Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tortas Malpaso - Zacatecas, Mexico

Of the five capital cities of the five Mexican states we planned to visit, Zacatecas, in Zacatecas State, was probably the one I was least excited about. Ironically, now that the trip is over, it is the city I would like most to go back to and spend more time. I absolutely loved it. 

The one stop we did have planned was Tortas Malpaso. 
Malpaso is a small town near Zacatecas with a ranch that makes chorizo that has become famous. They sold tortas (a Mexican sandwich) using a small, semi-sweet bun, buttered and with chorizo meat balls on it. A small business in Zacatecas now sells the same tortas with the same chorizo. 
The buns remind me of Hawaiian rolls and the three round chorizo meat balls are quite mild. I was disappointed with how mild the chorizo was and doused the bread with additional drippings from the chorizo which the proprietor provided us with and extremely hot pickled chiles which I loaded on to the torta. 

Overall, it was fun to try them, but I was not terribly impressed. I would like to have eaten the meat balls on their own without the bread. If I were to go there again, that is what I would do.

Zacatecas is known for silver. It was founded in 1546 after one of the world's richest silver veins was discovered there. It experienced a silver boom until the mid-1600s. Another boom in the early 18th century resulted in one-fifth of the world's production of silver coming from the Zacatecas mines. Even today, it accounts for 21% of Mexico's gold production and 53.2% of its silver production. The state of Zacatecas has two of the largest silver mines in the world and Mexico is the world's largest producer of silver, with 17% of global output.

The main square is called the Plaza de Armas with the most important buildings surrounding it. The State Government Palace was built in the early 1700s and has an interior with a courtyard surrounded by arches and a stairwell with a mural, painted in 1970, depicting the history of the state of Zacatecas. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
The Plaza de Armas with the cathedral on the right and the government building on the left. 
The arched courtyard.
The stairwell mural. 
The Cathedral Basilica of Zacatecas, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption of Zacatecas, is next to the Plaza de Armas. There were two buildings before it, the first built in 1568 and the second in 1625. During the second silver boom, a larger structure was desired and the current building was built, dedicated in 1752 and consecrated in 1841 when the facade and north tower were completed. It was elevated to a cathedral in 1862 and to a basilica in 1959. The exterior is made of pink stone and has an intricate facade which I did not get a photo of. The interior has large Doric columns and, most distinctive, an altar 17 feet high and ten feet wide gilded in 24 carat gold. It has niches with images of saints. The cross is made of bronze.
Doric arches and the gold altar.

Benches and floral arrangements. 
By far my favorite building in town houses the Pedro Coronel Museum. It is housed in a former Jesuit monastery and the Jesuit college of San Luis Gonzaga, which were part of the Santo Domingo church. The Jesuits were expelled, then it was occupied by the Franciscans for awhile, then the building became a military barracks, a prison, then a warehouse, before being restored in 1981. The museum has many works of Pedro Coronel, a Zacatecas painter, as well as works by Picasso, Dali, Miro, Chagal, Degas and others. The best part of the museum, the part we spent most of our time in, was the Rafael Coronel Museum. Rafael, the brother of Pedro, and son-in-law of Diego Rivera, had a collection of 5,000 masks made of wood, leather and clay from many of Mexico's different cultures. I could have spent much more time than we had just perusing the mask collection. I loved them.
Part of the historical Santo Domingo Church. 

Priests wearing capirotes, long conical hats that are a symbol of penitence. 

A selection of the wonderful masks.

Last, the thing that really sealed my love for Zacatecas, was something we just stumbled into. It was La Morisma, held the last weekend in August each year. It commemorates the triumph of the Christians over the Muslims in Spain. They march the streets in the morning, then re-create the battle in the afternoon. I would love to go sometime and watch the whole thing. The pageantry was amazing. 
Marching in the street outside the Coronel Museum.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Restaurant Vitamar - Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico

Last September and August, in a four day driving marathon, my nephew and I drove through five Mexican states in northeastern Mexico. His goal is to go to each of the capitals of the 31 Mexican states, as well as Mexico City, which is a federal entity similar to Washington, D.C. and my goal is to visit each one of the Mexican states and Mexico City. 

Ciudad Victoria is the capital city of the state of Tamaulipas, in the northeastern corner of Mexico. It is very rural with an economy that appears to be tied to agriculture. It also has a long border with the U.S. state of Texas and as a result has a high volume of smuggling over the U.S. border and the attendant crime. It was recently one of the Mexican states that Americans were warned not to visit. 

From the state of San Luis Potosi we drove Hwy 101 through vast expenses of unpopulated area, crossing through the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains, reaching Ciudad Victoria. Compared to the four other capitals we visited, Ciudad Victoria was much smaller and appeared much, much poorer. The restaurant I scouted out ahead of time only had a buffet when we visited, so John, my nephew, found a different restaurant closer to downtown and the center of state government he wanted to visit.

We had lunch at Mariscos Vitamar, or Vitamar Seafood in English. I did not get a photo of the menu, and it doesn't have one on-line, so I'll give my memory the best shot.
I got chorizo and eggs, which came scrambled, and refried beans. I also got some shrimp and macaroni salad. 

John got some soup, macaroni salad and some sort of stewish looking meat that I don't recall.
It was pretty ordinary. The best part of the restaurant was a pet toucan in the entry. 

We walked a few blocks near the government center of Tamaulipas, then across the street to Ciudad Victoria Cathedral, also known as Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, which was just emptying from a Sunday mass. 

Ciudad Victoria Cathedral

Overall, Ciudad Victoria was my least favorite of the five capital cities, but Tamaulipas was my favorite of the five states we visited, from the standpoint of the natural beauty and miles of unpopulated territory. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Eastern Brown Pelican

Some photos of eastern brown pelicans on or near South Padre Island in southern Texas. I've previously posted on eastern brown pelicans in Florida. None of the photos are great, but these are the best ones I have:

Friday, December 20, 2019

Laughing Gull - South Padre Island

Five and a half years after seeing laughing gulls in Florida, I saw some near South Padre Island in Southern Texas. My first post has a description, this one is just photos.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Reddish Egret

I've seen a few reddish egrets in Florida and recently saw some along the Laguna Madre, the water between South Padre Island, Texas and the mainland.
This is much less dark than the two birds below, so it may not be a dark morph. 
These were different than the Florida reddish egrets because I saw some dark morphs and a juvenile white morph. The dark morph has a slate blue body and reddish head and neck. Breeding birds have pink at the base of the bill. 
Dark morph reddish egrets. 
 The white morph has entirely white body plumage. The adult has some yellow in the bill, while the juvenile's bill is all black. 
White morph juvenile reddish egret.
Most of the 1,500 to 2,000 nesting pairs of reddish egrets in the U.S. are found in Texas.   

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Roseate Spoonbill - South Padre Island

On a visit to the Bird and Nature Center on South Padre Island in Southern Texas in September 2019 I saw roseate spoonbills outside of Florida for the first time. 
Roseate spoonbill on South Padre Island
Their range is fairly limited as set forth below.
Range map for roseate spoonbill from All About Birds
I was a little far away, but conditions were nice for reflections.