The Mexican Gas Shortage – An American Expat Perspective

I have been sitting in a line of cars for 2.5 hours – since about 6 PM. I joined this line around 1.5 kilometers from the gas station. I have been telling myself during the last few days that I was not going to sit in a gas line and that I could wait for the supply to normalize. My children could miss a couple of days of school and they would be OK. I could walk to the grocery store nearby and replenish our food supplies. However, after reading and hearing about the news reports during the last two days, I now know that this shortage may actually last for a few weeks…or more…and my kids might miss a few weeks of school, not just a few days of school. So with that in mind, when I received a heads up about gasoline being sold nearby from one of my friends (whose ear is close to the ground about such things) I decided to act and I quickly drove off and joined the long queue. As I continue to sit here in the dark, watching lightning flash in the distance, slowly moving forward in the line, I start to be hopeful that I will make it to the pump before they run out of gas. I can almost see the glow of the gas station lights ahead of me. Maybe. I’m about 400 meters away and we are still moving forward, albeit slowly.

There is panic among some of the other expat wives that I know and their panic has been frustrating and irritating to listen to over the last few days. I just cannot figure out why they are so worried. I can’t understand why they seem to have forgotten that things like this happen in the US too. And that we are fortunate to now live in a place that is warm, where we are free to walk or ride our bikes without fear of frostbite from sub-zero temperatures, and that we live close enough to our food sources that distribution will probably not be a problem for a while. And it’s also unlikely that we’re going to lose power and freeze to death in our homes here. The worst thing that will happen is that our children won’t be able to go to school. Although after having my children home for two and a half weeks for winter break, I really need them to go back to school! But all joking aside, while I do think they need to be with their friends and prepare for their next round of exams, missing a month of school when the teachers send assignments out via Google classroom so they can keep up that way is not really so bad. So I am very confused by, and I cannot relate to, the panic that some of the other expat wives are feeling, especially the ones that do not have children at home. But I refuse to participate in the group panic and at every opportunity, I will continue to remind people that what we as expats have here is a much better situation than what many people in the US are dealing with right now.

Supply Run
Supply run. Stocking up so we can hunker down. Photo by Angela Grier

With that being said, however, while our situation is pretty good, the reality for people who do not have a salaried job is much more serious. Our maid depends on buses and taxis to get to our house everyday and if one of those modes of transportation falters because they do not have gas, and she cannot get to work, then she will not be paid. (I will not let that happen in our case, but I am sure that is what happens to other people in her situation.) I can understand why so many people are desperate for gasoline and so angry with the Mexican government and their fight against huachicoleros (gas thieves). And I see the situation between what is happening in the US and Mexico as being very similar. With the US government shutdown affecting so many people who cannot afford to miss a paycheck, people are desperate for a job where they actually get paid, especially if those people are being forced to work without being paid. Here in Mexico, people that cannot get to work because of the gas shortage will miss being paid and cannot support themselves and their families. Both situations are terrible. And while the situation in the US affects only a small subset of the population in terms of money, it has a far greater effect on people who are unable to transact business with the agencies that are shutdown, as well as the people who are trying to safely travel via plane. I am not sure which country’s government wins in the “Bad Idea” department – it may be the government that allows their farce to continue the longest.

As I finish writing out my opinions, I have come to the realization that the gas line has stopped moving. People carrying empty gas containers have started walking back towards their cars. That can only mean one thing – the gas station has run out of gas. And I wasted 30 kilometers worth of gas trying to get more. My husband did not think this adventure would be worth it and with the extreme disappointment that I feel at this moment, I have to agree with him. I have sat in this line for three hours and I feel like I wasted my time. I know, however, that many people have been waiting in lines for 10 or 12 hours at a time, hoping for gas. People are spending the night in lines, hoping that when the gas is finally delivered to the station, they will be one of the lucky few who gets to put some gas in their tank. With two small children at home, and a husband who is still expected to get to work everyday, that option is not really available to me. But my need is much less than most Mexicans and for that reason, I will not worry and panic about this situation. We still have a pretty good thing going on here. And I know that our situation here is still better than freezing in Indiana or not getting paid and still going to work anyways.

Guided Tour through Guanajuato

It took us five months before we finally visited our state capital of Guanajuato, the City of Guanajuato. I don’t know why – it’s only a 45-minute drive there from our house. One of our friends organized a tour guide for a large group of us and we decided this would be a great chance for us to visit Guanajuato and get a feel for what the city is like. When our tour guide drove us into the city, the road cut through the mountains, literally in a couple of places, and after winding up and around a crazy maze of streets, the city opened up in front of us for a few moments of breathtaking views, before plunging us back down on the other side of the mountain. Before even stepping foot in the city, Guanajuato surpassed all of our expectations.

