Guadalupe Day in Saltillo

002A word of warning:  if anyone plans on going downtown this weekend, particularly on the streets just northwest of the Alameda, you might be sitting in traffic for much longer than usual.

Why?  Monday, December 12th, is the annual commemoration of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  All the little old (Catholic) ladies go nuts for her.  In fact, for many people in Saltillo, Guadalupe Day is a big, fat, hairy deal.

Why?  Nearly 500 years ago, Mexico was in the earliest stages of adjusting to Spanish colonial rule.  To put it lightly, the conquest was rather devastating for just about everyone 005involved.  Indians were being round up and enslaved.  There was even a debate going on about whether Indians had souls–after all, it´s much easier to enslave people if it´s possible to convince others that the people in question aren´t fully people.  (Oh, the horrible things people do for power.)

In the midst of all this turmoil, a man named Juan Diego was on his way to Mexico City when he was stopped on top of a hill by a vision of the Virgin Mary.  She asked him to go to the bishop and ask him to build her a church.  He kept trying to convince the bishop, but understandably, the bishop wasn´t about to build a church for everyone who waltzed through his door.  The bishop asked Juan Diego for some miraculous sign.  Guadalupe appeared to him again, telling him to go to the bishop one more time.  She told him to pick some roses growing on the hill for the sign the bishop asked for.  Roses weren´t native to Mexico, were blooming out 006of season, and had not been planted on that hill–all reason enough to constitute the necessary miracle, right?

Juan Diego gathered the roses in his tunic.  When he met with the bishop, he let his tunic fall open, showering the floor with roses.  Moreover, everyone in the room could see the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on his tunic.  All those present noted that this apparition appeared to be of an Indian woman, which effectively ended the debate of whether Indians were to be counted as fully human in the eyes of God.  Horrible things still happened to the native population, but at least those atrocities weren´t theologically justified.

Juan Diego´s  tunic is still on display in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, just about007 on the very spot where Juan Diego met Guadalupe.  However, since she is so popular all over Mexico, Saltillo has a Sanctuary to Guadalupe on Perez Treviño, just west of the Alameda.

So watch out if you´re headed that way!  Street vendors, food stalls, matlachines, and pilgrims will be blocking traffic all weekend.  But it´s a good time, too.  So–for those not faint of heart–come on down!  It´s a good time to buy a cup of champurrado and enjoy soaking in some culture.
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Matlachines come in and out all day long.  Bring earplugs, because I´m sure everyone inside loses a few decibels of hearing when they come thundering in!

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Saltillo´s Revolution Museum

Know what holiday we´re celebrating on Monday?  (OK, actually Sunday . . . always on the 20th.)

It´s the commemoration of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution!

Now, if you´re from the US like me, we tend to use the words for Independence and Revolution interchangeably.  We talk about the American Revolution when we talk about the US´s independence movement.  However, strictly speaking, the US´s independence movement wasn´t really a revolution.  Revolutions are more commonly classified when the peasants rise up and revolt against the powers that be.  In the US´s example, wealthy landowners rose up against the king.  Which was a big, fat, hairy deal.

But not a revolution, per se.

However, Mexico´s revolution was a revolution.  At the same time, part of it was wealthy landowners were throwing off the yoke of a dictator.  Also, a big, fat, hairy deal.  But not precisely a revolution.  But as those wealthy landowners threw out the dictator, the peasants also rose up, demanding basic human rights, land, and dignified treatment as citizens.  It was messy.  It was complicated.  That was a revolution.  As it all happened at the same time, with certain sides working together, then working against each other, then together again, and–what the heck–it was really each man for his own, we just call the whole mess the Mexican Revolution.

And I guarantee, I will oversimply the story here.   img_4423

Since this blog centers on Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, it makes sense to attempt to explain the Mexican Revolution by using by using Coahuila´s two most famous people as bookends.  To oversimplify:  Francisco I. Madero started the revolution and Venustiano Carranza ended it.

Throughout the end of the 19th century, Mexico´s president was Porfirio Díaz.  He was president for 30 years.  Suffice it to say, lots of people were sick of him being president.  Lots of journalists started agitating for a change in leadership.  However, under a dictatorship, that kind of talk doesn´t go real far.

 

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One of the Revolution Museum´s more impressive artifacts–a Madero´s wife´s´s copy of Madero´s book, On Presidential Succession, complete with a personal inscription.

