Archive for November, 2013

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5 Tips for Getting a Mexican Visa in Puebla

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

A sign at the INM office in Puebla.Dealing with “public servants” in any country, under any circumstances, can be a hassle at best. Applying for, or renewing, an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa* in Mexico rarely disappoints on this front. Two or three trips to the Instituto Nacional de Migración office in Puebla are pretty much a given, and if anything is amiss, four or five visits aren’t unheard of. Chalk it up to federal bureaucracy.

If that sounds like a pain, keep in mind that you, a foreigner, are asking for permission to linger in a country for which you do not hold a passport. For Americans, the process in Mexico is relatively straightforward and inexpensive — and generally far less intimidating than — what most Mexicans must endure simply to set foot in the United States.

The INM this month granted my request to reside in Mexico permanently, which means no more paperwork, fees, or trips to the immigration office for me (unless I lose my green card). Hooray! But running the gauntlet one last time and commiserating with other expats got me thinking about how frustrating, even intimidating, it can be to navigate the system. So, I thought I’d share a few basic tips based on my experience, in the hopes it makes applying for a visa in Puebla easier for others.

1. Enlist help. The first thing you need to know is that the INM does not make much useful information available in English, so it’s a good idea to get someone you trust who speaks Spanish fluently to assist you. Be wary of the English-speaking lawyers who linger around the INM office. Our friend Lewis hired one to help him and, after six weeks of doing very little, he says, the lawyer’s colleague tried to charge him double the original quote of 2,500 pesos. Another friend relied on her employer’s legal department to stay on top of her visa’s renewal, which proved to be an even costlier error. Don’t make the same mistakes yourself. If you haven’t broken any rules, such as overstaying your welcome, you probably don’t need a lawyer, just a reliable translator.

2. Visit the INM. Ample information about Mexico’s visa requirements is available online in Spanish on the INM’s website. (There’s even a goofy video tutorial.) General information about migratory documents is available online in English from the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. However, you may save yourself time (and potential headaches) by going directly to the INM office in Puebla. Staff and volunteers at the Information Window can explain what you need to do given your personal situation. Simply tell them what you aim to do, such as renew a visa or petition to change your status, and politely ask for a list of the documents you need to submit to complete the task. Note that you do not need to take a number and sign in to visit to the Information Window; you only do so when you come back to turn in all of your paperwork.

3. Ask questions. Take your time at the Information Window. If you don’t understand what’s required of you, keep asking questions until you do. During my most recent visit, a volunteer even walked me through the online registration process on a computer in the waiting area, so I could go home and repeat the process, print out my completed forms, and make copies of them. Currently, most of the visa application process must been done online in Spanish; if you don’t have access to a computer, you can go to one of several Internet cafes nearby, rent web-browsing time, and print documents for a fee.

4. Obey the rules. You are required to submit your application and payment to the INM before your current visa expires; once you’re in the government’s system, you’re on record as being in the country legally, even if you don’t receive your new visa until after the old one expires. (That said, I wouldn’t try to leave the country without the new visa in hand.) To formally apply for a visa, take everything that’s required of you — your original documents, receipts, and copies of them, plus color photos of yourself — to the immigration office, get a number from the security guard at the front door, sign in, take a seat, and wait to be called. If everything’s in order, you’re done. If something’s amiss, you’ll have to address the issue as directed and come back later.

5. Follow up. Once you’ve met all of the requirements, your case will be entered into the system and assigned a number. You should follow its progress online, where you’ll be notified when to come back and pick up your visa. The process typically takes two weeks, but this may vary based on the volume of requests the INM is handling at any given moment.

The INM office in Puebla, located at Avenida Reforma #1907 in Col. Barrio San Matías, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Would you like to share your tips for making the visa-application process easier (or recommend an English-speaking assistant in Puebla)? If so, please leave a reply below.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

* U.S. citizens are typically allowed to stay in Mexico as tourists for 180 days at a time without a formal visa; the allowances for visitors of other nationalities vary. The number of days that you, personally, may remain here are written on the paper tourist card you received when you entered the country. You must leave — or go to an INM office to request an extension — before this time period elapses. If you are a citizen of a country for which the INM requires a tourist visa, you must apply for one at the Mexican Embassy or Consulate nearest you before traveling to Mexico.

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Going Off the Beaten Path in La Mixteca of Puebla

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Puente de DiosThis is a guest post by Margie Hord de Méndez, a Canadian expat who grew up in Honduras and has lived in Mexico for the past 40 years. She lives and works, as a teacher and a translator, in Puebla.

La Mixteca is a mostly arid zone in the southern part of the state of Puebla, where many communities still speak Mixtec, although Popoloca and Nahuatl are also prevalent. It’s not the kind of place I’d choose to live, because it’s known for scorpions, and at certain times of the year the dry heat can be oppressive. However, my husband’s family is from La Mixteca, and the region — which stretches into Oaxaca and Guerrero — has its own kind of surprising beauty, like the bright pink blossoms of the árboles de cabello (ginkgo biloba trees), with their hanging tresses, in winter. Near the rivers, some of which only have water part of the time, one can find the treasures of mango and other fruit trees.

