Posts Tagged ‘Cholula’

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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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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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The “End of the World” as We Knew It

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Sunrise on December 21, 2012, as seen from atop the Cholula pyramid.Today held so much promise in the minds of so many people. December 21, 2012 — the date the Mayan calendar was set to roll over — spelled everything from doomsday to the dawn of a new era, the first day of winter to the last Friday before Christmas, depending on whose opinion you asked. All the hubbub compelled us to do something we’d been meaning to do for quite some time: watch the sun rise from atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula. No matter what happened, we figured we would at least enjoy nature’s spectacular display, take a few photos, and pay our respects to the millions of people who (like us) have helped to continuously inhabit this place over the past 2,000+ years. And that’s exactly what we did. Here’s our favorite shot of dawn breaking over the city of Puebla. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Expats Create a Sense of ‘Home’ in Puebla

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Art Open House at Galeria Bayro and INNI Innovo InstituteBeing an “expat”—or at least living outside your native culture and functioning in another language—isn’t always easy. Feeling frustrated, lonely, and homesick from time to time is inevitable, especially in a city like Puebla, where the locals have a reputation for being exceedingly kind to strangers yet glacially slow to add anyone new to their social circles. Thus, it can be helpful to connect with other foreign residents to form friendships, share resources, support one another, and build community.

Outdoor symphony concert—the first of its kind at the BUAP—to celebrate the Botanical Garden's 25th anniversary.It took me a while to figure out how to do that, because unlike Mexico City, Puebla doesn’t have a Newcomers Club or a U.S. Embassy or any other organization that coordinates events for Americans, Canadians, or folks from elsewhere in the world who speak English and aren’t affiliated with a specific employer, church, or school. (I say “English” because not everyone’s Spanish is perfect or even passable, especially when they first arrive in Mexico.) So, with the help of a few others, I started an “expat” group in September 2009, about six months before launching this website. Through word of mouth, our initial group of five has grown to some 160 people from a dozen different countries.
Fireworks over the pond at the BUAP Botanical Garden

Although “home” is wherever my husband and cat happen to be, having a supportive social network is important, too.

It seems like it took forever, but as a result of the friends and connections I’ve made through the group, this week I finally felt like I was home in Puebla — an insider instead of an outsider. By “insider,” I simply mean my social calendar was filled with events, from a Thanksgiving potluck to a SoHo-worthy art open house and a gala anniversary party to a gourmet dinner at the most contemporary restaurant in town. All four private affairs were hosted by foreign residents and Poblanos (including the dinner, which was organized by All About Puebla). Could it be that we’ve achieved some sort of critical mass, in terms of people, energy, and diversity? A girl can dream, can’t she? In any case, what a privilege it was to be in the presence of such stimulating company, having conversations in English and Spanish!

All About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantAll About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantThank you, everyone, for your efforts, your invitations, and your contributions to the group. If anyone out there would like to join us in the future, drop me a line and I’ll add you to our emailing list. Happy holidays!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Puebla

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

A Day of the Dead altar in Huaquechula, Puebla.Few traditions in Mexico rival Day of the Dead in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated in Puebla in late October and early November, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Day of the Dead’s origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a month-long ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. These days, many families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away, often during the preceding year. The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

“This holiday is a perfect example of the complex heritage of the Mexican people,” observes Judy King of MexicoConnect. “The beliefs today are based on the complicated blended cultures of his ancestors, the Aztec and Maya and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.” (In Puebla, there’s been at least one ofrenda dedicated to Pope John Paul II in recent years.)

Day of the Dead altars range from modest displays of the deceased’s favorite foods and objects to costly and elaborate monuments of affection. In some places, such as the town of Huaquechula, families welcome visitors into their homes to appreciate their altars and to share a cup of hot chocolate or atole and a slice sweet bread or a homemade tamal. Note: It is customary to leave a few coins in the offering or add a votive candle to the altar if you do.

If you’re in Puebla for Day of the Dead in 2012, here’s where to see altars and participate in other holiday-related activities.

Puebla

Looking for places to see traditional altars in the city of Puebla? Head to the historic center. The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its 42nd annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municpal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) from Nov. 1 to 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Just across the zócalo, on the other side of the Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks. Both events typically draw a spectacular array of altars, or ofrendas, in styles varying from indigenous to innovative.