Leading up to the 1910 presidential election, Francisco I. Madero threw in his bid for the presidency.  He was jailed for it (and his popularity), escaped and fled to Texas.  Finally, all the unrest surrounding this election caused Porfirio Díaz to resign, and Madero won the first free elections in decades.

Unfortunately, a little over a year later, Madero and his vice-president were assassinated in a coup.  Therefore, to this day, Madero is one of Mexico´s few non-controversial historical figures.  He´s one of Mexico´s best-known martyrs.  Everyone loves him.

This is where Venustiano Carranza comes in.  General Huerta was the guy who staged the coup and killed Madero.  In contrast to Madero, Huertaimg_4417 is Mexico´s undisputed villan–everyone still hates him.  So Carranza formed an opposition government to Huerta´s “official” government.

We could just say that Carranza´s forces fought Huerta´s forces for nearly 10 years, and that´s the end of the story.  But that´s too much of an oversimplification for even this short summary.

During this time period, much of Mexico´s land was owned by a few very wealthy families.  Their large tracts of land were organized into haciendas.  They were rather like the Mexican equivalent of the plantations of the US antebellum south.  While slavery in Mexico was abolished when the country won independence from Spain, the majority of people who worked on these haciendas were essentially slaves.  While they technically had legal rights, they had no way of excersizing those rights.  There wasn´t much of a middle class.  The majority of the country´s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few very rich families.  There were very, very many people who had next to nothing.  They were desperate.  They were angry.

That makes for a very dangerous combination.

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Carranza and his buddies, signing the Plan de Guadalupe, stating that they did not recognize Huerta´s government.

So while Madero and Carranza were busy turning Mexico´s political situation on its head, leaders like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led armies seeking significant social and economic changes (like breaking up those large haciendas and redistributing the land).

To be honest, there are so many ins and outs, intrigues, alliances and alliance-breaking among the many armies that took part in the Mexican Revolution, that I get a bit lost following the story.  Ánd, since I live in Coahuila, and Saltillo´s Revolution Museum focuses mainly on Coahuila´s heroes (Madero and Carranza), so I don´t know much about Villa, as both he and Zapata were staunchly against him.

To make a long story short, after 10 years of fighting, everybody was sick of it and eventually the revolution came to and end.  But, let´s be honest and admit that Carranza had a pretty heavy hand in squashing Zapata´s and Villa´s armies.

What lasting effects did the Revolution have?

  • The current constitution was adopted in 1917.  (This coming 5th of February will be its 100th anniversary.
  • The haciendas were, by and large, broken up.
  • Mexico has not had a dictator since Porfirio Díaz.  (The 70 years that the PRI was in undisputed power is a different story.  But, despite all that, no president has been in power for more than one term since the revolution.)
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You–what have you done to defend the conquests for which we gave our lives?

Want to learn more about the Mexican Revolution?

Visit the Mexican Revolution Museum on Hidalgo, in downtown Saltillo.  (Go up Hidalgo, past the cathedral, past the Casino, past a gorgeous house, and the museum will be the next building.)

If anyone is interested, but would need translation, throw me an email at saltilloexpats@gmail.com or jilldouglas01@hotmail.com

 

 

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The Revolution Museum also has two Bleriot airplanes on display from that era.

 

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Disclaimer:  yes, I left out about a billion crucial points.  Feel free to add in those important pieces of history that I omitted in the comments section.

The Truth About Living Abroad

Reposted with permission from eleeadventure.com

 

“It is the corrosive daily frustration, the inability to communicate or to establish meaningful relationships that is so soul-shrinking.” – Edward T. Hall in Beyond Culture

Living abroad. The romantic idea of it-men with accents, learning a second language, lower cost of living, expanding your horizons-is often nothing compared to the messy reality. What’s living abroad really like? Here’s the truth, according to me and my three years of living in Saltillo, Mexico:

1. It’s exhausting. My Spanish is good and I don’t have to “translate in my head” anymore or formulate mental responses before I speak. However, speaking Spanish will never be second nature, like speaking English is. It will always cause some level of discomfort or nervousness or second-guessing, and that is precisely why living in Mexico is exhausting. At the end of a long day where I had little or no interaction in English, I can look back and tell you the conversations that caused me a considerable amount of stress.

One might be with someone new. I haven’t had enough interactions with them to determine  if they’re a fast/slow or clear/unclear speaker, if they use a lot of slang, what sort of accent they have, etc., so I’m kept on the edge of my seat and don’t let myself mentally relax at all. A second example of a conversation that causes me stress are those in more formal situations, like at the bank, at immigration, or the time when I had to file a police report over a stolen credit card. I often find myself begging Carlos to accompany to places like this when I know there might be lots of specialized vocabulary used in the transaction that I’m not very familiar with.

