Sailing away with Nikk and Jan

Posts tagged ‘Mexican History’

Las Hadas: History, Mystery and Celebration



Have you ever seen a photograph of a location and knew you had to go there?  Nikk and I were planning our sailing trip south from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in December when I spotted the photograph of Las Hadas Resort in Pacific Mexico:  A Cruiser’s Guidebook.  (  That’s all it took for my mind to be hooked.  Usually my fascination centers on some aspect of the natural world, but this time my love of architecture, and Moorish architecture in particular had me planning and plotting a trip to Las Hadas.  Soon Nikk  somewhat merrily agreed to our off-boat adventure when I suggested that a two-night stay to celebrate my birthday at Las Hadas would be so romantic.  Balance sailed into the little cove in front of Las Hadas on January 4th, and we anchored in aquamarine water with only two other boats, one unoccupied.  Reservations were easy, using  This time we played it safe and transported ourselves, our luggage and our electronics in the dinghy, not the kayaks, to the marina located inside the breakwater.



The hike from the marina up to the lobby involved some serious puffing and panting, as the road is steep and long, and we were hauling all the gear necessary for a two-day stay.  Luckily after checking in an employee ferried us in a golf cart up to our room, several floors and stories above the lobby.  After that ride, Nikk and I enjoyed hiking all over the resort, exploring and photographing, and puzzling the employees who constantly asked us if we wanted a ride.  Our room was small, but seemed roomy after three weeks on the boat.  Marble floors and counters, bas relief in Moorish styling on the door and the headboard designed on the wall, hot water (a happy luxury after the Grand Bay Marina restrooms with almost no hot water), WiFi  (a bit slow so no movies) and a luxurious large shower.

This Moorish fantasy was created by Antenor Patino Rodriguez, known as Antenor Patino, who was heir to his father’s title of “The King of Tin” in Bolivia.  I have learned that whenever I see a work of fantastic architecture in Spain, Central America or South America, the wealth that built it is likely to come from the extraction of resources, like tin, which involves the use of many poorly-paid workers or slaves.   Patino wanted to create a resort for his family and friends, and named it Las Hadas, which means “the fairies”, because of the sparkling, shiny particles in the sand, or maybe because of the glimpses of phosphorescence scintillating in the water.  Architect Jose Luis Ezquerra took Patino’s ideas and formed them into turrets, towers, whimsical sculpture, beautiful pools, and luxurious accommodations.  After Las Hadas was completed in 1972 a month-long celebration for the rich and famous ensued, and then three years of money-draining parties and what I sometimes call “wretched excess”, until Patino’s fortune was threatened and he sold Las Hadas.  Patino married into European royalty, so there were plenty of rich and famous people of his acquaintance to entertain and accommodate.   We were also amazed to have dinner back in La Cruz with Ed and Connie, who sail on Sirena, and to find that Ed grew up in Bolivia and knew Patino because his father was an American geologist.

Today the property is managed and cared for by the Las Brisas Hotel Collection, and they are doing an admirable job of keeping the aging resort from crumbling and losing its charm.  In our wanderings, we found places where Mother Nature had caused some serious problems recently, but the bulk of the hotel, with five restaurants, tennis courts, two pools, and many roads and buildings looked like maintenance was a serious and on-going priority.

Las Hadas became famous worldwide after the movie “10” with Bo Derek and Dudley Moore was filmed there and released in 1979.  Nikk’s son-in-law heard we were going to Las Hadas and immediately gave Nikk a long story on the phone of the teenage fantasies caused by Bo Derek at Las Hadas until his wife said “OK, moving on to other topics….”.

I’m not telling any secrets, but Nikk and I did have a romantic stay at Las Hadas, and celebrated my birthday with lobster ravioli, cheesecake and margaritas




A luxurious unit


An echo of the Alhambra in Spain


Holiday lights

On the third day, while walking near Los Hadas, we found a large abandoned house on an overgrown lot, with tropical thorn forest rapidly taking over the property.  Since it was for sale, we went exploring.  Why it was abandoned, who owned it, where they went, and how long before it’s razed and turned into another hotel were questions asked and not answered.  Las Hadas would soon resemble this decaying home if not for all the efforts to thwart entropy (the tendency of the universe to go to maximum randomness).  The contrast between this neglected property and Las Hadas became a meditation on the impermanence of all things, and on whether the birds, lizards, trees and shrubs were more beautiful than the carefully-tended creations of Las Hadas?

