travel

Taxco Processions

Three hours by bus from Mexico City in the state of Guerrero is Taxco, a small city built on a hill that is as famous for it’s silver trade as it is for it’s labyrinth of cobble stone streets that wind their way up the hill like the veins of silver that used to run through the surrounding mountains.
Taxco is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos—a series of towns that offer a “magical” experience due to their richness in culture, natural beauty or historical significance. Arriving in Taxco, you feel as if you have been transported back in time. The streets are crawling with old Volkswagen Beetles, most of them part of a fleet of taxis that are perfectly suited to navigating the steep and narrow streets. With it’s Spanish Colonial architecture, beautiful churches, and stunning views, Taxco is one of the more picturesque towns in Mexico.

View of the Templo de Santa Prisca

But that doesn’t fully explain why I came here. Twenty years ago I came with my mother and my sister over the easter holiday and witnessed one of the most brutal displays of religious penitence I have ever seen. Once again I was in Mexico City just before Holy Week and I knew I had to make the pilgrimage back to Taxco.

The processions last all week but the biggest ones are on Thursday night, Friday afternoon and Friday evening. Saturday is a day of rest and Sunday there is a large mass. Men walk through through the streets with bundles of thorny blackberry cane tied to their shoulders with horse hair rope or carrying large wooden crosses, flagellating themselves with ropes studded with nails every time they come to a stop. The blackberry bundles and the crosses both weigh around a hundred pounds or more. Others carry large wooden statues of Jesus representing their town or village. The women walk stooped over, holding candles and dragging chains.

Aside from the processions, Taxco is known for its silver. Though most of the mines have closed, Taxco is still a hub for silversmithing and there are silver goods everywhere. Although there is a lot of generic jewelry and pitchers and what not there are also a number of worthwhile silversmiths that make really nice jewelry, sculptures, cutlery, etc..

Violante's house

The food in Taxco is excellent. There are some very narrow little markets that offer a great selection of tacos, barbacoa, cheese, and fresh fruits. Taxco is also known for its pozole, a broth based soup with hominy and shredded pork.

I stayed in a wondeful Airbnb hosted by Violante (she has multiple rooms for rent). She owns the former home of William Spratling–a beautiful hacienda located just above the Zócalo, the main square and where the Santa Prisca church is located. William Spratling basically started the whole silversmithing trade in Taxco in the 1930s and has been called the “Father of Mexican Silver”. I highly recommend you stay here as the property is beautiful and Violante is a great resource who can guide you in the right direction for food, silver and sightseeing.


Santa Semana Processions in Taxco

(click on an image to enter the gallery)

Mercado de Sonora

Mercado Sonora is a traditional market near the center of Mexico City. Sure you can find traditional pottery, colorful balloons and balls and toys but what makes this place unique are the traditional herbs, occult objects, and live animals. 

If you have a difficult time seeing animals mistreated I recommend you don’t walk through the center of the market. Stick to the passages on the outer edges or go around to the back and enter from there. From the backside of the market it is more obvious where there are animals and where there aren’t. 

What kind of animals? Dogs, cats, goats, chickens, reptiles, birds, and fish mainly. The craziest thing I saw was probably baby alligators. It smells bad and the animals are not well kept. There are Pit Bull and Chihuaha puppies everywhere; cats piled on top of each other; crowded goats; I could go on. It wasn’t pleasant but I am glad I saw it as it is real, and it really is happening. I would rather be informed than ignorant. 

Okay, now that we are past the animals the reason to come here is for all the occult objects. Statues, dolls, candles, soaps, potions, incenses, amulets, etc… Everything you need for a proper ritual. Also lots of herbs, dried flowers, bark, thorns, dried fish, toads, reptiles, pelts, horse hair, you name it. 

I don’t practice Santeria and I’m no anthropologist but I know that Santeria has its roots in the Carribean and is a mix of West African and Catholic religious rituals. It made its way to Mexico via Cuba in the 1960’s when a lot of Cuban Revolution exiles settled in Mexico. Since then Santeria in Mexico has taken on the local traditions of a deeply catholic nation as well as elements of indigenous traditions. 

What this looks like to the outsider visiting the market is a hodgepodge of every occult and religious symbol you can think of. Seeing statue after statue all lined up and countless burlap sacks of herbs, I can’t help but think of all the people who work to manufacture and harvest all this stuff. What role besides economic does Santeria play in their lives? 

It can seem a little kitschy until you see people walking around with their lists buying what they need to do who knows what. 

If you go, be aware of your belongings and surroundings as there can be pickpockets. Don’t try and take pictures of the live animals unless you want to engage in some kind of confrontation. Asides from the animal peddlers most of the merchants were tolerant if not friendly and many of them are happy to answer questions. You can even get a cleanse which involves being hit with leaves, spun around and having alcohol spit on to you. Be respectful as a lot of people take this very seriously. 

Friendly whales in the San Ignacio Lagoon

Every winter the Pacific gray whales migrate six thousand miles from their feeding grounds in the shallows of the North Pacific to the calm, temperate waters of the San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California.

 

 

They mate, give birth and raise their calves there before making the trip back to their feeding grounds in the shallows of the north Pacific.  The twelve thousand mile (give or take) round trip is the longest yearly migration of any mammal. 

These whales were hunted to near extinction - by some counts as few as five hundred remained when, in 1946, international agreements were created to protect the California grays. Since then the population has rebounded to a healthy number of approximately thirty thousand.

During their time of persecution, mothers in the lagoon charged whaling boats, injuring and killing crewmen. For this protective behavior the grays gained the nomen, Devil Fish. 

After some time, humans had managed to regain the trust of the whales that had been coming to these waters for thousands of years. In 1976 Raymod Gilmore, a zoologist raised in Hawai’i, and a fervent defender of marine mammals was the first to have a “friendly” encounter with the grays when they began playing with the inflatable rafts off his whale watching boat. Curious, he climbed on to the rafts and initiated the first known physical contact between gray whale and human. 

Since then, the lagoon has been known as a magical place where mother gray whales nudge their calves towards boats of eager whale watchers. It is not uncommon for the calves to come right up the to the little fishing boats like puppy dogs waiting to be pet. My sister even kissed a whale. 

To experience this magical interspecies connection just make your way down south of the border between the months of February and April. It is a trip you will never forget. 

Many thanks to the NRDCBaja Discovery and their amazing guides for making this trip possible. The experience was beyond my expectations and our guides, accommodations, food, everything, was beyond incredible. Thank you thank you thank you!