If I’ve had one or two of those conversations in the same day and also gone to work that day (100% Spanish), it leads to one tired Emily, which leads me to my next point…

2. It’s isolating. If I’ve had a mentally exhausting day, or worse, a mentally exhausting week, I try to avoid any unnecessary Spanish interactions (i.e. get-togethers with friends, parties, etc.) until I feel mentally prepared again. Sometimes it only takes me a few minutes to recharge, but sometimes it can take days. While I’m recharging, I like to exercise, go to Starbucks and HEB by myself, read, and hang out with Carlos. I know this feeling of needing to recharge stops me from hanging out with friends sometimes or taking as much initiative in my relationships as I otherwise might, and that makes me sad. Am I protecting myself and trying to prevent cross-cultural burnout? Yes. Is there a better way to do it that wouldn’t leave me feeling so alone? Probably, but I haven’t been able to find that balance yet.

3. Your “sense of belonging” is seriously skewed. It’s one thing to out of place in Mexico, but at the end of the day, I’m not Mexican and never will be. I feel out of place when I use my turn signals while driving, when I wear shorts to the gym, and when I defend Republican politicians. I feel out of place when I don’t wear make-up (so, 5-6 days a week), or heels to a wedding, and when I still have to recite the Lord’s prayer in English every week at church. Yes, it’s one thing to feel out of place in Mexico; perhaps it’s even expected. But what I wasn’t prepared for was feeling that I don’t belong anymore in Texas. I’m thankful that my immediate family and close friends “get it.” Some of them have seen where I live and where I work and they know how Mexico has changed me and why I love it. But it never fails that at least once when I’m in Texas for a visit, I have a conversation with someone who asks about my job and I tell them that I work with underprivileged kids at a community center, where we show them the love of God and try to give them the tools to stay in school. And then their response is something like, “Wow, cool. So did you know we’re getting a new Starbucks in Round Rock?”

I really don’t fault anyone who hasn’t experienced life in a developing country. It isn’t for everyone, and just because I’m doing it doesn’t make me a saint or martyr or cooler than you. My point is that sometimes, when trying to share from the heart about why living in Mexico has changed my life, I’m met with blank stares and responses like the above one. And that makes me wonder if I’ll ever completely belong anywhere again.

4. You miss out on a lot. I’m very fortunate that Saltillo is within driving distance of Austin. However, I’ve had a full-time job the whole time I’ve lived here, and pretty much the only holidays and long weekends that line up the same in both countries are Christmas and New Years. That means I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in 4 years, and Austin is just a couple of hours too far to drive home for a normal weekend or to celebrate a birthday.

I just gave you four reasons why living abroad is hard. So why do I do it?

Well, I live here by choice. No one made me come, and no one is forcing me to stay. I am married to a Mexican, own a house here, and have a job, yes, but I know that if I told Carlos, “I absolutely can’t do this anymore,” we would find a way to move to the U.S. ASAP. I stay because living in Mexico has made me better for four main reasons.

First, it has made my mind sharper by having to switch back and forth between Spanish and English on a daily basis. Secondly, it’s made me more confident socially; I tell myself that if people think I’m weird, overeager, or ask a lot of questions, they’ll probably just chalk it up to the fact that I’m American. Third, it has made me more observant: I have studied and subsequently learned Mexico’s social rules and customs enough to fit in. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it has broadened my worldview. The world and its wonders, problems, and triumphs is so much bigger than the U.S., and I see that now firsthand.

If you live abroad, you’re going to struggle, whether it be with the things I’ve found difficult or with others. It’s inevitable. It won’t be all foreign accents and cheap street food and “oh my gosh Spanish/Italian/French is so beautiful and romantic-sounding.” But if you can find a way to appreciate the foreign accents and, in my case, tacos, and the way you can express yourself better in said language than English on certain occasions, then you might just make it living abroad. And you might do more than make it-you might craft a life more beautiful and stretching and full than you could have ever imagined.

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Need a Coahuila Driver´s License?

I had to renew my driver´s license the other day.  When I got to the Department of Motor Vehicles, it turned out that they had changed addresses, and only listed “Torre Saltillo” as their new address.

I had no idea where Torre Saltillo was.

