Archive for the ‘Kids’ Category

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Gone Fishing: Catching Trout in Metepec-Atlixco

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Catch-and-release licenses are available at Amatzcalli.Fly-fishing probably isn’t the first sport that comes to mind when you think of Mexico, and even if it is, you’re most likely to imagine catching saltwater species such as bonefish or tarpon or snook off the shores of Quintana Roo. But anglers who prefer cooler climes and freshwater catches can find several attractive options here in the state of Puebla. AAP-Amaztcalli-Metepec3x5

I know this not because am a fly-fishing expert — I’m merely a Pisces — but because my husband, Pablo, is a longtime enthusiast who has spent many, many hours casting and retrieving in regional lakes and streams. He even ties his own flies. The places he typically goes are so lovely that I sometimes tag along just to enjoy the scenery, often packing a camera, a book or a magazine, a picnic breakfast or lunch, and a blanket or a camping chair to sit on.

Pablo’s favorite spot is Amatzcalli, a recreational area that’s nestled behind the vacation and convention center in Metepec-Atlixco. On a clear, sunny day like those we’ve been enjoying lately, the views are stunning (all photos, this page). The small, privately run park offers both spinning and fly-fishing, as well as camping, picnic areas, and a playground for kids. A bait and tackle shop sells and rents gear and day permits for its man-made lake, which is stocked mostly with farm-raised brown and rainbow trout and sometimes black bass, bluegill, and white crappie. The on-site convenience store and restaurant sell beer, snacks, and sundries (or you may bring your own).Amatzcalli sports and camping center in Metepec-Atlixco, Puebla

The park entrance fee is 55 pesos per person, with discounts for kids and seniors. Fishing permits are either 30 pesos plus 95 pesos per kilo (2.2 pounds) of fish caught or 285 pesos for catch and release (fly-fishing only). Gear rental and fish gutting/cleaning cost extra. The trout is locally and organically farmed up the road at Xouilin, which offers recipes on its website, in case you end up with more fish than you bargained for! To get to Amatzcalli from Puebla, take the toll road to Atlixco and, just before you get there, exit at Autopista Siglo XXI as if you’re heading to Cuernavaca; here’s a map.

A fly-fisherman's bait

A bit further afield, the Ex-Hacienda de Chautla and Arco Iris Sport Fishing are ideal spots for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

When we have more time (which isn’t as often as we’d like), or when there’s a fishing tournament, we head farther out of town, although both of these destinations are also close enough to the state capital for day trips.

The Ex-Hacienda de Chautla, located near San Martín Texmelucan, occupies the grounds of a former estate and offers two large, glassy lakes for trout and bass fishing. Companions who don’t fish can rent a canoe, go zip-lining or mountain biking, or simply take a stroll around the lush grounds and visit the old hacienda and castle. Tents are available for camping, too. (For a list of services and prices, click here.)

Arco Iris Sport Fishing, located near the Mexico state line and on the edge of the volcanoes national park, is one of the few places in Puebla where river fishing is safe and legal. (It also has a well-stocked lake surrounded by forest.) Although Arco Iris caters to anglers, the site hosts a variety of other outdoor activities for the family, such as hiking, horseback riding, paintball, and miniature golf. Cabins that sleep up to six adults and two kids are available for overnight stays, and two restaurants and a spa with a temezcal help to “pamper” guests who aren’t big on cookouts and camping. (For more info and prices, click here.)

Need supplies? All three spots sell and rent gear on-site, but if you’d prefer to bring your own, Pablo recommends stocking up at Jamboree Hunting and Fishing (spinning) or Torreblanca/Narak Sport (fly-fishing). —Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Take the Kids to Zoo Parque Loro in Puebla

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Zoo Parque LoroMany of Puebla’s popular tourist attractions — resplendent churches, art and history museums, archaeological sites, culinary festivals, and antiques fairs — aren’t necessarily ideal places to take young children, especially those with short attention spans, on vacation. Fortunately, the city offers plenty of other activities for kids 12 and under, particularly those who love animals.