Miner statue, City of Guanajuato
Miner statue, City of Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

Our first stop was to the Hacienda San Gabriel de Barrera Museum. We had not heard of this place before going, which is crazy because it is a beautiful, historic landmark. Our tour guide provided a colorful history and glimpse of what life was like when the hacienda belonged to a family during the 18th century. Amazingly, his stories were so interesting and engaging that our children listened – and could recall weeks later – information from his history lesson. The gardens of this hacienda are very picturesque, beautiful, and extensive – I think they are on par with the gardens you might find in other historical homes such as the Biltmore Estate or Mount Vernon.

After we left the Hacienda, we continued into Guanajuato and we started the rest of our tour at the giant Miner statue, El Pípila, at a beautiful overlook from which you can see the Valenciana Mine opening, the University of Guanajuato, the theaters, and the cathedrals in the downtown area of Guanajuato. The colors of the buildings were spectacular and the entire landscape overwhelmingly beautiful as the surrounding mountains blended into the city. Our guide informed us that at one point in the history of the city, one-sixth of the world’s silver was being mined from the Valenciana Mine in Guanajuato.

We hiked and wound down into the city from one of many narrow alleys that branch off from the overlook. As we walked down the hundreds of steps, we saw several other paths branch off from the one we were on. People actually live in houses perched on the side of the mountain and the riot of color from the flowers and other vegetation made for an interesting and pretty hike down. It was amazing.

City of Guanajuato
Hiking into the City of Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

Once we reached the bottom, we followed our tour guide through the streets and saw many historical places such as the house where Diego Rivera grew up (now Diego Rivera House Museum; he was a famous painter and the husband of Frida Kahlo for those that don’t recognize the name). We visited the Regional Museum of Guanajuato which used to be the granary of the city (Alhóndiga de Granaditas) which houses many Aztec artifacts and pieces of history from the Mexican Revolution.

 

We caught glimpses of the subterranean roads as we walked along, but did not venture into them. These dark, arched entrances looked a bit intimidating while we were in the sunshine. We also walked past the Teatro Juarez, Teatro Principal, and the University of Guanajuato. When we were hungry, we stopped for lunch at the Cerro de las Ranas, a small restaurant in one of the many plazas we walked through. We were very hungry when we arrived at this restaurant after spending much of the day wandering the streets of Guanajuato. Since our tour group had about 15 people in it, the restaurant staff couldn’t accommodate all of us at one table. They quickly split us up, took our orders, and got all of our drinks and food out pretty quickly, considering how many of us there were. The food was excellent and the service was great. They were very patient with our Spanish and answered all of our questions. We enjoyed ourselves immensely and welcomed the break from walking.

After lunch, our guide continued our winding tour through the city. We learned that the current city was built on an older version of the city and we could see parts of the older city underneath us as we walked. At several places throughout our walk, there are also small, blue, rectangular markers that are located on the sides of buildings that indicate the level of various floods that the city has experienced. It’s crazy to see those markers when they are located several feet above our heads.

We visited the kissing alley, Callejon del Beso, but because the line was so long, we decided to take a picture at the end of the street instead of waiting in line to get our picture under the balconies that are adjacent to each other. There are a few legends surrounding the kissing alley, which is why it’s so popular for tourists. My favorite version of the story is that a young woman and a young man were in love. But the young woman’s father forbade her to see the young man. So the young man rented the apartment behind where she lived and the balconies off of their bedrooms were only separated by one or two feet of space. The story says that her father caught them kissing and in his rage, stabbed his daughter and pushed the young man over the side of the balcony, thereby killing them both. It’s a crazy story and it has a morbid ending, but most of the stories are a variation on that theme. The legends also suggest that if you kiss someone while on that street, you’ll have several years of luck in love. If you do not kiss someone, you end up with several years of bad luck in love. So naturally, my husband and I kissed at the less-crowded end of the street instead of under the balconies (picture not shown).

Kissing Alley, Callejon de Beso
Kissing Alley, City of Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

Just a note of caution: there are guys there who might try to charge you to visit this tourist spot, but you do not need to pay for this. It’s a public street and open and free to the public. Feel free to ignore them or pretend you don’t understand what they’re saying. Also, if you want a picture under the balconies, go early in the day. If you wait until later, there will be a long line of people waiting as you can see in the photo.

 

 

After we visited the kissing alley we walked to the ticket office for the funicular, which are two boxes that hang from cables that can take you back to the top of the mountain where the large miner statue, El Pípila, is located (See photo of Funicular from a different day trip to Guanajuato).