Fortunately, I had a few ideas, and they turned out to be pretty good ones.  So, to save others hours of aimless wandering, the new address for the License Office is on the north side of the Periferico Luis Echevarría Alvarez, between Torre Saltillo (a very tall building occupied by saltillo-dmvBanorte) and Starbucks–the Starbucks right next to Pour le France.  It´s a much better location than the previous one by the jail.

But, back to the original question–do you need a Coahuila driver´s license?  Permanent residents officially have one year after being issued permanent residency to apply for a Mexican driver´s license.

If one is not a permanent resident, one can´t get a Coahuila driver´s license.  No worries– any valid foreign driver´s license is valid here, too.

A driver´s license costs $599 pesos and is valid for 2 years.

What do you need for a first-time Coahuila license?

  • valid passport
  • document that says is residing legally in Mexico (also known as a visa)
  • proof of address (electric bill, phone bill, water bill, etc.)
  • driving certificate (valid foreign license will do.  Otherwise, the applicant will have to take a driving test.)
  • $599
  • as with all government documentation, it is wise to bring copies of everything

License Renewal Requirements?

  • expired license (my husband warned me that they might not renew the license before it was expired.  So I was uninsured for a week before I remembered to get myself to the License Office.)
  • visa (and copy)

When I went, there was someone standing by the door, eager to direct all applicants to the right window.  I brought my visa, but forgot to bring a copy of it.  Fortunately, there was a house across the street that happily made a copy for a peso.  DSCN0170

After I turned in the copy of my visa and expired license, they gave me the bill for the new license.  I headed across the street to the Banorte, stood in line to pay those $599, and brought the bill with the reciept attached back to the License Office.  (Be sure to pay at Banorte, and don´t waste your time standing in line at the place that looks like they accept payments for the city or state government next door.  They can´t accept payment for driver´s licenses.)

After turning in the proof of payment, I sat in front of the camera, and recorded my digital thumbprint and digital signature.  Five minutes later, the new license was hot off the press, and I was good to go!

license

There is a parking lot in front of the License Office, but it looked like it was a paid lot, and the neighborhood doesn´t seem the least bit shady and doesn´t have heavy traffic, so the lot was empty while everyone parked on the street.

And that´s the skinny on getting a Coahuila driver´s license!

 

Back to School: in Mexico!

All around the world, it´s that time of year.  All of us who have school-aged children are battling the crowds, shopping for notebooks, pencils, and uniforms.  School is school the world over, right?

Yes it is.  However, when I first came to Mexico, there were a few customs that threw me through a loop, and life would gone more smoothly with prior warning.

 

So, without further ado, here´s my Mexican Back to School To Do List:

Forrar librosIMG_4155

Once kids are in elementary school, they have at least 5 notebooks and 5 textbooks (likely more) that all need to be covered.  The notebooks need to be color-coded, according to subject, and then sealed with contact paper.  The textbooks also need to be preserved for all time with the help of contact paper.

Has anyone else noticed how contact paper gets static electricity and takes on a mind of its own?  Yes it does.  It makes this never-ending job all the
more tedious.

On the bright side, I have heard that some papelerías offer book-covering services for $50 or less.  That´s $50 well spent.  They just need to advertise better on my side of town!

 

Stock up on newspapers

Homework  for kids in preschool and early elementary school often consists of bringing in magazine or newspaper cutouts.

  • Bring in cutouts of musical instruments.
  • Bring in 10 cutouts of people waving hello or goodbye.
  • Bring in 10 words that start with the letter C.
  • Bring in 5 cutout triangles.
  • Bring in 10 proper names.

Apparently, there is no end of things kids can be asked to cut out.  Now, if I were to let my 5-year-old use the scissors and look for all 10 of those letter Cs himself, we could easily spend hours and hours on kindergarten homework.  To facilitate things, I have him look for one (and sometimes help point it out) and he cuts out the first one (to work those fine-motor skills, of course).  Then I cut out a number of words, about a third of which start with C.  Out of the words I cut out, I ask him to identify which ones start with C, so then he can pick them out and glue them in his notebook.

And then he cuts words out here and there as he sees fit, as that boy loves scissors.

In the end, the homework gets done in a timely manner, and the kid works both his brain and his fingers a bit.  Win-win.

 

Cleaning supplies imagen1 1035.JPG

In the list of school supplies that the teachers give out every year, there is always that odd addition:  4 rolls of toilet paper.

The following week, we are then hit up to donate some bleach and mop soap.  Maybe this is just a public school thing (but I doubt it).  See, for public schools in Mexico, the government builds the building and pays the teachers.  The parents are responsible for the rest–primarily, maintaining the school building.  That donation that they ask for every year for the Parents´ Association?  That money is very necessary, paying for the school´s telephone bill, ink for the printer, repairs that need to be made throughout the year, etc.

