fifty countries participated this year at the Festival, which attracted more than 67,000 visitors over three days.  The United States’ booth was co-sponsored by the Peace Corps and El Puente de Esperanza, a non-profit organization in Querétaro with long-standing ties to the U.S. and to the Peace Corps.  Charlie worked with El Puente staff to organize the booth and to coordinate the participation of other Peace Corps and local volunteers.

The U.S. booth featured genuine American cuisine — hamburgers, apple pie, homemade ice cream, and Sam Adams beer — which proved to be a popular offering.  The booth was decorated in an eclectic style that included Disney themes and sites of touristic interest, such as Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, and, of course, Disneyland.  Adults were enticed by the opportunity to assemble a jigsaw puzzle map of the United States, and children were excited by the chance to color pages of Disney cartoon characters.

El Puente staff and its young beneficiaries provided the food service at the Festival and decorated the booth.  They had worked diligently over the week prior to the Festival to get the grills and other equipment ready and their efforts were rewarded by the lines of appreciative guests.  Special thanks go to the El Puente volunteer who helped organize the event and made the delicious ice cream, and her son, who held the U.S. flag on the platform of the national participants.  Several Peace Corps volunteers, including Julie, were present in the booth to greet visitors.  The Festival presented an excellent opportunity for these volunteers to discuss in both Spanish and English their work in Mexico, to distribute literature about the projects supported by Peace Corps in the country, and to promote volunteerism locally.

While the U.S. booth did not win the prize for best cuisine (that honor went to Germany) or the most hospitable (Brazil easily got that title), the Festival was a great opportunity for everyone to meet Mexican visitors and get to know the diverse foreign residents of the Querétaro area.

The Real Pirates of the Caribbean

January 23, 2012
Campeche City (which is the capital of the Mexican State of the same name) is located on the Yucatán peninsula and faces the Gulf of Mexico.  It boasts a fascinating history and a well maintained historical center.  We had the opportunity to travel there with our Peace Corps companion Paul in late December 2011 and early 2012 with the purpose of seeing both the city and archeological sites in the southern part of Campeche State.

The city was founded in the 16th century and served as a major port for the export of precious metals from Mexico to Spain.  Other European powers were jealous of Spain’s access to the riches of the New World and encouraged or commissioned pirates to steal these cargoes.  English and Dutch pirates attacked and pillaged Campeche on several occasions and finally the local colonial governors authorized the construction of a fortified wall around the city, as well as eight defensive bastions (guard towers) and two outlying forts, to protect Campeche and its inhabitants.  The forts, bastions, and much of the wall still exist today and have been converted to historical landmarks and museums that allow a visitor to understand the predicament of the colonial residents.

Campeche City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and it takes the designation seriously.  Downtown streets are kept meticulously clean and buildings have been restored and painted various pastel shades.  There are many excellent restaurants in the city that feature fresh seafood and fish from the Gulf, so a trip here has many benefits.

We left the city by bus for a five hour ride that first took us south along the coast and then turned eastward into the jungle of southern Campeche State.  Our immediate destination was Xpujil (which we finally determined is pronounced Eesh-poo-hil with a guttural “h”), the small town nearest to several archeological sites.  We stayed at a comfortable eco-lodge called Rio Bec Dreams that consists of about eight cabins and is run by a very hospitable Canadian couple.  We celebrated the New Year 2012 with our hosts and fellow guests in the jungle and were treated to a five course dinner accompanied by champagne!

Our goal was to visit the Mayan ruins at Calakmul and several smaller sites in the area.  Calakmul thrived during what experts designate as the Maya classic period (300 AD – 1000 AD) and was a powerful kingdom in its day that waged war for dominance of the region with its southern neighbor Tikal (now located in Guatemala).  The site was identified by workers exploring for chicle in the 1930s and has still only partially been uncovered by archeologists.  A visitor standing on top of the main pyramid at Calakmul can see the jungle stretching out in all directions below and appreciate how difficult it is to reclaim ancient cities from centuries of abandonment.  On the following day, we visited the smaller, but still impressive Mayan sites of Hormiguero, Becán and Chicanná.  The highlight of Chicanná is a structure that retains a complete facade representing the mask of the Earth Monster, a personification of the Mayans’ principal deity.  We are pictured in front of its mouth and you can identify its teeth and jaw.

We returned to Campeche City for a few days before heading home.  The city’s cathedral faces the main plaza and we dined on the balcony of one of the restaurants flanking the plaza as dusk fell.  Enjoying a mild evening in the Yucatan peninsula, we appreciated the beautiful effects produced by the lights of the cathedral in a now peaceful place that has known so much conflict and history.

