Monday, December 30, 2013

Week ending 28 diciembre

This is the last Week Ending linkup (thanks, Wanda, for having hosted it!), but I'll probably keep doing week ending posts because they're a good way to mark the passing of the seasons around here.

However, this past weekend was very quiet - on purpose. For quite a few years I have taken the last 2 weeks of the year to for reflection, for getting ready for the new year, and for general restorative purposes. Which is why I haven't posted anything for what seems like ages although it's really only been a week. But of course the week contained all the events surrounding Christmas day, including a wonderful long vigil mass on Tuesday and Christmas dinner with Padre as the guest on Wednesday.

The last week of Advent we listened to the Messiah every evening:

We can never get enough of this wonderful treatment of scripture in music. And of course, it's a great addition to the Easter season as well (I believe it was actually written for Easter performance). Assuming that you don't have 2 hours to listen to it right now, I urge you to click on it and hit the YouTube button so you can mark it over there for future listening. Same with the link below!

We discovered that the tradition in Mexico is to have Christmas dinner around midnight after the Tuesday night mass, but we just couldn't imagine staying sufficiently alert to try it, so we stayed with having Christmas dinner on Wednesday after the noon mass.

On Wednesday evening we listened to "A Christmas Carol" with Lionel Barrymore - a Christmas tradition in our family from the very beginning, only now instead of listening to the original records (78s) we play it on YouTube:

Today I decided to use the saint's name generator that Jen created, although I'm still trying to figure out how to deepen what I'm learning from the saints who have already become part of my life. Anyway, I was given St. Margaret of Hungary, who - surprise, surprise - had a life much like Santa Rosa de Lima (my patron saint). I still haven't come to an understanding of the severity of the practices that they followed, other than to know that during the times that they were alive, there was a cultural acceptance and even approval of bodily suffering that we don't accept in our times. I do understand their desire to do whatever it took to unite themselves to Jesus and to show Him their love.

I need God to show me what it is He wants me to learn from these two saints.

Another great activity to do at year-end is to spend time discerning what word will be your banner for the coming year. I haven't done this yet, but I plan to before the end of the day tomorrow!

And I'm still wondering if I'll actually get around to doing a year-end "letter to family and friends" post. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Week Ending 21 diciembre

This was a VERY FULL weekend - a big shopping trip to La Paz, a posada, pastorelas, and more.

On Friday we went to La Paz, primarily for the Pirate to see the doctor. He thought that he would need to have surgery for a hernia that he has developed but the doctor said NO, so he was one very happy camper coming out of the doctor's office! But since we had to be in the city anyway, we stocked up on a number of goodies and bought ourselves a joint Christmas present - a new combination cd/mp3/record player (our old Bose finally gave up the ghost). And - even dearer to the Pirate's heart - we bought fireworks! Mexicans love to shoot off firecrackers at Christmas (same as the English), so we stopped at a large fireworks stand and loaded up.

Amazingly, it rained while we were in La Paz. The wet season here is generally the summer, when we get hurricanes or the tail ends of them. But there was enough rain that day in La Paz to create large puddles.

At mass that night I was able to get photos of some of the decorations on each side of the altar. On the left is the creche, of course missing the baby Jesus (he'll be there tomorrow night) and on the right are two "Christmas trees". Here in the desert we don't have easy access to evergreens (no Christmas tree farms), so traditionally the folks here have used tree branches or (even more commonly) the flowering stalks of agaves (century plants) as their "Christmas trees".

It's too bad that the lights on the "trees" don't show - the effect is really beautiful.

On Saturday I finished knitting the first of several washcloths I'm making for the guest bathroom.

Then Saturday evening it was back to the main church for mass and a posada to our barrio (neighborhood). When we got to the church it was all decked out, and we discovered that the mass would include a wedding (this happens a lot here - weddings are simply part of the regular mass).

After the mass the folks from our barrio gathered for the peregrinacion and posada. We were led by Padre who walked next to the truck that had a statue of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem. We walked about a mile - praying and singing Christmas songs - before reaching the first house of the posada, since we had to cross the huerta (the agricultural fields separating the center of town from some of the residential areas).

Posadas are a major part of the Christmas season in Mexico. A posada is a loose re-enactment of the story of Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem. There is a traditional song that is sung in parts - one part by the group of people with "Joseph" and "Mary" (often children dressed to play the roles) and one part by the people at various houses where the two are seeking shelter. Several houses turn the couple away until they get to the last house, which welcomes them in and where food and drink and a piñata are part of the festivities awaiting the whole group. Here we are singing at the first house where we were turned away.

There were 40-50 people in the group once we got to the last house (people would join as we passed their houses), with about half of them children. Padre presented us with the new chalices that he had bought for our chapel (each barrio has its own chapel).

Here's Padre with two of the sisters who serve in our parish.

Here's the piñata before…

and after it was broken and the mad scramble to grab candy was on!

Another piñata was put up after this so all the kids had a chance at hitting it (and of course they all got candy).
As we walked home after the fiesta we passed this small casita all aglow with Christmas lights - so pretty!

