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Xochimilco’s Neon Lights

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We arrived at the watery edge of the Mexico City UNESCO site of Xochilmilco after a long journey on the city metro line terminus: El Tren Liger.   Non-motorized colorful boats and barges slowly carry passengers down canals and around artificially created islands or chinampas.  This World Heritage site is all that remains of Pre-Hispanic Mexico City.  Here, there are nine docks or “embarcadero’s” where boats can be hired for a fixed rate.  This port pictured below is known as the “less touristy” Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas.

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Chinampas of Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas - Xochimilco

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Just around the bend @ Sigiriya's Lion Rock Temple

Palace in the Sky

The top of Lion's Rock Temple

The muddy red clay trails leading into the park are quiet. It looks like the mid-day rain has kept people away. There are only a few obstacles to contend with here in Sigiriya this muddy afternoon. These include the slippery metal stairs, muddy trails and the small pest problem.  Snake holes are everywhere, but signs do not warn park visitors about the local venomous cobra population. The hornets are the real issue.  Visitors must stay extremely quiet while walking the trails.  Loud noises and disruptive visitors, for that matter, agitate hornets.

Top of Lion's Rock - Sigiriya
The stairs to the top of Lion's Rock
Mural
Words of warning at the Lion's Rock Base Trail

Gold inside Dambulla's Rock Temple

Dreams of Gold

Golden Rock Temple - DambullaThis time last year I spent my last remaining hours of 2012 at a hostel in the center of Kuala Lumpur.  KL is nice, but this is my third and final visit in 2012.   Sri Lanka is new and there’s so much to see.  These pictures make me want to go back sooner rather than later. These are some of the World Heritage sites around the central Sri Lankan city of Dambulla and the valley of nearby Sigiriya.

Golden Rock Temple - Dambulla

Inside the Dambulla Buddha Caves - Central Sri Lanka

Heavenly Site in Morelia

Templo de San Diego o Santuario de Guadalupe - MoreliaPastel flower chandeliers, gold, pink, red, and orange dominate the massive interior of Morelia’s most vibrant church.  Several European styles are at play here, but the color scheme is genuinely Mexican. Visitors arrive and pray for good health, fortune, and protection from evil in high hopes that the Virgin of Guadalupe is listening.  It’s a beautiful place to relax and admire its grand interior.  A need of a miracle is certainly not required.
Templo de San Diego o Santuario de Guadalupe - Morelia

Templo de San Diego o Santuario de Guadalupe - Morelia

Templo de San Diego o Santuario de Guadalupe - Morelia

12 Fiestas before Christmas

The church bells ring again at the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud in the former capital of the Purepecha nation.  This time it is the signal for a group of women wearing embroidered dresses and fastened with long colorful braids to begin dancing in the center of the church courtyard.  It is one of the many celebrations going on days before Christmas.  These begin on December 16th, and many know them as the Twelve Days before Christmas.  Ritual ceremonies, like this one, reflect how the Spanish influenced native culture here in Mexico.  They celebrate both Catholic Saints and ancestral gods of the indigenous people.  It is a wonderful site to witness.

Ritual Dancing in front of the Church of Our Virgin of Health - Patzcuaro

Fiesta at the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud in Patzcuaro

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The Sacred Tree

Mesoamerican Tree of Life in the Museo Nacional de Antropología - Mexico CityMany religions of the world use a “Tree of Life” symbol when depicting scriptures and teachings of their book of prayers.  Tree-shaped clay sculptures, or the Arbol de le vida, represent the connections between the living and the dead, man and earth, and the heavens and the underworld in Mexico. The colorfully painted clay sculptures contain religious and non-religious figures.  The candle and incense holders make them look more like a decorative candelabra than a religious icon. Their scenes usually include several icons representative of  Mexican culture and less often, depict an evangelical “burn at the stakes” kind of Biblical scene.

Calavera Tree of Life in the Museo Nacional de Antropología - Mexico City

Pieces inside the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia

House of the Wind

Tzintzuntzan is the former ancient capital city of the once powerful P’urhépecha people. Five semi-circular pyramids or yácatas sit above the quiet town center. The hill offers visitors panoramic views of Lago de Patzcuaro and park signs surrounding the site tell of a history of the area before the Spanish arrived. Many visitors experience a sense of spirituality after walking around the sleepy archeological valley above the lake.