The Festival of San Miguel Tolimán and the Otomí Family Chapels

November 4, 2011

We had an opportunity at the end of September 2011 to visit the community of San Miguel Tolimán, located in the western, semi-arid region of Querétaro State, during the festival of its patron saint, San Miguel (St. Michael the Archangel).  In addition to the colorful celebrations associated with the festival, we were also able to visit some of the Otomí family chapels that are found in this area.  The Otomí are one of the many indigenous peoples of Mexico whose presence in the country predate the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1519.  Through the intervening centuries, many of their pre-hispanic traditions have become mixed with Catholic religious practices in a process known as syncretism.  For example, many indigenous peoples attribute powers to the saints of the Catholic Church that were previously associated with the multiple gods who made up their religious vision of the world.

The festival of San Miguel is an opportunity for the community to honor its traditions and involve children in the celebration.  The attached photos show the local kids dressed as either indigenous warriors or Spanish soldiers.  They perform a simple dance that represents the battle between the opposing sides complete with the clashing of swords.  The highlight of the festival is the hoisting of a very long (about 75 feet) chimal or decorative shield made of desert flowers known as sotol, fruits, and colored tortillas, with the image of San Miguel in its center.  Two large poles had been constructed in front of the parish church to accommodate the chimal.

The family chapels are located behind private homes and you need a guide to visit them.  They date from the 18th century and were built because the Otomí felt unwelcome in the large churches of the time.  They were unable to honor their ancestors as they wished and were considered second class citizens compared to the Mexican-born descendents of the conquistadors.  Despite some differences among them, the family chapels have a similar structure that consists of a room with a high vaulted ceiling connected to a small atrium which contains niches that honor the souls of deceased family members.  The other important architectural element is an altar that displays the image of the family’s protector saint to whom the chapel is dedicated.  As the attached photos show, the walls and ceiling of the chapel are decorated with biblical scenes and sacred images that reflect pre-hispanic beliefs in the power of nature.

After visiting these chapels, we were interested to see that one was reproduced in the main plaza of Querétaro City during the celebration of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in early November.  Mexicans recognize the value of their pre-hispanic traditions and the importance they play in the mestizaje culture (the melding of indigenous and European civilizations) that makes up modern Mexico.

Our Favorite Places and Experiences in Mexico

September 7, 2011

Now that we’ve completed two years of Peace Corps service in Mexico, we were reflecting on some of our favorite places and experiences.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • La Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) in Oaxaca City.  Local artisans display their skills by carving large radishes in the shape of churches, nativity scenes, Frida Kahlo, or whatever strikes their fancy.  Their talent is displayed on December 23rd in the main square of the city.
  • The ruins at El Tajín (Veracruz State).  This wonderful archeological site rises from the jungle and you can sense what it was like to be one of the first outsiders to see the place.
  • Carnival in Tepotzlán (Morelos State).  This Pueblo Mágico is near Cuernavaca and offers the annual carnival week traditional of the bouncing dance of the Chinelos, performers wearing bearded masks and colorful costumes.
  • El Grito in Querétaro City.  On the night of September 15, the Governor of Querétaro State comes onto the balcony of the Palacio de Gobierno in the Plaza de Armas and intones the call for independence heard throughout the country that night.  Fireworks explode directly overhead and the embers fall onto the crowd of 5,000 completely filling the square.
  • Voladores in Papántla (Veracruz State).  These flying acrobats perform outside the main church and you can watch them while seated at a restaurant in the plaza principal.
  • Folkloric dancing in Guadalajara.  You can see these presentations in many places in Mexico, but one of the best is the performance by the Ballet Folclórico of the University of Guadalajara, which has the additional benefit of being staged in the beautiful Teatro Degollado in the centro histórico.
  • Semana Santa in Querétaro City.  On Good Friday, the streets of the historic downtown of the city are filled with penitents wearing pointed hoods and carrying heavy crosses in a silent procession.  During Easter week, the faithful visit seven churches through the centro histórico with special altars dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.
  • The anthropology museum in Jalapa (Veracruz State).  While not as large or overwhelming as the Museo de Antropología in Mexico City, this museum is extremely well designed, has a remarkable collection, and contains several of the colossal heads of the Olmec people.
  • Hillside dining overlooking Guanajuato City.  There are several restaurants on the hill behind and above the Teatro Juárez and one of our favorites is the Gallo Pitagórico, where you can enjoy Italian cuisine and take in the view of the city below.
  • The mask museum in Zacatecas City.  This is located in the old church of San Francisco. It presents a remarkable collection and an explanation of masks in their cultural context.
  • Sitting at a café in the Plaza de Armas in Querétaro City.  We prefer the ones located under the Portal Quemada (on the eastern side of the square), but you can´t go wrong at any of them.
  • Pink flamingoes near Celestún (Yucatán State).  We saw only a few hundred, but if you go at the right time there are thousands as part of their annual migration.
  • Monarch butterflies near Valle de Bravo (México State).  Peace Corps rules prevented us from going to Michoacán, but there were thousands of butterflies nesting in the Piedra Herrada conservation area.  The nearby Pueblo Mágico of Valle de Bravo is a lovely place for a weekend trip.
  • The five Franciscan missions in the Sierra Gorda (Querétaro State).  There´s one in Jalpan and the other four are nearby in small towns.  Founded by the nomadic Padre Junípero Serra, the exterior of these churches were created by master indigenous craftsman.
  • Mural art in Mexico City.  These masterpieces of 20th century Mexican artists, including Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros, are on display in various locations throughout the capital.  Don´t miss those at the Palacio Nacional and Palacio de Bellas Artes.  If you have time for only one, the most representative of all is Rivera´s Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda, which is on display in its own museum (El Museo Mural Diego Rivera) located appropriately at the far end of the Alameda.
  • Unexpected performances in the plazas of Querétaro City.  On any given night, you can stumble upon unanticipated concerts, dancing, theater, and street performers in the main plazas of the centro histórico.

