Adventure, Mexico, Photographs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Photo Friday: The Mastur-Bar and the Toltec Empire

The first photo this week is not actually a great picture, but I absolutely love it:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Yes, that sign says it’s a MASTUR-BAR. But not just any mastur-bar! This one has ambiente familiar—in other words, a family environment.

I don’t know what kind of family goes to a mastur-bar together, but I support this concept and I’m glad it exists. Who among us hasn’t ever gone into a bar and just wished we could rub one out? Preferably with siblings and cousins in attendance? I literally made a U-turn when I saw this sign to make sure I got a picture.

The only explanation I can come up with is that this is a bit of Spanglish. Businesses in Mexico often use English words to seem hip, and they don’t always nail the spelling. Maybe this is supposed to the the Master-Bar, which sounds somewhat more appealing and a whole lot cleaner.

The best part is it’s just as bad in Spanish. The word for “to masturbate” is masturbarse. So this has to look just as ridiculous to every Mexican driving past as it does to me. That makes me wonder what kind of clientele they get, and how family-friendly it really is.

Okay, let’s clean it up guys. On to something a bit more spiritual:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s the view of one pyramid from on top of another pyramid at the Tula de Allende Archaeological Site. (Tula is the same town with the mastur-bar, by the way.) This is one of the more stunning pyramid sites in Mexico. It’s not as famous as the great pyramids of Chichén-Itzá, which I’ll bike past toward the end of my journey. But the two sites are very similar, so much so that archaeologists suspect the Toltecs from Tula influenced the Mayans who built Chichén-Itzá.

The most famous part of Tula’s pyramids is the Atlantes, however:

Photo by André

Photo by André

The Atlantes are giant warrior statues atop the more important of the two pyramids—the one I took the first picture from. This pyramid is believed to be dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important Toltec deities who went on to be worshiped by the Aztecs (and the Mayans, under a different name).

You can see what the Atlantes look like without silhouette here.

Although most people come for the Atlantes, I was taken with a different part of the pyramid. The wall around it is decorated with carvings, and they’re pretty incredible:

Photo by André

Photo by André

In case you can’t tell, those are skeletons being devoured by rattlesnakes. There’s a similar motif on the walls at Chichén-Itzá, but they’re not nearly as well preserved. Besides being incredibly badass, the carvings represent the ritual of human sacrifice, which was a Big Deal to the Toltecs.

Fortunately, I’m not Toltec. I offered plain ol’ incense to Quetzalcoatl. As the smoke rose up to the heavens, the trill of a traditional flute pierced the air. The source? A peddler hoping to sell me a traditional flute.

Some things are the same the world over.

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Photo Friday: The Man in the Mirror

This is the view of the Templo de Carmen from the seventh floor of the Hotel Maria Cristina in San Luis, Potosí:

Photo by André

Photo by André

Since snapping this, I’ve taken a one week break to enroll in a Spanish immersion school including a homestay with a local host family. It’s challenging but very well structured and that makes learning the language a lot less difficult than you might think. It also takes virtually all of my time, which means I’m falling behind on road logs—but I do hope to have more up soon.

Standard
Adventure, Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Photo Friday: Wirikuta and Festival Street

Since I managed to miss Photo Friday last week, this week there’s a double shot. First up:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s the view from the chapel of Guadalupe outside Real de Catorce. That white stuff beyond the mountains? That’s the top of endless miles of cloud covering the desert below.

Real de Catorce was formerly a silver mining town, and became a ghost town for many years. It’s also the gateway to the Wirikuta (Huiricuta), the sacred land of the Huichol. Each year they make a pilgrimage to this land, and to the sacred mountain far out in the desert, to collect the magic peyote cactus.

Here’s a different shot of the edge of the cloud bank as we ascended toward Real:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That shot, however, is on the outside of the cluster of mountains that surround the sacred land. You can see that the mist is thinner here and drifts freely. In the first shot, over the sacred desert, the thick cloud bank is essentially trapped by the mountains—it covered the whole desert the entire time we were there.

