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Cuetlas: Sampling One of Mexico’s Edible Insects

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Boiled and unfurled, these cuetlas are ready to fry.It probably wasn’t the smartest plan to arrive at the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas feeling absolutely famished. But we’re adventurous eaters who sometimes enjoy bugs in Mexican cuisine, particularly regional specialties like escamoles (ant eggs), chapulines (grasshoppers), and gusanos de maguey (pulque worms). So, we showed up at the 13th annual cuetlada in Puebla on Saturday afternoon ready to sink our teeth into some serious butterfly larvae.

Chiancuetlas, or cuetlas for short, are edible catepillars that grow in Jonote and other types of trees throughout south-central Mexico. The larvae are typically consumed in the Mixteca region of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero, where they provide an imporant source of dietary protein. You can also buy them locally from tianguis in Atlixco—25 pesos for a sardine tinful—and at the Feria de Cholula. During the rainy season (August and September), the live caterpillars are collected from Cualagua, Cuaulote, and Pochote trees in the gullies near Huaquechula and gutted to remove their green entrails. Many cooks then boil the larvae in salt water, unfurl them by hand, and fry them in oil until they puff up and turn golden brown, and serve them as the main ingredient in tacos.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada (pictured), who invited us to the Grandiosa Tardeada de Cuetlas, has co-organized a semi-private culinary celebration with Antonio Álvarez Moran and a lively group of entomophagous friends since 2000. At previous events, the cuetleros have tried using the caterpillars as a protein in various gourmet recipes, from paella to cuetlas en nogada. They’ve even stuffed the finger- to cigar-sized larvae with tiny grasshoppers and sautéed them with garlic in olive oil.

Guillermo Duque de Estrada fries cuetlas for the taquiza.This year, Duque de Estrada—also known as “Don Cuetlo”—and crew hosted a traditional taquiza featuring fried caterpillars for tacos with eight different homemade salsas, avocado slices, black beans, and grasshopper-infused rice. Those of us who had never tried one before received our “first communion” of a single fried cuetla, so we could savor the larvae in all its salty and crunchy yet chewy glory. The experience was sort of like eating a rehydrated dried mushroom that’d been plunged into a deep-fryer. I jokingly called it cecina de árbol.

Want to try them yourself? El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant (Calle 16 de Septiembre #506 at 7 Oriente) is serving cuetlas for another week and offering them as part of a beer pairing menu this Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. (Side note: Álvarez Moran is the painter responsible for the historical murals on the restaurant’s walls.)

In the end, we can’t say that we’d routinely choose cuetlas over carne asada as a taco filling or that the larvae satiated our hunger. But the caterpillars were certainly edible. And, seeing as more than 1,000 types of insects are eaten by choice worldwide—including 67 species of butterflies and moths in Mexico—we’ve arrived terribly late to the dinner party. We’re convinced there’s a Lepidoptera out there we’ll enjoy as much as escamoles.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Free App Leads Visitors to Puebla’s Museums

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Puebla Ciudad de Museos app (screen shots)A new mobile app released by the city of Puebla’s tourism office aims to help visitors navigate the major museums and art galleries in the greater metropolitan area.

Puebla Ciudad de Museos provides a multilingual directory of the capital’s most noteworthy sites and related information, such as the dates of upcoming “museum nights,” when select locations open their doors for extended hours and offer free admission to all comers.

The app also:

– Maps the specific locations of museums and galleries in Puebla and Cholula
– Provides each site’s regular operating hours and contact information
– Contains a (somewhat limited) calendar of events
– Offers a lovely photo gallery of participating sites
– Connects users to the city tourism office’s via phone, email, and social media

The free app, which was developed by Javier Zuniga Utrilla, is available for iOS and Android smartphones. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Photo credit: Screen grabs from the iOS app

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Finding the Right School for Expat Kids in Puebla

Friday, August 9th, 2013

This is a guest post by Patricia Patton, who lived in Puebla with her family from June 2012 to July 2013. She wrote it to share their positive experience at the Instituto Mexicano Madero with other parents who may be considering a similar move.