The "tree" is a a quiote - the flowering stalk of an agave plant.

Onward to the grand weekend finale on Sunday night (actually not the weekend, since it's the FIRST day of the week, not the last). After the evening mass we had an event in the plaza in which each of the main groups of the parish presented a pastorela. These are small playlets telling the story of the birth of Jesus, the meaning of Christmas, or the vanquishing of evil by His coming.

The first pastorela was put on by the catechism teachers and described various symbols associated with Christmas and what they mean. I found out that pinatas represent the seven deadly sins (those are the horns sticking out) which is why we want to beat them until they break. And "Santa Claus" explained that he was really St. Nicolas, a bishop in what is now Turkey, who paid for the dowries of 2 poor girls who otherwise couldn't afford to get married.

Another pastorela told the story of two Roman soldiers converted when they heard about Jesus' birth from the shepherds (I'm not sure why they both had sports bags).

The last pastorela was a story about a family whose younger son was a drug addict, and his conversion when he was arrested and his father came and got him on Christmas eve.

In the middle ages pastorelas were a common means of teaching the stories of the faith, and from the coming of the first missionaries to Mexico they were used for the same purpose here.

The ladies of the parish served champurrado (a sort of hot chocolate with cornmeal) and bunuelos (a traditional Christmas puffed pastry). And to make the event extra special the church had prepared a whole lot of gifts to give away. People were given tickets with numbers on them and throughout the evening there would be drawings of the numbers. I think that there were something like a hundred gifts that were given away.

As you can imagine, a great time was had by all!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Traveling down the Transpeninsular, part 4

If you want to read the previous posts about this journey, here's part 1 and part 2 and part 3.

Boy, I'd never be able to be a professional writer, having to write every day. I'm good for about 3 days and then I need a break. But I've got one final installment of the Transpeninsular journey to share with you all. This was our last day on the road: Saturday. By mid-afternoon we'd be home! We started the morning driving for a couple of hours along the Sea of Cortez.

Mulege (where we stayed the night before) is at the head of a large bay, Bahia Concepcion, which has several campgrounds strung along its length, but no towns. If you click on the link you'll see that it is a favorite destination of many, mostly people with RV's since there aren't really any other facilities available.

Just driving along the bay evokes a deep sense of peace.

As you get nearer to Loreto, the site of the first mission in the entire chain of California missions, the Sierra Giganta range rises up on the right.

These mountains are expecially wondrous - the layers of mountains behind mountains is breathtakingly beautiful!

Although you can see plenty of cacti in the photos, this is primarily "deciduous tropical forest", marked by lots of small trees (mesquite, palo blanco, etc.) that lose their leaves in the spring and summer, when the weather is hot and dry, then grow them again in the fall after the summer storms.

Once out of the mountains the road is on a high plain which looks like the Central Valley of (Alta) California. It's HUGE, and the largest agricultural region of Baja Sur. There are dairy farms, corn, and citrus visible from the road, and other crops as well.

It takes about 2 hours to drive through the plain, and then the road begins a long descent down toward the Sea of Cortez (again) and the city of La Paz. On that too long stretch there is a small community with a shop that sells objects made by rancheros who live in the (very large) surrounding area. Here are a few of the things that caught my eye:

I especially like the table and chairs made with cowhide with some of the hair still on it. There's a bed behind them made the same way. The price isn't $6500, it's 6500 pesos (they use the same sign for money that we do), so about $550 US dollars. You can also see knife sheaths, but I didn't take a close-up of the actual hand-made knives that go with them. They've got intricate tracery on them - flowers and vines. Beautiful!

And that's as far as this photo journal goes. About 45 minutes after this stop on the road we got to La Paz and another hour later we were home, with enough daylight left to unpack everything. Then dinner at a new restaurant in town that specializes in Argentinean meat dishes. Yum!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Traveling down the Transpeninsular, part 3

If you want to read the previous posts about this journey, here's part 1 and here's part 2.

The third day of our trip down the Baja peninsula started in a most enchanting place. Cataviña is truly in the middle of nowhere. It's 1 1/2 hours from the nearest gas station, and another 3 hours before the next one (if you're traveling south). There's no store, no church, nada. Just a hotel, Mexican style with the building surrounding lovely interior courtyards.

It's in the middle of the Boulder Fields. This whole region is filled with boulders, some as big as houses. Beautiful!

The small building in the photo above is a shrine, like the roadside shrines you see all along the highway, but it's behind the hotel.

What's so wonderful about this place is that the combination of small trees, cactus and boulders makes every view look like it was consciously landscaped.

Another thing - this area is where you start to see cirios (or boojums, to English speakers). There is nothing like these plants anywhere else in the world, and they grow only in the central part of the Baja peninsula. They're generally 10-20 feet high, but sometimes higher.

Strange, eh?

Well, we've got many miles to go, so I'll reluctantly leave our enchanted place behind. But if you'd like to know more about it, click here.

