Desert Museum

High on the list of things to see and do in Saltillo is the Desert Museum.  While Saltillo has an impressive number of tiny, free museums downtown, the Desert Museum is pretty comprehensive and well worth its reputation.  In less than 4 hours,IMG_1998 it gives the average visitor a reasonable understanding of this region.

Furthermore, there´s a little something for everyone.  Which is good to keep in mind, as the first room, where they explain in painstaking detail what exactly constitutes a desert, is about as dry as a Mexican sugar cookie.  (That means it´s pretty dry.)

But hang in there, because it gets much better.  Saltillo is the capital of the state of Coahuila.  Coahuila´s current license plates boast a ferocious T-Rex, because there have been some pretty serious paleontological digs just about an hour away from Saltillo, and throughout the rest of the state.  Again, one of the beauties of the desert is that it preserves dinosaur remains.  IMG_1977

The Dinosaur Hall at the Desert Museum is a sight.  Visitors first view the life-size dinosaur skeletons from above, and then, after learning a bit more about the Jurassic age and whatnot, visitors amble among the dinosaur bones.  Yes, some are replicas, but some are the real deal, and from this very state.

After the dinosaurs, there is a nod to Coahuila´s mining industry.  The state´s current slogan, “Coahuila tiene energia”  has little to do with Coahuila´s limitless potential for wind and solar power.  No, it´s a boast about our coal mines.  Which tend to entomb a number of miners every year.

The next feIMG_2145w rooms are dedicated to the human presence in Coahuila, from a 10,000-year-old well-preserved footprint to the twenty-first century.  As in any Mexican museum´s race through history, the focal points are the native Indians who lived in the area and how they used the land, the culture clash when the Spanish moved in, and the blending of both cultures in the current, mestizo Mexico.

Passing a small art gallery, the Desert Museum shows off Coahuila´s native animals, all preserved in taxidermied glory.  I enjoy noting how they´ve captured animals in the middle of a hunt, posed forever mid-leap.  However, my children are terrified of this room, so the last few years we´ve been running through here as quickly as possible.  Also, it appears that a hunter who frequented African safaris donated much of his collection to the museum.  There is a nice spot for photo ops with a stuffed lion, giraIMG_1980ffe, and crocodile–despite the fact that such animals have never set foot in Coahuila.

Moving on from the dead animals, the Desert Museum mercifully has a small collection of live animals.  Because, really–could one have a credible Desert Museum without a collection of 20 snakes?  No, I don´t think so.  Since this is an excellent museum, visitors familiarize themselves with a variety of snakes, learning which are poisonous, and which are not; which might live nearby, and which are safely tucked away in Asia.

But if snakes give you the willies, close your eyes, run through the hall, and take a few deep breaths by the turtle lagoon.  That room is really a chance to showcase Coahuila´s native plants.  The turtles make the display more interesting.

IMG_2146Outside, more animals await.  First, the prairie dogs scurry about their colony.  However, they tend to avoid the heat of the day, so you´re only likely to see them early in the morning or later in the evening–unless your midday visit is in January, of course.   The museum also has two black bears, who were cubs rescued from forest fires in Arteaga four years ago.  The cactus nursery is the place to get souvenirs, provided the cactus won´t be leaving the country.  Finally, mountain goats bid visitors adios.   IMG_1984

For smaller visitors to the museum, there´s an interactive fountain with water near the bear enclosure.  Kids can climb on it, open and close gates on the fountain, channeling the water down various paths.  On hot days, another patio pours water on visitors in the style of a desert storm.  (So beware, unsuspecting adults!  If you hear thunder, run for cover.)  Furthermore, a museum tour can take the better part of the day, so there is a restaurant with a limited menu, for those who need it.  Or want it.   IMG_1991

For those with limited time in this area, I recommend the Desert Museum.  It´s more or less a three-hour  whirlwind tour of the region.  And for those who have years here at their disposal, for pity´s sake–visit the Desert Museum at least once!

If you´re like me, you´ll come back for more.

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So Many Holidays!

I´ve heard a number of people recently be bewildered about “how many holidays” we have in Mexico.

Now, I haven´t done an exact count (I will soon), but I´m willing to bet that the US has just as many holidays as Mexico.  They simply fall on different days, and if you´re not expecting them, I understand how they can catch one off guard.

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When do standard days off fall?

Days in bold are official holidays, and if one has to work on those days, holiday pay is legally required.

