Saturday, August 9, 2014

Hiking the Rio Caliente in the Bosque de la Primavera Wilderness

Traversing the Rio Caliente, one of many crossings we made that day. A few months ago, I joined a group of other hikers to visit the Rio Caliente area of the Bosque de la Primavera (Forest of the Spring), a huge natural preserve next to Guadalajara. I have visited various sections of the Bosque over the years and each visit has been unique. The areas have been so different from one another that I could almost believe that I was in a different part of the state each time. One reason for this is the size of the Bosque de la Primavera. At 30,500 hectares (75,367 acres), it nearly equals huge, sprawling Guadalajara itself. For a Google map showing the forest and its cheek-by-jowl relationship with the city, click here.

Our hiking group was almost as varied as the different parts of the Bosque. Our international set of hikers totalled eleven: seven from the US, three  Canadians, and one Brit. Although Abella, seen above in the lead, is Canadian, I believe she is a Filipina who immigrated. The group included nine men and two women, all experienced hikers. In addition to the human contingent, I should also mention that two of our most enthusiastic hikers were dogs: Levi and Matty.

Levi never misses a hike if Larry, his dog-dad, comes along. Possessing one of the most beautiful coats I have ever seen on a collie, Levi wins the admiration of everyone he encounters. He is still a young dog, but that gives him the energy to cover several times the ground that human hikers do on the same trek. As you can see, the hike took place in early spring, a very dry season when much of the vegetation is rusty brown in color. Except for the evergreens, only those plants close to water sources show any green.

Small concrete dams create shallow pools at various points along the river. The spillway along the left bank has resulted in a waterfall. The Rio Caliente runs through a winding valley with steep bluffs on either side. The bluffs rise to a broad rolling plateau. The Bosque de la Primavera is roughly oval in shape. It is essentially a huge, heavily-forested and steep-sided plateau made up of ancient lava. The top area is covered with ridges and volcanic craters and these, in turn, are blanketed with forests of oak and pine. These forests have been described as "the lungs of Guadalajara." Water has cut through the soft tufa soil, creating deep, sheer-sided ravines with streams along the bottoms. In some areas, residual vulcanism has resulted in hot springs. It is from these sources of boiling water that Rio Caliente (Hot River) gets its name.  For a satellite view of the river area, click here.

Eileen leaps across the top of a waterfall while Abella waits her turn. With her long legs, the jump is a piece of cake for Eileen. Not so much for petite Abella.  While the river is nowhere very deep, care must be taken to avoid a twisted ankle or worse. A sturdy hiking stick like that carried by Abela can provide a vital third point of balance.

After leaping the waterfall, we proceed up a deep arroyo. Gary (left) Chuck (center) and Paul (right) move through dry grass and light undergrowth as they pick their way along a faint path. The green undergrowth in the center-right of the photo tracks a stream of hot water originating further up the arroyo. The Bosque is a rather odd amalgam of federal and state jurisdictions, with a patchwork of private ownership mixed into it. There were attempts back in the 1960s and 70s to open it to large-scale real estate development, but fortunately these were resisted.

A hot waterfall tumbled down from above. The further up the arroyo we moved, the hotter the water. Fortunately, the morning was still cool so the experience was quite pleasant.

The deeper we got into the arroyo, the more steeply the sides rose on either side. If you look closely, you can see a bit of steam rising from the rushing water. The cliffs toward the end of the cut rose at least a couple of hundred feet above us.

Jim B takes a break beside a hot pool. He looked to me like a big leprechaun wielding an over-sized  magic wand. Jim has become the de facto leader of the hikers that set out from Donas Donuts in Ajijic every Tuesday and Friday morning. Each month, he emails out a list of proposed hikes. While many of these are very challenging even for the more experienced folks, he often suggests alternate routes for those with more leisurely inclinations. Challenging or not, Jim's hikes are always interesting and often spectacular.

Lush vegetation grows on the creek bottom, encouraged by the hot, mineral-rich water. Long filmy tendrils of emerald-green plants wave in the swift current. At this point, the water is hot to the touch.

Steam rises from the stream bed as we near the source of the boiling water. I wouldn't care to stick my bare foot into this water. Here, the trail turned up the hill, so we never encountered the  spring where the hot water emerges from the head of the arroyo. Perhaps next time.

Abella takes a breather. The trail becomes quite steep at this point. Huge leaves from the surrounding oak forest filled the depression of the trail bed. We had to step carefully to avoid tripping over large, hidden rocks. In the background, you can see the sheer cliffs surrounding the head of the arroyo.