Meanwhile, the Museo Amparo hosts a Fandango de Muertos on Nov. 1 and 2 at the museum (2 Sur #708). The family-oriented events feature a marionette show about Day of the Dead at 6 p.m., followed by the traditional musical stylings of Poblano folk group Reyes Son at 7:30 p.m. The Amparo is also participating in the city-sponsored Museum Nights on the same days. Admission to the Amparo, as well as eight other galleries, is free after 5 p.m. or so (hours vary at different locations). For complete details and participating sites, click here [PDF].

Other scheduled events in Puebla’s 2012 La Muerte Es Un Sueño festival include: “Living statues” in the Pasaje de Ayuntamiento (the enclosed walkway next to the Palacio Municipal), Nov. 1 through 4, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; various performances of pre-Hispanic music and dance by Grupo Azteca Tonatiuh, Nov. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the zócalo; a grand parade of traditional calaveras, from Paseo Bravo (corner of Reforma and 11 Norte) to the zócalo, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m.; and a concert by the Huapango trio Descendencia Huasteca, the “pre-Hispanic and electronic” band Rockercoátl, and cabaret singer Regina Orozco, Nov. 3, starting at 6 p.m.

Cholula

The Complejo Cultural de la BUAP (Vía Atlixcáyotl # 2499, San Andrés Cholula) brings Halloween and Day of the Dead together in a single celebration, Vive Muertos. Starting at noon on Oct. 31, the university campus will offer various musical, theatrical, and dance performances, including a re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (6:30 p.m.). Visitors can also view altars, taste typical foods, make their own sugar skulls, and watch open-air movie screenings.

Cholula en Bici is also merging All Hallows’ Eve with All Saints’ Day on Oct. 31 with a bicycle tour of cemeteries around town that leaves the main square of San Pedro Cholula (Avenida Morelos at Miguel Alemán) at 8 p.m. Participants in the two-wheeled rodada panteonera are invited to decorate their bikes and bring food or drink to share.

Atlixco

The city of Atlixco has assembled a massive floral carpet for Day of the Dead, which is on public display in its zócalo through at least Nov. 10. It features a Catarina modeled after the post cards of cartoonist José Guadalupe Posadas — comprising some 150,000 marigolds, chrysanthemums, and amaranth and coleus plants. Meanwhile, a giant altar erected by city employees is on display inside El Palacio Municipal. Atlixco also plans to host a desfile de calaveras, or skull parade, downtown on Nov. 2.

Huaquechula

The trek to and around Huaquechula during its Feria de Todos los Santos is well worth it. Its unique altars, which can cost tens of thousands of pesos to assemble, are towering structures up to 10 feet tall. These ofrendas are often made of cardboard and covered with white or pastel-colored satin, and the shiny fabric gives the multilevel tributes a distinctive look. As noted above, the townspeople open their doors to the public, including curious tourists who’d like to pay their respects. Nearly 40 altars will be on display from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 this year. If you go, wear walking shoes and start your tour at 2 p.m. at the cultural center on the town square, which provides a map to homes with altars. You can also follow the trails of marigold petals leading to the ofrendas from the street.

Chignahuapan

A bit further afield, in the town of Chignahuapan, the Festival of Light and Life takes place on Nov. 1. It features a torchlight procession and an artistic representation of the nine levels of Mictlán, the Aztec underworld. The procession, expected to draw some 2,000 people, starts around 6 p.m. and travels from the zócalo to the lake.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated on October 25, 2012. The original version was published on Oct. 18, 2011.

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Art, Music, Film, Dance: CCU BUAP Offers It All

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Complejo Cultural Universitario“Through art and culture, the Complejo Cultural Universitario provides a stage on which we’re able to demonstrate how modern the state of Puebla and the nation of Mexico are and offer a benchmark of modernity in the world,” Enrique Agüera Ibáñez told Alianzatex.com at a recent art opening. Agüera is rector of the Benemerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, the state’s oldest and largest public university, and the man ultimately responsible for the auxiliary campus’s construction.

If establishing a “benchmark of modernity” sounds like a tall order, it is. But since its grand opening in 2008, the cultural complex has hosted scores of world-class events, such as the Ciudad de la Ideas conference, concerts by international pop stars (from Enrique Iglesias to Morrissey), major art exhibitions, and live broadcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera. It’s also mounted diverse national and regional fairs, festivals, and competitions celebrating literature, theater, music, arts and crafts, major holidays, and more. Add to that folkloric dance performances, movie screenings, hands-on workshops for adults and children, a well-stocked bookstore, and several restaurants with valet parking and, at the very least, Agüera seems to be putting his money where his mouth is.