If you did happen to follow the last link, you might have read about the military checkpoints. I could do a whole post about the bad attitudes of Americans, but I'll leave it with a single comment. The soldiers at the checkpoints are incredibly polite. Every checkpoint has a sign in English explaining why they're there and saying what you should do if you're upset about how you're treated; and in our experience (which is considerable) the soldiers are consistently professional, treating people with respect, and they do not look for favors.

Here's a picture from one of the military checkpoints. Every one of them is well-kept, and maintained with pride. The soldiers landscape the areas along the road, and do a good job of it, too, with local plants and other objects (shells or bones or rocks laid out in interesting patterns, etc.)

If I remember correctly, in the entire 100 miles of the peninsula there are 5 checkpoints.

So, a mere 3 hours later, we've gone through the most desolate part of the peninsula which has almost no plants since it basically never rains there (this is around Guerrero Negro, at the border between Baja California and Baja California Sur). And after another 2 1/2 hours we're near the east coast of the peninsula, facing the Sea of Cortez. But first we need to past Tres Virgenes, a series of volcanos that last erupted in the mid-1700's so I think they're technically still active.

And finally we reach the Sea of Cortez and the town of Santa Rosalia. This is a historic mining town (copper) where there has been a working mine for about 130 years. The mine was recently re-opened using new technology and the town is booming.

Here's a photo of the old mine entrance, at the entrance to the town. At that point in its history it was an underground mine. The new mine is an open pit mine, not visible from the road.

We really like Santa Rosalia - it's got a unique ambience because it was built by the French - but we wanted to get a bit farther south this time, so we kept going another hour to Mulege. A pity, since this is - in our opinion - the worst tourist town on the peninsula, with a very creepy vibe to it. But if you love palm trees more than anything, Mulege is probably the town for you (if you don't mind horrible floods every few years).

However, we wanted to get home before dark the next day, so getting an hour further south was worth it. And this is where I'll leave you until tomorrow, when I'll post the last installment of the journey, where we pass some stunning mountains, the twin of the Central Valley of (Alta) California, and visit a shop that sells traditional rancho objects.

Until then, bendiciones!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Traveling down the Transpeninsular, part 2

If you want to start at the beginning, here is part 1 of this travel journal.

We were finally in Mexico, and it was the day of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Unfortunately, we had to get on the road early, and the place we were heading to was so remote from anything that it has no church, so we knew that we were going to miss mass. However, God blessed us on the road, as you'll see.

But first we had to get out of Tecate. Here's a street in Tecate all decked out for Christmas - one of the only scenes there that I could find interesting enough to take a picture of.

Once past Tecate, you go through a valley in which they grow olives for olive oil.

Then came the wine country. This is the Valle de Guadalupe, which is sort of like driving back through time to Sonoma County in the 50's. We stayed at a B&B last year that was the house that the property owner grew up in, surrounded by acres of grapes. He told us that the Mexican government is actively encouraging the wine industry in this area and is giving low-interest loans for property owners to plant grapes, build wineries, etc.

There is a small community right on the highway (San Antonio) with a really nice shop selling local wines, cheeses, and olive oil, which we have decided is a "must stop" on the journey.

Then on through Ensenada. This is a big city, about a million people - interesting enough if you want to stop, which we didn't (although we have in the past). A short way past the city we came upon our first peregrinacion (a cabalgata) in honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.

One of the younger participants was riding a paint burro, which we had never seen before.

Then it was on through several small agricultural valleys.

This is one of the best parts of the journey, seeing the small ranchos and farms that form scattered communities, just as in the Midwest during the time of the Great Expansion. But the scenery is so much more varied than the Great Plains!

Onward through yet another wine area. This was the original area that the padres planted to make wine for the many missions up and down the peninsula.

This area is dominated by a couple of large companies, and the vineyards are massive. The round thing in the photo above is the roof of a new wine tasting room.
From time to time we passed corn fields ready to be harvested.

And here is a field of nopales (paddle cactus), which is not only one of the primary vegetables used in Mexico, but also one of the most nutritious things you can eat. And nopales are used for numerous medicinal purposes as well.

Then we got to the REAL agricultural region: the Valle de San Quintin. This is filled with miles of greenhouses growing all sorts of things, including berries. The area is right next to the coast and is usually cool and foggy, much like the coastal agricultural region south of San Francisco.

And at the end of the valley (actually a very wide coastal plain) we saw our second peregrinacion, but this one with dancers! There are a lot of migrant farm workers here, from poorer areas of Mexico, and this traditional dancing comes from one of the mainland areas.

Well, we were only halfway to our night's destination at that point, but I'm going to stop with one more photo. This is of the last agricultural area in Baja California (the state in the northern half of the peninsula). The major crops are beans and onions. All the fields are in a large river bed which actually floods every few years. The rest of the time the river, like most on the peninsula, is underground. God's clever that way - to keep the water from evaporating, He causes the rivers to flow under the surface, and thereby provides water to people, plants and animals.

Tomorrow: a most enchanted place, military checkpoints, the Sea of Cortez and more!