Instituto Mexicano Madero, photo by Patricia PattonOur family headed south from Pennsylvania to Puebla in the summer of 2012 with a few goals for the school year. Developing our children’s fluency in Spanish was high on the list. So, instead of sending them to the Colegio Americano (aka the American School), which caters to English-speaking expats, we wanted to enroll them in a local school where they would be fully immersed in the language and culture.

Our boys—who were 7, 11, and 14 years old at the time—were understandably nervous about spending the entire school day in Spanish, a language that they struggled to understand and speak. Enrolling them at the Instituto Mexicano Madero was our compromise. As a private bilingual school, IMM would offer them some instruction in their native tongue. However, the fact that almost all of the other children were Poblano ensured that, in addition to taking their classes in Spanish, our kids would almost certainly have to speak Spanish with their new friends outside of school.

The structure of the school day was somewhat similar to school in the United States. Our two younger sons, who attended primaria (elementary school), had two teachers—one who spoke English and one who spoke Spanish. They spent half their day with each teacher, with a lunch/recess time between. Students usually pack a lonchera, or light lunch, but there is also a “cafeteria” that offers snacks for sale. As in almost all Mexican schools, students wear uniforms to class each day.

My oldest son was in the third year of secondary school (equivalent to ninth grade in the States). He was assigned to a group and a room, with teachers who rotated in and out with each new period and subject. Students in secundaria were given two breaks a day of about 20 minutes each to eat and relax with friends. The IMM has basketball, soccer, and volleyball courts available to the students along with plenty of open space. (With as much energy as young teens have, I think that twice-a-day recess for junior high students would be a great idea to adopt in the U.S. as well!)

Instituto Mexicano Madero, photo by Patricia PattonOverall, our experience with the IMM was amazing. The academic standards were impressive and challenging. The English portion of the day was more than an extended language course: It was content-based with grade-level classes in specific subjects, such as health and computers. The lessons were interesting and varied, and the teachers were kind and caring. Perhaps most importantly, everyone at the school, from the front office staff to the parent organization, was ready and willing to help us and our kids figure out how to succeed in a Mexican school. Administrators answered our endless questions — mainly in Spanish, but they brought in the English coordinator to help my husband (whose Spanish is spotty at best) understand when I couldn’t be there. They even accompanied us to the Secretary of Education (SEP) offices to register our children.

Of course, we also experienced our share of challenges along the way. Often this involved situations in which we understood all the words in Spanish but couldn’t figure out their intended meaning. The school supply list asked me to send in a bolsa de alegrías—a bag of happiness—and I had no idea what that could possibly mean. (Turns out, it’s a popular candy made of puffed amaranth seeds.) The teachers reminded me to add dots to my youngest son’s notebooks. Dots? What kind of dots? Where? WHY? We made not one, not two, but three separate attempts before my son’s science fair poster was completed correctly. At times, the cross-cultural challenges were slightly overwhelming!

In the end, we had an incredible experience that was well worth our extra efforts. My kids are now fluent in Spanish, and we experienced Mexican culture in a way that never would have been possible if the boys had been homeschooled or had attended a U.S.-style school for expat children. I would highly recommend IMM to any parent considering bringing their children to Puebla.

—Patricia Patton

The Instituto Mexicano Madero is located at 19 Poniente #503 at 7 Sur in Puebla’s historic center. It also maintains a satellite campus, known as Zavaleta, on the Camino Real a Cholula. Both offer classes for children from preschool through high school. As with most Mexican private schools, the IMM requires children to complete a series of admissions and placement exams before enrolling. These comprise questions in both English and Spanish, with parts that focus on knowledge as well as aptitude and learning style.