Musicians perform at an artisanal fair at the CCU BUAP.“It’s important to note that, from Río Bravo to Patagonia, no other facility like the Complejo Cultural Universitario exists with the concept of integrating several areas dedicated to art, culture, and academics—much less one created by a public university, as is our case,” the university boasts on its website. To create the space, the BUAP invested some $69 million USD in the 945,900-square-foot facility, sourcing all of its materials in Puebla and creating some 3,000 jobs in the process, the online newspaper Periódico Digital reports.

Ciudad de las Ideas conference at the CCU BUAP, Puebla, Mexico (2010)Although the complex’s architectural design is decidedly minimalistic — its stark white exterior resembles a blank canvas — its devotion the liberal arts and regional culture is anything but. Beyond curating scores of events every month, what truly sets the institution apart from the rest is that many of its festivals, exhibitions, and other activities are free and open to the public, including students, residents, and tourists. The only drawback: You’ll pay about 100 pesos to get there from the historic center of Puebla in a taxi, or you’ll need to figure out how to get there by bus.

What’s On at the CCU BUAP

Here are a half dozen notable events (three of which are free) currently scheduled at the Complejo Cultural Universitario, which is located at Vía Atlixcáyotl #2499 in Zona Angelopolis. For a complete list of activities, visit its website. For other events happening in Puebla, check out our events calendar.

Today through Oct. 21 Renown Zapotec painter and sculptor Alejandro Santiago pays tribute to women of the world in this mixed-media exhibition of 21 works on display in the Galería de Arte, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Free.

Sept. 29 Los Mariacheros, flamenco guitarists Bufón Acústico, singer Itzel Lampallas, and the musical group El Cayuco perform in the Andador Cultural starting at 2 p.m. Free.

Oct. 6 The Canadian punk band Simple Plan rock the auditorium, 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost 270 to 880 pesos, available at eticket.mx.

Oct. 20-27: 1er Festival Angelopolitano de Danza 2012, the first such conference organized by the CCU BUAP’s Contemporary Dance Company, includes lectures, roundtable discussions, a choreography competition, dance presentations, and more. All day. Free.

Nov. 8-10 Ciudad de las Ideas 2012, a TED-like conference of brilliant minds takes place in the Auditorio, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Speakers to include Craig Venter and John Underkoffler. Tickets cost 4,300 pesos, available from the organizers.

Nov. 17 Gloria Trevi, who’s been called the Supreme Diva of Mexican Pop, brings her live show to the Auditorio, 8:29 p.m. Tickets cost 210 to 1,800 pesos at Superboletos.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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The Cider ‘Crush’ at Copa de Oro in Cholula

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Sampling cider from an oak barrel at Copa de Oro in Cholula.The Spanish influence in San Pedro Cholula isn’t always quite as evident as it is in the nearby Colonial city of Puebla. Despite an abundance of Catholic churches, including one that crowns the world’s largest pre-Hispanic pyramid, the town maintains its older, distinctly indigenous vibe. However, just a few blocks from the archaeological site, inside a nondescript industrial building, the Castillo-Blanca family is working to preserve a centuries-old tradition from Asturias, Spain, and make it a bona fide Mexican one.

For three generations, its Copa de Oro distillery has produced sidra, or hard cider, from apples cultivated in the state of Puebla. The business began in 1936, when Ramón Blanca Amador started fermenting the regional red fruit into an aguardiente de manzana. He called the drink sidra actiopa, a nod to the Nahautl words atl (water) and teopa (temple) and a suggestion that his liquor was nothing short of divine. Today Copa de Oro produces several varieties of sidra gasificada, or carbonated hard cider, plus non-alcoholic sparkling cider, cider “coolers,” vinegar, applesauce, and more. The company turns out three grades of cider—Palencia, Copa de Oro, and Renetta—which are differentiated by their labels and the amount of time each cider is aged in an oak barrel (up to one, two, or three years, respectively).

Unlike many wines, hard cider doesn’t improve with age: After about two years, it’s properties change and it evolves into vinegar.

“The national palate is sweet,” sales director Mario García Roche explains to me after a tour of the factory. To cater to that taste, most of Copa de Oro’s ciders are on the sugary side, with one important exception: Renetta Reserva Especial, which the company produced for its 75th anniversary last year. “It’s the only cider made in Mexico that’s semi-dry,” García Roche boasts.

