Due to the long-standing Spanish occupation of Mexico, the culture of this country was heavily influenced by their traditions such as bull fighting which has been a popular pastime for over 400 years. The Spanish style of bullfighting starts with Picadores circling the bull on horseback while jabbing it with lances, followed by Banderilleros who enter the ring on foot and attack the bull with barbed darts. Finally, the Matador takes control performing precise moves to please the crowd and attract the bull eventually using his sword to slay the animal.
Another style of bullfighting that is also practiced in Mexico originated in Portugal and differs from the Spanish style in several ways. The Portuguese style involves 2 stages beginning with the Cavaleiros who fights the bull on horseback and stabs the bull 3 or 4 times with a javelin to weaken the animal. The next stage of the fight involves a suicide squad of 8 men known as Forcadors who challenge the bull without any protection or weapons. This begins with a front man who provokes the bull into a charge. If all goes well the front man performs what’s known as a face catch to secure the animal’s head while the other Forcadors rush in to secure the bull until he is subdued. Herein lies another difference between the 2 styles of bullfighting, the bull is not slain by the Forcadors but released. The matador’s purpose, however, is to slay the bull in the ring.
The main attraction to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, is the well preserved central historic district. The centerpiece of this downtown area is the landmark Main Cathedral with its twin 200 foot towers erected in 1848. It is surrounded by 4 distinct plaza’s named Plaza de Armas, Plaza Tapatia, Plaza de Liberacion and Plaza Guadalajara. All together they offer visitors a variety of shops, restaurants, cultural activities and events hard to find elsewhere in the country with the exception of Mexico city. One of the highlights located in the Plaza Tapatia is the Cabanas Cultural Institute which houses art exhibitions, a movie theater, a performing arts theater and an outdoor patio where ballet and musical events take place.
The Central Historic area of Gaudalajara is also a convenient base for exploring other surrounding attractions such as the suburb of Tlaquepaque and Tequila, a Unesco World Heritage sight where much of the countries national drink is produced. Only a few minutes away from Gaudalajara’s downtown visitors can also experience the artisan community of Tlaquepaque, that produces the greatest variety of handicrafts in Mexico. Here, in a large pedestrian tourist area there are over 200 stores, restaurants, galleries and other attractions. Another unique experience not to be missed while in Guadalajara, is the tequila express, a 90 minute train ride from the station in Central Guadalajara that passes through vast fields of blue agave, the village of Tequila and finally arrives at the Casa Herradura Distillery. This train ride features plush coaches, live Mariachi music on board, tequila tastings and dinner at the Casa Herradura, one of the oldest tequila making facilities in the country which is still 100% Hacienda made.
Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the cold winters in the United States or Canada, so like most birds they fly south for the winter. The migration usually begins sometime in October or as soon as the weather starts turning cold in North America. Monarch butterflies living east of the Rocky Mountains fly to Mexico and monarch’s living west of the Rockies fly to Southern California. Experts have not yet discovered how the monarchs can navigate to the same spots every year when no single butterfly can survive the roundtrip but most believe that flight patterns are inherited or they are capable of using the earth’s magnetic fields for orientation.
While in Mexico, the butterflies winter haven is found at the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in the state of Michoacan. Here, the butterflies have an ideal combination of trees and plant food needed to survive until spring. It is estimated that 20 million monarchs stay in this place every year which is open to visitors interested in observing this natural event from November until late march when the northward migration from Mexico begins. As previously indicated, the length of these journeys exceeds the life span of a monarch, so the first generation will only make it as far as Texas or Oklahoma before the females need to deposit eggs for the next generation if the species is to survive. All together it requires 4 generations of monarchs to complete this annual migration pattern .
The Surrealistic Architectural Gardens created by Sir Edward James are also known as Los Pozas ( the pools). It is located in the village of Xilitla, Mexico, a pueblo magico since December of 2011. The gardens consist of 80 acres with natural waterfalls and cascading pools of water, as well as thirty six surreal sculptures in what is a sub-tropical rainforest environment about 2,000 feet above sea level. Its origins date back to 1947 when James bought the land which was then used as a coffee plantation. A few years later, however, most of the plants James had started cultivating were destroyed by an unprecedented frost and as a patron of the surrealistic art movement he decided to convert the coffee plantation into gardens with surreal architectural sculptures that are completely integrated into the surrounding natural environment.
Born to immense wealth and privilege, James was raised in England where his family owned a 300 room mansion on a 6,000 acre estate. Needless to say, he attended some of the most élite schools in the country and became a poet/artist who passionately supported the surrealists art movement before it became fashionable. In addition, he sponsored the work of several budding surreal artist such as Salvador Dali as well as the Montaure, a lavish surrealistic magazine published in Paris. Eventually, he abandoned the intellectual, social and artistic circles of London for the jungles of Xilitla, Mexico where he died in 1984. Sometime before his death, however, he had donated the family estate in England to a charitable trust and set up the West Dean college for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts.