Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Colima Part 2: Regional Museum's ancient treasures

"What have I done?!?" Humorous pre-hispanic pottery in Colima's Museo Regional. In my Part 1 post, we looked at the central plaza of Colima called Jardin Libertad and some of the wonderful old buildings that surround it. One of those buildings is the Museo Regional, an archaeological and historical museum facing the Jardin. The expressive little bear above, found in the Museo, immediately drew my attention. The humor of the ancient potter echoed through the centuries. I imagine it drew the same laugh from those who viewed the bear's comical expression many hundreds of years ago that it drew from me, a 21st Century observer. I decided to focus this whole post on the Museo, because it contains such a wealth of artifacts from the prehispanic and Conquest period, and because I could use these artifacts to outline some of the rich history of the area.

The Museo Regional occupies most of the south side of the Jardin Libertad. It sits directly opposite, across the park, from the Hotel Ceballos where we stayed on the Jardin's north side. The moorish style-arches are called the Morelos Portales and extend the full length of the block. Constructed as a private residence in 1848, the building later served as the Hotel Casino before its conversion to a museum in 1988. Fourteen display rooms are arranged around two levels of a traditional central courtyard. The arrangement of the rooms takes you from archaic times through the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1921. Material explaining the displays is available in English. The Museo is open Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM.

Colima's volcanos have played a central role in its environment, culture, and history. Above, the god of the still-active Volcan de Fuego demonstrates his power, while the female god of the dormant sister volcano Nevado de Colima sleeps under its snows. Gods of the sun and moon are also important in this mural,which can be found in the main stairwell of the Museo. The sides of the Volcan de Fuego (volcano of fire) eroded into great arroyos from which flowed the three principal rivers of Colima: Rio Marabasco, Rio Armeria, and Rio Naranjo. Added to the rich volcanic soil, this abundant water produced a wealth of plant and animal life, which in turn supported the indigenous people. As they began to develop and utilize agriculture, they were able to produce sufficient surpluses to enable the development a high level of artisanship and eventually rich and powerful cultures with great temple complexes.

Early archaic pottery shows simple grace. There is some evidence of South American cultural influences on the early Colima area cultures. The earliest of those is called the Capacha Culture, which thrived between 1800-1500 BC, about the same time as the ancient Egyptians. The Capacha Culture of Colima overlapped and interacted with a contemporary culture in Michoacan called El Opeño. There has been a long-standing relationship between the peoples of these two areas, which has sometimes led to warfare, as we shall see later in this post.

Later pottery shows more decorative elements. The bulbous protrusions on this piece may represent flowers, or perhaps squash. It was clearly from a more advanced culture than the previous simple pot. The people who followed the Capacha Culture in later centuries were influenced by the Mesoamerican cultures such as that of the Olmecs, of Teotihuacan, and the Toltecs, Aztecs and Purepecha.

Dogs were the most important animals in Colima pottery. Indigenous people raised dogs such as the one above for various purposes, including food and rituals associated with death. The most recognizable symbol of Colima is the fat, hairless, and short-legged dog shown above, largely raised for food. Pottery dogs were created in a huge variety of postures, including dancing with other dogs (see Colima Part 1). A different sort of dog, more slender and graceful, with longer legs, was called Xolotzcuintli. Xolotl was brother to Quetzalcoatl, the great plumed serpent god of numerous Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and Maya. Xolotl was associated with the planet Venus, which periodically disappears from view for 8 days before re-emerging to become the "morning star". To the indigenous Colima cultures, this disappearance and re-emergence bore a strong relationship to death and re-birth. The belief grew that one could not be reborn in the afterlife unless the departed was accompanied by one or more of the clay Xolotzcuintli dogs in the tomb. Ultimately, this became more important to achieving a satisfactory afterlife than having been a good person. "Going to the dogs" had a completely different meaning in those days.

A fat, snarling creature demonstrates a lively artistic culture. He may be some sort of a bear or dog, or just a whim of the artisan.

Another toothy pig-like creature bares his fangs. This may be a javelina or peccary, which looks somewhat like a pig, but actually is related to deer. It could not represent an actual pig, because that animal arrived with the Spanish, long after this little piece was created.