Even the name of the property is a mystery that is not solved yet.  The name on the plaque can’t be deciphered by anyone I’ve asked so far, including the Mexican waiter at Octopus’s Garden.  If any reader has a guess, please add it in the comments!



Too soon it was time to head back to Balance, pull up the anchor, and slowly make our way back north to La Cruz.  Our idea at the beginning of the trip  was to sail down to Zihuatanejo, but the heat and humidity and the lack of air conditioning on Balance made us give up on that plan, and decide that Manzanillo and Las Hadas were the furthest south we’d go.  Maybe next year, we said.

Mexico City and Teotihuacan



In a valley 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, the ruins of Teotihuacan speak of the ancient civilizations of Mexico.  Here the roads and pyramids are aligned with the places where the sun rises on the Summer Solstice, where Venus rises as the morning star and sets as the evening star, and even line up with the placement of Sirius, the star we know as the “Dog Star”.  Sometime around 100 BC peoples of unknown origin came into the valley to establish a city that would hold 100,000-250,000 people by 450 AD.  (Those widely varying population estimates came from some of the dozens of pamphlets, internet articles, and Museum of Anthropology  plaques I read.)  The influence of the Teotihuacans spread as far south as Tikal and other Guatemalan cities, west to the Veracruz area, and perhaps to the Pacific Coast.  They made objects of obsidian discovered in many ancient cities in MesoAmerica. .

Discoveries are still being made at Teotihuacan to this day, including a 300 foot shaft underneath the Pyramid of the Moon, with skeletons of humans and jaguars, and fantastic balls which were probably coated with metal alloys.  Recently a Wal-Mart was built right near the site in the picture.  Workers were fired when they protested the removal and secret dumping of artifacts.

I visited here October 30 as part of a five-day trip exploring Mexico City.  It was easy to take a taxi from our central hotel to a huge bus terminal, and from there a bus out to the ruins.  The complex has a restaurant, many gift shops, and assorted vendors with local crafts, some quite stunning.  We spent about four hours there, not enough time to see everything.  Even though many tour buses deliver tourists there all day long, the complex is so huge that only when I was squeezed into small spaces with twenty others did I feel crowded.

After sixteen centuries rock walls still show the meticulous craftsmanship of the workers. Complex murals of jaguars, qeuzalpapalotl (bird-butterfly), serpents and mythological beings painted in red, green, blue and cream decorated the stucco walls of the homes and temples.




Teotihuacan is at an elevation of 7000′ above sea level, even higher than Mexico City.  It’s one reason to acclimate for a few days in Mexico City , and to climb lots of stairs in your hotels before attempting to climb the pyramids.  The Pyramid of the Sun is the third highest pyramid in the world, so of course Goat Woman had to climb it to see the view from the top, which involved lots of panting and puffing and a few stops along the way.  Before climbing I contemplated the pyramid and imagined it as it looked in 450 AD, decorated and with a temple perched at the apex.


On top the views stretch north to the Pyramid of the Moon and the hills that echo the pyramid’s shape.  Even farther to the northeast, right in a line with the wide Avenue of the Dead, lies an even larger mountain which isn’t visible even from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.  Did the architects of the complex know it was there?



This illustration shows an artist’s conception of the Pyramid of the Moon as it may have looked. The text is in Spanish, English and Nahuatl (the language of the peoples who lived in this area before Cortez arrived).  Even though there were many languages being spoken by the visitors that day, we all sounded the same as we climbed the even-steeper Pyramid of the Moon, “whew…pant, pant, pant…huh, huh, huh”.  But then there were some younger folks who maybe lived in Mexico City and had the advantage of living at altitude who sprinted up to the top!


Around 700 AD a mass exodus of people began, and then unidentified people burned the beautiful city of Teotihuacan. When the Aztecs arrived from the north in the area that is now Mexico City around 1300 AD they traveled to Teotihuacan and found it almost deserted. The Aztecs may have copied pyramid designs they saw there when they built Tenochtitlan, the grand city built on an island that became Mexico City.  One model at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City shows the area around Mexico City with the causeways built by the Aztecs.