Peace Corps: The Movie

September 5, 2011

Well, maybe not a major motion picture, but at least a series of videos featuring real Peace Corps volunteers!  As part of the celebration of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary, a film crew is visiting volunteers in several countries around the world to show them at work in their communities.  We were pleased to be among six Peace Corps Mexico volunteers selected to be the subject of one of the videos.

We met Chris, the video director, and Neil, the cameraman, at their hotel in downtown Querétaro at 9:00 am to plan the day’s shoot.  They had previously asked us to recommend sites and local contacts that would reflect both the character of the city and our regular activities here.  We took them first to the Jardín Zenea, thinking that it would be a beautiful backdrop for some general interview questions.  It wasn’t long before we learned the realities of film making!  First of all, the position of the sun wasn’t optimum, then there was too much traffic noise from the nearby street, and — who could have known? — local maintenance crews were trimming the grass when we got there.  So we walked up the Andador 5 de Mayo and sat with one of the fountains behind us for the initial interview.  Why had we joined the Peace Corps?  What were our assignments here? Did we feel that we were making a difference?  Finally, Neil asked us to walk up the Andador toward his camera for a local color shot, which we did three times until he was satisfied!

The next stop was the CIATEQ technology center on the outskirts of town.  Juliet has been working on an effort to form an alliance among CIATEQ, CIDESI, and CIDETEQ, the three CONACYT centers in Querétaro, to provide engineering services to the growing aeronautics industry here.  CIATEQ has an aeronautics lab which served as the background for Juliet and Ingeniero Alcántara, her contact for the project, to discuss next steps for the alliance.  Our original hope was to use the huge autoclave there, which is used to fabricate parts made from composite materials at high temperatures, as part of the video.  Film making lesson #2 — things never work when you most need them!  Technical problems make it impossible to open the autoclave, so the filming went on using other equipment.  The Ingeniero, who speaks excellent English, was interviewed and commended both Juliet’s efforts and the support of Peace Corps.

The final location shooting took place at El Puente de Esperanza, the non-profit organization where Charlie works, which supports the education of young people from poor families in Querétaro State.  Another film school lesson — enthusiastic kids make for a great scene!  Charlie offered a brief, impromptu English pronunciation lesson to a group of about 15 young people who appeared on a moment’s notice.  El Puente Director Leonor Noriega and Board President Betsy Charlot were present to give their support to the video.  Sra. Charlot, a fluent speaker of English, gave a moving interview in which she described her involvement with El Puente and the collaboration of Peace Corps volunteers from the start of the organization.

We had a great day with the film crew and appreciated the help we got from our workplace and community partners.  And one final lesson — even though we had a wonderful experience in front of the camera, Angelina and Brad have nothing to fear from us!

Visiting the Art of the Mexican Muralists

September 3, 2011

In July, Charlie and I had the opportunity to travel down to Mexico City to see some of the fantastic works of art painted by Mexico’s three great muralists – “los tres grandes”, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

The Mexican Muralist tradition was born from the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.  The revolution overturned the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and was based on agrarian reform to overcome the power of the landowners, or hacienderos.   The three muralists became the internationally-known leaders of the mural movement.  Together, they created the Labor Union of Technical Workers, Painters and Sculptors and devoted themselves to large-scale murals illustrating the history of Mexico, its people, society and revolution.