Still another expressive animal. I knick-named this odd creature "Curious George" because of the inquisitive expression on its face. Except for the short legs, it vaguely resembles a llama of the South American Andes. The ancient sculptor could have seen one, or it could have simply been a figment of his imagination. The humanity of these ancient people continues to leap out at me in their playfulness and sense of humor.

Ancient boy totes a jug with a technique still in use. With a strap across his head, the boy is supporting a large and heavy jug. This is called a "tumpline". The technique has been used for centuries and I have seen indigenous women in Mexico using it to transport their groceries, and men to carry firewood.

Colima sartorial style. The three men above are seated comfortably, wearing the clothing and personal decoration popular in their time and culture. Colima has year-round warm temperatures, running to hot in the summers. Little clothing was needed other than loincloths for modesty. Jewelry consisted of bracelets on the upper arms and wrists, and heavy necklaces. It was not clear to me whether the headgear was some sort of turban, or possibly represented braided hair.

"Kickin' back" in Colima. I liked this figure for the relaxed, informal posture. The artist had a real sense of the human body and how it appears when in this position. This guy looks like he definitely had a good day at the office and is waiting for his wife to bring him the local version of a cold beer. Like the three seated men, he wears little other than a loin cloth and some arm and ankle bracelets.

Personal adornment is common to nearly all human societies. Above, a clay bowl is filled with various necklaces, pendants, earrings, and other ornaments. The interior of the bowl shows some fine work with the swirling vortex of lines. The more successful a culture's food producing efforts, the more time is available to devote to pursuits like pottery and personal adornment.

More leisure-time activities. Any modern jazz musician would relate to this three-piece combo. While much music was devoted to religious rituals, there appears to have been a considerable social aspect to the musical scene.

Beautifully worked wooden flutes. Modern indigenous people still make, and sometimes sell, flutes like these. The instruments above are unusual because Mesoamerican flutes are usually made from clay, not wood. Music was another indication of the success of the Colima area cultures in creating leisure time.

Realism distinguishes this figure. Many of the pieces in the Museo Regional are stylized rather than realistic. What makes this figure different was not just the high level of skill of the artisan, but his keen awareness of the physiology of the human body. Notice that every finger and toe-nails is defined. This could well be a representation of a actual person, a sculptural portrait.

Dressed for war. The leather straps on this figure's head represent part of an ancient war helmet. The people in the Colima area in the late prehispanic era were known as Tecos. They had to fight off numerous attempts to subdue them prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The Museo contains a considerable collection of very determined-looking warrior figures. A decade or so before the Spanish came on the scene, the Teco kingdom fought what became known as the Salt War. The Purepechan (also known as Tarascan) Empire sought to make the kingdom pay a tribute of salt. The Purepechans were based in Michoacan at a capital city called Tzintzuntzan on Lake Patzcuaro. They almost completely lacked sources of salt in their area, and coveted the salt deposits around the lake beds to the north of Colima. The Teco kingdom, under its leader Colimotl (also known as Coliman), survived the onslaught and finally drove the Purepechans from the area.

Spanish crossbow fired a powerful iron dart. In addition to guns, the Spanish brought medieval crossbows, still an extremely formidable weapon at the time. It could fire an iron dart a considerable distance and penetrate steel armor. Indigenous body armor was made to protect against wood, stone, and sharp obsidian weapons. It offered little protection against Spanish weapons like the crossbow, steel swords and pikes, and guns.

Teco warriors under Colimotl fiercely resisted the Spanish. The Spanish arrived in 1522, only a year after they destroyed the Aztec Empire. A conquistador named Juan Rodriguez Villafuerte rashly, and without permission from Hernan Cortes, attempted to conquer the Tecos. Much to his and the Spaniards' surprise, Colimotl led the Tecos to victory, just as he had recently defeated the Purepecha Empire. Rodriguez Villfuerte was recalled and punished by Cortes. A later expedition under Gonzalo Sandoval--this time authorized--finally defeated the Tecos in 1523. The people of modern Colima have erected a large statue to Colimotl in honor of his skillful, and nearly successful, efforts to defend his people against the Spanish invaders. Villa Colima was established by Gonzalo Sandoval near the Teco capital of Caxititlan. In 1524, Cortes sent Francisco Cortes, one of his innumerable relatives, as the first mayor. Later, in 1527, the site was moved to the present location of Colima.