Funicular, City of Guanajuato
Funicular, City of Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

Another note of caution: if you want to ride the funicular for fun, go early in the day, otherwise there will be a long line. We were trying to leave at the end of the day and the line was very long. So, despite the older, less active adults and the very young children in our group, we decided to walk back up the mountain. I’m not going to sugar-coat it – it was a challenge, even for someone who is relatively active. But there are several places along the way where it’s easy to stop and catch one’s breath. And once we reached the top, there were several places to get a cold drink and restrooms available for the kids.

The city of Guanajuato has been my family’s favorite city to visit thus far in our traveling adventures, and we barely scratched the surface of what that city has to offer. The history, culture, and beauty of the city is like nothing we have experienced in our travels up to this point. Our tour guide was top notch and spoke English very well, which helped us understand a lot more about the city than if we had wandered around by ourselves. It is definitely a trip worth making.

A Unique Halloween Adventure at the Leon Zoo in Leon, Guanjuato

Halloween may have been several weeks ago, and Christmas is right around the corner, but our Halloween Zoo adventure was just too good not to share.

Right before Halloween, my children and I were invited to go to the Leon Zoo with some of the other moms and kids from school. We were excited! We had been seeing signs and billboards advertising Halloween at the zoo and we were interested in checking it out.

Main entrance to Leon Zoo
Leon Zoo. Photo by Angela Grier.

Being from Indiana, we are very familiar with the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, a large and well-kept zoo, featuring a lot of different animals and a lot of fun rides and experiences for the kids. The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo also has a Zoo Halloween that is well-decorated, providing lots of photo opportunities, where kids can dress up and receive animal-friendly, environmentally-conscious candies at various places throughout the zoo. It’s fun and fairly boring for parents and older kids, especially because most of the animal exhibits are closed, but my kids have always had fun (because they’re young). So with our background experiences in mind, that was sort of the expectation that my children and I had as we walked into the Leon Halloween Zoo. (At this point in my recall, I am mentally putting my head in my hands and shaking my head back and forth. I was so naive.)

Entrance to Leon Zoo
Leon Zoo. Photo by Angela Grier.

Upon arriving at the Leon Zoo, I purchased tickets for the whole zoo, including something called the Haunted Cabin. My kids said that it sounded fun. When we first walked into the zoo, there was a line of people greeting zoo guests that were dressed up in all kinds of elaborate costumes, from lovable Disney characters and villains, to horror characters and everything in between. Our first experience after walking inside the gates was a giant Sully from Monster’s Inc. giving kids enormous bear hugs. My son loved it and decided he wanted two hugs. The costume was so big, that he virtually disappeared in all of that fur during the hugs. My daughter was not interested in that at all and hid behind me the whole time, but the other kids in our group were also excited about hugging Sully and it was a cute way to start our adventure in the zoo. As we wandered through the zoo, we could hear shrieking kids in the distance, but I didn’t think anything about it because kids shriek when they’re playing. It wasn’t anything to worry about.

The zoo was beautifully decorated, with many wonderful backdrops that we could use for Halloween-themed photos. There were large open areas within the zoo that were free of animal enclosures where the kids could run around or play on a large playground. The animal exhibits themselves were really cool.

We could walk through the air on a catwalk through the lemur enclosure, and while we could not interact with them in the same way that we could at the Guadalajara Zoo, the lemurs in this exhibit seemed more comfortable with that separation and hung out in cute poses throughout the enclosure.

Rhino at Leon Zoo
Leon Zoo, Leon, Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

We saw a rhinoceros that could stretch its head up far enough that if a person were so inclined, they could reach down and touch the animal’s horn. Needless to say, we did not do that, but it made me wonder how often people did take advantage of that opportunity because it seemed like the rhino had practiced that move before.

 

 

We met a fun gorilla, named Charlie, that used to be a part of a circus until he ran away and was injured during his escape, losing a hand in the process. He seemed at ease in the grass, somersaulting while the children were loudly yelling his name, trying to get his attention. He almost seemed to be performing for them.

As we wound our way further from the entrance, we started to hear loud banging noises followed by more shrieks. And then from a distance, we started catching glimpses of scary clowns and other horrors. At one point, the train, loaded with kids in the first few cars, drove past.

Scary clowns on the train
Leon Zoo, Leon, Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

The last car of the train was empty except for a few scary-looking characters riding in the last couple of seats. My son bravely waved at them as they passed by, but the rest of the kids were a bit terrified by the appearance of these scary characters.

