Pandemic Mystery in León, Mexico

Being locked down at home during a pandemic doesn’t mean there is nothing interesting happening around us. When I looked at my front door yesterday, I noticed that there was something dark brown attached to the glass on the other side of the window next to the door. It was big enough that I could see it from 30 feet away. Of course, I had to investigate. It turned out to be a very odd-looking moth. I took a lot of pictures from various angles and then proceeded to try to figure out what kind of moth it was.

When looking at the pictures I took, it has the shape of a scorpion, which makes me wonder if that is what it is trying to mimic. But when I searched for scorpion moth, I did not find anything that resembled my moth. So I then proceeded to check out moths of Mexico, which also includes several moths of North America, in general. I struck out there too. So I am posting my pictures here in the hopes that someone can identify this moth for me. I want to solve this mystery but I definitely need help from the outside world. Let me know if you know what it is! Thanks!

Adventure in an Ecuadorian Rainforest at the Huasquila Amazon Lodge

As part of our Ecuadorian adventure, we decided to visit the lowlands of Ecuador and go to the rainforest, a distant part of the rainforest that eventually leads into the famous Amazon. We decided on a short adventure that was three days and two nights. Ever since my children were toddlers, they have loved reading and learning about the Amazon rainforest, so traveling to the upper Amazon was very exciting for them. We decided to visit the Huasquila Amazon Lodge for a couple of reasons. One, we could get there exclusively by car, which was far more convenient and cheaper than having to drive to the Quito airport and take a small plane further into the rainforest. And two, it was a more reasonably-priced lodge than some of the others I had found. 

Huasquila Amazon Lodge is an eco-lodge, meaning they strive to leave a small footprint on the planet by making better choices about how they use power and get rid of waste. We were picked up from the Hacienda la Alegria in Aloag by someone from the lodge. Originally, they recommended that we use public transportation to get to the lodge, but we were not comfortable with that so we paid for someone to pick us up from the Hacienda and return us afterwards. It was well worth the money because the man that drove us spoke English and Spanish and was very knowledgeable about everything we saw along the way on this six-hour trip. It was a beautiful drive!

The reason the drive was six hours is because of the condition of part of the road that went through the cloud forest. The drive to the lodge was very scenic, but at the higher elevation, through a part of the cloud forest, there is so much water that the road had either crumbled or washed away completely in several sections. As a result, one long section of the road to Huasquila was closed all day except for two hours – one hour in the middle of the day, and one hour in the evening. If you were not in the line, ready to go when the road opened up to allow travel, then you were not going to get through. And traveling that road was a bit frightening. Water ran across the road at several points, temporary bridges were set up to allow travel across some of the swiftest waters, and on the return trip, we saw another part of the road had washed away that three days before had been there. It really looks like a losing battle for the road workers. 

Upon our safe arrival to the lodge, they fed us a very delicious dinner and then acclimated us with our surroundings. The lodge and the cabins were nestled into the surrounding forest and everywhere we looked, there were butterflies, birds, and beautiful flowers. We met our guide, a young guy named Sabino. He was an incredible guide. He spoke perfect English, was great with our children, and he was extremely knowledgeable about much of the flora and fauna that we saw during our hikes. He made the whole experience even better. Our kids, and my husband and I, were completely captivated during our hikes. There was never a dull moment, and even when the hiking became strenuous, it was so exciting, that we barely noticed. 

Our first evening at the Huasquila Lodge, we visited a small community of Quechua (Kichwa) people. They demonstrated some of their daily activities, explained some of their culture and traditions, allowed us to taste some of their food, and danced with us. We purchased some of the artisanal items they had for sale to thank them for their hospitality.

Afterwards, we went on a night hike with Sabino and saw a wide variety of animals. Unfortunately, my camera does not work well in the dark, but Sabino was kind enough to let me use his photos here to show off some of the cool creatures that we saw. 

Our only full day at the lodge was spent exploring the rainforest on a morning and an afternoon hike. Both of these hikes lasted around 4 hours, maybe a little longer. They do not have to be that long, but because my family loved to explore everything, our amazing guide took the time to explain and show us everything he could. We hiked through the river into a cave and saw whip scorpions, some of which were enormous.

We spent some time getting an invigorating massage from a powerful and cold waterfall as we stood under it.

We tasted lemon ants (chew quickly because they will bite your tongue if you do not).

We looked for fossils in the river, struggled through deep mud, and had our faces painted with natural plant dye.