Spanish armor stood at the apex of what was then technologically possible. The Spanish developed their military technology during a 700 year struggle to re-take Spain from the Moors. They succeeded just before Columbus sailed. Armor such as this was the height of military fashion for the well-heeled. Common soldiers were not as well armored, but still were far better protected than their indigenous adversaries.

Leather-bound chest awaits its load of conquered treasure. This beautiful chest covered by hand-tooled leather may well have contained jewels and doubloons in its day.

Late medieval astrolabe. This device appears to be an astrolabe, a mechanism for determining the position of the sun and stars. The earliest astrolabes were invented in the Helenistic world of 150 BC. In the 9th Century AD, the Arabs greatly improved upon the design. The Spanish may well have copied designs from the Moors and brought them to Mexico, where this one ended up in Colima.

Sextant was the computer of its age. No well-equiped mariner left port without one. The sextant, developed in the 17th and 18th Centuries, was a major advance over navigational tools of previous centuries, allowing a much higher degree of accuracy. Training on the sextant continued for sailors and naval officers well into the 20th Century. As a great exploring nation and naval power, Spain had a definite need for these instruments. The importance of Colima to Spain rested, in great part, on its strategic position as a way station on the route between the Pacific Coast ports and Mexico City, and from there to Vera Cruz and Spain.

Beautifully lacquered chest from China. Cortes understood the importance of the west coast of Mexico as a door to the riches of Asia. He won permission to send exploratory expeditions in 1532,1533,1535 and 1539 along the Pacific Coast and over to what is now known as Baja California, resulting in the founding of the port of La Paz in 1535. Today, the body of water between Baja California and the Mexican mainland is still known as the Sea of Cortez. However, all of this was just staging for the main event: the conquest of Asia.

Intricately carved ivory fan from China no doubt fluttered the heart of a Spanish lady. In 1564, Lopez de Legazpi launched the conquest of the Philippine Islands from the Pacific Coast port of Barre de Navidad, not far from Colima. He sailed with 5 ships and 500 men and seized the Philippines which remained in Spanish hands until the 1898 Spanish-American War. With the Philippines as a major Spanish base and trading center, the riches of the Orient poured back across the Pacific, through Colima, and ultimately to Spain, making it the greatest power of the 16th and much of the 17th Centuries. Through it all, Colima continued to prosper in its strategic role.

I hope you have enjoyed this little trip through the long and fascinating cultures and early history of Colima. The Museo Regional should not to be missed on a visit to Colima. However, there were quite a number of other delights to be discovered on our trip. We will cover those in the next several posts. If you would like to comment, please use the comments section below or email me directly. If you ask a question using the comments section please leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego! Jim

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Colima Part 1: Small, modern, properous, & sparkling clean

Jardin Libertad's graceful kiosko is the centerpiece of a lovely urban jungle. Carole and I, along with our friend Maya, decided to visit the small city of Colima in mid-January. We were glad to spend some time in this balmy city near the Pacific Coast because El Niño had driven the temperature in the Lake Chapala area to frosty levels. To our great relief, the weather in Colima was sunny and warm with daytime temperatures in the mid-80s. For a map of the area, click here.

We had heard mixed reports on Colima. Some described a clean, well-organized, and prosperous town. Others said it was boring with little to do. We found the first description accurate, and the second not at all. In fact, we found so much to see and do that I returned with photos and stories enough for at least 4 blog postings. In this first of the series, I will focus on the Jardin Libertad area, the heart of El Centro. The kiosko or gazebo, stands gracefully in the center of the Jardin. It was brought over from Belgium during the reign of Maximillian, the short-lived Emperor installed by Louis Napoleon of France in the 1860s.

The park in this plaza has had several names. During the 19th Century, it was called Plaza Armas (Plaza of Guns). After the 1910 Revolution, it became Plaza Libertad (Liberty Plaza). Later, the name was changed again to Jardin Libertad (Liberty Garden). Jardin Libertad has been the historic center of Colima for centuries. The indigenous kingdom in the territory around Colima was conquered by forces sent by Hernan Cortés in 1523, only two years after he took Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs, and founded Mexico City. Colima is the third oldest colonial city in Mexico, Vera Cruz being first, and Mexico City the second. The Jardin is filled with palms and other trees, all hung with climbing vines, giving it the feel of an urban jungle. A small fountain burbles in each of the four corners.