Up, up, and more up. The surrounding oak trees were sparse enough that we could see our goal: the top of the ridge. I have always found that a stiff climb is easier if I can see the end of it, and thus measure my progress.

Jacques perches on a handy boulder beside the trail. Jacques is a "snow bird" who comes down every winter. He returned to the still-snowy north shortly after this hike. One of the stronger and more adventurous hikers among us, Jacques is always ready to pioneer a new route.

The top of the plateau is covered with an open pine forest. Having reached the top, we found a deep layer of large, rust-hued, pine needles underfoot. Having walked over many a rocky trail, they formed a pleasant cushion beneath my boots. There is very little undergrowth on the plateau and the trees are widely spaced. This provides the feel of a manicured park. For those used to the thick, jungly trails in the mountains overlooking Lake Chapala, the broad vistas and open feel of this forest comes as a pleasant surprise.

We paused at the edge of the plateau to view the Rio Caliente far below. At this point, we are about 150 m (492 ft) above the canyon bottom. Our route will take us back down the face of the bluff to the left side of the river bank, then across to the right bank and back along the trail visible near the center of the photo.

Hikers string out along the left bank of the river. We made a rather precarious descent down a trail worn into a mini-ravine by water rushing off the plateau. Upon reaching the bottom, we found the stream-side area to be comfortably flat and sandy.

All good things come to an end, as did the left bank's easy hiking. Once again we had to cross the river. Above, Garry "boulder hops" across. One has to be particularly careful in these manoeuvres because a solid-looking rock may have been undercut by the water and now be precariously balanced. Another use for a good hiking stick is to test such rocks for movement.

Abella makes a leap of faith. With her shot legs, this was really a stretch. Several people had taken this route before her, so she was reasonably sure that the rock she was aiming for wasn't wobbly. To the right, her husband Geoff watches her jump. In the background, Jim B surveys the progress of the group.

Paul, our British hiker, takes a break for a snack. Everyone made it across the river without incident, so we settled down for some water and snacks. This point was as far as we ventured along the river. From here we headed back to our cars. Our real destination, however, was the hot pool not far from where we had parked.

A rough stone stairway leads down from the parking area. Abella and Matty the dog lead the way as hikers hurry down for a long, relaxing soak. The hot pool was created by another of the small dams along the river.

Chuck soaks tired muscles while Matty, his dog, looks on skeptically. Matty is ordinarily an enthusiastic water dog. For some reason she seemed a bit leery of this strange hot liquid. Not so with Chuck, who took full advantage of the soothing heat.

Paul swims in the center of the pool. The pool is broad enough, and the water deep enough, that you can paddle around a bit if you are feeling ambitious at all. Most people's ambition seemed to evaporate as soon as they hit the water.

Geoff and Abella enjoy a chuckle. Parts of the pool have natural backrests and these two were taking full advantage. The bottom of the pool is mostly sand and small pebbles, although you need to be careful of the occasional large rock.

Jim C kicks back on a man-made bench at the edge of the water. Unfortunately, the bench was a bit marred by the graffiti so often present in areas close to a road. I had neglected to bring a bathing suit, so I contented myself with wading about, soaking my feet, and taking photos of everyone else. Finally, someone insisted that I should become part of the photo story too, and took this shot of me.

This completes my posting on the Rio Caliente hike. I hope you have enjoyed it and, if so, please leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Aguascalientes Part 7: San Marcos' statue garden and lovely Templo

Statue of a flower girl in Jardin de San Marcos. This charming, life-sized, bronze sculpture greets visitors who enter the lovely Garden of San Marcos from the east end. You can find the Jardin by walking west on Calle Venustiano Carranza from the Plaza de la Patria. The Templo San Marcos stands at the west end of the Jardin. Together, they form the center of the Barrio de San Marcos, one of Aguascalientes' oldest neighbourhoods. The typical layout of Spanish colonial cities follows a pattern of concentric circles. The center was for the pure-blood Spanish, and contained the main plaza, the most important church, government buildings, and mansions of the wealthy and powerful. The next ring of the circle was for people of lesser wealth and power, such as soldiers, bureaucratic functionaries, and merchants. Many of these were mestizo or of mixed blood. The outer ring would be occupied by the indigenous people. They were the labourers and craftsmen who built and maintained those churches, government palaces, and mansions. Barrio de San Marcos was one of those early, outer-ring neighbourhoods. You can find the Jardin de San Marcos by clicking here.