So every couple of months, kids go to school, armed with a package of toilet paper.  Hands-down, it´s one of the more essential school supplies.

 

Fingernail Checks

This doesn´t happen at my kids´ public schools, but I´ve heard that some private schools will write notes home, chastizing the parent if a child has very long fingernails.  If they´re long enough to gather dirt, they´re at risk for the Fingernail Note!

Once upon a time, I worked at a children´s home, taking care of elementary aged kids. Those kids were sent back home if their fingernails were too long!  Watch out!

 

Other Quirks

Last Friday of the Month

A few years ago, it was mandated by the Secretary of Public Education that the last Friday of every month be set aside for teacher inservice days.  So, all public school students (and I believe most private school students) have the last Friday of every month free.

End of School?

The last day of school in Mexico has always been a bit of an enigma.  Even when I was a
teacher, I had no set date when the last day of school would be, because it´s possible for private schools to be finished a week or two before the official last day of school set by the government.  However, each school needs an official visit from the SEP by the end of the year, for them to determine if the students reached their academic goals (and could therefore be done for the year).

Things get even trickier this year, because it appears that the SEP is giving schools the option of having a longer school day, and having a 185-day school year.  Or schools can stick to their regular hours and use the 200-day calendar.  So the last day of school is either June 27th OR July 18th–depending on your school.

Since my son´s school day has been extended, but my daughter´s hasn´t, it seems one kid will start summer vacation in June and the other in mid-July.  Awesome.

 

But we´ve got 190 more days of school to get through first, so let´s enjoy them!

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Sidenote:  I haven´t had any experience with Mexican junior high and high schools yet–is there anything else at those levels I should prepare myself for?  (Besides the whole, “I have a teenager” thing, of course.)

Is there anything else with the Back-to-School season that throws you for a loop?  Let me know in the comments section!

 

Moving To Saltillo

Hi! Let me introduce myself, my name is Lisa, and I will be guest blogging here once in a while about my experience moving to Mexico.

I have lived in Saltillo now for about a year and a half. I knew for most of a year before the actual move happened that I would be coming; so I had plenty of time to research, and thankfully I did. At the time, this wonderful site did not exist, however, I found Jill after weeks of searching. Thankfully she is a wonderfully  kind and patient person who answered all of my crazy questions!

My first question to Jill was basically “Where should I live?” At this time, I had never even been to Mexico. NEVER, not for spring break, not for vacation, never.  I had no actual intention of  coming to Mexico in my life, but when my husband called one day from work and mentioned he had been offered a position at the plant here in Mexico, that all changed.  This was also our first ex-pat assignment. We had moved from our home state of Michigan to North Carolina, not even two years before. Moving any time makes you think, where is the best place to live in that new area. Asking people’s opinions on where to live is always a great place to start.

 

My situation moving with a company could be different than yours, people move here for many different reasons, work, retirement, marriage, to name a few. When moving with a company usually they have some restrictions on where you can live, or what kind of allowance you have for housing. Also the location of your work could affect where you would want to live. Many expats live in the north of Saltillo, mostly because of proximity to work. There are a few that live in Centro (downtown), and a few that live in the south,but the greatest number of us live inthe north.068

That being said, my experience is based on living in the north end of town and renting a house. There are options here to live in a gated community or a house not in a gated community. Many houses on the street will have gated garages and entrances, so that someone can not just come and knock on your front door, they would need to ring a door bell, then you would have to let them in the gate and then into your house. In a gated community there are usually guards at the gate that will monitor who comes and goes, but once someone is in the community they can knock on your front door.

Another option are apartments.  There are few furnished apartments for rent. My husband lived in one of the furnished apartments while we were in the transition to full time in Mexico. The one he stayed in came with amaid service, as well as refilling of paper products, and clean sheets every few days.

Some companies have real estate agents they have a partnership with, other companies do not. One thing you need to remember is, the real estate agents will not show you every available house.  Usually, they will show you only the houses they have listed, or their connections have listed.

I really enjoyed looking at houses here in Saltillo, since they are so different than houses I had the chance to see before. I hope you enjoy them too! And best of luck finding the right fit for you.

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If you´re not currently in Saltillo, but want an idea of what houses for rent are like, click here.  Even if your Spanish is nonexistent, scroll through the pictures and enjoy the range of options available!