Copa de Oro Renetta is “the best cider” my Poblano hubby has ever had.His bragging is justified. The Renetta is, in a word, exquisite. “Wow! It’s the best cider I’ve ever had,” my husband declares after taking a sip of the ice-cold bubbly. Like many Poblanos, he’s accustomed to drinking the sweeter stuff, and mostly at family dinners around Christmastime or New Year’s. It’s said that hard cider became popular in Mexico as a festive yet less expensive alternative to Champagne and sparkling wines like Cava. And, comparatively, it’s a bargain. At 101 pesos (about US $7) per bottle, the Renetta semi-seco is Copa de Oro’s priciest product.

Copa de Oro expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider in 2012.Copa de Oro is looking for ways to broaden cider’s national appeal by developing new products, such as cider “coolers” in single-serving bottles that come in different flavors and include rum, García Roche says. But its core product remains its amber and rosé ciders (the latter of which is 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile). In 2012, the company expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider, he notes, all of which is made from 100 percent fruit that’s cultivated in Puebla. Most of that will be consumed nationally, but Copa de Oro is working to export more products to the U.S., Colombia, Cuba, and Spain.

The “crush” typically begins in July and lasts for about six months, as tons of apples — of the winter banana, perón, ripio, or panochera variety — arrive from orchards, most of which are located on the skirts of the Popocatépetl volcano or near the Puebla-Veracruz state line in Santa María Coatepec and San Salvador El Seco, García Roche explains. After the apples arrive, they are washed and pressed into juice, which is then fermented, filtered, pasteurized, carbonated, and bottled. Copa de Oro can process up to 30,000 bottles per day (5,000 cases) when operating at full capacity, García Roche says.

Copa de Oro plans to kick off the 2012 season with a “blessing of the apples” and a parade on Saturday, July 21, from 10 to 11 a.m., García Roche says. The route starts and ends at the distillery (3 Sur #904, Col. Centro), passing through downtown San Pedro Cholula. A tasting and cider pairing will follow at Copa de Oro, which also operates a tasting room and “living museum” called La Barrica. The public is invited; expect to pay about 120 pesos per person for the food and drink.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Free tours of the distillery (in Spanish only) are offered year-round, by reservation only, to groups of 10 people or more. Call +52 (222) 247-1989 for more information.

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Touring Two of Cholula’s Magnificent Churches

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Fans of religious architecture shouldn’t miss a visit to San Andrés Cholula, where two churches — Santa María Tonantzintla and San Francisco Acatepec — provide magnificent examples of local craftsmanship and the region’s blended Spanish-indigenous influence. Each structure is special and important in its own way, with one displaying its splendor on the inside and the other on the outside.

Tonantzintla's relatively plain facade gives visitors no indication of the splendor inside.Santa María Tonantzintla could be one of the most enchanting places of worship ever constructed in Mexico. Located just six miles from downtown Puebla in San Andrés Cholula, the 17th-century church uniquely fuses European and native designs, a style of architecture known today as indigenous baroque. Inspired by the stunning Capilla del Rosario in the nearby city of Puebla, Tonantzintla’s architects tried to give their church a more local, realistic feel. Tonantzintla is adorned mostly with colorful plaster in place of gilded stucco.

The name Tonantzintla, which means “place of our little mother” in Nahuatl, comes from the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the earth mother who became the equivalent of the Virgin Mary when the Spaniards conquered the pre-Hispanic world. From the outside, the church doesn’t look like much: Crude figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary greet visitors from their perch atop an austere facade (see photo, at right above). But its magnificence quickly becomes apparent inside. The walls are completely covered with ornate plaster molds and models, which are colorfully painted or coated with gold. It’s an explosion of shapes, symbols, and meanings. And, although the figures and faces are rough, childlike, and less elegant than those typically found in other Baroque churches in México, they are equally breathtaking.

Tonantzintla's walls are covered with plaster molds and models, either colorfully painted or coated with gold.“The church of Santa María Tonantzintla is a required visit for anyone who wants to enjoy a spiritual atmosphere that’s ‘out of this world,’” notes architect Ignacio Cabral in his book, Religious Architecture in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla. “The fruits, flowers, children, faces, masks, birds, figures of saints and more together form an extraordinary mosaic — a frank ‘horror vacui,’ or fear of empty space — that is so typical of the Baroque style and here is interpreted in an indigenous fashion.”