One seldom sees international tourists in La Mixteca, but there are numerous sites of interest. Acatlán de Osorio is well-known for its pottery, especially figures of the sun and the moon and “trees of life” that represent Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Near Tehuacán, the biosphere reserve offers a wealth of ecological diversity; it includes the Jardín Botánico Helia Bravo Hollis, a fascinating garden where one can wander around and learn about the surprising variety of cacti and other desert flora and their medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. There is even a huge, ancient elephant’s foot tree (some 2,500 years old!). The species is considered sacred in Japan, and a Japanese prince is said to have had his ashes deposited here.

In Tepexi de Rodríguez, the Museo Regional Mixteco-Tlayúa displays fossils found in a nearby marble quarry, including marine animals, providing evidence that there was once an ocean in this desert. Previously, the site was known as pie de vaca (cow’s foot) museum, because of preserved footprints similar to those of cows, but experts now know they were left by now-extinct mammals related to camels. Though small and unassuming, this museum is important because of its fish and reptile fossils from the Mesozoic period.

Another sign of long-gone oceans is Zapotitlán Salinas, located in the biosphere, where salt water springs. The water is left to pool until it evaporates and the salt can be harvested. In a shop on the federal highway (125 from Tehuacán), we found artisanal bags of salt with different herbs or flavors, like garlic, added. The store also offered burnished pottery from nearby Los Reyes Metzontla, which is crafted by the Popoloca community using pre-Colombian techniques and has a unique, unadorned style.

ChigmecatitlánOn the way south, along the Puebla-Tepeaca highway (federal 150), is a turn-off that leads to the town of Molcaxac. A few kilometers beyond the town, it’s easy to miss the dilapidated signs indicating the way to the Cola de Caballo (Horsetail) waterfall and the Puente de Dios (God’s Bridge, pictured above), further down the Atoyac River. At the latter, visitors may park and, on foot, begin the long descent down hundreds of steps to the river below. Gradually, the climate seems to change and the heat dissipates, especially once you reach on the banks that flank the chilly currents. Large boulders strewn about make the path rather daunting, but they’re worth navigating to reach the Puente de Dios, a combination of huge arch, cave, and a sort of tunnel through which the river runs. Noisy birds swoop down into the canyon, adding to the magical feeling of a beautiful oasis of icy water in an otherwise arid area.

We also visited the nearby town of Huatlatlauca, where we understood there were still Nahuatl speakers. We came across a very old church, closed up except for the bell tower. It had the simple facade of an earlier Colonial church, but one could see vestiges of painted flowers that seem to have covered it at one point. Our son and his wife ventured up into the bell tower, a great place for photos, and she dared to pull on the bell rope. Ding! Fortunately, there were no repercussions, even though church bells can be used to sound an alarm, and outsiders’ meddling with them is generally unwelcome. This was on a dirt backroad, and we spoke to a middle-aged woman as she passed us. She said that the church was built by Augustinian monks. We asked whether there was a crafts shop in the town. No, people just keep their handicrafts at home and transport them to other towns to sell on special occasions. After we told her we were interested in her family’s creations, she escorted us to her home, where la abuelita (the grandmother, who spoke Nahuatl) worked away at weaving palm fronds into tiny figures.

Miniature figures made by weavers in La MixtecaIn the past, we learned, artisans would go down into holes in the ground to weave, where there was more moisture, as the palm needs to be damp to be worked well. The old woman can no longer sit on the floor to weave petates (mats), as she used to. I purchased a lovely mat that was more beautiful than most because of the special designs in variegated colors that she’d woven into it. They told us that this particular small mat is called petate de chocolate, but they did not know why. Perhaps those mats are used for grinding cocoa in some regions; however, La Mixteca does not offer the tropical climate where cocoa plants flourish.

The Mixtecs are better known for their woven work than the Nahuas. It is a fascinating sight as they trudge along, weaving hats as they walk, hardly glancing down as their hands fly at work. In cities around Mexico, it is easy to identify Mixtecs, as they usually sell all sorts of woven items, now mostly made from colorful artificial fibers, in the streets. Each town seems to have a specialty. Chigmecatitlán has a museum in its main square, where one can appreciate samples of their miniature animals, nativity figures, and jewelry. We were impressed by a large sign made for the patron saint’s festival; upon coming closer, the letters turned out to be made of tiny woven figures. My father-in-law, from a different town, used to weave miniature palm objects such as scorpions, a wonder to behold.

On the way back from Puente de Dios, we pulled over to the roadside to see if we might buy some of the local fruit we saw for sale at little stands. There was no need to leave the car, as immediately—boom!—several women crowded around the windows offering samples of their fruit (chicozapotes, anonas, mamey, granadas chinas). The latter, literally a “Chinese pomegranate,” is an elongated orangey fruit with a sweet, slimy pulp and many seeds that look almost like frog eggs and slide down the throat easily.