Jardin de San Marcos

A massive gate guards the west end of the Jardin. The gate and the beautiful balustrade were built with pink cantera, a plentiful local stone often used for decorative work. The balustrade completely surrounds the Jardin. The whole park occupies a rectangular area of 168 m by 88 m (551 x 288 ft). It has a gate on each side corresponding to the four cardinal directions. When the Barrio de San Marcos was settled in 1604, it was actually a separate village from the city of Aguascalientes. The first residents were from Tlaxcala, the former indigenous kingdom to the east of Mexico City. It was one of Hernán Cortés' earliest and most faithful allies in the struggle to conquer the empire of the Mexicas (Aztecs). Thousands of Tlaxcalans marched in the conquistador armies. The Conquest could not have happened without them. It is likely that the Tlaxcalans ended up in San Marcos as a detachment of mercenaries to help defend against attacks by the Chichimec nomads on Aguascalientes during most of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Four hundred forty-two people settled down in the new pueblo of San Marcos and were granted self-governing authority by the Spanish Audiencia (ruling council) in Guadalajara.

A jewel-like 19th Century kiosco sits at the center of the Jardin. Paths radiate out from the kiosco (bandstand) to the four park entrances. The Jardin is a great place to stroll or just relax on a shady bench. The boundaries of the City of Aguascalientes eventually expanded to incorporate the pueblo of San Marcos, although the barrio maintained its own traditions. However, it lacked the central plaza that is vital to every Mexican community, so the residents applied to the city for permission and land to build one. In 1842, permission was finally granted and the land set aside. That same year the neoclassical balustrades surrounding the Jardin were built and the State Governor Nicolas Condelle officially opened it, although the first phase of building actually lasted until 1847. Forty years later, in 1887, four fountains were added, one for each corner, along with the wrought-iron benches. In 1891, the jewel-like kiosco was placed in the center, and the basic outlines of the Jardin were complete.

Two older gentlemen chat on a bench next to a vendor's booth. I love Mexican plazas with their bright flowers and cool, shady walkways. Always, there are wrought-iron benches for the weary or those who just want to while away the hours of a warm afternoon. These two appear to be old friends and may have been meeting on this same bench for decades.

Two other gentlemen, also chatting on a bench.  The work is entitled "La Banca de los Pájaros Caídos" (The Bench of the Fallen Birds). These two wear clothes from the 19th / early 20th Century era. The man on the right probably works at the railroad complex at the other end of town. This sculpture and a variety of others were installed in the Jardin in 2009. They were part of a major refurbishment of the park in preparation for the 434th anniversary of the founding of Aguascalientes. You can clearly see the quirky Mexican sense of humour in works like this. In fact, I have found bench-sitting bronze statues all over Mexico. It seems to be a popular theme.

A sculptor carved and painted a tree to represent the pre-hispanic god Quetzalcoatl. Raul Jorge Tapia Morquecho completed this sculpture in the autumn of 2011. The title is Quetzalcoatl, El Sexto Sol (Plumed Serpent of the 6th Sun). It was carved from a 70-year old Ash tree. The sculpture demonstrates the pre-hispanic concept of duality, with the green feathers representing the quetzal bird and the golden scales representing the coatl (serpent). In addition, the work celebrates the four basic elements of nature: earth, fire, wind and air.

Another bronze work, entitled "El Sereno." Wrapped in his serape and topped with a broad sombrero, El Sereno (The Night Watchman). calls out the time and assures that "all is well".  Figures like this patrolled the night-shrouded streets of the city in bygone times to keep an eye out for fires, marauders, or other disturbances.

El Barrendero ensures the walkways are free of debris. In a jaunty top hat and three-piece suit, this skeletal figure entitled El Barrendero (the Sweeper) gives a nod to José Guadalupe Posada, Aguascalientes' famous inventor of catrinas.

A workman in the posture of a matador. I could find no title for this statue, but the worker is clearly meant to represent a matador. Dressed in overalls and armed with a screw driver for a sword, he appears ready to do battle with the Bulls of Industry.

Siesta time in the Jardin de San Marcos. A weary worker takes advantage of an empty bench to enjoy a siesta on a warm afternoon.