January 1–New Year´s Day

February 5–Constitution Day (now observed the Monday before the 5th)

March 21–Benito Juarez´s Birthday (observed the Monday before the 21st)

Thursday and Friday of Holy Week (before Easter)

May 1st–Labor Day

May 10th–Mother´s Day (doesn´t matter which day of the week the 10th falls on, nearly everyone gets off on the 10th)

May 15–Teacher´s Day (only schools are closed this day, most other people have to work)

September 16–Independence Day (some companies give both the 15th & 16th off)

November 2–Day of the Dead (lots of people do have to work this day, but then they´re                                entitled to holiday pay)

November 20–Anniversary of the Revolution (observed the Monday before the 20th)

December 12–Guadalupe Day (in this part of the country, it´s not observed much.  But                                    elsewhere in Mexico, most companies have Employee Appreciation Day on                              the 12th with open houses at the factories (no work))

December 25–Christmas Day

So if your housekeeper is asking for a paid day off and you think she´s crazy, check the list–I bet she knows her holidays!

(Note:  if you know that you´ve had a conversation with me on this subject, you´re right.  Its not just you.  I´ve had this conversation with a LOT of people in the last few months!)

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OK, so the official count is that Mexico has 10 official days off–not counting Guadalupe Day, Teacher´s Day, those little non-obligatory ones.  The US has 8 official days.  So I guess you´re right.  Mexico has more.  But not by much.

(Unless we count President´s Day and Martin Luther King Day as two seperate holidays.  However, since most people don´t get them both off, I lumped them together.)

January 1st                                                                                                                                     President´s Day/Martin Luther King Day                                                                                 Good Friday                                                                                                                               Memorial Day                                                                                                                                     July 4th                                                                                                                                               Labor Day                                                                                                                           Thanksgiving Day (and the following day)                                                                               Christmas Day

(While I´ve checked with my husband AND the 2015 Labor Calendar, please do correct me in the comments section if you see that I´m wrong or forgot a holiday.)

48 Hours in Saltillo

My apologies for not posting more frequently here, but I have been writing about Saltillo! If you´re interested in a virtual downtown Saltillo walking tour, read 48 Hours in Saltillo, published by Pink Pangea.

OK, Day One is the downtown walking tour.  For Day Two, I suggested the Desert Museum.  After all, if one would like to understand this area, but has limited time, the Desert Museum sums up this region well.

Below are more photos that Pink Pangea didn´t have the space to add:

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Plaza of Three Cultures (behind the state government building)
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Frog Fountain at the Alameda
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Lake (in the shape of Mexico) at the Alameda

And a collection from the Desert Museum:

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A Visit to the Sarape Museum

Every city in Mexico is famous for doing something well.  Toluca is famous for its chorizo. Therefore, people from Toluca are known as chorizeros.  Puebla is famous for its sweet potato candy (camotes).  Poblanos are nicknamed camoteros.  Here in Saltillo, the sarape is our claim to fame.  This is why the baseball team is the Saraperos.

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Saltillo boasts a lovely, little museum dedicated to the sarape.  Of course, the sarape is emblematic of Mexico as whole.  But from 1920 to about 1970, the sarape–and those who made them–distinguished themselves here in Saltillo.  At the museum, a video featuring sarape makers reminisced about the daily busloads of tourists from the US and Canada who would come to Saltillo.  They often left with a serape over their shoulder.

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Like much in Mexico, the serape´s history combines Indian traditions with colonial Spanish elements.  Farther south in Mexico, back in Aztec territory (think 16th century, of course), the Aztecs wore tilmas or a long, rectangular piece of cloth, knotted at one shoulder.  The colors and decorations of the tilma signified one´s rank in society.  At the same time in Spain, capes and mantas were popular.  The Spanish also brought sheep to Mexico.  Natives of the state of Tlaxcala have always been famous for textiles.  The sheep those Spanish imported gave the Tlaxcalan weavers more options.  This combination of Tlaxcala´s weaving tradition and Spanish wool gave birth to the serape.