At the end of our day of hiking, we made chocolate from cocoa beans and fried up some palm grubs to eat. Interestingly enough, they did not taste bad. Sadly, my children were not adventurous enough to eat the grubs. But the rest of the food at the lodge was a big hit for them and very healthy for us as well. 

We were very sad to leave the next morning.  I cannot put into words how incredibly amazing and magical this trip was. The things we learned about and the adventure that we shared is something that will stay with us for many years to come.

Things we wish we had known before going to the rainforest:

  1. Take rubber boots for the hikes! The lodge provides some to you if you do not have them but they may not have a size that will fit you. 
  2. There is a lot of water. The air is saturated with it. Your clothes and shoes will get wet during the hikes and they will not dry until after you leave, even if you hang them up, so you may want to take extra clothing or take clothing that is designed to dry more rapidly.
  3. Our cabin was at the edge of the lodge property and we were woken up the first night by something massive pounding on our door. It turned out to be someone’s horse scratching her butt on the door, but it scared us half to death at 3 AM. The horse and her baby visited again the following morning, but at a more reasonable 6:30 AM. I’m not sure if we were the only people with that experience, but I suspect those horses freely wander as they please throughout the area, so be aware. 
  4. Headlamps would be very useful during the hike through the cave. We used our phone flashlights while we hiked but that was extremely risky because we were hiking through swift water over rocks and the footing was not very stable. Losing a phone would have been very easy.
  5. It is best to have plenty of small bills on hand so that if you want to purchase something from the Kichwa, they do not have to struggle to make change (US currency is used in Ecuador). 
Horses outside our cabin. Photo by Angela Grier

If you are interested in reading about more of our Ecuador adventures, click on one of the following links:

Horseback Riding Adventure at Hacienda La Alegria

Middle of the World

Adventure in Quito, Ecuador

Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel de Allende

If you love to shop, San Miguel de Allende has a wonderfully large market, containing a wide assortment of items for sale that showcases both Mexican art and culture. The Mercado de Artesanias in San Miguel de Allende is a colorful, winding walk through small shops and tables where products from many places throughout central Mexico are sold. You can find brightly colored pottery, glass sculptures, metal sculptures of stars and Christmas trees, original artwork from local artists, jewelry designed and created by artists in the area, pewter sculptures, and colorful fabric art.

Many of the vendors and the products seem to change periodically, so if you see artwork that you like, you should probably get it when you see it because you will likely never see it again. 

The market is a short walk from the city center where the large, famous cathedral, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, is located. One can easily enter and exit the mercado at different points because a couple of roads intersect the path that it follows. 

An entrance into the Mercado de Artesanias. Photo by Angela Grier

As you walk through the markets, there are small nooks or alleys that look like they might be part of the market. They are! There are several “hidden” shops that are off the main path that also have beautiful things for sale.

Looking down a small offshoot of the Mercado de Artesanias. Photo by Angela Grier

The vendors throughout the mercado are very friendly and many of them speak English, so if speaking Spanish is difficult, shopping here should present few problems. It is well worth the time it takes to wander through at a slow pace to take everything in and stop in all of the little shops along the way. You never know what fun treasures you might find.

Under Quarantine in León, Guanajuato, Mexico

Fe (meaning faith) is written on the side of a tower during the covid-19 pandemic in León, Guanajuato, Mexico.

We are pretty far from home right now, which makes me feel a little uncertain. But this silent message, “Fe (meaning faith),” on one of the towers in our neighborhood reminds me that we are all in this together, no matter where we are in the world. Now that Mexico has moved into phase 3 of the pandemic, our city has enacted much stricter lockdown rules effective tomorrow, April 27th, and threatened sanctions for people that violate those rules. The biggest change is that only one person may leave the house and that person must be wearing a mask and gloves in public spaces. The number of reported cases and deaths in the whole country is still pretty low compared to the US, so I’m hopeful that these measures will help slow the infection rate. In the meantime, we are staying at home with our newly-adopted stray kitten, Corona. Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane, my friends.

Our stray kitten, adopted during the Covid-19 quarantine, named Corona.

Mariposas in Michoacan

The Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacan is AMAZING!!!! Being surrounded by all of the butterflies is a very magical and spiritual experience.

Monarch butterflies flit everywhere once the sun comes up. Video by Angela Grier.

There are so many of them, they weigh down the branches of the fir trees.

Monarch butterflies rest on the trees, waiting for their wings to warm up. Video by Angela Grier.

As the sun rises, the butterflies start to move more and more until they fill the sky.