Templo de San Marcos

A broad paved plaza separates the west end of the Jardin from the Templo de San Marcos. In 1655, a more primitive chapel was built here. In 1733, Dr. Don Manuel Colon Larreategui, felt the community needed a grander church and laid the foundations for the present Templo. However, the church wasn't finally finished until 1765. The facade of the church was built in the Baroque style in three levels with niches for five saints. In the middle of the second level, between two of the saints, is a stained glass window with the image of the Virgen del Carmen. The small figure in front of the church is a local policeman.

To protect and serve. This little fellow differed considerably from the much larger and more beefy policemen I saw around Aguascalientes. He seemed amiable, but rather bored, as he wandered around the plaza in front of the Templo. He did possess a mustache that helped provide the gravitas he might lack from his short stature.

View of the Templo from the north side. The belfry tower rises in two levels above the roof of the church. The dome roof is covered by beautiful yellow tiles.

Flying Buttresses support the side walls. On each side of the church are two flying buttresses, a method of supporting high walls that was an important architectural development in the Middle Ages. The buttresses allow much thinner walls and large, stained glass windows. The outward pressure from the weight of the walls is transferred from the buttress against the wall to the outer or "flying" buttress by means of the slanting bridge that connects them. Although the concept was not fully developed until the 12th Century AD, a precursor to medieval flying buttresses is described in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel.

The beautiful Baroque lines are somewhat marred by the ugly clock tower. This was obviously some bureaucrat's idea of an "improvement."  I tend toward the philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

The entrance is guarded by a pair of large, metal-sheathed doors. The coat-of-arms of the church is included in the design on the upper part of the door. Once inside the vestibule, you encounter an elaborately carved wooden barrier which shields the serene interior from the intrusion of exterior noises.

The face of the great entrance door. The surface is metal, pierced and studded by hundreds of pointed caps. This would certainly be a formidable barrier to anyone trying to force entry.

The interior of the church. There is a single long nave with a short alcove on either side. Together they form the traditional Latin Cross form of church architecture. At the far end is the main altar, covered overhead by the massive dome.

The pulpit. An elaborately carved pulpit is placed at the entrance of the alcove on the right. From this high point, a priest can exhort the faithful.

The main altar. In the niche at the center, the Virgen del Carmen is seen dressed in rich robes and holding the Christ Child. Above her, San Marcos stands in his own niche between neoclassic columns. The Virgen del Carmen is the patroness of the Carmelite Order, which originated on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land during the 12th Century. She is associated with a life a contemplation and prayer. San Marcos (St. Mark) is traditionally believed to be the author of the New Testament's Gospel of Mark. He founded a church in Alexandria and both the Coptic Christians and the Greek Orthodox Christians claim to be his successors.

San Geronimo and the lion between the arches supporting the dome. San Geronimo (St. Jerome) is one of the four Doctors of the Church. These were especially learned figures who made significant contributions to Church doctrine. During San Geronimo's life (347-420 AD) he spent considerable time in solitary contemplation in the Syrian desert. There, according to legend, he encountered a fierce lion which he tamed by pulling a thorn from its foot.

Interior of the dome. A chandelier hangs down from the center of the dome. In addition to San Geronimo in the upper left corner, paintings of the three other Doctors fill the triangular spaces at the corners of the arches.

This completes Part 7 of my Aguascalientes series and is the end of the series itself. Anyone who visits the city should take a stroll down to the Jardin and the Templo de San Marcos. It will be well worth your time. I hope you have enjoyed my posting and, if so, I encourage you to leave any thoughts you might have either in the Comments section below, or by emailing me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Aguascalientes Part 6c: José Guadalupe Posada's satirical 19th Century catrinas and their 21st Century descendants

A classic catrina of the 19th Century. The term catrina is the feminine version of the Spanish word catrin, which means dandy, dude, or toff. The catrina shown above was one of the earliest creations José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), who invented the genre. The figure satirizes the sartorial pretensions of Mexico's wealthy classes toward the end of the 19th Century. This period was called the Porfirato, after Porfirio Diaz who ruled Mexico with an iron fist from 1876 until he was overthrown by the 1910 Revolution. The feathered hat represents the newest French style of the time and Posada uses it to depict the fixation of the rich upon all things European, especially French. This catrina, and many more, were on display in Aguascalientes' National Museum of Death when we visited the city.