 

 

 

 

We continued to wind our way around the zoo, going through the venomous snake exhibit and the penguin exhibit until we finally found the Haunted Cabin. Haunted Cabin...Nope!It was a small building with a few Halloween decorations set up, and as we walked up, there were several kids filing into the front door. As we walked up, the attendant waved us in, but was then stopped by the woman inside who indicated that we would need to wait for the next tour, but that it would only take about 8 minutes. That was no problem. We all sat outside, waiting, and our children talked about how brave they were and how this little haunted cabin didn’t seem so scary. Periodically, we could hear the bang and scrape of a shovel as a scary character inside the cabin walked past the hidden exit door. After about seven minutes, we could hear shrieking. And the screaming steadily got louder over the next several seconds, until finally, about 20 children burst out of the exit through the curtain that was covering it. These children seemed to be about 12 or 13 years old, although some may have been as young as 10 or 11 and as old as 14 or 15. The one thing all of these children had in common though was their breathless fear, and the tears pouring down their cheeks. They were all terrified, and some of them ran away from the building and kept running while others collapsed in front of the building, weeping together in groups. My son looked at this activity, then looked at me, and in a very calm voice stated, “Mom, I’m going to wait out here while you go in with my sister. I promise I won’t leave the porch, but I don’t want to go in.” I responded, saying, “But who will watch over your sister if she gets scared in there?” My daughter heard what I said and she responded, “Mom, I’m not going in there either.” As soon as the other kids heard that, they also told their moms that they were not going into the Haunted Cabin either, and with a great deal of relief, I walked away with my kids. I was pretty sure I would have been dealing with nightmares for days or weeks if we had gone into that place.

We decided to ride the train next, so we went and got in the long line, waiting for our turn to board. While we were waiting in the narrow lanes, some scary characters came over to the line with their shovels and started trying to scare the kids. Scary ScarecrowOne of them, a scary scarecrow, jumped up on the railing next to me and bent so low over my face, that I could have kissed him. My kids, of course, were a bit scared at first, but I was laughing so hard at the guy that they quickly realized there was nothing to be afraid of and they relaxed. When we finally got on the train, even more scary characters came out and they started to interact with the passengers and pose for pictures before the train left. It was a lot of fun, and after that experience, none of the kids were scared anymore. The littlest one in our group, who had been the most scared, even shook hands with the scariest-looking clown before we departed on the train.

 

 

Scary scarecrow likes to scare the older kidsWhile we were waiting for the members of our group to meet up together after the train, we waited outside of the train area. The oldest “kid” in our group, high-school age, was standing with her back to the scary scarecrow that was walking up behind her. When he was standing right behind her with his head just behind her left shoulder, I tapped her shoulder so she would look at me and she caught a glimpse of his mask when she turned and screamed very loudly. Her mom, who had also watched him walking up without saying anything, and I started laughing. She was a very good sport about it and didn’t punch the guy before he walked away. That was a lot of fun for all of the little kids to watch, especially her little brother.

After our train ride, it was time to go on safari, so we hiked over to that area, which, if you didn’t know where it was, you might never find it. The safari ride had beautiful scenery and many animals that we could watch from the safety of our safari vehicle. It was a fun ride, despite my daughter’s grumpiness. (When she gets tired, she gets very grumpy and unpleasant.) After our safari, we decided to leave the zoo. (Contrary to my daughter’s belief, I don’t intentionally try to make her miserable by having too much fun in one day!)

As we were leaving the zoo, one of the scary clowns came over to us and thanked us for coming and said goodbye with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, Mexican-style. It was a very nice way to end our trip to the zoo and the guys wearing the scary costumes did a fantastic job of playing their parts with the older kids, but being kind with the younger kids. Our children thoroughly enjoyed themselves and it was an experience they will likely, happily, remember for a long time to come.

Festival Internacional del Globo in Leon, Guanajuato

We have been hearing about the International Balloon Festival (known here as FIG, Festival Internacional del Globo) in Leon, Mexico, since we first visited in April, so we knew it was a big event. But the size of this event was difficult to imagine since we have never before been to a large balloon festival.

Festival del Globo, Leon, Guanajuato
Festival del Globo, Leon, Guanajuato. Photo by Angela Grier

The first morning of this year’s balloon festival was very exciting. As I drove up the side of the mountain in our neighborhood, taking our children to school that morning, we could see the balloons starting to lift off from the park far below us. As the sun rose higher, so did the balloons, and they quickly filled the sky. After I dropped off the kids at school, I immediately returned to our neighborhood. I could see that several of the balloons had flown very close and seemed to be landing there. I parked my car on the side of the road, and then chased the balloon that was landing further up the hill. It was so exciting! Several other people had the same idea, including one of my friends, and we hung out for a while and watched them dismantle the balloons that had landed there. Most of the balloons landed after floating in the air for about an hour.