The Pyramids of Tzintzuntzan

The Pyramids of Tzintzuntzan

The Pyramids of Tzintzuntzan

Beauty that must die in Tzintzuntzan

The fallen will always be remembered by loved one’s living in Mexican villages like Tzintzuntzan. Family and friends are free to fashion family plots as they see fit.  Cemeteries here are void of high maintenance.  There ar no green lawns, but instead there are colorful flowers, pictures, and personal offering left inside plots of the beloved and unforgotten who now lay under a bed of decaying beauty.

Cemetery in the center of Tzintzuntzan

Cemetery in the center of Tzintzuntzan

Cemetery in the center of Tzintzuntzan

Patzcuaro: Pueblo Magico

Landscape that some say looks similar to ones you see in the Hawiian Islands
The Mexican state of Michoacán stretches all the way from the Pacific Coast east through the colonial heartland of Mexico. Patzcuaro was once the capital of Michoacán and looks very much like it did after the Spanish rebuilt it over 500 years ago.  The area, with its interesting history, diverse culture, landscape and geography, makes for a fascinating place to explore.

Market day before the Dias de Los Muertos in Patzcuaro

What brought me here?

The Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead Festival) is the largest and most popular draw to this small town.  I later found out that Patzcuaro is well-known for many other celebrations centered around Christmas/New Years and Easter/Carnival. So, why not stay and see more.

Some say that the area reminds them of Hawaii.  After the crowds have left and the orange marigolds begin to fade, Patzcuaro takes on a different look.  The leaves fall, the rain stops, the skies clear, the days are warm and the nights are pleasantly cool. It gives photographers plenty of beautiful backdrops which helps to make great pictures of the town, its festivals, and the lovely scenery that surrounds the region.

What to expect:

Make sure you at least learn how to say Hello (Hola) Good Morning (Buenos Dias) Good Afternoon (Buenos Tardes) and Thank you (Muchas Gracias).  This is one of those wonderful places where people are friendly and  exchange greetings in public.  Don’t hesitate to be the first to greet a passerby when you are out exploring the area.

Patzcuaro’s sits up in the mountains and is about 2,140 m (7,020 ft) above sea level, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself gasping for air and/or feeling a bit hung over. It’s easy to become dehydrated and altitude sickness is common.  It’s important to stay hydrated and not push it.

It’s a quiet town, but they love firework’s here.  There’s always special events going that call for celebrating, so expect to hear them at any hour amongst other noises from dogs to music.

The towns along the lake have a history of being home to many highly skilled artists.  It’s a great place to pick up handmade hats, scarves, baskets, wood carvings, copper bowls, natural chocolate and more.  It’s also a wise way to spend since money will more than likely go straight to the artist and their family.

Patzcuaro has much to offer those looking for a place to see one of the most scenic parts of central Mexico.  There are many places to explore, natural beauty to discover and a great history to learn about.  What struck me most about Patzcuaro was the fact that the city and the region is full of charm, beautiful and fun to explore.

In a very practical sense,  Patzcuaro is very easy to get to.  There are several daily direct flights from the US to the state capital of Morelia, and it’s just a 4-5 hour first-class bus connection from Mexico City.  There are many apartments for rent in the area, so it’s wise to book one for a short or long stay instead of a hotel.  Not only is it good for the budget, but a great way to get to know the town.  There are plenty of wonderful options available on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO.  There’s a small but extremely welcoming and vibrant expat community that is always looking for new members.  They host weekly hikes, cocktail hours and offer great advise to those new to the area.

Watch Your Step

Bactrian Camels for sale inside the Sunday Livestock Market in Kashgar
Kashgar’s Sunday Livestock Market experience is equivalent to going back in time. Horses waiting for a test drive and Bactrian Camels seemingly striking a pose for the cameras are a couple of highlights for curious visitors. This place is all business, so in the very least try to stay clear of the path of galloping horses, what they and their four-legged friends leave behind and try take tons of great photos without any accidents.

Horse waiting for a test drive inside the Sunday Livestock Market in Kashgar