Slow-motion video of the butterflies. Video by Angela Grier.

My pictures and videos cannot show how incredible this experience was in person. I highly, highly recommend visiting this place at least once in your life.

Monarch butterflies. Photo by Angela Grier.

Morelia, Michoacan at Night

Morelia is a charming little city in the Mexican state of Michoacan, close to the forests of the Monarch Butterfly reserves. The night life in this town is active in the central part of the city. Restaurants, live music, and shops are plentiful throughout the area after dark. And the central plaza is magical with fairy lights in the trees and the cathedral on display, showing off its glorious architecture against the night sky.

Cathedral in the central plaza of downtown Morelia. Photo by Angela Grier.
Beautiful fairy lights. Photo by Angela Grier.
No trip to a magical town is complete without the obligatory photo with the name of the city. Photo by Angela Grier.
The people of Morelia are very nice and a lot of fun, like this actor. Photo by Angela Grier.

El Cóporo, a hike through Pre-Hispanic Mexico in the Sierra de Lobos

A short, one-and-a-half hour drive from León through the Sierra de Lobos mountain range will take you to El Cóporo, an archaeological site of pre-Hispanic Mexico. This site is a mess of structures scattered all over the mountain that juts up above the small town of Ibarra in Ocampo. A bus will carry you from the Visitor’s Center to the start of the hike. From there, you wind your way along a path that takes you to several structures. As you walk, you can see the remnants of the civilization that still remain. Shards of pottery and stone tools can be found everywhere along the path. Note: Please leave these items at the site for future visitors to see. Many of the structures have not been excavated. Just like the pre-Hispanic ruins at Cañada de la Virgen, archaeologists are saving future excavations for improved technologies in archaeology that will eventually be developed. 

The hike around El Cóporo takes around 3 hours. It is challenging because of the steepness of the terrain and the rocks that need to be scaled at a few points in order to reach some of the structures. If a strenuous hike is not a possibility for you, do not worry because there are still structures that you can see at the beginning of the hike prior to the strenuous climbing. Your guide will inform you of when the hike will become more difficult so that those individuals that do not wish to hike the challenging portion can return and wait for the bus. 

The landscape of El Cóporo is rugged and beautiful. It is well worth the trip, and the drive through the Sierra de Lobos to reach the site is also beautiful. 

Things to note: 

  1. Tickets are 39 pesos for adults and 12 pesos for children under 12.
  2. The tour is given in Spanish.
  3. All of the informational signs throughout the hike are in both Spanish and English.
  4. Take a picnic lunch. There is not much to choose from out there except the hotel restaurants and occasional roadside stands.

Slow down and watch the hummingbirds

I need to remember to slow down and enjoy the moments in between our travels. I think I get so focused on planning out the journeys and then enjoying our travels that I do not spend enough time enjoying our in-between moments too. My husband and I have decided to take more time this year to sit, relax, visit with our resident hummingbirds, and enjoy our life here in Mexico. And not crazily rush around so much, unlike our hummingbirds.

 

A Return to Zona Piel, the Leather Market, in León, Guanajuato

After visiting Zona Piel in León, Guanajuato for the first time last year, I have returned several times since then with family and friends. As a result, I have become more familiar with the layout of the area and have discovered some really great places to shop. I will share those with you and I hope that you find the same success in your shopping trip that I have enjoyed. I recommend reading my previous Zona Piel post for some additional tips about shopping here.

 

Where do I park?

I always park in the parking garage at the bus station (see the location on the map below). It is centrally located in the shopping area. However, there are two things to keep in mind. First, if you arrive after 12:30-1 PM, especially during the holiday season or other busy shopping times, it will probably be full. Note: During the holiday seasons, trying to drive down this street is very difficult, so I recommend avoiding it during those peak shopping times. Second, you have to pay for parking at the cashier window before you leave, which is a little tricky to find if you don’t know where it’s located (it is a window under the garage stairwell). Parking at the Hotsson Hotel garage a few blocks away on Blvd. Adolfo Lopez Mateos is also available if the parking garage on this street is full.

Parking Garage
Location of parking garage. Courtesy of Google Maps

What will I find in Zona Piel?

You will find a ton of leather products in a wide variety of colors and styles – purses, backpacks, bags, shoes, boots, belts, hats, ball caps, gloves, vests, jackets, coats, shawls, wallets, billfolds, makeup bags, etc. This is by no means an exhaustive list. There is also a wide variety of non-leather products of the same items above for sale too. If you cannot find the leather product you are looking for here, it probably does not exist (I’m only half joking).