Want to read more about the Patricia’s experiences in Puebla? Check out the Patton family’s blog at ourmexicanyear.tumblr.com. There you’ll find a post about IMM’s graduation ceremonies, its spelling bee, and a science fair. (The photos depict the elementary school’s science fair (top left) and the sixth-grade color guard (bottom right) performing the national flag ceremony at an assembly.)

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Molletes Dulces, Puebla’s Best-Kept Culinary Secret

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Molletes dulcesFew places on Earth can satisfy a sweet tooth like the Calle de los Dulces in Puebla. You can almost get a sugar fix just walking by the shops that line Avenida 6 Oriente, their windows and display cases stuffed with traditional candies and cookies.

Once inside, you can choose among dozens of confections to please your palate, from camotes (fruit-flavored sweet potato “cigars”), borrachitos (tequila-infused gum drops), and candied fruits to muéganos (of various kinds), tortitas de Santa Clara (shortbread-like rounds iced with a pepita glaze), and polvorones (sometimes known as Mexican wedding cookies). And, at this time of year, there’s one particular treat that’s sought-after by a few savvy locals: molletes dulces (pictured above).

Molletes? We know, we know. Molletes in Mexico are usually a savory item, often served for breakfast. The basic version is a bolillo or another sandwich roll that’s cut in half, slathered with butter (or not), topped with refried beans, melted cheese, and pico de gallo. Tasty, but these aren’t those. Never heard of molletes dulces? You aren’t alone: Even some Poblanos are unfamiliar with the sugary kind.

“In Puebla, we have many things—memelas, chalupas, molotes, mole, esquites, chileatole, chiles en nogada, our typical sweets, among others … and the molletes that I know aren’t a dessert!” Lucet Gonzalez recently posted on our Facebook page, making us hungry.

“I’m not familiar with those,” added Christine Romero.

“They’re delicious, and they’re only made for the fiesta de Santa Clara … very few people know about them,” chimed in Carlos Rojas Xicotencatl.

“Where to they make them and when?” asked Tammy Fernando.

Good question! Permit us to explain, at least as much as we’ve been able to dig up about this little-known delight.

Inside a mollete dulceMolletes dulces — sometimes called molletes poblanos or molletes de coco — are sweet buns filled with custard, sherry or rum, and sometimes coconut and topped with an icing made of finely ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The recipe for the bread, notes chef Ricardo Muñoz-Zurita in an article for Mexico Desconocido, is “jealously guarded.” But he compares it to a concha in size, shape, and ingredients, which he lists as “wheat flour, yeast, salt, sugar, egg, and butter.”

Muñoz-Zurita and other observers say that molletes dulces can be had from Father’s Day in June to Independence Day in September, even early October — but we’ve never found them before late July. (Their availability tends to coincide with chiles en nogada season.)

The origins of the dessert are unknown, yet the earliest recipe dates back at least four generations. According to El Universal, the dessert was originally made to celebrate the feast day of Santa Clara (St. Clare of Assisi). It’s possible that we owe its creation to the nuns of the ex-Convent of Santa Clara themselves, who are credited with concocting their namesake tortitas and myriad other typical sweets. The former convent, located at the corner of Avenida 6 Oriente at Calle 2 Norte, is nestled among the various shops on the Calle de los Dulces that sell it today.

Get ’em while you can, for about 55 pesos a pop.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Want to learn more about the city’s gastronomy? Take a typical foods tour, which includes a stop on the Calle de los Dulces, with us!

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Our Spin on Puebla’s Latest Tourist Attraction

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Puebla's Rueda de ObservacionIt was heralded as the world’s largest ferris wheel, a giant rotating lookout that would rejuvenate Paseo Bravo and give locals and visitors a new perspective on the city’s historic center.

But the INAH nixed the downtown location, due largely to the plaza’s UNESCO status, and — two proposed sites later — Puebla’s latest tourist attraction now sits smack-dab in the middle of suburbia. Nonetheless, officials hope that the Estrella de Puebla will draw the ticket-buying masses to Angelopolis.