We recently had the pleasure of visiting Zoo Parque Loro, a relatively small, engaging zoological park in Tlaxcalancingo, on the outskirts of town. The site started in the 1990s as a ranch for miniature horses and has since evolved into a full-fledged zoo. It currently cares for some 400 animals of 96 different species, including at least 50 that are in danger of extinction. What’s more, the grounds are impeccably kept, can be easily navigated with a stroller, and do not require tons of walking to hit the highlights.

Visitors can see Zoo Parque Loro’s impressive array of birds (loro is a Spanish word for “parrot”), monkeys, and big cats in about two hours. Or stay longer for special activities, such as recycled-art projects and personal visits with the animals, which sometimes cost extra. For 1 peso, children of all ages can buy a handful of pellets or sunflower seeds to feed the resident rabbits, squirrels, guinea pigs, and more. On the weekends, visitors may also handle and have their pictures taken with the zoo’s friendlier creatures, too. Tip: If you plan to go in the next few weeks, be sure to ask about the white lion cubs that were born on-site this summer. (We cuddled with one of them, thanks to strategic-development manager Adolfo Lazzari, who gave us free passes and asked on-site veterinarian Hector, who’s pictured on the homepage, to show us around.)

Zoo Parque Loro recently renewed its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums of Mexico and is in the process of updating its habitats with colorful wildlife- and Mexico-themed murals by Poblano artist Batik Díaz Conti.

Zoo Parque LoroZoo Parque LoroWhite lion cubs at Parque Loro.Want more? Check out Africam’s expansive drive-thru safari, Museo Viviente’s vast collection of reptiles, amphibians, and insects, and Acuario de Puebla’s marine life.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Zoo Parque Loro is located just off the old highway to Atlixco (kilometer 8.5) in Tlaxcalancingo, between San Andrés Cholula and Chipilo. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week. Admission: 99 MXP for adults and 89 MXP for children. Photographs with the animals cost 110 MXP.

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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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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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Holiday Lights and Family Fun in Atlixco

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Holiday lights in the main square of Atlixco.My first Christmas in Puebla, I had the pleasure of meeting my future husband’s entire extended family. My Spanish was far from perfect, and at times I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer enormousness of it all. No matter which group of kin we were visiting, the gathering always involved at least two dozen people, as well as food, drink, and hustle-bustle of epic proportions.

On Dec. 24, we gathered at his maternal grandmother’s house to share a late dinner — Basque-style salt cod, Poblano chiles stuffed with cheese, refried beans — and exchange “white elephant” gifts. With everyone crowded around the table, talking over one another and the festive background music, it was tough for me to follow (or contribute to) the conversations. So, I endeared myself to everyone by defying most gringo stereotypes and gleefully devouring several jalapeños too spicy for my other half. Charming, right?

As I sipped on a glass of cider during a reprieve, one of his cousins presented me with a beautifully wrapped box. For me? How thoughtful, thank you. We’d only just met. I proceeded to open it, with my beloved and his dad at my sides, as the chatter around me reached a new crescendo. Imagine my surprise to find a pair of red lace panties inside. I blushed, confused and embarrassed, and quickly put the lid back on the box. Only later did I come to find out that it’s customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve in Mexico, for good luck, particularly in love. It works, too: Four years later, Pablo and I are married.

La Villa Iluminada

Holiday figures (three wise men) in the main square of Atlixco.The importance of family — not just mine, but everyone’s — in Mexican culture is evident around the holidays. People typically gather for traditional posadas in the days before Christmas and then continue the festivities through New Year’s Eve and Epiphany, which here is known as Día de Reyes. We kicked off our celebrations last year on Saturday with a dinner for 40 at La Aldea Hotel & Spa in nearby Atlixco, about 30 minutes by car from the Puebla capital. It was a spirited, all-night affair that included joke-telling, an indie rock concert by a trio of cousins, and an impromptu caravan into the city to see La Villa Iluminada (The City of Lights).