 

 

Later that night, we watched the balloons as they were lit up inside the park below our neighborhood on the mountain, and we could faintly hear the music as we watched the balloons glow on and off with the beat of the music. (I took video of this, but the quality is so poor that I decided not to post it.)

 

For the next three mornings, we did not have to get up to go to school or work, and instead, we were able to jump out of bed with the sunrise and watch the balloons as they lifted off from the Metropolitan Park and floated in the sky for an hour. It was so interesting to see how the wind changed every day and made each new morning show of the balloons exciting to see. We had our favorite balloons to watch for each morning and it was fun to see where they drifted. Some of our favorites included Vincent van Gogh, Fish, Amish Guy (not sure if that’s what it was supposed to be, but from a distance, that’s what it looked like), Darth Vader, Hot Dog, Bimbo bear, and the very brilliantly-colored balloons. Jesus made a few appearances too but didn’t usually stay up in the sky very long. 

 

During the next three evenings, we watched the balloons glow from our balcony and listened to the distant music that was being performed at the park. Those four days were very exciting for us and the stunning views of the balloons have made us even more excited for the balloon festival to return next year.

 

We are hoping to actually attend the festival next year in the park, although we will have to wake up very early in order to get there in time for the balloon liftoff. This is a pretty short post, but I really wanted to share the pictures and videos of the balloons that we were able to capture. This was a very big festival and Leon was well prepared for it with signs posted everywhere leading to campgrounds, parking, and shuttle buses. Although the traffic was pretty crazy during those four days and we were not able to use the main entrance of our neighborhood during peak festival times, we were not inconvenienced too much and the whole festival experience from a distance was very cool. Next year, we’ll see what the festival experience inside the park will be like.

 

Shopping in the Leather Market, Zona Piel, Leon, Guanajuato

In Leon, Guanajuato, there are several zones that characterize the city, including El Centro (Historic Downtown), Zona Piel (Leather District), Zona Norte (North District), Conjunto Poliforum (Poliforum Complex), and Zona Outlets (Outlet Malls). An  adventurous friend and I have traveled extensively throughout El Centro, and we live in Zona Norte, so we decided it was time to check out Zona Piel (Piel means skin, in this case, referring to leather), one of the most renowned shopping areas in Mexico. Even before we moved to Leon, we had heard that people traveled here from all over Mexico in order to shop for leather goods – purses, bags, shoes, belts, clothing, etc.

 

Trying to shop too early in Zona Piel
Shopping too early in Zona Piel – nothing is open. Photo by Angela Grier

My friend and I decided to get to Zona Piel early and finish shopping so that we had plenty of time to get home before school pickup started. We arrived at around 9:45 AM and easily found a place to park in a parking garage. When we left the parking garage and started walking towards the dot on my map indicating where Zona Piel was located, we felt very uncomfortable. Not many shops were open and there were a lot of people on the street, many of whom were begging for money. This did not seem like a safe place for us to be, but we continued to walk away from the car and further down the street anyway. We finally reached the point on my navigation app that indicated we had arrived at the Zona Piel. We looked around, but it was not obvious where it was. We looked across the street and saw a door open to a large, warehouse-type of building where a man looked like he was opening up his shop. We walked up to him and realized that none of the other shops inside were open. He saw us and explained that no one starts to open until around 10:30 AM, but by 12 PM, almost everyone is open.

 

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Zona Piel street shops. Photo by Angela Grier

We were dismayed by that news but, instead of leaving and returning another time, we resigned ourselves to killing 45 minutes. So we started walking on the opposite side of the street in the direction we had come from, and we quickly noticed that there were many small shops lining all of the side streets that were selling a plethora of leather and non-leather goods.

Large warehouse building full of shops inside and out.
Large warehouse building full of shops inside and out. Photo by Angela Grier

Of course, that early in the morning, many of them were just opening up their shops, but we were able to browse through what they had for sale. One of the shops was selling material, including leather, in a wide variety of colors and patterns that people could use to make their own products. The array of goods was overwhelming. I do not know how anyone can figure out where to purchase what they want. It immediately became obvious that with so many choices, it would take a great deal of searching to be able to find the best quality items at the best prices.

Our first warehouse in Zona Piel - still too early to shop
Still too early to shop in Zona Piel. Photo by Angela Grier

On this first foray into Zona Piel, I had a couple of specific items that I was searching for – a wallet for my husband and a belt for myself – and I did not have enough time to search for the shop with the best price. When we had finally killed enough time wandering around, we walked back to the first building we had stopped at and went inside. By this time, about half of the shops were open. It is amazing how much merchandise the owners are able to cram into the tiny spaces available, and some of their solutions were very creative. As we walked past the shops, we noticed small signs posted at each of the vendors that indicated they sold certified leather. We continued to wander through the building and I soon found a place that sold wallets in a wide variety of styles and women’s belts. Perfect!