The enormous wheel, which is slated for inauguration on July 22, is indeed a sight to behold, particularly when it’s lit up after dark. Built by a German company, the 750-ton structure reportedly stretches 80 meters (about 260 feet, or 24 stories) skyward, towering over the three shopping centers that surround it in San Andrés Cholula. Its 54 gondolas will accommodate up to eight passengers each for a maximum of 432 riders at once. Tickets will reportedly cost $30 MXP per person (or $50 in a VIP gondola). Despite its location outside the heavily trafficked tourist areas of Puebla and Cholula, visitors who make the trek — a projected 1 million per year — at sunset are likely to be treated to some truly spectacular views of the Popocatépetl volcano.

The Estrella de Puebla loosely resembles the popular Eye in London. And, although the poblano version may be the largest transportable wheel on the planet, it’s significantly smaller than its British counterpart. The Eye is 135 meters (about 443 feet) tall and weighs 2,100 tons. An even bigger, heavier observation wheel will be inaugurated on a manmade island in Dubai in 2015.

Puebla’s $400 million peso project includes the construction of a plaza with a fountain, a 256-space on-site parking lot, and a 1.5-kilometer elevated path for pedestrians and cyclists. This urban byway will provide access to both Parque del Arte and 1,200 overflow parking spaces at the state government’s new offices on Vía Atlixcáyotl.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Estrella de Puebla is located on the access road to Angelopolis between Niño Poblano and Vía Atlixcáyotl boulevards. (To get to the site by bus, take any route that drops passengers at Angelopolis, La Isla, or Plaza Milenium shopping malls.) Daily operating hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), starting July 29.

Post updated July 24, 2013.

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Enjoy a Cultural Feast at ‘The House of Crumbs’

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Inside the Casa del MendrugoIf the walls at La Casa del Mendrugo could talk, they’d probably tell more tales than most. The house, like many grand structures built in Puebla from the 16th to 19th centuries, is a study in local history. For example, Augustin de Iturbide reportedly stayed here on August 2, 1821. What sets this home apart from the rest is its careful rescue, its public accessibility, and its location above a pre-Hispanic burial site — the first ever discovered in the city’s core.

La Casa del Mendrugo literally translates to “the house of crumbs” or “bread crusts” in English. Mendrugo is also what the Jesuits called the leftover charity from nearby St. Jerome’s College that they used to rebuild the house in the 17th century. The home’s original owner may have been Juan de Salmerón, one of Puebla’s founders, back in 1534. When the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, the building fell into the hands of a public commission. A century later, it returned to private ownership and, according to historians, “suffered several interventions which altered its main structures and uses.” One of the last attempts at renovation tried to divide the building into apartments in the 1950s and failed, and the site was abandoned until 2008, when the current owners purchased it. Their entire restoration project was supervised by the INAH, Mexico’s national institute of history and anthropology.

Olmec Remains, Other Artifacts Unearthed

“While excavating in a not previously altered area of the patio, [we found] two layers of Spanish-style brick flooring of different centuries. In the same area, there was also what used to be a water well,” explains the brochure that’s available in English at La Casa del Mendrugo. “The deep hole was filled with dirt and fragments of many utensils, ceramics, and animal bones from the Spanish Colonial times. But outside the well and underneath the flooring, pieces of very old Indian ceramics started to emerge.”

Further digging revealed more artifacts, a pre-Hispanic wall and stone flooring, and a ritual funeral offering that consisted of Olmec-style figures, shell and stone pendants, rock-carving utensils, and other objects. Two sets of human remains, one male and one female (known as “Chuchita”), believed to be from the same Pre-Classic Period (2500 B.C. to 200 A.D.) were also found. The INAH hopes to extract DNA from one of the molars recovered to find out for sure. The bulk of these items, including the skeletons, are now on display in a small private museum on the building’s second floor. They’re accompanied by more modern pieces, including antique talavera pottery and children’s toys from the early days of plastic.

