Friday, February 20, 2009

Alamos, Uvalama Pottery, and the Brick Factory

We decided to spend a few days in the town of Alamos on our way back north to the border and it was a very worthwhile stop. This is another town with many ex-pats. The homes have been nicely restored and the whole town was quite charming. Some of the homes were restored by movie stars - we saw the former houses of Carroll O'Conner and Mary Astor.

We hired a local guide for a day who gave us the history of the area and took us to some interesting places. We had lunch at a local woman's house and went to a nearby town called Aduana where we helped the local economy by buying a few crafts. In November Hurricane Norbert caused a huge flood that has affected the economy in the area, and with a poor tourist season the people are having a difficult time.

Uvalama Pottery

While exploring Alamos we went into a shop selling Uvalama pottery. We were fortunate to be able to watch a matrimonial pot being made by Carmen Tomasa Ayala, who learned from her grandmother as a child to work with the clay. The clay is from an area called Uvalama, close to Alamos, and the limited number of designs are original. Everything is made by hand. As far as we know Carmen and her husband Enrique are the only people making this unique type of pottery. The pots and vases are all made without a potters wheel and the process is quite fascinating. I was able to take pictures of the process - the pot on the floor in front of Carmen is an example of the finished matrimonial pot that she is making. First, Enrique kneaded and worked the clay to prepare it. He removed all lumps and even tiny bits of sand. Then he added water to get just the right consistency.Once he passed it to Carmen, she began smoothing it onto the bottom of a rounded form used as a base.

Carmen continued to build up the sides of the pot, smoothing and rounding everything by hand. She used a beer can to cut the holes where the spouts on either side would go.

Once the spouts were formed Enrique explained that the pot would have to rest and get strong until the next day when the handle would be attached. In a few days they would take it to Uvalama where it would be fired.

For more about Uvalama go to

The Brick Factory

Another stop on our guided tour was out in the country where they were making bricks and blocks by hand. We have seen these little family brick works all over Mexico. Everything is done by hand. They mix dirt and clay and sand and who knows what else until the mix is just right. Then they put the mix in wooden molds and smooth the surface. They remove the mold to use for the next set of bricks. Then the bricks dry for a few days. As the bricks dry they begin to build an oven/kiln to fire the bricks. They build the kiln all around piles of wood using the bricks they will fire - adding more wood as they add more bricks. Once the kiln is built they have a specialist come in to maintain the fire at just the right temperature for 24 hours. Once the bricks change color they are done. They told us the brick makers get about 4 cents (US) per brick and they are sold at building supply stores for around 2 pesos or 14 cents (US) per brick. Many brick makers sell bricks from their trucks parked by the side of the road.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Guadalajara Area

Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city with many areas to explore in both the city and surrounding area. We stayed about 25 miles south of Guadalajara at an RV park in Jocotepec, which is on the west side of Lake Chapala. We made several day trips into Guadalajara where we visited several areas with craft markets and did some sightseeing around the city.

Much of the glassware, ceramics, silver, pewter and various other crafts that are found Mexico are made in Tonala. A friend of ours from Boulder, Bill, was in Guad and we spent the day with him and his coworker Steve. It was market day and the crowds and wares were overwhelming, so we took a break for a few Sols and some lunch. We all purchased a few things since the prices were pretty unbelievable - screaming bargains to say the least.

We weren't able to see many of the artisans at work so we will try to spend more time there on our next trip. Since leaving Tonala we've been amazed by the number of things we've come across in galleries and stores that were made in Tonala. It's also amazing how much more expensive they are in areas other than Tonala!

Tlaquepaque (Ta-locky-pocky)

This area is in another part of Guad and has many galleries and shops that display the crafts made in Tonala. It's a more upscale area with nicer displays and corresponding higher prices. Tlaquepaque has some nice restaurants.

Lake Chapala

Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico and has a sizeable ex-pat community. Lots of retirees and it's quite Americanized.

Many of the restaurants there, and in all of Mexico, were outdoors and welcomed Tilly. I just had to include a picture of her reminding us that she's still under the table, patiently waiting for any scraps that may come her way.

Another friend of ours from the Colorado days, Micky, lives in a town called Ajijic on the north side of the lake. We were able to make contact and thoroughly enjoyed our time with her. She had us to dinner, showed us around a bit and filled us in on the area.

We went into the town of Chapala and walked along the Malecon where we watched an old Indian woman weaving and were fascinated. She even kept Tilly's attention. We were very impressed and had to buy one of her pieces - they can be seen on the line. I bought the red one.

Following that we took a walk along the lake and looked at the white pelicans

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

San Miguel de Allende - SMA

SMA was a very interesting stop for us. Brian had been there several times to visit his Aunt Mary who lived and worked there for over 30 years, but he hadn't been there since the '90s. He had heard that things had changed and sure enough they had. It was my first trip so I didn't have that comparison but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. The town is quite hilly with narrow streets so it's definitely a walking, not driving, town. One of our stops was at Aunt Mary's former house where we visited with the new owner who now has an art gallery there, and of course I took Brian and Tilly's picture out front.

The number of norteamericanos in SMA has grown from 1,000 when Brian was last there to around 10,000 now and their influence on SMA is quite evident. Fortunately SMA has been declared a World Heritage Site so the main part of town hasn't changed much. The architecture is amazing and we really enjoyed walking the streets, looking into little galleries and haciendas, and admiring the doors and little details that make SMA unique.

SMA is quite well known for the architecture of its Parroquia, or church. Pictures of it are often seen in Mexican travel articles. What makes it unique are its many spires which go all the way to the ground. It had been recently cleaned when we were there and the colors are beautiful. The picture on the left is of the Parroquia at night while the one on the right shows the spires.

We thought the architectural detail below was worth a close-up.

We were fortunate to be able to attend a performance at the Instituto by Aztec dancers. The Parroquia can be seen in the background.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teotihuacan and Mexico City

After leaving Palenque we headed for Teotihuacan, which is the site of the Sun and Moon pyramids. The pictured Sun pyramid is the third largest in the world with a base measuring over 700 feet on each side. The largest pyramid in the world is in Cholula near Puebla with a base over 1400 feet on each side (that's over a quarter mile!). Yes, we have heard of Egypt. We explored the huge pyramid complex and continued to get our exercise climbing pyramids. There were also some well preserved murals, carved columns, and stone adornments on the Citadel pyramid. The central avenue in the middle of Teotihuacan from the Moon pyramid to the Citadel is over 2km long.

We don't make reservations while traveling so kind of take our chances. When we got to the RV park in Teotihuacan we found out that a caravan of 23 RVs was coming in which would fill the entire park. Fortunately for us the owner of the park, a wonderful woman named Mina, told us we could park in her garden. Pretty crazy but things worked out fine and the caravan invited us to have some wine and enjoy a local mariachi band with them. (That's our Bus front left).

While staying in Teotihuacan we were able to go to Mexico City and tour the Anthropology Museum. It was quite overwhelming and a fantastic museum. We could have easily spent a week there since there's so much to see - some of the best relics are there and we hope to go back to see more. Of course Brian was fascinated by the roof in the middle of the complex which is one of the largest cantilevered roofs in the world, an architectural marvel itself. That's the Chac Mool lower left.