Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tocuaro, The Mask Town

Tocuaro is a very small town about 10 miles from Patzcuaro. We have heard this is a famous place for mask making and wood carving. Most of the masks are carved from a single piece of wood. We went there a few years ago and could not find the mask makers. This year we learned that you have to roam the streets (there aren’t many streets) looking for signs. The doors are closed but they are probably open for business – not really stores as they work in their homes.

The most famous of the mask makers are of the family Horta. We met Juan Horta’s esposa (Juan died quite a while ago) and were able to see some of the works of her five sons -  Juan Jose, Modesto, Orlando, Hugo and Manuel. The sons do not seem to make a living as mask makers and spend time working in the US near Boston where they also do workshops teaching mask making. The photo above is from their shop, and we think it's Juan Jose in the photo.

We then visited with Felipe Horta (below) who is apparently a cousin of the other Hortas. He is quite a character and we had a really enjoyable time seeing his work and talking with him.

Felipe is not only a mask maker but a mask collector and has a room full of masks from all over the world - Africa, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and many other places. He gave us an interesting tour of his private mask museum at his house/workshop.

Felipe's masks and the Horta family masks are displayed and sold all over Mexico, and are found in museums throughout the world including the Vatican. Felipe goes to San Francisco every year for exhibits and workshops. One of the intricate masks he showed us was priced at $15,000 pesos or about $800 US, and would cost much more once north of the border.

Felipe told us that his masks and capes are worn in what is called a Pastorale. It is held in Tocuaro in February every year. The wooden masks are related to the characters of the Pastorela. Each one is a unique piece, a product of the creativity and imagination of the artisan artist who creates it. Like most objects of popular art, the masks went from being simple but ingenious to larger sizes with more intricate carving. Each showcases the skill of its carver. Year after year they compete among themselves for the honor of having their mask best characterize the three most important characters in the traditional Pastorela. In general terms, the omnipresent characters in the Mexican Pastorelas are the angel (representing the archangel Michael), the shepherds, the hermit (who embodies the spirit of the ancestors) and the devil - always interested and willing to steal the Child Jesus.

It seemed that most of Felipe's masks were representing the devil and he had fun hamming it up with them. The mask below is similar to the one Brian bought from Felipe. Note the blue bat, vampira, between the horns.  The masks can represent many different animals which have different meanings.

Felipe also wanted to show us the detail in his cape, which was really quite extraordinary. All handmade of course.

 And last but not least is an X-rated mask by Felipe.

We were happy to finally make it to Tocuaro and not only see the masks but meet the artisans. More information can be found at the following links, or by googling Horta, Tocuaro or Pastorales.

Felipe Horta Masks

Tocuaro masks and mask makers

Monday, February 19, 2018

Toritos and Catrinas


Patzcuaro is one of our favorite places and we wanted to experience Carnaval with the Toritos again this year.  Carnaval takes place on the three days before Ash Wednesday. The celebration begins on Sunday and ends late Tuesday night. Loud booms and fireworks announce the approach of groups of Toritos as they roam through the neighborhoods.We saw 2 or 3 groups on Sunday and heard them again on Monday and Tuesday. I guess the idea is to party, party, party before giving things up for Lent!

One version explaining the origin of the Toritos is that they were introduced in the 16th century to Michoacan lands by Vasco de Quiroga.  Their purpose was to attract the attention of the indigenous peoples who had taken refuge in the Sierra mountains before the arrival and cruelty of the Spaniards.

Another version of their origin mentions that the bulls were invented by the indigenous people to mock the bullfights practiced by the Spaniards and that Vasco de Quiroga only improved and organized them. Each town and its inhabitants were forced to help with the construction and decoration of the bull and to present it three days before Ash Wednesday

The Toritos dance traditionally contains several elements. There are those who dance around, usually 10 or more males dressed as women and the bull. There is a male who gets inside the frame of a bull and is the one who is responsible for giving life and movements to the bull with jumps and leaps. The men dressed in drag are pretty entertaining. We think they are called Maringuias and represent the women of the town the particular Toritos group is from. At least one person is disguised as the devil and more than one represents death. Interesting to see one of the Toritos in a Donald Trump costume.

Although Patzcuaro is always an interesting place to visit, coming for Carnaval and the Toritos is especially fun!


About 20 miles or so to the northeast of Patzcuaro off the new Autopista Cuitzeo Patzcuaro is the town of Capula where Catrinas are made. Catrinas are mostly doll size ceramic figures of a skeleton dressed in many and various elaborate costumes. We took a road trip with our friends Jerry and Paula and roamed around Capula, looking at literally thousands of these figurines. Yes, we did make a purchase or two. We see Catrinas all over Mexico but Capula is the world capital of Catrinas. There is a giant Catrina statue at the entrance to Capula, which is a very small town.

The Catrina was created by José Guadalupe Posada and made famous by the muralist Diego Rivera. It was presumably Diego Rivera who called her Catrina, a name with which she later became known, converting her into a popular Mexican character.

Although its image is associated with the Day of the Dead, the Catrina refers to many social situations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The caricaturist José Guadalupe Posada made an illustration of a skull with a hat, which he named La Calavera Garbancera . At that time, it was called garbancera, named for those who sold garbanzas or chick peas. They were commonly of indigenous origins but ashamed of their roots and pretended to be European. With this skull, Posada criticized many Mexicans who, despite being very poor, seemed to follow the European way of life.