Diego Rivera, the famous muralist of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s painted scenes of Tenochtitlan on the walls of the National Palace,  showing the great road leading into the city that so stunned Cortez when he arrived in 1519.  In the foreground commerce and maybe even seduction take place.  In the background bloodstains from the many ritual executions flow down the tops of the pyramid steps, and the fantastical pyramids of the central plaza of Tenochtitlan rise from the lake.



Here are some representations of what Cortez destroyed.  Some said the Aztecs and their bloody religion of sacrifice needed to be crushed.  Some said Cortez was a greedy Spaniard with no goal but wealth and glory.  Some could draw parallels to the struggles of today for religious supremacy and power.

Mexico City probably began with a small settlement on Chapultepec Hill, to take advantage of the numerous springs, and now is a city of over 22 million.  In the next blog I’ll explore modern Mexico City.  Here is a view from Chapultepec Hill that Montezuma, king of the Aztecs, could never have imagined.








A Visit to Three Cultures: The Art and Architecture of Guanajuato


Driving to Guanajuato, the capital city of the central state of Guanajuato, from SM d A seemed simple enough. Head northwest to view Atotonilco, then continue northwest until the highway junction where you head southwest to Guanajuato. Trusty iPad map, road map and guide lulled us once again into thinking it would be easy. Many miles later, we realized that we’d headed SOUTH at the junction, even though we were on Hwy 67. Seems there may be TWO highways with that number, or all the maps were wrong. Now we were entering Guanajuato on the main toll road, traffic zipping right along, and darkness descending. Looking, looking for the road up to Panoramica, a tunnel yawned in front of us, and I trusted Nikk’s reflexes when I called out in rather a panicked voice, “Take this exit!”. The little rental car made the exit, we curved up a steep hill, and there was the sign pointing to Panoramica, the road that goes around Guanajuato above the downtown part of the city in the picture above. Unfortunately, there were no more signs to Panoramica or Monumento de Pipila, where the parking area for our B&B was located. After stopping to ask directions, we took the road downhill marked “Policia” and there it was, the gigantic monument to Pipila. As soon as we stopped a man asked us if we were staying at Casa Zuniga, he must wait for the guests to help them find parking and the B&B. He did help us park in the Monument parking lot, and find our way down steep stairs to Casa Zuniga, our fabulous B&B.


Rick and Carmen Zuniga began building Casa Zuniga from the bedrock about eight years ago. It is still a work in progress, and is truly a marvel of hospitality, artwork (Rick creates metal sculptures as well as designing and supervising the construction of the rooms on many levels), stunning views, and beautiful rooms. I must have some really good trip karma going (except for the map and road snafus), because I found Casa Zuniga on the net, read about the Margarita room with windows on three sides, emailed just to see if that accommodation was available, and magically received a quick reply that it was, and that “our home” would be waiting for us. Having a room with a stunning view high on a hill was just perfect for Goat Woman and her most excellent driver and loving companion. I realized after a day of exploring that two days in GTO was not enough, and we extended our stay another two days. We were in GTO during a non-holiday and non-tourist time of year, luckily. Every day we began our day with coffee from the kitchen, and at the civilized hour of 9am sat down to breakfast. The first day we looked in amazement at the huge bowl of fruit salad, dishes of guacamole, beans, and salsa, a pitcher of juice, and then were even more amazed when we were served Huevos Mexicanos (eggs scrambled with tomato, pepper, onion and mushrooms). Another day it was enchiladas, and we were the only guests until the third day when four Australian women arrived. The food was absolutely delicious. Our last morning we needed to leave at 8am for the drive back to La Cruz, and Rick made sure we had sack lunches to take with us. Add to all this a long swimming pool, WiFi, and the king-size bed with about three times the area of the V-berth on the boat, and we were in heaven. Actually, it was a bit disconcerting to wake up and have Nikk about five feet away instead of right next to me.

Nikk getting ready to take the plunge

Silver mining began four hundred years ago, GTO was the main site of the wealth that went back to Spain from Mexico. Silver mining is still going on today, we didn’t visit the mines on this trip, but did take a picture of artwork depicting the Indians forced to work the mines.