Side by side. We stumbled across this delightful example of intentional and unintentional Mexican humor in Jardin Libertad. Some local sculptor had crafted a man reading a newspaper on a Jardin bench. Life imitated art as a live man adopted almost the exact posture of the statue while enjoying his morning paper. They could have been two old friends sunning themselves in the park.

From the kiosko, looking toward a restaurant under some portales. We enjoyed a nice breakfast at this little sidewalk cafe on the south side of the Jardin. Prices were very reasonable considering that this was the center of the tourist area. The building behind the restaurant was part of the Museo Regional, a wonderful place filled with pre-hispanic and colonial artifacts. In another posting of this series, we will visit the Museo.

Hotel Ceballos dominates the whole north side of the plaza. The Ceballos is owned by Best Western and the building is part of Colima's architectural heritage. The staff was attentive, with many English-speakers. When I stepped up to the registration desk, one of them immediately presented me with a large cold glass of fruit juice and quickly produced two more for Carole and Maya when they arrived from the parking lot. We were charmed. Above, you can see the sidewalk cafe which lines the whole front of the hotel. It is a great place to enjoy a morning coffee or a cold drink on a hot afternoon. However, we found its food to be unimpressive and overpriced. That was really our only complaint about this fine hotel.

Behind the sidewalk restaurant of Hotel Ceballos, a shopper's delight. Above, Maya (left) and Carole (right) scrutinize the goods in the stores lining the building behind the sidewalk cafe. Maya is a serious shopper and we eventually dubbed her Our Lady of Perpetual Shopping, Patron Saint of Craft Shops. Maya loves folk art and actually tithes 10% of her income for craft purchases to support local artisans (and accumulate some great stuff in the process). She says she knows that she has paid too much when the craftsperson kisses her.

The interior of Hotel Ceballos has a two-story atrium. Most of the rooms are on the second story. Our room faced onto the atrium, which looks down upon the inside restaurant below. This style of architecture is very Spanish colonial. However, the present hotel was built in 1880, as the residence of the Governor of Colima State.

Balmy breezes wafted through the old passages. The hallways ended in French doors leading to small balconies overlooking the Jardin Libertad. The hotel was very clean, and the gleaming floors mirrored the scene.

A small courtyard provide a quiet space in a busy hotel. The ferns and palm fronds helped provide a cool and welcoming place to dally. French doors connected the courtyard with meeting rooms so that this could be used as a break area, or even a meeting room itself.

The terraced roof of the hotel provided a magnificent view of the immediate area. I explored the roof early one morning just as the sun was beginning to shine on the Colima Cathedral. The roof also contained a small swimming pool and and a gym. The main attraction for me was the photographic possibilities the terrace offered.

A pedestrian-only street runs beside the hotel. This walkway ran directly under the balcony of our room. During the day, craftspeople set up on the paving stones, and small stores and restaurants did business with passersby. In the evening, lovers snuggled on the white wrought-iron benches, young people lined up for ice cream at a small stand, and street musicians played in the distance. The point where this walkway meets the street running in front of Hotel Ceballos is the center point of the north, south, east and west quadrants making up old colonial Colima. This center point was established in 1791, and addresses in the old colonial city were marked from that point.

Carole enjoys the view from our balcony. From our French doors, we could view the spires of the Cathedral close at hand. Although a room with a balcony is always going to be noisier than an interior room, the opening to the outside world was worth it. If you stay at Hotel Ceballos I'd recommend a balcony room over the pedestrian walkway (as opposed to the noisier street facing the Jardin) unless you just can't abide a little sound from outside.

Dancing dogs are one of the symbols of Colima. There is a large statue of dancing dogs identical to this in a glorieta (traffic circle) on the edge of town. When we visited the Museo Regional, I found a similar statue among the artifacts unearthed from an ancient indigenous tomb. Apparently the ancient people of Mexico had the same quirky sense of humor possessed by its present inhabitants.

Colima Cathedral (left) and Palacio Gobierno (right) occupy the east side of the plaza. I was pleased to find that, after centuries of reconstruction following numerous earthquakes (the most recent in 2003), local architects have preserved narrow streets for cars and wide sidewalks for pedestrians. This seems to me to be the right sense of priorities. Except for the top of the steeples and the dome, I found the exterior of the Cathedral to be curiously unadorned. I later found this to be typical of the Neoclassical style.

Main altar area of the Cathedral de Santa Iglesia shows an understated elegance, also typical of Neoclassical style. The original church was built in 1527, only 4 years after the conquest of the local kingdom. The church has been destroyed numerous times by earthquakes associated with Colima's close proximity to the still-active Volcan de Fuego. The present Cathedral was constructed between 1820 and 1894 in the Neoclassical style popular at the time. At its completion, the Cathedral was consecrated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgen de Guadalupe adorns the main altar area. Notice the flags framing her picture. The Virgen has long played a significant political role in Mexico. After some reluctance to accept her as a true manifestation of the Virgin Mary, colonial Church officials recognized that the fervor the Virgen de Guadalupe aroused in the indigenous people could be used to cement their attachment to the colonial structure being imposed by the Spanish. Later, the symbol of the Virgen was used against the Spanish when Father Hidalgo, lacking an insurgent flag, raised the picture of the Virgen at the head of an indigenous army trying to overthrow Spanish rule in 1810. Hidalgo was later executed for his effrontery, but the symbol lived on during the War of Independence and remains today an important part of Mexican patriotism.

Ornate gold-leaf decorations offset the stark white of the walls and columns. The Corinthian style capitals of these columns are a typical element of the Neoclassical architecture of the 19th Century.

Clam-shell pulpit betrays Colima's proximity to the seashore. I had never before seen this design in a pulpit of a Catholic church. My friend Dick Schmitt wrote to inform me that the clam shell is also a major religious symbol in Spain and is closely associated with Santiago (St. James) who--legend has it--helped the Spanish conquer the Moors in Spain and the indigenous people in Mexico. Dick has his own beautiful travel blog called Dick and Jane's Travels. Colima is only about 30 minutes from the seashore by auto, but in colonial days it would have been more than a day's ride by horse, and still more by slow moving wagon or mule train. The strategic importance of Colima to the early Spanish was its position on the route to the Pacific Ocean. Through Colima passed the riches of the Philippines and China, brought to Manzanillo harbor by Spanish treasure galleons. Today, Manzanillo is the busiest harbor in Mexico. Although the goods from China and Asia are of a different kind, Colima's still strategic position in relation to Manzanillo makes it the Capital of one of the richest states in Mexico.

Palacio Gobierno is also of 19th Century origin. The original Palacio Gobierno (Governors' Palace) was built in 1523 and contained living quarters for Hernan Cortés, which he never occupied while he ruled Mexico. In 1554, an envoy of the Spanish King informed him that government offices occupied this site, including a jail. In 1877, the previous structure was demolished on the orders of Governor Doroteo Lopez and rebuilt in the present style by the master architect Lucio Uribe. The building is constructed around an open central courtyard, and contains various historical museums as well as government offices. Observe the narrow street and broad sidewalks I mentioned before.

The glow of the early morning sun lights up the bell tower of the Palacio Gobierno. I was intrigued by the old-fashioned bells on top of the tower. I also noticed that the clock was apparently broken, as the time never changed while we were in Colima. The same style of Corinthian capitals you can see on the columns next to the clock you can also find in the Cathedral.

Mural tracing Mexico's history fills the walls of the grand staircase. I have found similar murals, not always with the same theme, in the Palacios of Guadalajara, Zapopan, and numerous other Mexican cities. They were painted by the revolutionary government to help a largely illiterate population understand Mexican history (from the revolutionary point of view, of course), and to employ Mexico's great artists. Notice the stern Spaniard on the left, confronted by a priest protecting an indigenous man whose back is striped from the lash. Some elements of the Church did try to protect the native peoples, occasionally with some success. Other priests direct the work of native builders as they construct magnificent religious edifices. The indigenous people were skilled, even gifted, as craftsmen, as we shall see in later parts of this series.

I hope you have enjoyed Part 1 of my series on the beautiful small city of Colima. It is definitely worth many more visits, particularly since it is only about 2.5 hours south of Guadalajara, almost all the way on superhighway. If you would like to comment you can do so either in the comments section below or directly by email. If you use the comment section to ask a question, please leave your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cajititlan's spectacular Fiesta of the Three Kings - Part 2

Feathered dancer appears to have stepped out of pre-hispanic history. The dancer in Cajititlan's Three Kings Fiesta shown above seemed to exude dignity and power, even while wearing little more than feathers and a loin-cloth. His costume was magnificent. There were several troupes of indigenous dancers in the parade. Joel, one of my companions on this adventure, told me that there is a vigorous effort in Mexico to revive and maintain these indigenous dances, and there are apparently active groups all over Mexico.

If you have not yet seen Part 1 of this two part series on the Three Kings Fiesta, I recommend that you scroll down and view that one first, because it contains a lot of background on this spectacular fiesta. If you can't access Part 1 by scrolling down on this screen, try clicking on "Fiestas" in the right-hand column index, then scroll down to Part 1.

A stern warrior seems ready to do battle with the Spaniards. The feathers used for the headdresses were stunning in variety, size and color. When the dancers moved close together, the feathers interwove until I could hardly tell where one headdress began and another ended.

Foot rattles were part of many costumes. The masses of indigenous dancers moved to rhythms created by drums and ankle rattles. The rattles are made from natural materials, in this case nutshells, and are woven into the costume.

Young boy rests from the almost continuous dancing. The beauty of the costumes was matched by the beauty of the people wearing them. The headdresses were constructed so that the dancers' movements caused the long feathers to undulate together like the branches of a tree in the wind.

A pensive moment during a short halt in the parade. The colors of the costumes were stunning. Many of the costumes had similarities but, like snowflakes, every one was unique.

An old chief insisted on including his grandsons in the photo. This was definitely a family activity with participants of all ages. The dancers were proud of their skills and their costumes, and were happy to display both for my camera.

A rainbow of feathers. This woman danced in place as a group of children moved by on the side. I greatly admired her headdress. It is likely that she colored some of the feathers herself, although there may be birds sporting such amazing hues.

This fierce warrior looks like something out of a conquistador's nightmare. He crouched and twirled to the drums and rattles as he glanced about with dark piercing eyes. There was a barbaric splendor about this whole performance that was deeply appealing to me.

A side view shows more costume details. Many of the headdresses, like the one on this woman, were held on by a headband with the feathers fanned out from the back. Her costume contained silver bangles dangling from her shoulder and braided bracelets on her upper arms.

Male-female team leads this troupe of indignenous dancers. The man in the silver embellished constume holding the shield seemed to be the leader. The woman may have been his wife. Through subtle signals, the two of them directed the large troupe of indigenous dancers behind them. For a man of his weight, he moved with grace and fluidity.

A prayerful halt. The lead pair called the troupe to a halt and they all knelt at once in a very reverential manner. I found the very pagan aspect of their performance an interesting counterpoint to the very Christian nature of Three Kings Day. However, Christianity and paganism have been woven together for centuries.

Young beauty shows off her finery. This girl, perhaps 12 years old, possessed poise remarkable for her age. I was happy to find so many children in the troupes. This bodes well for the future of this tradition. Many other indigenous traditions are dying out because the kids would rather play video games.

The Three Kings parade approaches the boat dock. The dancers above are moving down the ceremonial pathway of vegetation and bougainvilla petals you may have seen in Part 1, while it was being prepared. This street, which leads directly to the boat dock, is quite narrow. The parade quickly filled it from wall to wall, pressing all of us tightly against the bricks.

Indigenous drummer pounds a driving rhythm. The drum is a hollow log, painted black, and carried by masked helpers clutching handles on each end. I wondered why the drummer had no mask until I realized it might interfere with his playing.

Three young boys peer from under their masks. Most of the masked dancers wore bandanas across their faces under their black-laquered, hand-carved, wooden masks. Often, like the boy on the right, they tilted their masks back so they wouldn't trip on the cobblestones as they danced along. The tilted masks created the odd appearance of masses of people looking up at the sky, when they were actually peering down.

"Head and shoulders" above his peers. This dancer managed to gyrate his way through the whole parade carrying this huge mask on his head. As far as I can tell, his viewpoint is out of the mouth.

