Adios 2021, Bienvenidos 2022

 



When we first came to Mexico, we were told that for a couple of weeks in December and July, things in the area office would be very slow, and if we wanted to plan a trip, those were good times to do it. I know, I know, it sounds crazy to be on a mission and plan a trip, and I’m pretty sure that’s not standard practice for all senior missions. However, it is an option here, so we got together with the Wrights and the Davises, hired a driver/guide, and went on a tour of three colonial cities in Mexico.

The colonial era refers to 300 years from the 1500s to 1800s when Spain ruled Mexico. Colonial cities have historical districts where the buildings from that time still stand and are still in use. They are full of Spanish architecture, cobblestone streets, beautiful plazas, and cathedral after cathedral after cathedral. We stayed in hotels in the colonial districts in three cities we visited. This meant the hotels were charming, quirky, and in some instances, just plain odd.

Queretaro


Our first stop was Queretaro, which is a couple of hours north of Mexico City. Our first view of the city was of hills covered mostly in white buildings. The symbol of Queretaro is an aqueduct which was built in the 1700s. It no longer carries water to the city, but a section of it still stands. Legend has it that the Marquis Juan Antonio de Urrutia y Arana was in love with a nun named Clarissa and wanted to marry her. She told him she would only marry him if he could bring clean water to the city. That prompted him to build the aqueduct. Not only does a section of the aqueduct still stand, but so does the opulent house he built for her.
The house the Marquis built for Clarissa. The aqueduct is shown
 behind us in the first picture in this post.

A hole blow through the city wall during
the war for independence.

Another notable woman we learned about in Queretaro was Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who is called “the mother of Mexico’s nationhood.” Despite being in the upper class and having a husband who was appointed magistrate in Queretaro by the Spanish government, she supported the insurgent movement, which was plotting to overthrow the Spanish rule. According to our guide, she became guilt ridden over her part in the plans, went to confession, and confessed all the rebels plans to her priest. As soon as she left, the priest ran to the Spanish officials and told them of the plot. Josefa was imprisoned but managed to get a message sent to the leaders of the insurgents, warning them that their plans had been discovered. Originally the plan had been to attack the Spanish in December, but due to Josefa’s warning, the date was moved up and the insurgents attacked on September 16, 1810, which is considered Mexico’s Independence Day. (No it’s not May 5.)

Ron and our guide, Salvador, walking down the street

Both these stories are how our guide told them to us. Looking on Google, I haven’t been able to verify all the events (such as Josefa confessing to the priest and thus becoming the person who gave away the insurgents’ plans.) I suspect he chose the most colorful versions of history to tell us. He was an interesting person himself. His name is Salvador. He now works as a freelance guide, but he was previously in the military where one of his assignments was to be the driver for the families of three Mexican presidents. We asked him how he was able to remember all the dates and information he told us. He grinned, held up his cell phone, and said, “Google.”


The first of many cathedrals we visited on this trip



We checked into our hotel, walked around the historic district of Queretaro, and found a cute restaurant for lunch. That wasn't hard to do, since cute restaurants were everywhere, but this was one Salvador recommended.




I loved looking at the old doors.

After lunch in Queretaro, the rest of the tour Salvador had planned for us was within walking distance. We had him draw a map for the Wrights and Davises, then Ron and I stole him to go on an excursion of our own. When we farmed, we had three men from a little village outside of Queretaro who worked for us. Two of them are now U.S. citizens and live in Shelley, and we see them from time to time. Ron and I visited the village, Los Bordos, with two other couples over twenty years ago when one of the men, Nicholas, was working on his papers to become a citizen.

The third man was Sylvester. Unlike many of the Mexican farm workers who sent most of their money home to their families, Sylvester opened a savings account and put his money in it. He said if he could save enough to buy a backhoe, he would be able to make a good living in Mexico. He worked towards that goal for a couple of years, but then one year when he arrived in Idaho, he told us he was getting married. He invited us to go to his wedding that December. I was not able to go, but Ron took our two oldest sons to Mexico for it. It was a big wedding, as is the style in Mexico—when they throw a party, they throw a party. We were sure it cut deeply into the money Sylvester had saved for a backhoe. He worked for us four a couple more years, but then his wife gave birth to twin girls, and he chose to stay in Mexico, which we completely understood. After that, we lost touch.

Ever since we got our mission call, we’ve said, if we ever got the chance to go to Queretaro, we were going to try to find Sylvester. But how? We knew he had been building a house in Queretaro when we visited twenty years ago, but Queretaro is a city of over a million people, and we didn’t know where in it his house is. Nicholas and Sylvester are cousins, so we thought Nicholas might be able to tell us where Sylvester’s house was. We heard that Nicholas had come to Mexico for the holidays, but that he usually turns his U.S. phone off while he is visiting in Mexico. Ron tried to call Nicholas, but sure enough, he didn’t answer or respond to messages. So our last ditch effort, needle in the haystack, long shot plan was to drive to Los Bordos, see if we could find Nicholas, and if we did, see if he knew where Sylvester lives.