The downtown area of GTO has a lot of students who attend the university, and the average age in GTO is seventeen. The downtown area also has few cars, which makes GTO a paradise for walkers. Where are the cars? They are underground in tunnels, some of which used to be mining tunnels. When it rains I imagine it is a bit dangerous to be down in a tunnel. There is also an underground river flowing beneath GTO. Every October GTO hosts the Cervantes Festival, adopting Don Quixote as a city symbol, even though Cervantes never saw GTO. The Festival is three weeks of music, theater and art, I hope we can return next October.

Ride, ride Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Casa Zuniga is just a short walkway from the funicular, the transport down into the main area of GTO. After 10pm when the funicular closed, taxis would take us up the hill to Panoramica, right above Casa Zuniga for 50 pesos (about $4 US). We had the same taxi driver two nights in a row.
Our first five rides on the funicular were free, courtesy of Casa Zuniga. We also walked down into town, following the curving stairs between buildings, and even walked up again a few times, Goat Woman was panting and puffing and sweating.



The green building at the bottom of the funicular is the Teatro Juarez, we didn’t attend any plays or concerts inside, but saw several student performances on the steps. Across from the Teatro Juarez is the canopied Jardin de la Union, the town triangle of trees, benches and restaurants. The restaurants have outdoor seating where patrons are serenaded by strolling musicians or accosted by vendors. Our last night in GTO Nikk and I luckily opted to eat at one of the restaurants recommended to us by friends in Portland who have traveled to GTO several times, and chose to eat inside.
My dish was Enchiladas Frida Kahlo, a colorful, tasty concoction which was filled with deep red jamaica leaves cooked in what I think was a mole sauce (that’s pronounced “moh-lay”, NOT like the critter that lives in tunnels). Any dish named after Frida Kahlo should definitely be colorful.
The best part of the meal, though, was the piano player, who entertained us with show tunes and old standards from the 40’s and 50’s, and even played “My Way” at the end of our dinner, right after I said, “Well, he hasn’t played My Way yet”. We went up to put money in the Tip Jar after dinner, and while chatting with him in English, found out that he’d studied at Julliard. He invited us to come hear a rehearsal of the GTO Symphony at the Campania, a church next to the University, the next morning. So we went.

Casa Valadez is in this building, with the Jardin de la Union the greenery on the left

In the picture at the top of the blog, you can see the Church of San Diego at the bottom of the picture, with the Jardin above it, then the Cathedral de la Nuestra Senora, the deep yellow church above that, the white Universidad above that, and the Campania to the right of the Universidad. Walking in a straight line is not possible for long in GTO, but you can see how close all these attractions are. We sat in the Campania at 10:30 am, twisted around to face backwards in a pew of polished wood, watching and listening to the symphony practice as the sunlight streamed in through a window high above. Within a few moments the sunlight focused its rays on our musician friend from the night before, he put on his sunglasses, and we had a marvelous picture.



Diego Rivera, the husband of Frieda Kahlo, was born and lived in Guanajuato when young. He was an extremely large man, “gordo” en espanol, and painted famous murals of workers in the 30’s in Mexico and the States. The figures in the murals have large, powerful bodies, a style echoed in the murals of other artists we viewed in GTO, including this Jose Chavez mural in the Alhondiga de las Granitas, the “Corn Palace” which was the hiding place of the Spaniards in 1810, until the fortress was breached by peasants and military when Pipila carried a large stone on his back to shield him from bullets, and torched the main gate. The Alhondinga also has a collection of artifacts from the many cultures which occupied this valley in the centuries before the Spanish came.


Monumento Pipila

Our last day in GTO we strolled along by the university, bought espressos at a tiny coffee shop, and visited the Diego Rivera Museum, located in the three-story house he lived in until he was eight. I hadn’t realized that he began painting in the European style before he developed his powerful murals. On the top floor we were surprised and somewhat shocked to view some contemporary art which included a video of some pretty graphic oral fixations. After reading about Diego Rivera, and his lusty appetites, perhaps he would have approved. I will just show the readers a more circumspect picture of us in the house.


So go to Guanajuato, stroll the streets, enjoy the music, cuisine, Baroque and Churrigueresque
architecture, the colorfully painted homes marching up the hillsides, the history, the art, and of course people-watching. You can even visit a Museum of Mummies, if you’re so inclined.

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