Keep in mind that Tlaxcala is quite far from Saltillo.  It´s about due east of Mexico City.  But those Spaniards, like all colonizers, said to their allies, the Tlaxcalans, “gee–thanks for helping us overthrow the Aztec empire.  Do you think you could help us out again?  Way out north are these pesky nomadic tribes which are stopping us from establishing any permanent settlements out there. Think you guys would get them under control?  Then we´ll give you that land for your very own!”  Nevermind that the Spanish we staying in beautiful, green Tlaxcala and they were gifting the Tlaxcalans the desert in exchange. Much like the Indians in the southeast US who were forced to move west, many Tlaxcalans moved north, and Saltillo was originally known as New Tlaxcala.

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Long story short, that´s how Saltillo became famous for its sarapes.  The first two rooms of the Serape Museum explain this history, along with traditional patterns of sarapes.  Classic serapes tend to have multi-colored, zig-zag patterns.  Post-classic sarapes have more solid color backgrounds or multi-colored bands, and they began incorporating floral designs around the center diamond.

The third room of the museum explains how wool is dyed and the weaving process.  They display both the traditional backstrap loom that the Indians use, and the wood frame looms that came with the Spanish.  Furthermore, they have a collection of the natural ingredients used to make dyes, back in the day before synthetic dyes.

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A small room off the courtyard houses a collection of 14 sarapes, a sampling from the era between 1880-1945, and mostly from Saltillo, San Luis Potosí, and Aguascalientes.  Officially this is the end of the Sarape Museum.  Short and sweet, right?

Ah, but wait!  Just across the hallway is a long room, housing the collection of traditional costumes (trajes típicos).  Each region–possibly each state–has its own traditional costume.  Within a specific region, traditional dresses have marked similarities.  However, Mexico is a big country, so traditional clothing here in the north is a great deal different from traditional dress in the Yucatan.  Furthermore, there is a difference between traditional Indian clothing in a certain region and traditional mestizo clothing (that mix between Indian and Spanish, which more or less defines modern Mexico).  

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The first display has about 10 indigenous dresses from southern Mexico.  The second display explains how Mexico was an important key in the Spanish empire, linking Spain´s colony in the Philippines with Spain itself.  Therefore, traditional dresses along the southern coasts, where goods from Asia and Europe were exchanged, has some noted Asian influences.  Finally, the third collection displays clothing traditional to this region.  This is by no means a comprehensive collection of traditional clothing throughout the country.  Many regions are missing.  But it is a quality sampling, and helped me get a glimpse of the bigger picture.  

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This really would conclude a visit to the Sarape Museum, unless one were to visit on a day when the weaver is working.  The very first room, to the left of the main entrance doors, houses 4 or 5 looms.  Some days an octogenarian weaver sets up shop.  He´s not real chatty.  I learned that he´s been weaving sarapes for 70 years from the docent.  But his work is mesmerizing, and I could stand there for quite some time, watching him work.

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Where to find the Sarape Museum?

It is downtown, on Calle Allende #160, on the right side of the street, just passing Calle Guadalupe Victoria. There´s an excellent, $10-per-hour parking lot just across the street.  If you pass the Restaurant Tepanco or Calle Ramos Arizpe, you´ve gone too far.

If you´re coming from way out north, Calle Venustiano Carranza magically becomes Allende once you come downtown.  It´s more or less a straight shot.

They also have a website:  http://www.museodelsarape.com.mx, and you can “like” them on facebook.

Merry Christmas from Saltillo!

Now that the Christmas decorations have been up in the Plaza de Armas for almost a month, I thought it was high time to head down and see them.

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I get a little giddy taking in the height of that tree.  This year, the government toned down the decorations (no nativity scene, and the trees were a good deal less flocked than usual), but the tree and the wreaths on the government palace were nicely done.  Even better, Santa was on duty, taking pictures at 4pm on this Thursday afternoon!  I´ll take that over flocked trees–in the desert–any day.

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Needing a few things for my own decorations, we headed past the cathedral to the Francisco I. Madero Plaza, home to Saltillo´s Christmas market.   It´s a small affair, but if you need a Christmas tree, wrapping paper, lights that play tinny music, nativity scene figurines (including Satan and cabrito  roasting over a fire), or crateloads of moss for that nativity scene, this is the place for you!

100_5452 100_5453 100_5454 ¡Feliz Navidad, amigos!  We´ll see you again in 2015!