When we last visited Los Bordos, the road between it and Queretaro was a little country road. We were surprised to see that now it is a divided highway, and there is a lot of development along it. However, when we reached the turn off to Los Bordos, it was still a dirt road. We remembered that the town had a little schoolhouse and that Nicholas’ house was close to it, but we didn’t see the school. Like most places in Mexico, the houses in Los Bordos are surrounded by tall walls. We drove along the narrow road between the stone walls until we saw some men. Ron asked one of them if he knew Nicholas. He said yes and led us further down the road and around a bend to a gate in a wall. He knocked on the gate and a girl answered. After a brief explanation, she invited us in, and closed the gate behind us. A skinny, rough looking guy came out of the house. At that moment I felt a bit of hesitancy, because here we were inside a walled in area with total strangers and the only person in the world who knew where we were was Salvador, who was sitting in the van outside the gate. But I pushed those feelings aside because we were on a quest, and this was our only hope. Ron asked the man if he knew Nicholas. He said yes, but that Nicholas has left to go back to the U.S. that morning. We were crestfallen. Nicholas was our only hope, and he was gone. We were about to leave, but almost as an afterthought, Ron asked the man if he knew Sylvester. To our surprise, he said yes. Ron asked if he knew where Sylvester lived, and the man pointed and said, “Over there.” We were so stunned by this that Ron asked again, and the man repeated, “Over there.” He led us to a gate towards the back of the wall. At that point I had another moment of hesitancy as I realized that once we went through that gate, not even Salvador would know where we were, but again I thought we had to see this quest through. The skinny man led us around a corner, and there was the little school we’d been looking for. He stopped at a gate across the road from the school and knocked. A young woman who looked like the female version of Sylvester answered, and I was certain we had found the right place. She had no idea who we were and seemed a bit confused as Ron tried to explain. She said Sylvester was her father, but he was at work and wouldn’t be home until late. It seemed as if we had come this far in our search, but that the best we might be able to do was get a phone number for Sylvester. Then the girl’s mom came to the gate—Sylvester’s wife. She had never met me before and had only met Ron at her wedding. However, the moment she realized who we were, she threw open the gate, hugged us both, and invited us in.


As we walk around neighborhoods in Mexico, I love it when I get a chance to peek through the gates and see what is behind the walls. Some places are weedy and dirty, others have gardens or courtyards. I’ve glimpsed places that are opulent and places that are poor. However, I’ve never glimpsed a place that gave me more delight than the scene behind the walls of Sylvester’s home. Half of the area was the utility area, with gravel on the ground, chickens scratching in the dirt, and tools hung neatly on the cinderblock wall. The other half held a two-story white house, a green lawn (it’s not the time of year here when lawns stay green on their own, so it being green spoke volumes), trees and bushes, a little garden area with a papaya tree and strawberries, and rows of pots growing all kinds of cacti. It was all tidy and well cared for, and just so sweet.


Sylvester’s wife invited us into the house. By American standards, the house would be considered small, but still a decent house. By Mexican standards (though this is just my guess because I’m not an expert on Mexican standards) I think it would be considered solidly middle class—evidence of a family that is living comfortably. When we visited Los Bordos twenty years ago, Sylvester’s parents lived in a rustic house and his mother cooked over a fire. Now here was his wife cooking on a nice range. Her kitchen included a large Whirlpool refrigerator, and the cabinets were a built from beautiful, variegated wood. She sat us down at the kitchen table, dished up plates of the empanadas she was cooking and put them down on the table in front of us. Then she called Sylvester and handed the phone to Ron. Even without being on the phone myself, I could hear the amazement in Sylvester’s voice when he realized who he was talking to.

After Ron got off the phone, we visited with Sylvester’s wife and met his children. The twins are now nineteen. One is studying to be a doctor and the other an engineer. He also has an eleven-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. They were all so friendly and welcoming. I could only understand part of the conversation, but I could feel the warmth of their smiles. A large TV in the living room area of the home showed pictures from cameras that were aimed to show who was at the gate. After we’d visited for about fifteen minutes, Sylvester’s son, who was watching the screen, let out a whoop and ran outside. Sylvester’s wife indicated that we should follow, which we did. The son ran over and opened the large gate, and in came Sylvester, driving a backhoe! I can’t tell you how much that thrilled me! The house, the backhoe, and mostly the wonderful family. It was just so good to see how well Sylvester has done in life. We had a wonderful visit with him, though a short one. We had already left Salvador sitting in the van for a long time. However, now we have Sylvester’s phone number, and we have assignments that we think will take us back to Queretaro, so we will see him and his family again.