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So many bags in Zona Piel! Photo by Angela Grier

My husband was looking for a specific style of wallet that I had a difficult time finding, but this shop had exactly what he wanted. So we stopped and talked to the woman running the shop. She offered me a discount if I purchased more than just a wallet from her, and luckily, she had a nice selection of women’s belts to choose from too. I found one that I liked, picked the wallet that I thought my husband would like best, and left the shop after spending less than 320 pesos (approximately $16 US). We continued to wander through the big warehouse and browse the shops. We found a shop with sandals that I liked and we asked if he had any of the sandals in my size, US 10. The answer was no. We stopped at another shop that had very nice cowboy boots for women. They did not carry a single boot in my size either. This was very frustrating! I do have large feet, even by US standards, but I didn’t think my feet were THAT big.

Beautiful leather accessories in Zona Piel
Beautiful leather accessories in Zona Piel. Photo by Angela Grier

We finished browsing through the warehouse shops and wandered back down the street towards the car. By this time, there were many more people walking around and shopping and we no longer felt uncomfortable or conspicuous. As we browsed the numerous shops that were now open on the street, we realized that almost every block along this road seemed to have a large warehouse building with shops lining the outside of the building, and small doorways that allowed access to the myriad shops inside the building. We walked into a couple more of these warehouses and browsed through their merchandise. The insides of a couple of the warehouses were a maze of walkways that meandered through the shops and we quickly discovered how easy it would be to get lost and turned around inside. Unfortunately, we ran out of time long before we ran out of shops to browse.

Zona Piel Warehouse
Zona Piel Warehouse. Photo by Angela Grier

The amount of different leather items for sale was incredible. We found many different styles in a wide variety of colors and textures and sizes (except my shoe size) for any kind of leather product imaginable. As we returned to our car, walking past many more nice shops, we realized that we will need to make several additional trips to Zona Piel to find the shops with the best quality and prices in the styles and colors we like. Not to mention, finding a shop that carries shoes in my size – I will eventually complete that challenge. I hope.

 

 

 

Lessons learned from my foray into Zona Piel:

  1. Do not go shopping in Zona Piel before 10:30 AM, and it is far better to wait until 11 AM or 12 PM to go.
  2. If it matters to you, most of the shops inside the warehouses had the certified leather sticker clearly displayed, while we did not see many of those stickers in the shops that lined the street outside of the warehouses.
  3. If you have big feet, you will have a hard time finding shoes in your size. I am still looking.
  4. Enjoy the variety of styles, colors, and textures of all of the leather goods! It’s amazing!

Exploring Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos in Leon, Guanajuato

We have been in Leon, Mexico for only a few, short months, but during this time, we have been fortunate enough to experience a couple of holidays – Independence Day and the Festival of St. Michael. Those holidays and their festivals were pretty exciting. Well, after experiencing Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, I think we have hit a whole new level of exciting.

End of day sugar rush
End of day sugar rush. Photo by Angela Grier

The school my kids attend had a huge Halloween celebration where the elementary kids trick-or-treated in the middle and high school. They also had classroom costume contests. My daughter went to school dressed as a pirate and my son went to school dressed as a Hogwarts student. My son was so excited because he came in second place in his classroom’s costume competition. By the time they left school that day, they were on a sugar high, and the Halloween craziness was just getting started.

In Leon, the different neighborhoods have trick-or-treating on different days, so it is entirely possible to go trick-or-treating every day during the week leading up to Halloween if you know people in other neighborhoods. We did not trick-or-treat in any neighborhoods before Halloween, so we did not experience that this year. However, one of our family friends missed their neighborhood trick-or-treating so they came to hang out with us. Our trick-or-treating started at 7 PM and ended at 9 PM, which is well after dark. We met up with several other families we know and trick-or-treated in a large group. One of the other families was Mexican, thankfully, so they coached our children on how to determine which houses have candy and what to say to get candy. Very useful information to have! (The easiest thing for them to remember to say was “dulce o trunco.”)

We learned that houses that have decorations and their lights on outside probably have candy. If they have their lights on but no decorations, they do not have candy. We trick-or-treated for about 30 minutes and then, thankfully, my daughter got tired (long day of sugar), and we returned home.

 

But that was not the end of the festivities.

 

Feria Artesanal del Alfeñique
Feria Artesanal del Alfeñique. Photo by Angela Grier

The next day was the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). In Leon’s El Centro, they had set up a market where people could purchase candies and alfeñiques, which are elaborate, handcrafted foods and figures made out of sugar, that are placed on the altars people make at home and/or in the cemetery to honor and remember their dead loved ones. I explored this market and I was so impressed by the care and attention to detail that went into crafting each item. It was amazing!