The other shot is from the town of Moctezuma (!), part of the “Corridor of Oases” that leads from the desert to the lush heartland of San Luis Potosí:

Photo by André

Photo by André

This is the main road into town, leading from a small parish church in an outlying village across the river to the centro and main parish church in town (I rode in via this street). The decorations are from a Catholic festival, in which people processed from the outlying church to the central one. When I asked a local which saint the festival and decorations were for, he scrunched his face.

“There are so many,” he said. “How can I remember?”

He also pointed out that although Guadalupe’s feast day isn’t until December 12, people start celebrating it weeks earlier; one of the recent processions could be for her.

“If the saint days are only a few weeks apart, people just leave up the same decorations the whole time,” he added.

Here is the same street by full daylight. I love the shadows that the decorations make:

Photo by André

Photo by André

More soon!

Standard
Adventure, Bicycling, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, Travel

Photo Friday: Narcolandia

Since I’m now back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to resume my semi-regular Photo of the Week practice every Friday. This week’s photo, which you can find below, is actually taken by my friend the Fly Brother, and shows Pixi and me—the first two cyclists of the Fellowship of the Wheel–as we set off on a ride across northern Mexico under our own power.

Photo by Ernest White II

The Fly Brother also wrote a riveting account of that first day, from his perspective as the driver of our support vehicle across what he refers to as Narcolandia. It was thanks to Fly’s cheerful bravery, and the help of numerous contributors, that we didn’t have to go it alone. Read his full account (with more photos) here.

And since I’m long overdue for an update of my own, here are some essentials:

  • We made it safely to our first rest stop in Saltillo, Coahuilas. That’s where I am as I write this. The roads seemed all in all safe, and we put as much distance between us and the border as we could in our first three days.
  • For those who contributed to the Fellowship of the Wheel crowdfunding campaign, I’m just editing the first video logs. They should be in your email before Monday. For everyone else, I’m hoping to create a way to become a supporter even though the campaign is over, allowing you to get access if you missed out.
  • I’m staying 100% on top of my road logs this time, so unlike the ride down the Mississippi there won’t be any year-or-more lags before my journals are up. However, I’m also determined to get the last few overdue road logs up from Texas, so expect those in the next couple days. Mexico logs will start after that.

Again, thank you to everyone who provided support in any form. Gracias and viva la Fellowship!

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

One last stop in Guanajuato [Photo]

Today is Independence Day, the Fourth of July, George Washington’s birthday and the feast day of St. Benjamin Franklin! Happy 4th to all my US readers. I arrived safe and sound in the US despite some customs hiccups. Perhaps appropriately, today will be the last of my Mexico photos, at least for now.

I had to seek this one out. One day I was wandering through some new callejones (apparently other expats are scared to do this? Guys it’s just houses!) and I came upon what I call the Alley of the Flores, because every single balcony was hung with flower pots and the whole thing was painted bright colors. I wanted a picture right away but (of course) had no camera on me. I made a mental note to get return another day and take photos.

When that day came, I rounded the corner into Flores and stopped in my tracks. It was every bit as pretty as I remembered, but someone had thoughtfully parked a brand new VW that perfectly matched the trim paint of the alley. It’s like they knew I was coming.

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out. I took a bunch of photos from different angles, and this isn’t quite my favorite but it has the best colors. What do you think? How could I have made it better?

Anyway, so long Guanajuato, hello beach town. I’m having a cookout this evening with my Texas friends. What are y’all doing?

Standard
Mexico, Photographs, Travel

The Steps of Guanajuato (Photo of the Week)

This week’s Photo of the Week was snapped from the stairs of the University of Guanajuato, which look like this:

Photo by André

Photo by André

That’s 113 stairs on one of the most stunning and asymmetrical old timey buildings I’ve seen. I don’t know what kinds of classes are held at the top, but I hope the professor gives extra credit.

The stairs also double as amphitheater space during the Cervantino, Guanajuato’s annual festival of arts, culture and theater. The Cervantino is named (and held in honor of) Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. Like many longstanding traditions it makes little sense: Cervantes wasn’t born here, never visited here, and set none of his fiction here. The best explanation I’ve gotten is that when one of Mexico’s presidents visited Guanajuato, he watched a live street play that just happened to be about Cervantes, and thought it was so brilliant he declared they should do a big drama festival. That kind of sounds like a folk story, but it also sounds very Mexico. The result is bronze statues of Cervantes, Quixote, and Sancho all over downtown, and costumed actors who lead tours and reenact scenes.