I tried to capture the hug between these two guys when they saw each other
after twenty years, but by the time I got my camera out, the hug was
breaking up. However, the smiles on their faces and the tears that were
in Ron's eyes say it all.

After our trip to Los Bordos, we could have gone back to Mexico City and felt like our trip had been awesome, but we still had more to enjoy. We spent that evening enjoying the lights and atmosphere of Queretaro. Christmas decorations were still up and crowds thronged the streets. The whole thing had a fun, festive aire.



I thought this building looked like it belonged in a Zorro movie


A singer serenading the diners at an outdoor cafe. We would have loved to have joined them,
but we were still full from lunch and Sylvester's wife's delicious empanadas.

Waiting for breakfast at our hotel the next morning.


Atotonilco 


The next day on our way to San Miguel de Allende, we stopped in Atotonilco to see the cathedral there, which is called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico. All the walls, ceiling, and every nook and cranny of the sanctuary are covered in murals depicting scenes from the gospel, Christian theology, and some of the saints. The artist, Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, spent thirty years painting it, and it is amazing.





The town of Atotonilco is tiny. The street leading to the church is lined with booths where people sell things—a typical shopping district in Mexico. We walked along and looked at the wares for sale. As always, there were booths selling the beautiful pottery I love but am afraid to buy because I don’t know how I’d get it back to Idaho in one piece. In one booth was a set of canisters that were gorgeous.

               I said, “I love those canisters!” and then kept on walking.

               A few minutes later, I realized Ron wasn’t right behind me. I looked back and saw he was still at the booth with the canisters. He was buying them for me! That was so sweet. I have them sitting on the counter in our apartment. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get them home without any of them breaking, but I intend to enjoy them while I’m here.




San Miguel de Allende



We stopped on a hill overlooking the city of San Miguel de Allende. Even from that distance I could see that the houses there had shades of terracotta and mustard yellow mixed in with the eggshell white we’d seen in Queretaro. Paddle locks lined the railing along the overlook. Most had names written or etched into them. Salvador said couples put them there as a symbol of their love. Some had smaller paddle locks attached to them to represent children born to the couple.

The restaurant where we had lunch

San Miguel de Allende is named in honor of two men, Juan de San Miguel, a priest who founded the city, and Ignacio Allende, a leader in the Mexican revolution. It is a charming city with narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful old buildings. We had lunch at a restaurant the Hansens recommended. (Some of the other Teca Once missionaries made this trip before we came to Mexico.) Then Salvador took us on a tour. We visited an old monastery which has been turned into a cultural center and a beautiful old house built around a central courtyard, which is now an arts center. The jewel of the city is Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel, a tall, pink cathedral which sits on the edge of a beautiful plaza.


I got my wings!






Our hotel

After that we went to our hotel to rest. The hotel in San Miguel de Allende was our favorite one of the trip. It had a quaint, colonial feeling. Bathrooms were not original to the house, so the floors in them were raised about nine inches to accommodate the plumbing. This meant you had to step up into the bathroom. That in itself was quirky, but in the Davis’ bathroom things got even quirkier. The drain in the sink didn’t hook into any other plumbing, so water from the sink just ran out and down a drain in the floor. A rod across the vanity held towels like curtains to keep the water from splashing onto whoever was using the sink.




That evening we walked back to the plaza. The cathedral was lit up, mariachi bands were playing, people were walking around the square or sitting on benches just enjoying the atmosphere. It all felt magical. We browsed in stores, tried Mexican corn from a street vendor, and Ron got a hot dog. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a churro place we’d seen on our way to the plaza. We ordered through a window, but as we waited, we realized that the churro vendor was part of a restaurant. Once we got our churros, with hot chocolate to dip them in, we went into the restaurant to eat them. We ordered fries too and spent a lovely hour just visiting and soaking up the atmosphere of old Mexico.

Ordering churros

Guanajuato



As we approached Guanajuato the next morning, we could see hills lined with houses of all the colors we’d seen in the other two cities mixed in with bright blues, yellows, pinks, and greens.


The first place we visited there was an old mine. Guanajuato is known for its silver mines. At one point Guanajuato produced two thirds of all the silver in the world. We walked down old stone steps into the mine. They were steep, tall, and uneven. I was a little worried about how far down we were going because I knew however far down we went, we had to come that far back up. Fortunately, most of the mine shaft had been filled in, and we didn’t go down too far. However, it was far enough to have sympathy for the men who had worked there, many carrying heavy baskets of ore up the steps out of the mine.