Chuchita: Olmec remainsTapas at La Casa del MendrugoAAP-mendrugo1

Flaunting Puebla’s Cuisine and Culture

Beyond the museum, the three-story building—which we’re told has been restored as much as possible to its original state—also houses an art gallery, a stage for live entertainment, and three main dining areas: a coffeehouse, a fine-dining restaurant, and a tapas bar. The menus, says executive chef Daniel López Aguilar, are designed to celebrate Puebla’s Spanish heritage, with Mexican and international flair. They do. We liked the savory croquetas and the stuffed Poblano pepper so much, we’ve ordered them twice. The cheese plate, featuring products from IPODERAC, is a thing of beauty.

We’ve visited four times already, to check out all aspects of La Casa del Mendrugo. We give just about everything a thumbs-up, particularly the house-made beer, the live jazz on Friday nights, and the art gallery. La Galería Lazcarro is currently exhibiting “Matter Matters,” a mixed-media show by Jorge Juan Moyano, a Poblano painter and a friend of ours. Latin jazz will be featured in the restaurant on Fridays at 9 p.m. through the month of June.

“It is the only venue I know of [downtown] where it’s fun for grown-ups!” says another friend, who’s had a standing reservation since the restaurant opened two months ago. We can think of a couple more but agree it’s one of the few!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

La Casa del Mendrugo is located at 4 Sur #304, one block from the main square, in Puebla’s historic center. The art gallery and museum are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and the café and restaurant generally serve breakfast, lunch, or tapas from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 11 p.m., respectively. Admission to the museum is 20 pesos. The cover charge on Friday nights is 80 pesos. For more information or reservations (essential on Friday nights), call (222) 232-5148.

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History Runs Deep in and Around Cuauhtinchán

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Cuauhtinchán may be the most important indigenous and religious site in Mexico you’ve never heard of.

Granted, the small agrarian town, located about 20 miles southeast of the Puebla capital, isn’t much to look at, particularly at the end of the dry season. Even its most remarkable building, the monolithic Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista, is strikingly staid: The two Tuscan columns that flank the main entrance provide its only notable detail, save for the left bell tower, which upon being hit by lightning some years ago partially collapsed into the courtyard. The resulting pile of rubble still sits where it fell.

Yet the former monastery — built between 1569 and 1593, with guidance from renown Spanish architect Francisco Becerra — offers an enduring and classic example of the sober Renaissance aesthetic brought to Mexico by Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century.

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista from a distance.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.








The complex’s interior is a sharp contrast to the stark exterior. Its almost-whimsical flourishes provide a glimpse of how the Franciscans worked to convert their predecessors to Christianity. For example, the archways of the central patio feature numerous “notable sayings” in Spanish that convey conventional or moral wisdom as the monks saw it. (The patio now houses the site’s small museum, which not only describes the arrival of Hernán Cortés, but also chronicles Cuauhtinchán’s pre-Hispanic and prehistoric past. A display case contains mastodon bones found in the area.)

The painted walls of the church, which were obscured by a coat of quicklime in the early 1800s and later uncovered, are surprisingly colorful, too. For us, the nave stands out as the real must-see here . . . unless you happen to get lucky, as we did, and get to climb the winding, multistory staircase of the right bell tower with the site’s devoted caretaker. Don Pedro typically rings the bells for Mass and for afternoon visitors, as he did for us at 3 p.m. on a recent Thursday, thanks to our friend Scott, who organized this trip. From the top, the views of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking; the chimes of the enormous bells, one of which bears the scars of Revolutionary bullets, are ear-splitting yet intoxicating.

Bell tower at ex-Convento de San Juan BautistaAAP-Cuauhtinchan6AAP-Cuauhtinchan4








Back down at ground level, the church’s layout and orientation connect “mystical aspects of indigenous and European cultures” and have “cosmic significance,” according to official signage. On the equinox, a ray of sunlight enters the lower choir and illuminates an image of the Immaculate Conception at the center of the massive altarpiece. This masterpiece, made of polychromed and gilded wood, is the oldest in Mexico and one of the best preserved in Latin America. Its imagery depicts many other Biblical scenes — the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Blessed Virgin, the Adoration of the Magi — and provides an “open book to the teaching of the Christian faith.”