Their idea was that art ought to be accessible to all, and each artist must contribute to glorifying the Mexican people’s strengths and building a more egalitarian future. The painter Siqueiros wrote, “We condemn so-called easel painting and all the art produced by ultra-intellectual circles on the grounds that it is aristocratic, and we glorify the expression of monumental Art because it is publics property”.

Each of these muralists had their own style – Diego Rivera used more vibrant colors and glorified Mexico’s heritage and indigenous cultures, while Orozco used more somber colors and focused on human suffering.  Siqueiros relied on modern technology to paint (using acrylics and resins) and based his works on socialist ideals and modernist forms.

There are many places in Mexico City to see the works of these great muralists.  For example, Diego Rivera’s murals depicting the history of Mexico from 1521 to 1930 are in the staircase of the National Palace.  On the 2nd floor is his series of the pre-Hispanic era, glorifying the life of the indigenous people before the brutality of the Spanish conquest.  In the Museo Mural Diego Rivera can be found one of his most famous works entitled “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda” (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park), which shows many of the great Mexican historical figures strolling side-by-side with the common people in the park.

Another place to visit is the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts).  In the Art Deco interior, you can find works of all three artists.  One of the most interesting is “El Hombre En El Cruce de Caminos” (Man at the Crossroads), a work similar to that commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1933. The Rockefellers were not happy with that mural and had it destroyed.  In this depiction, a giant vacuum sucks up the riches of the earth to feed the factories of card-playing white capitalists, including John D. Rockefeller himself, while workers rally behind the red flag of socialism and its standard-bearer, Lenin.

In addition to Mexico City, Guadalajara’s Palacio de Gobierno also has several great works of Orozco, including one of Father Hidalgo making his declaration freeing the enslaved indigenous peoples from bondage.

Guadalajara and Vicinity

September 3, 2011

At the end of July, we traveled to Guadalajara and its environs.  Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city and the capital of Jalisco State.  It takes about 4 hours by bus to get there from Querétaro.  Our hotel was in the heart of the downtown area and within easy walking distance of the major tourist sites.  Guadalajara has several large plazas downtown, surrounded by churches, government buildings, and restaurants.  We had the opportunity while there to attend a performance of the Ballet Folclórico.  Although you can see these kinds of presentations of Mexican music, dance, and culture in various locations around the country, the Ballet Folclórico – sponsored by the University of Guadalajara – is one of the best of its kind.  The performance was enhanced by its venue of the Teatro Degollado, an elegant theater that dates back to the early 20th century and decorated with classical themes of muses and renowned European poets.

No visit to Jalisco State would be complete without a trip to Tequila, the nearby town that gives its name to the well known alcoholic beverage.  In fact, the product name Tequila is specific to the drink made in that area from the blue agave plant.  There are several distillers in the town that offer tours of their facilities and we went to the Hacienda Cofradía, which still uses traditional production methods, to see the process.  We learned how they harvest the core (which they call the piña, literally the pineapple) of the blue agave plant and extract the liquid from it that is subsequently distilled to make the final beverage.  Julie felt obliged to appraise the end product and can be seen in the photo sampling a mango margarita for quality testing purposes.

There’s a turn off the road to Tequila that leads to the unusual archeological site of Guachimontones.  Researchers have already unearthed several round tombs layered like wedding cakes and others presumably remain to be excavated from the surrounding hills now covered with vegetation.  The place contains a ball court like many of the Mesoamerican sites and our guide explained that the game was played all day long with players using all parts of their bodies to move the heavy ball.  As in other prehispanic cultures of Mexico, it is believed that the winners of the match were sacrificed to their gods at the end of game.

Several of our Peace Corps colleagues live and work in Guadalajara and we met two of them, Barbara and John, at their house for dinner one night.  We also joined them and three other local Peace Corps volunteers, Elizabeth, Matt and Memo, for an overnight trip to the town of Tapalpa.  It’s one of the so-called Pueblos Mágicos (Magical Towns) of Mexico, a designation given by the Ministry of Tourism to 43 smaller towns around the country that have preserved some aspect of their history, culture, or environment.  Tapalpa is about three hours by bus from Guadalajara.  We found mariachis playing in the main plaza when we arrived.  We were able to observe and enjoy the festivities while having lunch on the second floor balcony of a nearby restaurant.  Our friends went hiking in the hills outside of town while we explored the streets and churches in town.  There are several attractive public fountains scattered around Tapalpa and each has a legend associated with it.  We now have had the opportunity to visit twelve Pueblos Mágicos and have enjoyed seeing another aspect of Mexican life and culture.