Next we drove to the city, and Salvador said he had surprise for us. The surprise was an underground network of tunnels that are roads for the city. Guanajuato is built in an area with steep hills. Flooding was a problem in the lower areas of the city during the rainy season, so in the early 19th century, the tunnels were built to drain the water and prevent flooding. After a dam was built, the tunnels were converted into roads complete with sidewalks. For pedestrians, walking through the tunnels is often easier than walking up and down the hills.



We had dinner at a lovely restaurant, then visited Basilica of our Lady of Guanajuato. Along one side of the sanctuary was a long diorama depicting the City of Bethlehem and ending at the stable showing the birth of Jesus. It was very detailed and sweet. I noticed tiny knitted blankets folded and sitting on a stand in part of the scene and thought of the care someone had put into creating this.




We were walking down the street and ran into Tabitha, who works in the area production department.

The Wrights

As evening came on, we spent time enjoying the atmosphere in a cute little plaza. Mariachi bands were milling around, waiting for people to pay them to play. One band was not the traditional Mariachi because it didn’t have any violins or trumpets and the musicians dressed in more of an American western style than a Mexican style. What caught my eye most about them was that they included two accordion players. All during our trip, I had dropped coins into the cups of all the accordion players we’d passed and told the others I did that because my dad used to play the accordion. So that evening, Ron paid that band to play for me, and we danced to their music. After our song ended, a young woman approached me. In heavily accented and hesitant English she told me she had filmed us dancing and said she could airdrop the video to me if I wanted. I thought that was so sweet of her. We spent the rest of the evening browsing in the shops along the street and at the Mercado Hidalgo, which is like a mall for craft booths.


Mercado Hidalgo


Friday morning, the last day of 2021, we did a little more sightseeing before we returned to Mexico City. The first place we went was El Callejon del Beso (the alley of the kiss) a very narrow alley between houses. The story is that the daughter of a rich man fell in love with a poor miner who was renting a room in a house across the alley. The two would meet on their balconies at night and kiss across the alley. When her father caught them in the act, he became enraged and struck his daughter, killing her. The young man jumped from the balcony to his death, so it’s pretty much a Romeo and Juliet kind of story. Tradition says that if you kiss in that alley, you’ll have thirty years of good luck, so of course we had to kiss.


Guanajuato was the site of the first battle in Mexico’s war for independence. We rode a funicular up a steep hill to a gargantuan statue of one of the heroes of that battle, a man nicknamed Pipila, which means turkey, because he was redheaded and his face freckled like a turkey egg. When the battle began, the Spanish took refuge in a large stone building that was a granary, thinking that it held enough supplies to sustain them until the rebels gave up. Plus, windows in the granary gave places where the Spaniards could shoot at the insurgents. This made it difficult for the insurgents to breach the granary. Pipila strapped a large flat stone onto his back to protect himself from the Spaniards shots. Then he crawled to the granary carrying tar and a torch and set the door of the fortress on fire. This allowed the insurgents to get inside the granary and win the battle. After seeing the statue of Pipila and taking in the view of the city from up high, we walked to the granary, which is still standing. Pock marks from the bullets of the insurgents still cover its façade.


To get an idea of how huge this statue is, compare it to Ron standing at the base.


      

  

 

Note the pockmarks made by bullets during the first battle of the Mexican revolution.


We also visited the Teatro Juarez, a magnificent colonial theater that is celebrating it's 120th year and which is still in use.


   


Happy New Year

We said good-by to Guanajuato at about 1:00 and headed back to Mexico City. We arrived back at Teca Once at 6:30 on New Year’s Eve. Our apartment and the Davis’ are the only ones on the fifth floor and just have a landing outside the elevator between the front doors. We thought this would make an ideal set up for a New Year’s party, so an hour after arriving home, we hosted a party. We opened both doors, set up the food in our apartment and the games in the Davis’ apartment. We played Bunco and Catch Phrase. You’d think after our trip, the three couples who went would be too tired to stay up late, but that wasn’t the case. I think we had so much fun together that we didn’t want it to stop. Those three couples plus one other were the ones who did manage to stay up until midnight and welcome in the new year. So 2021 ended well for us. Now on to 2022 and the adventures it holds.

Here we are, tired, but toasting in the New Year with some Martinelli's Ron found in a store

 

 























Comments

  1. LOVED your beautiful pictures and stories. I was so excited to hear that you were able to connect with a previous farm worker and his family! How wonderful that he has done so well for himself and his family. You are making some wonderful memories and seeing so much of the culture there in Mexico. You and Ron look great and so happy. Happy New Year!

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  2. What an experience. This is exciting just sitting here reading it. Sylvester looks like a Sylvester I worked with on Reed's farm about 16 years ago. He was the nicest guy and he said he had two little girls back home. I have wondered how he was. I hope that is the same guy. Thanks and have fun. -Ed

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    Replies
    1. Ed, I'm pretty sure it's the same Sylvester. It was so awesome to see how well he is doing!

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