AAP-Cuauhtinchan2Detail of restored paint jobAAP-cuautinchan








Christianity mixed with indigenous symbolism, that is, much like elsewhere in Mexico. Cuauhtinchán precedes the Spanish by more than two millennia. The earliest pre-Hispanic settlement here may date as far back as 1200 B.C., when small groups of warriors and farmers formed villages in the area. But an archaeological site on the edge of town, which is said to contain a 52-foot pyramid, other ceremonial structures, and living quarters, remains unexcavated (and largely unrecognizable to the uninitiated) puts the first settlement closer to 8 A.D. The recovery of various indigenous codices and maps of the area have allowed archaeologists and historians to piece together some of its history, which is predominantly Chichimeca.

The Chichimecas spoke Nahuatl. The name Cuauhtinchán — also spelled Cuautinchán and pronounced “kuhwow-teen-CHAN” — means “eagles’ nest.” It’s unclear when the majestic birds must have lived here, but artistic representations of eagles and nests can be found both at the ex-convento and elsewhere around town, such as the fountain in the main square. The same goes for jaguars, which are equally important in local iconography. That works for us. If we have to face down creatures with functional fangs and talons, we’d rather do it at nearby Africam than in the wild.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista is located on Calle Hidalgo (between Gonzalo Bautista and 2 Poniente) in Cuautinchán, Puebla. The best way get there is by car or taxi via the cities of Puebla or Tepeaca. Visitors are welcome most days between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; try to avoid holidays and Mass, unless you wish to attend. Town officials recommend that you call ahead to schedule a tour: +52 (224) 271-7170.

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Coping With the Volcano: Popocatépetl Safety Tips

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

AAP-Popocatepetl2-wmrkPopocatépetl has been blowing a lot of smoke lately. The active volcano sent so much ash, steam, and glowing bits of lava into the air — sometimes more than a mile above its crater — this past week that it looked like it had snowed in the Puebla capital. Wayward ashes were reported as far away as Guatemala, and flights were suspended at the city’s airport Wednesday until the cleanup crew could sweep up the mess on the runway.

The increased activity led the National Center for Disaster Prevention in Mexico to raise its alert level for the volcano. An official report [PDF] released Sunday morning explained:

“The increase in the general activity of Popocatepetl volcano during the last weeks and especially the acceleration of the seismic activity registered yesterday, today at 1:40 a.m., the Interior Ministry raised the Volcanic Alert Level to Yellow Phase 3. During the period in which the volcanic traffic light remains in this level, two bulletins will be issued daily: the first at 10 a.m., with a summary of the activity of the last 24 hours and the second at 7 p.m., featuring updating the data reported in the first. If necessary, the updates will be reported more frequently. … The volcanic alert level is in YELLOW Phase 3.”

This is the third-highest warning on the center’s seven-step scale [PDF], and it essentially means that the experts who keep an eye on Don Goyo think his activity level may continue to increase.

“In past years, the type of activity reported was associated to the ascent of magmatic material and the growth of the lava dome. This activity leads to the following likely scenarios: intermediate to high-scale explosive activity, dome growth, and possible lava emission; explosions of growing intensity; occurrence of pyroclastic flows [a fast-moving current of hot gas and rock]; and ash fall on the closer villages and in lesser amounts in the more remote places, depending on the wind direction.

“The Popocatepetl volcano is monitored continuously 24 hours a day. Any significant change in the activity of the volcano will be [reported] promptly.” For the latest update in English, click here.