Looking for mom. This gorgeously attired tot, clutching his mask and headdress, wandered between the legs of the crowd, anxiously looking for his mother. To their mutual joy, he finally found her.

Boats line up at the dock. As the Three Kings approached, the boats which would carry them around the lake clustered at the dock. The one with the arch of roses was waiting for Baltazar, the Nubian King who would board first. Since Cajititlan has always been a fishing town, the boat ride for the Maji is supposed to bring their blessings to the community's fish harvest. In fact, there are elements of this ritual which go back to pre-hispanic water gods of the area.

The Three Kings arrive. Baltazar leads, followed by Melchor, and then Gaspar. The Kings ride on stretcher-like carriers handled by the men in the white uniforms. As they are carried down the flower-strewn path, worshipers prostrated themselves so that the statues are carried over them. While there was much good fun in the activities of the fiesta, there was also an undercurrent of deep religious feeling.

Baltazar is installed on the lead boat, as his fellow Kings wait their turn. As the loading of the Kings proceeded, more and more people crushed forward, packing the narrow, walled street tightly. I am subject to claustrophobia, and I had to force my self to breath deeply to settle myself down. I hoped that nothing would cause a panic or stampede.

Baltazar moves out onto the lake as other boats maneuver for position. In addition to the three boats for the Kings, there were perhaps 20 other boats capable of carrying 8-10 people each. Packed around me were thousands of people hoping to join the water-borne procession. Our possibilities for finding a spot on a boat began to fade. While the police had tried to form a line of those wanting get on a boat, clearly this would be a free-for-all when the time came. At that point I was just hoping to avoid being trampled.

Boat speeds to join the Three Kings flotilla. One by one, the boats filled up, with most people ignoring lines and directions and just pushing forward. In the end, I was right. Neither I nor my two companions managed to board a parade boat. We changed our plan and headed for the church, where someone had told us we might be able to get up into the steeple to photograph the Three Kings during their triumphal arrival home.

Return to the church? Easier said than done! The expression of this child mirrored my feelings as I surveyed the vast crowd we would have to fight through to get back to the church before the boats returned.

Overwhelmed policeman tries, with little success, to move the crowd. The cop in the blue shirt and baseball cap was as beefy and authoritative as a cop could be, but there were just too many people coming at him from all directions. I was amazed that he remained calm and kept his frustration under control. Eventually, most people figured out the boats were gone and gradually began to move back.

Hola Señor, check out my critter! On our way back to the church, we encountered this little boy. He was proud of his goofy-looking puppet and wanted very much to have his picture taken with it. I was happy to oblige.

We followed the streamers back along the parade route to the church. The objects on the streamers were little pinwheels that spun in the wind, creating a constant sense of movement as the long strings swayed back and forth.

The church steeple. This was our goal, seen over the canopies of the innumerable booths that crowded the streets surrounding the church. Given the mass of people, I was dubious of getting close to the church, much less finding our way up the steeple. This time we had better luck. However, my luck did not extend to my camera. Shortly after this picture was taken, it stopped functioning for the rest of the day. The next two shots were taken by my companion Joel.

Workers on the church roof shower the crowd with balloons and confetti. We found an obscure door under the steeple tower and ascended an ancient stone stairway around and around until we finally emerged by the huge old bells. A group of young men stood waiting to dump giant bags of balloons and confetti on the crowd when the Three Kings returned from their voyage. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing against us and most of the balloons blew back into our faces, much to everyone's hilarity. You can see me in the background standing to the right of the tower in the blue shirt and orange daypack. (Photo by Joel Gomez)

The climactic moment: The return of the Three Kings. After their journey, they were brought into the church and re-installed in their special niches for another year. This photo should give you a sense of the densely packed crowd that participated in this year's Three Kings Fiesta in Cajititlan. Despite the occasional discomfort of crowding, and our disappointment at failing to secure a boat ride, we had a great time and are looking forward to attending again next year. (Photo by Joel Gomez)

This concludes Part 2, of my two-part series on Cajititlan's Fiesta of the Three Kings. I hope you enjoyed it and will find time to leave a comment either in the section below, or directly by email. If you leave a question in the comment section, please be sure to include your email so that I can respond.

Hasta luego! Jim