In addition, they also had a catrina contest in the Municipal building. Many women dressed up as catrinas and several men dressed as catrines and participated in the contest. The costumes and makeup of these catrinas and catrines were very detailed and beautiful!

In addition to the festivities in El Centro, each of the classrooms at school had an altar that the students helped set up. We did not really understand everything about it so we did not participate very much this year, but next year, my children have made it clear they want to participate more so we will likely play a bigger role in the classroom celebration.  

We were invited to celebrate this day with a Mexican family in their neighborhood. The afternoon started at 5 PM with trick-or-treating among a horde of children that had elaborate costumes and professional makeup. Our little pirate and Hogwarts student were pretty simplistic costumes in comparison. The attention to detail on many of the children’s costumes was impressive. After trick-or-treating, there was a magic show, followed by a costume competition. We left during the magic show since our kids were getting tired, and we retired to our friend’s house for dinner.

Before dinner commenced, our friend took a moment to explain the significance of her altar and to engage the children in participating in the ritual for the day. She had the children spread the petals from the street up the walkway, and into the house to the altar and explained that the petals of this specific flower helped guide the spirits to the altar. (Some of my other friends later told me that if I had watched the movie, Coco, I would have already known this.) On the altar were photographs of the person being remembered, some of her favorite foods, and things that were placed there by the children. It was beautiful and rich with symbolism and love.

Dinner was an elaborate affair with several traditional Mexican dishes including tamales, refried beans, and chicken mole. We finished off the meal with pan de muerto and sweet tamales. We were stuffed at the end of the meal. Our first Dia de los Muertos celebration was a wonderful cultural experience for us. We learned a great deal and have a much better understanding of this aspect of the Mexican culture.

The next day, many cities hosted Dia de los Muertos parades. We decided not to seek one out because we were so tired from the previous two nights (very late nights) of festivities. But we had friends who graciously sent me pictures of the parade in Guanajuato so that I could show some more examples of beautiful catrinas and catrines. Next year, we hope to travel to one of these parades and see it for ourselves.

Dia de los Muertos is a beautiful day that remembers and honors departed loved ones and it is very touching to see the love that goes into celebrating this day. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Side note: Here are some more pictures of pan de muerto that I took at a pasteleria (bakery) in El Centro. I think pan de muerto might be the best kind of bread I have ever tasted. It’s covered in sugar and has a slight orange taste to it. It’s a wonderful thing. We can even find it filled with chocolate, cajeta, and fruit. Sadly, we are going to miss it for the next several months as we wait for the next October to come around again.

 

Quick Adventure in Querétaro

If you have been following my blog, you have probably noticed that in the three months I have lived in Leon, I do not sit still for very long. In fact, carving out time to be at home to write about our family adventures is a huge challenge for me. I frequently have more opportunities to get out and do things than I have time to do them all, and sometimes, choosing between those opportunities is difficult. But when a chance to join a group of people on a tour to a new city arrives, that is an opportunity I cannot pass up.

Querétaro sculpture
Querétaro sculpture. Photo by Angela Grier

We were asked if our family wanted to fill in the last few seats in a tour van for a day trip to Querétaro. Uh, yes please! It was an inexpensive trip when all of us split the cost of the van and driver, and it was an excellent chance to go and see a city that we have heard so much about from friends who have lived there. The trip organizer was interested in visiting an expo that showcased Oaxaca (a 10-hour drive from Leon) in Querétaro (a 2.5-hour drive from Leon). When we arrived in Querétaro and drove towards the expo, our driver found that some of the streets had been closed in the downtown area in preparation for the marathon the next day. But we did not have to worry about parking! Our driver dropped us off close to the expo and we were able to walk the rest of the way. One of the first impressions we had of the city was a terrible smell from the sewers that rose up from the grates in the ground at one of the stoplights. The smell was bad enough that it made our eyes water. Luckily, one of the other moms had a sweet-smelling lotion that our kids dabbed under their nose in order to make them stop complaining about it. We only ran into that smell at one stoplight in the city, which was a relief, but what an introduction!  

As we walked down the street to the Oaxaca expo, we passed several sculptures and saw that many of the walls of the buildings were painted. These were very beautiful and it was exciting to be in a city with so much art visible from the street.