Where do I start?

I always start my shopping trip at the far end of the shopping area (see map location below), further down the street from the parking garage. This warehouse full of shops typically has the best prices, maybe because it is further away than the other shops. If I am looking for something specific, I can usually get the best price for it here. After looking around the shops at this location, I wander back up the street towards the parking garage and shop in the warehouses and shops that line the main street (see second map below), on the opposite side of the street from the parking garage. There are also great shops located on the side streets and one block off of the main street that have a huge selection of bags, purses, shoes, boots, etc. 

My starting location for shopping in Zona Piel
The warehouse where I start shopping in Zona Piel. Courtesy of Google Maps

Areas I have shopped in Zona Piel
Areas I have shopped in Zona Piel. Courtesy of Google Maps

What if I do not speak Spanish?

Many of the people that work in Zona Piel speak some English, so if speaking Spanish is a problem, don’t worry. Everyone is willing to try to communicate with you even if they don’t speak English and there is always someone close by who they can call on that does speak English. I know I say this in all of my posts, but the people here are very nice and patient, even when you have no Spanish speaking skills. 

 

How do I shop for bargains or get a better deal on price?

All of the vendors are willing to make a deal, so the prices are negotiable. You simply have to ask for the discount price. Oftentimes, they will call or text someone else to ask about the price you are offering and they will negotiate with their “boss.” They are also very willing to give you a discount when you are buying more than one thing from their shop. So if you want to buy purses for everyone in your family, buying them from the same vendor will get you a great price. 

 

How do I find shoes in my size?

Mexican shoe sizes are different than the US and European sizes. Knowing your approximate shoe size in Mexico can be helpful, but I have found it is not necessary. Oftentimes, the shoe vendor can simply look at your foot and know whether or not they carry shoes in your size. In my previous post about Zona Piel, I had mentioned that I could not find shoes in my size. During my last few visits to Zona Piel, I have successfully been able to find shoes and boots in my size from several different vendors in a variety of styles! Perhaps more vendors have started carrying larger sizes because people have been asking for them. Who knows?

Cute shoes
Cute shoes! Photo by Angela Grier

Anything else I might want to know before I go?

When you are shopping, you will notice that many of the shops are quite small, especially in the warehouses. If you see a pair of shoes or jacket that you want to try on, most likely, your size will not be in the shop. A salesperson will literally run out of the shop to their storage location to find the size you want. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on the distance they have to run, but this is pretty standard practice. Patience is necessary, but window shopping at other shops located next door is acceptable as long as you return to try on whatever item you had requested. I feel bad for the vendors when the people who asked to try something on wandered off and did not return after the salesperson sprinted to get the item for them. I know it’s an occupational hazard, but please don’t be that person. 

 

What is my only rule when shopping in Mexico?

Zona Piel is a fantastic place to shop and I always find something new when I go. The first visit can be overwhelming because there is so much to see, but you are guaranteed to find something you like. I have one rule that I always follow in all of my shopping travels:

*If I really like it, buy it. Don’t wait because chances are, I will never see that exact same item again. That is part of what makes shopping in Mexico such a cool adventure. 

If you want more information about Zona Piel, check out my original blog post from last year that contains some helpful tips and suggestions.

A Horseback Riding Adventure at the Hacienda La Alegría

My family and I visited the Hacienda La Alegría, located outside of Quito, Ecuador in Aloag. The wonderful couple that owns the Hacienda host people from all over the world and take them on horseback riding tours of varying lengths throughout the Andes Mountains or the cloud forest. It’s also a nice place to stay if you just want some peace and quiet away from the city. The Hacienda is a working farm that raises horses, cattle, llamas, rabbits, and chickens.

The food that is prepared here is amazing. The cook prepares three-course meals which are nutritious and flavorful. A huge favorite with my children are the excellent soups that start almost every meal.

My children have been taking horseback riding lessons in anticipation of this trip so that they would be comfortable and confident while riding. We were excited to take short trail rides around the area to see the countryside, and I knew that my children were probably not ready for a day trip or more. But spending our mornings riding with friends and our afternoons petting rabbits, bottle feeding calves, riding llamas (who doesn’t love llamas?), and hiking through caves to see some bats was definitely a good way to spend part of our Ecuadorian vacation.

Follow Hacienda La Alegria on Facebook to see posts about the amazing rides they take and the majestic landscapes they see on those rides.