Museum of Coahuilan Presidents

 

During Spring Break, I took my visitors through the Sarape Museum, and they were still game for more museums.  (My favorite kind of visitors!)  We were hanging out in the Plaza de Armas, so I suggested that we wander through the Museum of Coahuila’s Presidents, which is located in the back corner of the state government building.

Now, for years, I assumed that the state building was off-limits for the public.  Then one day, I was at the Plaza de Armas with a friend and her preschooler had to use the bathroom.  She just waltzed past the security guards at the entrance and that kid was able to use a beautiful, clean, free, public toilet!047

So don´t shy away from entering the state government building on the Plaza de Armas.  The metal detectors and guards are a little intimidating, but it´s well worth a visit.  One reason for visiting is the Museum of Coahuila’s Presidents, which occupies one corner.  Like most of Saltillo’s government-run museums, it´s tiny.  If one reads fast (or doesn’t have enough Spanish to read much), a visit can take 5-10 minutes.IMG_3819

However, if visitors do like to read, it´s a pleasant way to spend a small portion of an afternoon.

Despite the massive size of this state, Coahuila has never had a large population.  So there haven´t been many of presidents from this state.  I guessed that they´d have a lot of displays of Madero and Carranza, and I wasn’t wrong.  (Both were presidents during the Mexican revolution 100 years ago.  Essentially, Madero started the Mexican Revolution, and Carranza was instrumental in ending it.)  What Coahuila doesn’t have in population, it makes up for in larger-than-life leaders!

The second part of the museum seemed to go off on a tangent, singing the praises of
IMG_3821Coahuila’s governors.  Since the museum is called Museo de Presidentes Coahuilenses, does that mean that it focuses on Mexican presidents who were originally from Coahuila, or those who were “president” of the state of Coahuila?  (Otherwise called governors–and I´m not just getting lost in translation.  The word is the same in English and Spanish!)

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Whatever the case, for those who have ever wondered who Perez Treviño and Nazario Ortiz Garza were–major streets are now named after these men–look no further.  This museum will clue us in.

The museum has a third gallery, housing rotating exhibits.  At the moment, there are a collection of photographs and some costumes celebrating matachines.  No festival in Coahuila is complete without a group of matachines, so it was an appropriate exhibit in the state government building.

 

 

However, that which makes a visit inside the state government building most worthwhile isn’t even in the museum.  On entering the government palace, look up, or go up a flight of stairs.  On the second story is a fantastic mural highlighting key events in history and a few of Coahuila’s most famous citizens.

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That mural will bring me back inside the government building.  That, and the free restrooms.  But I’ll swing through the museum before or after, so they’ll continue to keep the restrooms open to the public.

Mexican Visas–the Nitty Gritty

I field a number of questions about visas–which to get, how to get them, how long they´re good for, etc.  I used to be good at answering these questions, but then Mexican immigration changed a lot of the parameters since I applied for my visa.

So now I´m basically clueless.  My apologies for my lack of solid information.

However, our friends over at Expats in Monterrey made a handy chart–in English!  So go over and check them out here.

Plus, they also give some great ideas for a weekend in Monterrey!

Parras de la Fuente

Parras.jpg When I´m itching to get out of town, Parras de la Fuente is my easy getaway of choice.  Only two hours from Saltillo, it makes for a great daytrip.  Sometimes it´s nice to stay for a whole weekend, too.

Parras is officially recognized as a Pueblo Magico by the federal government.  This means that the town is charming, has some attractions, is graffiti-free, and often gets crowded on weekends and during Holy Week.  Crowds do abound over Holy Week, particularly Easter weekend, but on average weekends it´s a quiet, charming place to visit.  However, if one plans to stay overnight, make reservations ahead of time, especially during the warmer months.   There are only 4 hotels in town, and they can fill up quickly.

What is there to do in Parras?376

  • Casa Madero–the oldest winery in the Americas.  Casa Madero is the main reason my family frequents Parras as often as we do.  Often we go all the way to Parras with the sole purpose of bringing home a case of wine.  While Casa Madero´s bodega doesn´t offer tastings, they do offer tours with very knowledgeable guides.  They explain the wine-making process, from growing the grapes, juicing them, and the fermentation process.  They also distill brandy on the property, and include the distillery on the tour.

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    Touring Casa Madero

As wine tastings are not provided at Casa Madero, which wines should one buy there?  (Given the expectation that everyone would want to take a bottle, or five, home with them, of course.)  Honestly, I haven´t had a bad wine from Casa Madero.  My favorite is their merlot.  The chardonnay and cabernet suavingnon are also very good.