Ecotianguis–Saltillo´s market for all things natural and locally-made

This last Saturday, I wandered my way over to the ecotianguis, or Saltillo´s market for all things locally-made and natural.  It´s been one of my guilt-free Saturday pleasures off and on for a few years, ever since they opened the market outside of Avemed.  Currently, it´s located in the Biblioparque Norte.  However, in December, they´ll move to a new (yet undisclosed) location.  And there, they´ll be open every day–not just Saturdays!  Just in time for holiday shopping.  😉

100_5375  The ecotianguis is tucked away behind the tennis courts and soccer fields at the Biblioparque Norte.  These temporary premises are constructed with used pallets, clueing us into the organic nature of this market.  The back side of the market has a few raised vegetable beds and a composting bin.  After their move, the ecotianguis will continue this garden at the Biblioparque Norte, in addition to other classes they offer at the park.

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Entering the ecotianguis on the right, brightly tableclothed makeshift tables and mismatched handpainted stools greeted us.  The food vendors occupy this corner.  About 6 seperate vendors offer quesadillas, tamales, corn, enchiladas, and a wide variety of drinks and desserts.

100_5352                 100_5347Chilango-style corn and piña colada cake?  I think I will!

Past the food vendors, the remaining tables offer a variety of gifts, jewelry, skin products, organic fertilizer, soaps and essential oils, cheese, honey, organic eggs, pecans, apple licqueur, agave syrup, chia seeds, and amaranth–a little something for everyone!

Since I was being obnoxious with my camera, I chatted up nearly every vendor last Saturday.  They were all invariably friendly, and a few didn´t hesitate to make sure we got the most of our experience, in both English and Spanish.  From the little I saw, they were a supportive community, ready to draw our attention to a spectacular product that a colleague sells.  Given small size of the market and the variety of the products sold, collaboration seems to be the name of the game, as opposed to competition.

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So this holiday season, if you´re looking for those “made in Mexico” gifts to take home to family and friends, why not go a step further and shop at the ecotianguis for some high-quality “made in Saltillo” gifts?  Your loved ones then receive a useful and well-made present, and the money you spent on it stays right here in Saltillo, strengthening our community.

    100_5369     These essential oils and a gorgous line of homeade soaps are made by a fellow expat and her saltillense husband.  Find them on facebook or at http://www.dreamlandnaturals.com.

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Fresh cheese from the town of General Cepeda–a mere half hour away and famous for its cheeses!

100_5364 Agave syrup (a great sweetener, particularly for diabetics, I´m told) and amaranth.  Next to them was a table touting superfoods!  Superfood Man distributes an information-packed booklet on the wonders of superfoods, along with selling bags of superfood mixes.  It looked like a great addition to granola, smoothies, etc.

100_5363 Gifts for your favorite Frida Kahlo fan.

100_5360   Homeade crafts

100_5359 Beautiful wooden puzzles with a sweet message inside.

100_5358 Refrigerator magnets with great sayings.  I may have to buy the one that says,”I don´t have the strength to give up!”

However, “Here lives a lovely lady and an old grouch” is pretty tempting, too.

100_5357 Natural bug repellant

100_5356 Homeade soaps listing the benefits of their ingredients.

100_5353 Apricot jam

   100_5351 The patio of the ecotianguis.  This space is used for a number of events, classes, and talks.  I´ve seen a drum circle here, and I believe they had introductory yoga classes here every so often.

Update:  The ecotianguis will sponsor a Christmas bazaar on December 6th, from 10am to 5pm.  If any crafters or those with goods to sell would like a table, the cost is $150.  Otherwise, join me shopping at the ecotianguis that Saturday!

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The ecotianguis is open every day from 10-5.  I believe they have more offerings on Saturday, but they do offer yoga and other classes during the week.

Click on this link to friend the ecotianguis on facebook.  That way you can be in the know about any programs they offer.

Where is it?

Abasolo #3335, corner with Montes de Oca (across the street from Colegio Cumbres)

Cow Parade

100_5178Calle Guadalupe Victoria has some new tenants!

For a few weeks, Saltillo is hosting a “Cow Parade”.  This idea was begun in Switzerland and gained fame in Chicago 15 years ago or so.  Cities around the world have sponsored artists to paint these fiberglass cows and set them up on sidewalks throughout the city.

In Saltillo, instead of being interspersed throughout the city, they´ve been herded onto Guadalupe Victoria, within a block or two of the Alameda. Unfortunately, the art on these cows is not native to Saltillo.  Mexico City had these cows on parade in 2005 and they´re on loan here in Saltillo. They´re a fun addition, so swing by downtown before September 15th and see them!

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