What merits the most attention, Cabral continues, is Tonantzintla’s dome, which is like no other in Mexico. “It’s a ‘celestial vision’ of the indigenous world as they imagined it and captured it with their own hands … a magnificent example of the union of Mexican and European [cultures] and of the syncretism between Christianity and the indigenous worldview.”

The church operates autonomously from the Archdiocese of Puebla and is supported and promoted by the community. Signs in the church forbid tourists from taking any photographs inside, with or without flash, to preserve the paint’s colors (they make exceptions during weddings, which is how we got our shots). Post cards may be purchased at the entrance; the money collected goes toward maintenance efforts.

San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of the Baroque talavera style in Mexico.Less than a mile from Tonantzintla, San Francisco Acatepec offers one of the finest examples of viceregal architecture and Baroque talavera in Mexico. Upon arrival at Acatepec, the first thing visitors notice is its beautiful facade, which is entirely covered by locally produced ceramic tiles. The handcrafted pieces are so intricately painted that they appear to change colors with the weather: When the sun shines, the reddish hues catch fire; when it’s cloudy, the cobalt blue tones seem to complement the gray sky. The vivid details and ornamentation are characteristic of Puebla’s trademark pottery, a centuries-old traditional art that continues today. “The magnificence of the façade is such that it looks like a porcelain temple, worth being kept under glass,” renowned Colonial art historian Don Manuel Toussaint once noted.

The church — built during the same era Tonantzintla — is named after its original village, Acatepec, which means “hill of reeds” in Nahuatl, and the patron saint of the new church, St. Francis. Sadly, on December 31, 1939, a fire destroyed its original interior, which featured carved cedar altars and gold-covered stucco details.

Some 15 years before the disaster, an engineer named Alberto Pani made a series of books called Churches of Mexico, which depicted 17th- and 18th-century churches to demonstrate the architectural richness of the country. To present them in the best way possible, he worked with one of the nation’s top photographers, Guillermo Kahlo. (If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was Frida’s father. Yes, that Frida!) Based on these pictures, the interior of San Francisco Acatepec was largely reconstructed in 1941, and, although it is nowhere as complete as the original, it’s still stunning — and well worth checking out. —Vica Amuchastegui

Both churches are accessible by taxi and bus, including the Cholula Tranvia, which departs from the zócalo of Puebla at 11 a.m., Tuesday through Sunday. (Adult tickets: 100 pesos.) The churches are open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Post updated November 6, 2013.

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Posted in Arts + Culture, Featured, Politics + Religion, See | Comments Off on Touring Two of Cholula’s Magnificent Churches

Where to Wet Your Whistle in Cholula

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Bar Reforma’s decor includes silk flowers hanging from the ceiling.When it comes to nightlife, the Puebla capital has a reputation for being, well, a bit boring. This is largely because major concert acts and theater productions frequently pass it by for the more cosmopolitan and populous Mexico City nearby. But the greater Puebla area nonetheless offers an abundant supply of lively bars, dance clubs, and music venues where locals and tourists alike can get their drink, their groove, or their air guitar on.

On any given night of the week, it’s typical to head for one of four zones where clubs cluster: the Centro Histórico/Los Sapos, Avenida Juarez, La Isla by Angelópolis mall, and Cholula. We tend to hang out in Cholula, because it’s both close to home and unparalleled in its diversity of choices. Whatever we’re in the mood for — dinner with a bottle of wine, a game of pool over a few beers, live jazz or rock, dancing till dawn, etc. — we can find it on or just off the main drag that stretches from behind the UDLA to the zócalo of San Pedro. (Note: The street’s name changes from 14 Poniente to 14 Oriente at Avenida Cinco de Mayo and then Avenida Morelos near the pyramid.) In general, Cholula is also more affordable than the so-called fresa establishments in Puebla proper, where well-heeled poblanos often dominate the scene and drive up prices.

A bachelorette party livens up the show at Taxi Bar.We try not to get too attached to any particular place, because even Cholula’s most popular spots seem to change names, motifs, and owners as often as the university welcomes a new freshman class. The students do, after all, provide a significant chunk of their customer base, so catering to fickle sensibilities can attract steady business, at least for a while. That said, we tend to roll with a slightly older crowd (25 and up) and our list of faves below, which currently lacks a dance club, reflects this. All but one of our picks has been around for at least two years.