Volcano Health & Safety Tips

There’s currently no reason to panic or to cancel your trip to Puebla. But if you live here or are traveling in the area, it’s in your best interest to stay abreast of the situation. Pay attention to local news reports for updates. (We’ll do our best to share any new information, as it becomes available, through our Twitter and Facebook accounts, too.)

In general, this is not a good time to visit El Paso de Cortés, the mountain pass between Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The road is permanently closed to through traffic (to Mexico City), but it provides access to the national park, where there’s an observation point and hiking and climbing are permitted on Iztaccíhuatl.

The reason to stay away: Communities near the volcano will be among the first evacuated in the event that the alert level gets raised again. As a preventative measure, Puebla state officials on May 12 put El Plan Operativo Popocatépetl in place. The plan provides for the evacuation and shelter of residents in high-risk areas; the city of Puebla, situated 28 miles east of the crater, is outside this radius.

“This is a prevention phase,” the state governor told local media. “There is no immediate danger and people are calm, but we must be on constant alert.”

Foreign residents and travelers should contact their embassies for instructions in the event of a major emergency. The local equivalent of 911 is 066.

Ashes from the volcano — essentially a very fine gray dust — can cause or aggravate respiratory issues and allergies, including itchy eyes. The city’s civil protection agency recommends that you refrain from outdoor activities, keep doors and windows closed, and cover your eyes and mouth with protective wear (particularly if you use contact lenses). If your eyes or throat become irritated, rinse them with purified water. Avoid al fresco dining, from restaurants to street food. Keep your pets inside. Protect household water sources, including tanks and cisterns.

In addition, authorities note, ashes make surfaces slippery. To clean them up, it’s best to use a broom or a dry cloth to remove them from surfaces. Getting ashes wet first will turn them into cement-like mud. Collect and use this new soil (which is rich in minerals) to fertilize your yard or garden.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Cinco de Mayo 2013: The Celebrations in Puebla

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Cinco de Mayo has come to represent a lot of things in the United States, from public demonstrations of Mexican-American pride to massive fiestas sponsored by beer and tequila companies. Colorful parades, street fairs, art exhibitions, and margarita-themed bar nights can be found in scores of cities nationwide.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a lower-key affair, unless you happen to be in Puebla. Here, visitors and locals alike can enjoy a month’s worth of diverse events, starting in mid-April. This includes the huge calendar of activities and performances scheduled as part of the annual Feria de Puebla and the Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo.

For the uninitiated, May 5 is a state holiday that commemorates the triumph of a scrappy band of Mexican soldiers and locals over the French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although their victory was short-lived, their initial win was arguably one of the more significant events in modern North American history. After all, if Napoleon III’s troops had made it to Texas to support the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War … well, let’s just be glad they didn’t and thank Mexico for stalling them.

If you’re in the state capital for the 151st anniversary of Cinco de Mayo in 2013, here are a few ways that you can join the celebration.

Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo

Julieta Venegas performing at the Int'l Festival of Puebla in 2008.Expected to draw 1 million visitors to the city of Puebla this year, this 20-day cultural arts festival comprises myriad free events. The concert, dance, and theatrical performances by regional, national, and international talent take place at nine different venues between noon and 10 p.m. through May 5.

A few highlights:
• World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, April 22, 6 p.m., Puebla Cathedral
Puebla State Symphony Orchestra, April 25, 7 p.m., San Pedro Museo del Arte
• Mexican rockers El Gran Silencio, April 26, 8 p.m., Antigua Fábrica de los Angeles
• Folk singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas, April 26, 8:30 p.m. Foro Artístico, Centro Expositor
• Alternative singer-songwriter Ely Guerra, April 27, 8 p.m., Estadio Cuauhtémoc

Feria de Puebla

Pablo tries to win me a plush toy shooting hoops.The Puebla State Fair, which runs April 13 to May 12, offers the kind of family-oriented fun you’d find at a state or county fair anywhere: arcade games, carnival rides, junk food, beer stands, arts & crafts, flea market goods, and live entertainment. Everything takes place in and around the Centro Expositor that’s situated smack-dab in the middle of the hilltop Cinco de Mayo forts, Loreto and Guadalupe. General admission is 20 pesos (10 pesos for kids); tickets to the evening concerts and bullfights cost extra.