This area is not frequented by many tourists, as its attractions are more subtle than elsewhere. Yet, for me, that adds to its appeal: What you see is what you get. There are no facades put up to look quaint or typical or old or native. Traditional markets are more common than craft shops. If you are looking for what’s genuine, not put on for show, you’ll find it in La Mixteca. —Margie Hord de Méndez

Photographs courtesy Esteban Méndez (Puente de Dios) and Refugio Méndez (church, woven figures)

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Birthplace of Mole Poblano Reopens to the Public

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Entrance to the ex-Convent of Santa RosaLovers of Mexican food, rejoice! The kitchen of the former Santa Rosa Convent — the place where legend has it mole poblano was invented — has reopened its doors to the public. Visitors to Puebla may once again feast their eyes on the most spectacular and well-preserved talavera kitchen in the city. What makes it so special, beyond its culinary history? From floor to ceiling, nearly all of the room’s tiles are the restored originals, a docent explained during our visit yesterday.

The nuns’ now-iconic recipe is available to all comers in an adjacent room, where it’s proudly displayed in a cazuela (pictured below, far right) alongside those of other classic Poblano dishes from around the state. Photographs are not permitted inside the building without special permission from the state, but the guard let us snap a few of the recipes for the record.

AAP-StaRosaMoleRecipeAn official snapshot of the kitchen where mole poblano was invented.The site closed a few years ago so that repairs could be made to the entire 17th-century building, which occupies half a city block. (After church property was nationalized in the 1800s by reform laws, the old convent served as a military barracks, a mental hospital, and a housing complex before being converted into a cultural center and museum in the 1970s.) The kitchen reopened temporarily during the Tianguis Turístico event in March 2013 and permanently shortly thereafter without much fanfare. The rest of the building remains closed as restoration work continues. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa (Calle 3 Norte #1203, between 12 and 14 Poniente, Col. Centro) is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Photograph of convent kitchen by Presidencia de La República México

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The Mexican Revolution Was Started By a Poblana

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Bullet holes mark the facade of the Serdán House“Ask your friends if they know where the first shot of the Mexican Revolution was fired,” a docent at the Puebla museum that’s dedicated to this historical event instructs me in Spanish. “Go ahead.”

We’re standing on the central patio of what, on November 18, 1910, was the Serdán family’s home on Calle Santa Clara (6 Oriente). I’d just given Greta and Erin, who were visiting from California last week, a quick tour of the site. The museum is open for free on Sundays, so we’d popped in to see its traditional tile kitchen and the mirror cracked by bullets that hangs in the front room (pictured below). We were kind of in a hurry, because my friends had to check out of their hotel in 30 minutes. But I was intrigued by the docent’s question, so I repeated it in English. We all shrugged.

A large mirror in the front sitting room also bear bullet holes from the shootout..“It was Carmen Serdán,” he explains proudly, gesturing toward the staircase to our right. “She was standing there on the steps when Miguel Cabrera, the chief of police, entered the house through that small wooden door over there. Her brothers, Aquiles and Máximo, were busy distributing guns to their compatriots. Carmen told Cabrera not to take another step — or she’d shoot. But, perhaps because she was a woman, he didn’t take her seriously, and he continued walking to right about where you’re standing. She fired.” He paused for a moment while I translated.

Carmen was carrying a very powerful rifle, which knocked her backward when it went off. She missed the police chief, and it hit here,” he says, pointing to a bullet hole in a supporting column. “Cabrera fired back, but he missed, too, because his bullet hit the railing of the staircase.” Greta quickly spots the massive ding — and notes that it seems to have hit one of the stone steps, too.

“Aquiles rushed out,” the docent continues, “and killed the chief of police.” The Revolution had begun, its first shot fired by a Poblana.

A mural at the Serdán house depicts the siblings defending their beliefs (and where each was shot).Why the Serdán house? The family had been publishing propaganda and stockpiling weapons for reformist Francisco Madero, who planned to stage a rebellion against the newly (and unfairly) re-elected government of President Porfirio Díaz. Two days before the uprising was slated to begin, authorities learned of their arsenal. Some 400 soldiers and 100 police officers surrounded the house and, after Cabrera fell, a shootout ensued.

The maderists in the house, three women and 18 men, were grossly outnumbered, but they put up one heck of a fight. In the end, Aquiles and Máximo became among the first Mexicans to sacrifice their lives for the Revolution, which ultimately ended Díaz’s decades-long “dictatorship” (1877-1880, 1884-1911). Carmen survived the onslaught and was arrested. After serving time in La Merced jail, she worked as a nurse in various hospitals and cared for her nieces and nephews. She died in Puebla in 1948. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana, 6 Oriente #206, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 25 pesos (free on Sundays).

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