A few tips for visitors: Although it’s safe enough for single women to go out on their own, if you do you’re unlikely to be left alone, particularly if you look foreign; savvy national gals travel in pairs, if not packs, when unescorted by someone of the opposite sex. Smokers should be aware that it’s illegal to light up indoors, or outside of designated smoking areas, although management at some places may look the other way if no one complains. Cash is always the preferred method of payment and often the only one accepted; carry small bills and pay in exact amounts to avoid long waits for your change. A 10 percent gratuity is appreciated.

Our Favorite Local Watering Holes

Bar Reforma (4 Sur at Avenida Morelos) From the outside, this small cantina connected to a hotel almost looks like a scene from Desperado: Patrons push through swinging saloon doors on a corner of the town’s main drag to enter. Once inside, however, they’re greeted not by gun-slinging outlaws, but by dueling walls of photographs — a collage of Cholula’s 126 churches on the left, a sea of Marilyn Monroe glamour shots on the right. You can ponder whether this is some kind of metaphor for saints and sinners over a glass of the house’s signature sangria. For those who drink a few too many, management has kindly installed talavera basins in both restrooms specifically for vomiting. Open after 5 p.m., every day but Sunday.

La Búrbula (14 Oriente #422, next to Monchis) We have a soft spot in our hearts for this restaurant-meets-lounge because it’s where we went on our first date in 2007. The building’s been remodeled since then, but the tasty menu — mostly appetizers, salads, pizzas, and pastas — and the Polynesia-goes-disco atmosphere remain the same. La Búrbula entices the thirsty with frou-frou cocktails like mango daiquiris and margaritas, but also pours the usual fare (beer, wine, liquor, etc.). It sometimes features DJs and bands in the evenings. Open daily from 2 p.m. on. Update: La Búrbula has moved to 5 de Mayo #407 in the heart of San Pedro Cholula.

Cus Cus Cus (6 Norte #601, between 6 and 8 Oriente) Only a few blocks from the pyramid off Avenida Morelos, Cus Cus Cus occupies a historic home that’s been converted into a shabby-chic restaurant and lounge. Each room is a bit different, beckoning patrons to choose between cozy side rooms or the airier central courtyard. We go for the variety of cocktails — it’s one of the few places that offers drinkable wine by the glass — and snacks, particularly the popcorn chicken and the pizzas, which are piled high with toppings. Open Thursday to Saturday after 7 p.m.

El Salvaje Oeste (Carril a Morillotla #301, a half dozen speed bumps or so from the Carretera Federal a Atlixco.) This neighborhood bar is way off the beaten path, but for those who want to visit an authentic cantina, it’s our favorite. Run by the same family that owns the taco stand, cobbler, and mini mart on the same block, The Wild West has been serving cold beer and tequila since the residential area around it began developing more than 15 years ago. It started as a hole-in-wall with a few bar stools and sawdust-covered floor and has since expanded into a full-fledged dive, replete with vinyl sofas and a big-screen TV. Open most evenings except Sundays.

Jazzatlán (2 Sur #102 at Avenida Morelos) This artsy café and bar hosts live music at least two nights a week. The last time we went there, we not only caught a fantastic local jazz trio, but also took advantage of a sweet dinner special: buy any bottle of wine, get a pizza and salad for free. It’s conveniently located, too, just around the corner from San Pedro’s main square, where there’s a taxi stand and a public parking lot. Cover charge ranges from free to 150 pesos, depending on act booked. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

RokPub (14 Oriente #616 at 8 Norte) This rock & roll burger joint is part sports bar, part night club, depending on which day of the week you happen to pop in. There’s one crowded pool table downstairs and several more upstairs, where patrons can also play Nintendo Wii — lots of giggles for anyone who’s able to handle a little public humiliation. RokPub also offers live music, happy hour specials, and shows major sporting events on the big-screen. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., except Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight.

Taxi Bar (12 Oriente at 2 Norte) Located inside Container City, Taxi draws hipsters of all ages with cold beer, funky décor, and DJs/live bands. Expect a loud and festive environment: The bar’s open-air design means that sometimes its music mixes with that of the sustainable strip mall’s other occupants. Although it doesn’t serve food, patrons can often order tacos or döner kebab without leaving their seats, as waiters from adjacent restaurants wander through the crowd. Open most days from early afternoon on.

Is your favorite bar or club missing from the list? Share your top Cholula night spots with us in the comments section below! Find an error? We did our best to verify each bar’s current business hours, which of course are subject to change. If you have updated infomation, please contact us.

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