A catrin struts along, displaying the pride and arrogance of the Porfirato era's wealthy. A stylish sombrero tops the calavera (skull or skeleton), which clenches a huge cigar between its jaws. The catrin also sports a diamond stickpin in its cravat, a flower in its lapel, and a cane or walking stick similar to those favored by "men of substance." José Guadalupe Posada is one of Aguascalientes' most famous sons. He came from a modest background and learned reading, writing, and drawing from his older brother Cirilo, a teacher at a country school. At the age of 16, Posada went to work for a local printer named Trinidad Pedrozo. From Pedrozo, he learned lithography and engraving.

A stylish couple, out for a walk in the park. In his later years, Posada worked with another illustrator, Manual Manilla, and they shared the catrina theme. Because they worked so closely together, it is sometimes difficult to tell their work apart. However, I believe the cartoon above may be one of Manilla's works. Posada's career as a political cartoonist began in 1871 when he took a job with an Aguascalientes newspaper called El Jicote (The Bumblebee). The young cartoonist's satirical illustrations apparently carried quite a sting because the paper lasted a mere 11 issues. Both Posada and the publisher had to flee the city after someone very powerful took exception to an El Jicote cartoon.

Partying at the cantina. Here, Posada depicts common people engaged in a favorite activity. Two of them dance to the music of a harp played by the calavera on the left. Originating in Vera Cruz, this style of harp is still popular with street musicians. Other skeletal figures watch the dancing couple while one on the right downs the contents of a large pitcher. He may be imbibing pulque, an alcoholic drink made from the heart of the maguey plant. This beverage has been popular among the rural poor since early pre-hispanic times. Although pulque can still be found at roadside stands, in modern times it has largely been supplanted by beer.

Dressed as a hacendado and wearing a broad sombrero, a catrin enjoys a drink. In another of Manilla's illustrations, a hacendado (hacienda owner) raises his glass of fiery tequila, his wife (girlfriend?) peeps over his shoulder. Traditionally, this drink would be followed by a quick suck on a fresh lime and a lick of salt sprinkled on the back of the hand. On the table are a lime and a knife to cut it. Notice the cork on the left side, labeled "Tapatio." This is the nickname for a resident of Guadalajara and was also apparently the name of a brand of Tequila at the time.

Catrinas and violence

A catrin on a rampage. Campesinos flee in all directions as the knife-wielding catrin tramples skulls underfoot. There were quite a number of violent images displayed among the Posada collection. Here, the cartoonist appears to be portraying the dark side of Mexico's wealthy class. After fleeing Aguascalientes, Posada settled in Leon, a city in the neighbouring state of Guanajuato. Apparently his powerful enemy could not reach him there. Rather than cowing him, the initial response to his cartoons appears to have inspired him as an illustrator. Posada took various free-lance jobs in Leon, including more political cartoons but also a lot of commercial illustrations for magazines and book covers. He even began teaching lithography at a local school. Again, disaster intervened, this time from nature. A massive flood inundated Leon, forcing Posada to flee to Mexico City.

Violence was also common among ordinary people in Posada's day. Possibly as the result of a drunken brawl at a cantina, one campesino calavera prepares to slash another with a razor-sharp sickle. The clothing and straw sombreros of the figures are very typical of those worn by the rural poor of Posada's day. After arriving in Mexico City, he set up his own lithography and engraving shop, but also took free-lance work from publishers around the city. The most important of these was Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. Posada forged a long-standing association with Arroyo during which they published huge numbers one-page broadsheets called hojas volantes (flying leaves). These contained stories, high-society gossip, or popular songs and were enlivened by Posada's illustrations. The hojas volantes turned out to be wildly popular. During this period, Posada increasingly used his catrinas to draw attention to the gross social injustices of the Porfirato.

A mounted Mexican lancer tramples other calaveras in a wild charge. Porfirio Diaz had been an officer and hero during both the Reform War of the 1850s and the French occupation that followed it in the 1860s. He rode his popularity to the presidency in 1876. Thereafter, he used the Mexican army to crush revolts, break union strikes, and generally suppress social unrest. Posada's calavera images carried multiple levels of meaning and were very powerful in a largely illiterate society. Even the poorest peon could immediately understand them. The use of skeletal figures was a reminder that everyone is equal in death. Regardless of social position or economic status, no one is spared.