La Villa Iluminada is a 1.5-kilometer pedestrian route decorated with holiday lights that winds through the streets of downtown, from the main square to Insurgentes Boulevard, a major thoroughfare to the east. Millions colorful LEDs illuminate historic buildings, lampposts, and temporary fixtures. “For 45 days, the streets will form a circuit of light and color dressed up with figures, Christmas scenes, traditions, and the city’s identity,” officials said in 2011 on the city’s website.

The 2012 Villa Iluminada happens nightly, starting at 7 p.m., through Jan. 7, 2013.

We started our trek in the main square, where everything from city hall to the Italian Coffee shop is decked out in lights. After posing for photos with the three wise men and the giant Christmas tree, we strolled under a canopy of lights, listening to accordion music and savoring the smell of tejocotes, boiling away in freshly made ponche, that permeated the air. Street vendors offered all sorts of wares, from holiday handicrafts to flowers and pine trees. We passed through Atlixco’s oldest archway to reach the boulevard, where folk dancers performed on an elevated stage. The entire street, including the old train depot, glowed with multicolored flowers, stars, angels, and even avocados and pots of mole. It’s quite a sight — and well worth a visit.

A street vendor sells ponche (hot fruit punch) in Atlixco.Holiday lights decorate the oldest archway in Atlixco.Angels herald the holidays in the streets of Atlixco.Holiday lights in the streets of Atlixco.







The city of Atlixco reportedly invested more than 7 million pesos (US $550,000) in the expansive display, which is expected to attract 200,000 visitors during its run. Special attractions include carnival rides, various concerts through Dec. 23 and fiestas de reyes on Jan. 4, 5 and 6. For more information (in Spanish), click here. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

To get to Atlixco by car from the Puebla capital, take Vía Atlixcáyotl (head south/west from the Periférico) until it turns into a toll highway (438D). When the highway ends in a split, veer left onto the Puebla-Matamoros Highway. Turn right onto E. Zapata, which ultimately turns into Insurgentes, where you’ll run into the festival. For those traveling by bus, Linea Oro offers service to Atlixco from the CAPU station.

Post updated on December 14, 2012

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Eat Like a King, Donate Toys for Epiphany

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

The navitity scene in the zócalo of San Pedro Cholula.While most folks north of the border are packing up Christmas decorations and kicking dried-up trees to the curb, many Mexican families — three in every four of which are Catholic — are preparing to celebrate Epiphany this week. The holiday, known as el día de reyes (day of kings), commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem on January 6, twelve days after the birth of Jesus. Melchoir, Caspar, and Balthasar essentially follow in Santa’s footsteps, bringing gifts to children who’ve behaved themselves the previous year.

Waiting for the Wise Men

Pablo, my other half, recalls his childhood experiences fondly. “The night before, we put one shoe — usually the ones we wore to school — under the tree with a note for the three kings asking for toys,” he explains. “Sometimes, if we’d recently lost a tooth, we put it there, too. My brothers would leave a cookie for the kings, too, but I never did.”

While he and his brothers slept, los reyes left unwrapped toys next to each one’s shoes to be discovered on January 6. “I remember being so happy and excited, waking up in the morning and running for the tree to see what they’d brought me. One year, I got an Atari, and my dad and I stayed up playing it all night.” The family’s tradition continued every year until Pablo was about 12, he says, when he realized that his parents were the Magi.

Cutting the Cake

A king’s cake decorated with dried fruits.As part of the festivities, Mexicans typically also share a rosca de reyes and a beverage, such as hot chocolate or atole. Americans who live in the southeast (or have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans) are probably familiar with king’s cake, a large crown-shaped pastry decorated with colored sugar that’s eaten throughout the season of Carnival, from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. In Puebla, you can find various types of roscas, including a light brioche-like cake and a denser one with nuts and a frangipane-like filling. Both are often topped with strips of dried fruit. It’s customary for the baker to hide a tiny plastic baby inside, which represents Christ.

Whoever ends up with the figurine is charged with hosting the next fiesta: a tamale dinner on Feb. 2, or Candlemas, the church festival commemorating the presentation of Christ in the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.

Locals and visitors alike can take part in public cake-cutting events on Jan. 5 at Angelopolis mall and on Jan. 6 at the BUAP Cultural Complex. If you’d rather buy your own rosca de reyes, La Flor de Puebla (3 Sur #104, Centro Histórico) and Panificadora Roldán (8 Norte #1005, San Pedro Cholula) sell among the best in town. If you’d prefer to make your own, Mexconnect.com offers this poblana recipe. ¡Buen provecho!

Spreading the Joy

Antonio Prado and the good folks at the Spanish Institute of Puebla are collecting toys for the less fortunate kids in Puebla. You can help! Drop off donations of new or slightly used toys at the school (11 Oriente #10, Centro Histórico), from January 3 to 7 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The toys will be delivered on Sunday, January 9, by adults dressed up as the Three Wise Men.

“We go to the outskirts of Puebla, where there is no running water or electricity, and when the poor kids see us dressed as the Three Wise Men, they call their friends and normally within twenty minutes we will have about fifty young kids there,” Antonio says. “Once we give them toys we will drive another mile or so in the dirt road and do it again until we run out of toys. What has always amazed us is that once the kids see us instead of asking for toys they go running away to call their friends. …It is amazing the happiness these kids have from receiving these very simple gifts.”

Tríangulo las Animas is also collecting toys for charity as part of a city-sponsored campaign called Divertón. In addition, the mall will give children an opportunity to send their wishes to the Three Wise Men on Jan. 5 by tying cards to helium balloons.

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A Trip to Puebla’s Drive-Thru Zoo

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Kangaroos enjoy a nap in the walk-thru habitat at Africam.After seeing big cats and other exotic animals paraded through city streets in cages to advertise traveling circuses, it’s easy to be skeptical about the zoo experience in Mexico. Fortunately, Africam Safari not only defies stereotypes, but also promotes top-quality conditions for all creatures by pioneering best practices for the industry worldwide. The drive-through zoo, located on the outskirts of the city of Puebla, is a wonderful place for wildlife lovers — and kids of all ages — to visit.

Africam Safari was the first zoo in Latin America to receive accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, due largely to its conservation efforts and its high standards of animal care. With partners in Mexico and around the globe, Africam works to recover wild populations (such as the golden eagle) and to preserve ecosystems and soil. The park itself protects scores of endangered species and indigenous flora and fauna and strives to teach the public about them. Thousands of animals — from alpaca to zebra — roam freely in large, well-maintained habitats in which human activity is heavily controlled. In a single trip, it’s possible to watch a hippo bathe, a Bengal tiger wake up from a nap, a blackbuck antelope toss around a fallen tree branch, a joey emerge from mama kangaroo’s pouch, and more.

Be prepared to stop for the occasional ostrich, herd of mouflon, or rhino crossing the road and to have a gang of monkeys climb onto the roof of your SUV.

Inside the black bear habitat at Africam Safari.Safari means visitors must travel through the lion’s share of the park in a motorized vehicle, whether it’s a car or a public bus; if you don’t have your own wheels, Estrella Roja and Tip Tours run excursions from the zócalo to Africam at least once a day. Traffic must always yield to animals, and humans may not leave their cars. Posted signs indicate when windows need to be closed. (Tip: Honk your vehicle’s horn if you need assistance and a park ranger will appear.)

At the end of the safari, visitors can enjoy the lunch they packed in the picnic area by the parking lot, then continue their exploration on foot inside the Adventure Zone, or pedestrian portion of the zoo. Here you can meet more critters — bats, butterflies, turtles, and more — and even treat toddlers to a pony ride. Africam staff also occasionally put on animal-themed shows. Night tours are offered in late December and January.

Africam is open daily, year-round, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (park closes at 6:30 p.m.). Admission is 198 pesos per adult (192 for kids). For driving directions, click here.

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