 

  •   Estanquillo de la Luz–Parras boasts a number of reservoirs for 384public swimming.  This is the only one I´ve tried.  But I love it so much, I may never try another!  The 9-foot deep, crystal-clear, chemical-free pool would make a beautiful setting for the Olympic games, with the church on the hill, Santo Madero, towering majestically over the reservoir.

Entrance to the reservoir is 203insanely affordable, a mere $15 for adults.  We like to live it up and rent a palapa for the day, so we have some shade, benches to sit on, a table to use, and a grill.  That sets us back a whole $50 for the day.  They do charge for parking, but the lot is locked, and again, the price is negligable.  They also charge for bathrooms, but that´s also about $3.  Despite all the nickle-and-diming, it´s a very affordable day away!

They rent innertubes and life jackets, and, for those who don´t bring food to grill, there is a little store stocked with chips, candy, and gorditas.  Beer is permitted as long as it´s not in glass bottles.  For little kids who don´t swim well, there is a playground area and a kiddie pool with slides.  The kiddie pool can get very slippery, but even after some spectacular falls on the painted concrete, my kids still love it.

When I want to pretend that I´m at a resort, but not pay a resort price tag, this is the place to go!

  • La Casona–my favorite restaurant in Parras.  But, much like Estanquillo de la Luz, this is just about the only restaurant we´ve ever tried in Parras.  It´s such a winner, we feel no need to try anywhere else.

We go for their carne asadas.  They do have tables inside, but it´s much more enjoyable to sit outside in the patio, to listen to the sizzle of the grill and smell the smoke when the wind blows in the wrong direction.  Just order a package that includes various cuts of beef, frijoles charros, and guacamole.  They´ll happily provide as many tortillas as necessary.  My family has spent many delicious afternoons there.

 

More

While in Parras, stop at one of the many candy stores.  Parras is known for their pecan-based and milk based candies.  I stock up on canelones, a milk candy that´s covered in powdered cinnamon.  My sister-in-law is always in search of ate de membrillo.  Most candy stores also stock dessert licqueurs that are made in town or elsewhere in the region.

Most people also climb to the top of Santo Madero, the church that is on the top of the hill, which overlooks the whole town (it´s hard to miss!).  However, I tend to spend too much time letting the fish nibble on my toes at the reservoir, so I´ve never been to the top of Santo Madero.  One of these days . . .

Some weekends, people set up stalls in the Plaza del Reloj and sell handicrafts, candy, and hippie jewelry.  The tourism secretary also runs a sight-seeing trolley, which I believe leaves from that plaza, too.  The trolley is another one of those things that I´d like to do, but still haven´t done there.

Thank goodness Parras is so close!  Because I will certainly get back there and have the chance to check out all I´ve failed to do yet.

 

Casa Madero, Parras, Coahuila
Wine maturing at Casa Madero.

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Where is Parras?

Smack between Saltillo and Torreón.  Take the highway going to Torreón, and get off at the Parras exit.  Easy peasy.

Where is Casa Madero?

Once you´ve turned off the highway, you´ve got about 15 minutes to go to reach the town of Parras.  Casa Madero is about halfway between the highway and Parras.  As the road passes through some vineyards, you´ll see white walls with a white gate just before the road curves left.  That´s Casa Madero.

Where is Estanquillo de la Luz?

Upon entering Parras, the road all but dead ends.  The center of Parras is to the right.  Keep on that road until just about the end of town.  There should be some signs, but when it looks like you´re just about out of town, turn left.  The road should go pretty sharply uphill, and the Estanquillo de la Luz is at the top.  (I´ll get better directions the next time I go.)

Where is La Casona?

The main plaza is Plaza del Reloj.  Walk to the backside of the church on this plaza, and you should see another plaza, one with a kiosk.  Facing the kiosk with the church behind you (there will be another church on the left side of the plaza from this direction), turn right, walk down the street, and La Casona will be on the left.  A hotel is across the street from La Casona.  Sta. Isabel, I believe?

The Tools to Make It Through

Kids whose families are struggling face tremendous pressure to find a job, forcing far too many students to consider dropping out of school to work full-time, even before they´ve finished junior high.

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Many rally to that article in the Constitution that declares every Mexican child is entitled to a free education.  But the reality of public education is that the government pays the teachers´ salaries and the construction of the school building.  The parents are responsible for the maintenance of that building.  So when the school asks for supplies, they often ask for toilet paper and bleach more often than they ask for paper and pencils.