Free shows in the Foro Artístico:
Hermanos Castro and José Feliciano, April 21, 8:30 p.m.
• Grammy-winning rockers Reik, April 27, 8:30 p.m.
• Pop singer-songwriter Paty Cantú, May 1, 8:30 p.m.A float in Puebla’s 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade touts the state’s culinary prowess.

Some notable Palenque performances:
• Norteño superstars Los Tigres del Norte, April 26, 11 p.m., 400 to 1,200 pesos
• Singer-songwriter Espinoza Paz, April 27, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,600 pesos
• Ranchera and pop crooner Alejandro Fernández, May 3 and 4, 11 p.m., 900 to 2,900 pesos
• Grammy-winning mariachi Pepe Aguilar, May 10, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,500 pesos

Cinco de Mayo Parade

Every year, thousands of students, charros, military, and public-safety personnel march — alongside scores of colorful floats — in the state’s annual Cinco de Mayo parade, which this year is slated for 11 a.m. on May 5.

Official details for this year’s event apparently have yet to be announced (and our social media queries to organizers have gone unanswered). The state government appears to be reconsidering its controversial 2012 decision to change the parade route, which worked well for TV cameras but not for the viewing public. We’re hopeful that its original path, which followed 5 de Mayo Blvd., from Plaza Dorada to the hilltop forts, will be restored.

We’ll update this post as parade information becomes available.

April 25 update: This year’s Cinco de Mayo parade is set to follow the traditional path, only in reverse. The 3.5-kilometer route (click here for map) will start at the monument to Gen. Zaragoza on Calzada Zaragoza/2 Norte and follow Blvd. Heroes del 5 de Mayo to Parque Juárez. Final details will be announced Friday, according to a local media report.

April 29 update: The new state tourism secretary tweets that some 29,000 bleacher and other seats will be made available free of charge to parade spectators.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated May 4, 2013.

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See Puebla’s Sights in 3-D in This New Short Film

Friday, March 15th, 2013

PUEBLA 3D Invitation to Premiere
A new short film produced by the city’s tourism office and the European company D4D aims to attract more visitors to Puebla, particularly foreigners who don’t speak Spanish.

“With this video we want everyone outside of Mexico who’s never heard of Puebla or confuses its name … to hear the word [and think] ‘I want to go there,’” municipal tourism director Alejandro Cañedo told the audience at yesterday’s premiere of Puebla 3D. To that end, the 8-minute film offers a slick, purely “visual documentary” of Mexico’s fourth-largest city in three dimensions, no translation or subtitles required.

The story is told, somewhat Cinderella-style, through the eyes of a modern-day China Poblana. She visits at least 25 different sites around town, from the most famous (former convent kitchens where mole poblano and chiles en nogada were invented) to the lesser-known (Colectivo Tomate’s mural project in Barrio Xanenetla). The 3-D adds engaging flourishes, such as angels descending from the dome of the Capilla del Rosario and an elephant’s trunk reaching out of its Africam habitat.

D4D, based in Spain, has produced similar videos for the cities of Barcelona, Paris, and Rome.

Want to see the film? Puebla 3D will be screened publicly on March 20, from 3 to 6 p.m. in a dome next to the Planetarium, Calzada Ejercito de Oriente y Cazadores de Morelia, Zona de los Fuertes, Unidad Civica 5 de Mayo, and again on March 30 and 31, from noon to 10 p.m., in the city’s zócalo, Calle 16 de Septiembre at 3 Oriente, Centro Histórico. Admission is free.

Additional screenings of the film, in Puebla and elsewhere, are in the works, tourism officials say. In the meantime, you can watch the 2-D version of it online.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Photo credit: Puebla Tourism Office

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