There were so many Catrinas in Capula that it was a bit overwhelming. There is a wide range in quality, which is reflected in the price of a Catrina. The prices, however, are considerably less in Capula than we have seen elsewhere. Makes sense since that's where they're made. The Catrina shown below is one of the ones we bought - love the detail as well as her pose.

We found a nice restaurant for lunch that had some fabulous murals depicting Catrinas.

The mural below from the restaurant shows Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo. The detail in the mural was quite remarkable and very surrealistic. If you click on the photo you can zoom in to see some of the weird creatures.

This appears to be a Catrina of Frida Kahlo painting Frida. Interesting.

Some of the figures in the mural are similar to the Albrijes we saw in Oaxaca.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Patzcuaro, Old Man Dance

One of the things that Michoacan  is known for is the Danza de los Viejitos, or Dance of the Little Old Men and it's performed regularly in Patzcuaro. There are several explanations for its origin. In one version of the story, the dance of the Viejitos was originally the dance of the dissed. According to this account, the stiff, lurching, rhythmically challenged dance originated as a way for the indigenous population to make fun of their elderly Spanish overlords. This explanation seems supported by the dancers' pink masks, the color of a fair skin that has encountered tropical sun for the first time.
Other sources say that it is a celebration of old age and reflects traditional veneration of the elderly. They contend that the dance was performed in the region even before the European conquest. Whatever the truth to its origin is, we always enjoy watching it performed. The dancers wear wooden shoes that are kind of split, which gives the 'tapping' sound heard.

The video shows part of the dance performance.

All of the dancers aren't old men but there seem to be a variety of ages represented, depending on which group happens to be performing.

We spent time with friends Barb and Sal, Paula and Jerry while wandering around town and had a nice lunch at Lupitas restaurant.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Patzcuaro, Rancho la Mesa

We're in Patzcuaro once again at Rancho la Mesa RV Park, restaurant and hotel. We love it up here and are always happy to return. The view of the town, lake and island of Janitzio is stunning.

The variety of animals and birds make our walks interesting and keep us entertained.

At the moment there are several RVs here, nice group of people. Although the road coming in is a bit rough it doesn't seem to stop RVers from staying here. Lots of room with big spaces and decent hookups.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato

Our internet connection has been sporadic so I haven't been blogging - this will catch us up a bit.

San Miguel de Allende

The holiday season in San Miguel was a bit more crowded than we had anticipated but we still enjoyed ourselves. Every time we go to San Miguel we notice the increase in cars and people. This year it was so crowded that the streets around the central Jardin were often completely close for many blocks. There was simply nowhere left for anyone to park, so the police were only letting taxis, buses, and motorcycles through. We tried taking a taxi into town, but then faced the difficulty of trying to find an empty one to take us home. Fortunately things relaxed a bit after Three Kings Day.

Lots of people around the Jardin. We always enjoy seeing the Mojigangas parading through town.

Interesting sculpture.

The RV park at San Ramon is about 3 kilometers out of town, more quiet and rural. One day we spotted a couple of unusual birds which we found out are called Crested Caracaras. They have an interesting history. Historians say that when the Aztecs were wandering through Mexico their god told them to look for a place where they would find a large bird eating a snake, on top of a cactus growing out of a large rock, in the middle of a lake. Their god told them that when they found this place they were to establish a city and build a temple. The place was Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec Empire. https://www.ancient.eu/Tenochtitlan/ It's believed that the bird the Aztecs saw was a Crested Caracara and it was depicted on the original Mexican flag, but changed to a Golden Eagle on the current flag. The ruins of Tenochtitlan are still being excavated in Mexico City.

Atotonilco Church

Atotonilco is a small town close to San Miguel. The church there has been called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico, and though we've been there many times it always worth another visit.

Mineral de Pozos

There's an old mining town about an hours drive from San Miguel called Mineral de Pozos. We had been there before but took our friend Meridith and her daughter Harper there with us on a day trip. We met Meridith, her husband Gary and Harper at San Ramon RV Park. They're from Lafayette Colorado, very close to where we used to live and pretty fun to hang around with.

There's a womans' cooperativa in Pozos that raising money by making very elaborate clothes for dolls. Each doll represents an area or culture in Mexico and is dressed accordingly. I bought a doll several years ago, and Harper got one this year.


It's always a pleasure to be in Guanajuato, a beautiful silver mining city and one of our favorites.  It's in a narrow valley with houses and roads climbing up steep hills around the historic center. It's a walking city and because of its topography it has narrow winding streets that connect a series of small plazas. A view from the Panoramica Drive around and above the city shows the colorful homes going up into the hills.

Small plazas with little cafes and narrow alleyways, some with cafes or homes built on the bridges above them, are found throughout the city.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are popular figures in Guanajuato. There is a Don Quixote Museum and the International Festival El Cervantino is held in the city each fall. The origins of the festival are from the mid 20th century when short plays by Miguel de Cervantes were performed in the city's plazas. It has now been expanded with more international events, and has become one of the four major festivals of its type in the world.

The places I've written about in this blog are all places that we have visited and blogged about before. For more pictures and more extensive information about them, use the 'search' window on the top right side of the blog and type in the name of the city or area.