Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Las Grutas de Tolantongo

This weekend was a 3-day weekend in honor of Benito Juárez's birthday. Benito Juárez was Mexico's president for five terms (1858-1872).  He was the first Mexican president of full indigenous descent (Zapotec origen from Oaxaca) and to not have a military background. He resisted the French occupation in Mexico and restored the Republic and used liberal efforts to modernize the country. He is remembered as a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy, equal rights for Mexico's indigenous people, lessening the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexican politics, and the defense of national sovereignty. His period of leadership is known as La Reforma (the reform) and included the expropriation of church lands, bringing the army under civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, the separation of church and state in public affairs, etc. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benito_Juárez)


This weekend I visited Las Grutas de Tolantongo (the caves of Tolantongo) in the state of Hidalgo. This self-described "Oasis within reach" was a bit farther away than we thought, but worth it! It boasts a blue, "hot springs" river with an average temperature of 93 degrees fahrenheit. There's a tunnel that's like a natural steam bath and hot shower rolled into one.  There's a cave where you can wade in the warm water amongst the stalagmites and showers of naturally heated water. There are various (warm) pools to swim/relax in and beautiful waterfalls. There are also options of hiking or zip-lining. If you stay overnight, there are hotels on the premises and tents to rent for camping.


(For more info visit Grutas de Tolantongo's website: http://www.grutastolantongo.com.mx/index_ing.php


almost there! a quick photo op with the impressive landscape 

driving down the mountain to get to the Grutas 

driving down the mountain to get to the Grutas 

driving down the mountain to the Grutas 


driving down the mountain to the Grutas 


Welcome to Las Grutas! "Hot springs" river
and camping area 

waterfalls 

waterfalls 

waterfalls 

waterfalls 

waterfalls. entrance to the tunnel above and
entrance to the cave below 

doesn't it look like The Scream face? 

lots of people! 

waiting to go into the tunnel

waterfall 

under a cascade of hot water in the cave 


tranquil pool of naturally heated water 


so excited to roast marshmallows! 

About to try the pink marshmallow. Suspicion confirmed: not as good. 

Pretty view of the mountains in the morning 

the "hot springs" river




various eatery options 


hummingbird on the cactus flower 

Las Grutas de Tolantongo was relaxing and definitely something different. I'd recommend visiting when it's not a holiday weekend though and hopefully the crowds aren't so bad.

On the way back to the DF we made a pitstop in Pachuca, Hidalgo for some pastes. They reminded me of Argentine empanadas but with a flakier pastry outside. Typical pastes had fillings such as red or green mole, beef and potatoes, or chicken. They also have sweet varieties with fillings like pineapple or apple. Yum! 

Choir singing Salve Regina in Oaxaca

Choir singing Tangueando in Oaxaca

Choir singing Naranjitay in Oaxaca

Choir singing Bésame Mucho in Oaxaca

Oaxaca with the choir

I joined the UNAM student choir Staccato (Staccato Coro Universitario Estudiantil) in mid-February. (Check out Staccato CUE's web site: http://www.cue.org.mx). I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in a trip to Oaxaca with them two weeks ago to help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Axis Mundi, the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca choir. 

We left early Thursday morning and made the bus trip (about 6 hours) to Oaxaca, the capital of the state with the same name. 
on our way to Oaxaca 

lunch at the hotel. Can you spot the dog in the window? 






colorful alebrijes


colorful, quaint streets of downtown Oaxaca 

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo

Templo de Santo Domingo






colorful, quaint streets of downtown Oaxaca




That evening we attended a concert by our hosts, Axis Mundi of Universidad Autónoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca. 
sign announcing Axis Mundi and Staccato 

Axis Mundi and Staccato! 

Axis Mundi

That evening my roommate (also new to the choir) and I decided to practice a bit. While it started with just the two of us, we soon became the practice room as 8 more people joined us! 

Friday morning I explored downtown Oaxaca a bit more before practice. 

Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción


Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción


Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción

Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción

Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción

Palacio Municipal


Catedral Metropolitana de Nuestra Señora de Asunción




We went to rehearse -- both with Axis Mundi (we sang three songs together) and together as Staccato CUE. 
on our way to rehearsal

UABJO

rehearsal 

rehearsal

rehearsal

rehearsal 


After rehearsal we had a bit more free time in the city. 
chapulines -- grasshoppers 

lunch at the market, trying tlayudas - a Oaxacan specialty


alebrijes 


alebrijes 

That afternoon we had a quick photo shoot as a choir in front of Templo Santo Domingo before our joint concert with Axis Mundi in Parque Pañuelito -- my first concert with Staccato! 






After the concert we went out with Axis Mundi to celebrate! 



Saturday morning we visited Monte Albán, the most important archeological site in Oaxaca and one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. Once again, we had a photo shoot with the choir and then had a guided tour. We even sang on top of one of the pyramids and in the plaza! 


Staccato CUE at Monte Albán








the photographers on the other pyramid 

Staccato CUE  

Staccato CUE 









ball court at Monte Albán
(here the losers were killed, as opposed
 to the winners being sacrificed in other civilizations)



CUE ladies 


CUE guys + Director Marco Antonio Ugalde


Saturday evening we had our second concert, this time at the Cultural Center attached to Templo Santo Domingo. 



'








after the concert 


after the concert 



bride and groom and wedding guests in the streets of Oaxaca 


Staccato and Axis Mundi out to celebrate 3 successful concerts! 


Sunday morning, the Director of Axis Mundi was generous enough to give 7 of us a tour of some sites outside of the capital.  Our first destination was Tule. We stopped for breakfast. I had hot chocolate (chocolate is a Oaxacan specialty) and a pastry, followed by barbecue tacos. Barbacoa is another Oaxacan specialty, but is very different than US barbecue. It's usually beef or goat meet and is traditionally cooked in a clay, in-ground oven. 

hot chocolate (a Oaxacan specialty) and pastry 

a friend's tlayuda

We visited the Tule tree, which is more than 2,000 years old!! 





Can you spot the "deer"? 



the "son" of the Tule tree is "only" 1,000 years old 



Our next stop was Lambityeco, another archeological site. 



view from Lambityeco

view from Lambityeco





"huaje" tree, where the name Oaxaca comes from
(Huaxyácac means "in the place of the huajes" in Náhuatl)


Our final stop was Tlacolula.

La Asunción de Nuestra Señora church

La Asunción de Nuestra Señora church

Capilla del Señor de Tlacolula

Capilla del Señor de Tlacolula

Sunday market 

Sunday market 

youth band playing in Tlacolula 

We had a slight complication heading back to Oaxaca when one of the cars' alarm started going off and wouldn't turn off. The seven choir members ended up piling into one car and finding out way back to Oaxaca so that we'd be back in time for the bus, while the Axis Mundi director stayed with the other car. Nothing like a good adventure!  

view from the bus on the drive back to the DF

view from the bus on the drive back to the DF






































view from the bus on the drive back to the DF -- so many cacti! 

Overall, it was a great trip! I enjoyed the chance to make friends and bond with the other choir members, sing, meet Axis Mundi and get to know a bit of Oaxaca!