Oaxaca Expo Vendor Booths
Oaxaca Expo Vendor Booths. Photo by Angela Grier

As we walked into the building that housed the expo, we could see that there was a circle of booths along the outside of the large rotunda. Within the circle of booths, there were many vendors selling a variety of items such as woven clothing, beautifully painted, wooden sculptures, handmade beaded jewelry, and mezcal (which is made from agave, but not blue agave, which is what tequila is made from). There were also several food vendors and we tasted several types of sweets that are typical of Oaxaca (although thankfully we can find them in Leon too).

We ate lunch at the expo as well. The food smelled amazing and my husband and I decided to try tlayuda with chorizo, which is a huge, grilled tortilla filled with cabbage and beans.

Memelas with beans and cheese
Memelas with beans and cheese. Photo by Angela Grier

Our children ate memelas, which were a small version of the tlayuda, but only had beans and cheese smeared on it. Both of these are traditional Oaxacan foods and both were delicious. We struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to us and he told us that the food in Oaxaca was much better than the food at the expo so we should go there sometime and see it. Well, that is now officially on my list of places to visit. They have good food? I’m there. We have found that food is a part of the cultures of the various towns and cities we have visited and, when we eat the local food, I like to imagine we can better understand part of their culture and history based on the ingredients, flavors, and textures of the foods that they traditionally eat.

As we walked through the vendor booths, we passed several that were selling mezcal and offering a taste of their various brands.

Mezcal tasting
Mezcal tasting. Photo by Angela Grier

We tasted several types of mezcals and I decided that mezcal is not the drink for me. However, some of the mezcal vendors also had a drink called crema de maguey, which, from what we could understand, is basically mezcal combined with a type of fruit.

Crema de maguey
Crema de maguey, passionfruit and strawberry…these may have been opened already. Photo by Angela Grier

It is a very sweet drink and the flavor of the fruit is very strong. We liked the strawberry and passion fruit flavors the best. (These drinks are a bit thick and syrupy, so I have found that I like it best served over ice.) We were a little disappointed by the high prices of some of the items that the vendors had for sale. The wooden sculptures were pretty expensive, even by American standards, so we ended up not buying anything other than food products. It only took us about two hours to wander through the expo and eat lunch, so we all decided to leave and walk to the historic central part of Querétaro next.

 

 

 

Once we reached the historic center of the city, our group split up. The feeling in the city was very relaxed, and as we explored, no one seemed to be in a hurry.

We walked to a few cathedrals and found multiple plazas with benches where people were sitting in the shade during the heat of the day, including us. At one point, we passed a girl who handed out samples of ice cream to us. That just happened to coincide with our daughter telling us how tired and hot she was, so we stopped to eat some ice cream.

We dragged our children in and out of many small shops where they had a variety of interesting items for sale, mostly marketed towards tourists, I think. We also found a street that was lined with several more sculptures. The architecture and the size of this historic center is amazing.

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At one point, as we were walking, a small boy ran up to us and asked us if we spoke English, then yelled back to his friends that we did. All of a sudden, we were swarmed by a bunch of small kids who came running over to practice speaking to us in English. The young man who was with them took a picture of us with all of the small children on his phone. I wish I had that picture! They were very sweet!

 

The art displayed along one of the roads was extraordinary and I felt compelled to purchase a couple of small paintings. I spoke with the artist who painted them and he explained his technique in great detail.

His paintings had a variety of colors and textures that captured the eye. I still have not chosen a spot for the paintings in my house, but I could not walk away without purchasing a couple pieces of his artwork.  He was very nice to talk to and when we later returned to the van, I found that I was not the only one who could not resist leaving without his paintings.

 

As the day wound down, we made our way back to the square where we would be meeting up with the rest of our group to depart.

Cooling down at the bar in Meson de Santa Rosa
Cooling down at the bar in Meson de Santa Rosa. Photo by Angela Grier

While we waited, we found a nice bar to sit in, Meson de Santa Rosa, with one of the other couples in our group and ordered drinks. It was a nice experience sitting at the bar with our children, sipping cool drinks while we waited. This would never have happened in the US since children are not allowed to sit at or in a bar in our former state, so this was a very nice change for us. To my surprise and complete delight, there was a two-for-one special on margaritas at this bar, meaning when you order one, they bring you two glasses of margaritas at the same time. And they were beautifully crafted! This was a nice way to end our day in Querétaro.

There was so much to see and, even though we walked and saw a lot, we missed some pretty cool places (like the aqueducts). Unfortunately, we also did not have time to stay for dinner before departing, so we will eventually return to this city to stay for a few days, see more sights, and experience more of the culture and the food.

Traveling in a group with a hired driver was a very good way to see an unfamiliar city, and now that we know this option is easily available to us, I foresee several more trips in our future using this method.

If you are reading these posts and you know of other places or cities we should visit in Mexico, I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time, enjoy your own adventures!