Every school has a registration fee, in the name of parents´ association dues, to maintain the building.  Then teachers ask for bleach, toilet paper, and sanitary napkins, and $10 to $20 pesos every few weeks to keep the school functioning.  Add in the cost of school supplies, uniforms, and backpacks, and this quickly becomes overwhelming!

How do parents who struggle to put food on the table manage?

Seeing the need of these struggling students, the Christian Relief Fund (CRF), founded the community center last year, with the help of a group of full-time volunters from Ft. Worth.  The Christian Relief Fund provides funds for sponsored students to pay their school fees and school supplies, taking some pressure off of parents and providing a safe and supportive place for students to spend their afternoons.

CRF Saltillo birthdays
Celebrating a birthday.

So the community center got the word out, sent around questionnaires for interested families, and those families in the most need now receive uniforms, school supplies, and school fees from the Christian Relief Fund, as well as enrollment at the community center on a regular basis for homework help and enrichment classes.  In Saltillo, the Christian Relief Fund currently sponsors 104 children.

The center is open every afternoon, Monday through Friday, and on Saturday mornings.  Kids can drop in to do their homework and use the computers.  They begin organized activities every afternoon with a short IMG_7628devotion and songs.  Then they offer English classes, grammar classes, reading workshops, a career exploration class, and–everyone´s favorite–a “trip around the world” class, exploring different countries.  A number of the moms like to join in for that one!  On Friday afternoons, they take it easier, playing games and watching movies.  Saturday mornings, they serve breakfast and make crafts, in addition to holding a solid class or two.

The children who attend the community center need to be sponsored by the Christian Relief Fund.  Sponsored students are required to keep up their grades, write letters to their sponsors, and must visit the center at least once a month.  However, many of the kids come just about every day.  A number of the kids´ moms help organize snacks, maintain the building, and participate in classes of their own.

In just over a year, they´ve already met with some sucess stories.  Brian was a bit of a troublemaker in the spring.  The community center offered a day camp program during the summer, and Brian–despite his tendency to cause trouble–came every day.  However, by the end of the summer he was volunteering to serve snacks to the other kids, possibly noticing that he got more attention by being helpful than by causing problems.

CRF Saltillo
A rock climbing field trip during summer camp in August at “La Maquinita”.

While the classes offered by the center are largely secular, the Christian Relief Fund does want this to be a place where participants can learn about God, so they begin the afternoon reading a Bible story and singing praise songs together.  Now, for those who have spent any time in “church-y” circles in Mexico, it´s abundantly clear that Catholics and Protestants mix like oil and water.   So, given the evangelical nature of this project, is the community center more welcoming to Protestant kids?  Not at all!  Of the current, full-time directors, one is Catholic, one is Protestant, and the third is at home in both camps.  It´s encouraging to know that the leadership within this organization is taking a step to stop this inter-religious polarization.  Thanks to the example of the directors, the kids who attend have the chance to learn about God together–regardless of their denomination.

Knowing that expats–particularly accompanying spouses–have a need to get out and get involved in the community, I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities at CRF Saltillo.  They have a real need for a psychologist on a regular basis.  Also, given the number of classes they offer every afternoon, they´d be happy to have volunteers to teach on a regular basis.  They already offer English, and anyone with any kind of passion might be welcome to share that passion with the kids.  For example, they used to have a dance teacher.  But she is no longer able to come.  Is anyone willing to fill that void?

CRF Saltillo
A visitor, talking about her job as a journalist (the kids are looking at samples of her articles that she passed around).

If one´s time is more limited, come and share for their career class.  This involves coming in once, for one afternoon, and talking about one´s chosen field of work.  It´s hard to convince kids to study engineering if they have no idea what an engineer does!

And, of course, the CRF community center would love to have more kids sponsored!  There are currently 14 kids on the community center´s waiting list, and they could easily find more.  To sponsor a child, check out the Christian Relief Fund´s webpage here.

For kids who are thinking about dropping out of school in junior high, and the fact that high school does become an even bigger financial burden, the CRF community center in Saltillo makes it possible for kids to stay in school, when they might otherwise drop out to look for a job.  A high school graduate is now able to continue her studies at the university level–an opportunity she would not likely have been able to take advantage of, without the help she received from the Christian Relief Fund.

The more education kids get, the more likely they are to break the cycle of poverty.  The Christian Relief Fund´s community center is Saltillo is making some serious strides to give these kids the means to a better life.

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photo credits:  Emily Garcia

 

 

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