The Cervantino is in November so I won’t see it, but it’s a major international festival with the arts of one Mexican state and one foreign nation singled out each year. During that time, there are many performances outdoors (as well as in the city’s two historic theaters and many smaller stages) and the 113 steps offer plenty of stadium seating for one of the most popular venues.

But when I ventured up it was pretty empty, because rain clouds rumbled down the mountains just as the church bells rang 6 o’clock. I managed to catch church, clouds, mountains and a fellow intrepid photographer all in one shot::

Photo by André

Photo by André

I’m a little timid about calling that Photo of the Week. My photography skills just aren’t where I’d like them to be, and someone else could have gotten a much more dramatic shot. (I already know where I wished I would have stood instead, which is more behind her to put the focus on her view of the horizon).

But I like this shot for several reasons:

  • I finally got a candid shot of a local in the foreground, which is incredibly hard to do without them staring at you.
  • I got a foreground figure at all, whereas normally I just photograph what interests me: landscapes, buildings and moods. Boring stuff to most people.
  • I’m finally getting a sense of how to use the Dutch tilt to good effect. It used to be I’d tilt the camera A TON to kind of scream GUYS IT’S DRAMATIC (like in the first photo), or I’d realize how contrived that is and just shoot flat angles. But this picture has a slight tilt that adds movement without waving its arms for attention, and compliments the natural angle of the mountains versus the buildings.

Still, it’s not an amazing shot, and I welcome critique. By the way, that statue in the background? That’s Pípila, a guy you should totally read about. And yes, I did hike up the mountain to see him (instead of taking the cable car), but you should have already guessed that.

Any feedback on the photo, photographer friends?

Standard
Andre Sólo, Mexico, Photographs, Spotlight, Travel

Lunch, Hair, Advice Column [Photo of the Week]

I was going to post this last week, but then the rainstorm happened.

First off, I think you guys deserve a proper picture of the haircut you helped choose:

Photo by André

Photo by André

To be clear, this isn’t exactly the Lannister cut I was looking for. I did everything I could: brought pictures and learned all the haircut-related Spanish words (sideburns are patillas, by the way). But Mexico is still very much a craftsman economy. Instead of buying something mass produced you’re often paying an artisan to build you something one of a kind, whether that is an iron gate or a new laptop. Even a house doesn’t go exactly by the blueprint: the contractors have their own idea of what will work best. Apparently this attitude extends to haircuts.

Still, it’s close and overall I like it. It seems like other people do too. You can generally tell a haircut is a success not so much by whether people compliment it (they’re sort of obligated) but by the attention you get from the gender of your preference.

In my case I could immediately tell the difference in the second looks from Mexican women as I walked down the same streets I’ve walked for a month. I went to my favorite lunch counter at the public market, and the lady who usually serves me didn’t even recognize me at first. When she did, she made a big deal and started conversating [sic]. In the past our only real interaction was her taunting me when I asked for hot sauce, a routine that never gets old. Now she wanted to know if I had a wife or girlfriend. Subtle.

She then told the younger woman working there to try land me as a boyfriend. The younger girl nearly died when she realized I understood them. She spent the rest of my visit blushing and doing her best to make only fleeting eye contact.

Not too bad, Lannister.

Here’s the whole crew from the lunch counter:

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

The one in the yellow apron is the trouble maker, and the one on the left is the shy one. Photo by André.

So that’s the photo of the week. My time in Guanajuato is now half over. I’m still making friends here and discovering new places, while also scrambling to plan what happens next.

As a side note, I recently shot a pilot for an advice podcast:

It ran longer than we hoped, and we need to get sharper audio next time. But I’m happy with how it turned out. It wasn’t long ago that shooting videos terrified me, whereas now it seems easy. Of course, Cole (my co-host) is the real secret to success. She’s just naturally warm and funny, and we get pretty ridiculous when we’re together.

We’re going to shoot at least a few more of these to see how it goes. If you have a problem you need advice on, leave a comment and let us know! Meanwhile, I will get back to posting Road Logs here soon.

Standard