Even in Hell, the calaveras continue to party. As the flames of the hereafter rise among them, the skeletal figures drink, carouse, and even play the base fiddle. Posada, along with his fellow illustrator Manilla, produced tens of thousands of illustrations utilising catrinas. About 2000 of them survive in various collections in Mexico and around the world. Posada's work was not only influential in highlighting the social inequities of his day, but it also had a deep impact on the future of Latin American art.  Mexico's two greatest muralists were Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. In their youth, both visited Posada's shop to watch him work. Both credit him with deeply influencing their art. In one of his greatest paintings, "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park," Rivera prominently features a catrina in the center of the crowd. Orozco said that his visits to Posada's shop resulted in "my awakening to the existence of the art of painting." Many other artists throughout Latin America were also touched by the cartoonist's genius. In the end, however, Posada died in poverty and obscurity in 1913.

Modern Catrinas

A catrina as a bride, waiting for her groom. This beautifully detailed ceramic figure uses a theme that is fairly common. During a Day of the Dead fiesta a couple of years ago, I visited some of the local, front-yard altars created for the event. One of them contained a "living tableau" where a young woman had made up her face like a skull and wore a bride's gown. The sign she carried that said "Busco novio" (I search for a boyfriend).

Poking fun at the Church.  A bishop in his vestments raises a hand to bless the faithful. The upper hierarchy of the Mexican Catholic Church has been closely associated with the wealthy ruling elite since the earliest colonial times. As an institution, the Church benefited greatly from the exploitation of poor mestizo and indigenous people, and used their forced labor to build some of the great religious edifices. The Church even owned large haciendas where the peones (workers) were whipped for attempting to run away, or even just failing to attend religious services. Consequently, a deep strain of anti-clericalism runs through this overwhelmingly Catholic country. Satirical creations like the one above are one way in which this feeling is expressed.

A bony ballerina twirls on her toes. We found this life-sized figure under the arcade that surrounds all four sides of the central courtyard. She was one of several that were engaged in various activities.

Is this the missing groom? Dressed in his 19th Century finest, this top-hatted figure could have paired up with the bride in the initial photo of this posting. However, they were made by different artists. He is quite a slim and handsome fellow though.

 Woman on a swing. This tableau caught my eye as we walked along the arcade corridor. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered a painting that looked remarkably like this calavera on a swing. I think I found it here.

A touching family scene. Entitled "Calavera Family," this little piece shows a husband, wife, and child seated spoon-fashion with their arms around one another. The fact that they are skeletons doesn't detract from the feeling of affection and togetherness.

Murals of the Death Museum

A soldadera cradles a skull while sitting in a spooky graveyard. Surrounding the second floor of the Museum's atrium there is another arcade. A section of the wall is covered by large murals relating to the theme of death. In the scene above, a young woman sits on one of the raised tombs typical of Mexican graveyards. She is dressed as a soldadera (female soldier of the Revolution) complete with a bullet bandolier across one shoulder. In the crook of her arm, she cradles a turquoise-inlaid skull, similar to those in the Museum's displays from ancient Teotihuacan and the Aztec Empire. She appears to be conversing with it. Behind her stands Coatlicue ("Mother of the gods"). The original of this statue is contained in Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology. It is more than 3 m (10 ft) tall, weighs several tons, and is truly awesome to behold.

At the foot of another tomb sit three cheerful little gremlins. These calaveras have obviously been partying very heartily. While the one on the right stuns his guitar, the gremlin in middle points his pistol at the night sky. The figure on the left laughs as he clutches a bottle.

On another panel, a young woman covers her face in despair. She holds a photograph of a young man, possibly a relative or boyfriend. The photo is spattered with blood, indicating the young man met a violent end. A wrecked, burned-out pick-up truck stands in the background. This scene is certainly suggestive of the more than 60,000 people who have died in Mexico's seemingly endless drug war.

A narcotrafficante sits across from the young woman, watching her with an evil look. Dressed in a black leather suit, his posture is a near-parody of Rodin's famous statue "The Thinker." Behind him a vehicle burns fiercely. Perhaps he is responsible for what happened to the man in the blood-spattered photo. Even though scores of thousands have died in the conflict, it directly touches the foreign community only rarely. Still, Mexicans that we know have lost friends and relatives to this kind of violence. Unfortunately for Mexico, the US has an insatiable appetite for illegal drugs. It also has a bottomless supply of the weapons favored by the cartels. As a Mexican leader once said about a different conflict: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States."

This completes Part 6c of my series on Aguascalientes. If you have enjoyed it, you are welcome to leave a comment either by using the Comments section below or by emailing me directly. If it says "no comments" below, it just means no one has left one before you. Click on that and it will take you to the Comments page.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.