Friday, March 3, 2017

Original Villages | Tlalpan: Carnaval in Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco

Two Worlds

South of Coyoacán, where we live, is the Delegación of Tlalpan. It incorporates two dramatically different worlds, both geographically and culturally. Encompassing 312 sq. kilometers or 120 sq.miles, it is the largest delegación or borough in terms of land area, and its northern quarter is part of the flat land of the Valley of Mexico and its former lakebed.

While this area contains some original indigenous pueblos or villages, such as San Sebastián Huipulco, which we have visited, and San Pedro Mártir, which continue to maintain their identity, it has become completely urbanized. With its numerous commercial malls and modern apartment buildings it could be many other places in the world.

The southern three-quarters is strikingly different. The land rises, at first gradually and then steeply into an imposing wall of a volcanic mountain range or sierra, the Sierra of Chichinautzin. The range is part of the Trans-Mexico Volcanic Belt that runs from the Pacific, south of Puerto Vallarta, to the Gulf of Mexico in Veracruz.

In the middle of the Chichinautzin range, rising to almost 13,000 ft., nearly 6,000 feet above the Valley floor, is Ajusco, a massif composed of lava dome volcanoes that are at least three million years old. On the other side is the state of Morelos, and. about an hour drive farther, its capital, Cuernavaca. This mountainous region is mostly evergreen forest, now énclosed in the Ajusco National Park, to protect the city's remaining watershed.

At 3,930 meters or 12,894 feet in altitude,
Ajusco is the highest mountain in Mexico City,
rising almost 6,000 feet above the Valley of Mexico.

Delegación of Tlalpan

The peak of Ajusco is at the far mid-left, west.
(green and yellow star)
Highway 95, to Cuernavaca, 
runs along the eastern border.
Old highway 950 runs just to its east.
The rural pueblos of Ajusco are the scattered colored areas northeast of the mountain.

On the flanks of Ajusco and the high saddle at its eastern end, at 10,000 feet, are a group of pueblos rurales, rural villages whose history goes back to the beginnings of colonial times. As indigenous communities, they are semi-independent from the political structure of the City, governing themselves according to traditional "uses and customs", with a community assembly choosing the community's leaders and making major descisions. Culturally, however, they are even further away from the modern city than their physical distance above the Valley below.

This nearby but distant world intrigued us from the beginning of our residence in Coyoacán. We can see Ajusco by leaning out our south-west facing bedroom window. Not having a car and not knowing the area, we wondered how we could enter it. As always seems to happen in Mexico, quiso la suerte, as luck would have it, in one of our almost daily chats with cab drivers we learn that our chófer of the day lived in one of the pueblos on Ajusco!

Although el Sr. Enrique González is a college graduate in accounting and had had his own practice, he had decided he could make a better living driving a cab. He and his family originally lived in the urban congestion of the Valley floor, but on weekends they frequently retreated to the national park and its forest on the mountainside, with its tranquility. So, eventually, they moved there. He generously offers to take us into his world.

Santa Maria Magdalena Petlacalco

One Sunday morning in February, at precisely the agreed hour, Sr. Enrique arrives in his taxi at our building's door. His wife, Lydia, accompanies him. She has a college degree in administration and works for a non-profit group that seeks to promote tourism in parts of Mexico City that are not usual tourist destinations, such as the pueblos of Ajusco.

We take our ever-key Calzada de Tlalpan south toward the mountains. We can see mighty Ajusco in front of us. Soon, the multi-lane expressway is climbing towards the two-mile high pass to Cuernavaca. We turn off onto the old two-lane highway, then onto a side road heading westward and even higher.

Pueblos of Ajusco
Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco (yellow and orange star)
sits on the eastern slope of Mt. Ajusco (green and yellow star)

 As we climb, we pass through the pueblo of San Miguel Xicalco. It is a quiet Sunday morning, with little activity in the narrow streets. Its simple, one- and two-story, cinderblock and concrete buildings remind us of many rural indigenous pueblos in the Purépecha Meseta (Highlands) of Michoacán, northwest of Pátzcuaro, where we lived for three years before moving to the City. We wonder whether we will see anything "interesting".

Entering Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco, we quickly realize there will definitely be something to experience. We hear cohetes, the rocket-style firecrackers used to announce fiestas. Petlacalco, we learn later, means “house of palm mats.”

Jovenes, youths,  aka "The Boys", set off cohetes.

Enrique parks the car in a narrow street and we get out. Walking downhill and around a corner, we come to the atrio, atrium of a small church. That second ubiquitous component of a fiesta, la banda, is energetically playing away.

At the entrance to the plaza several young men and women are in the process of putting on costumes, full-length robes of velvateen, lined with colorful fake fur, and kerchiefs on their heads.




On their heads they place elaborate—what shall we call them—headpieces? They are chinelos, the "disguised", Moorish-style dancers we have met many time in pueblos and barrios in the Valley below. We always love to watch and photograph them in their elaborate, inventive costumes, as they jump and twirl in their dances. We are also always bemused by the potpourri of symbols, mixing ancient indigenous ones with contemporary soccer teams and U.S. cartoon figures.

Portada over the church entrance
portrays Christ's Passion or suffering, culminating in his crucifixion

Feasting before fasting

So what is the occasion for this fiesta, with its representation of the Passion of Christ? It is actually Carnaval, what we know as Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, a feast on the days before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when fasting will be the order of the season. 

As with every Mexican fiesta, there is plenty available to eat.

Truly handmade tortillas, cooked on a comal
Not ones made with a hand-operated press, let alone a machine.
Much chewier and more delicious!

Tacos dorados, fried tacos

Variously flavored corn-based drink

The party gets underway

Chinelos dance

Niños, children, dance.
The leader really has the rhythm!

'Peques', Little Ones

Big ones, but with playful spirits

Act Two

As the chinelos are winding down, we hear another banda approaching. 

Behind them come more chinelos

Mickey! and love the peacock!

This group is accompanied by a giant puppet figure, a títere gigante, another frequent component of fiestas that originated in Spain and were brought by the friars as a tool of the Spiritual Conquest, to teach Spanish customs and beliefs to the indigenous people. 

A good time was had by all

Selling raffle tickets

Vaqueros, cowboys
Although we are in Mexico City,
we feel like we are back in rural Michoacán
— and we did see some horses along the way!

It's time for us to leave, but the party will go on into the night.

This small pueblo has three castillos, "castles" of fireworks,
perhaps one for each of the three nights of the fiesta.

We are sorry we can´t stay late enough to see the show of spinning, spewing, colored fire.

Body and spirit of an indigenous mountain pueblo

On the way back to Enrique's taxi, we have one final encounter that embodies the pueblo of Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco and this celebration of its long-standing identity and pride.

A true caballero, gentleman,
the embodiment of pueblo tradition, dignity and identity.
In former days, perhaps a senior mayordomo,
in charge of this fiesta.

(mustard yellow)
takes up most of the southwest of Mexico City

Santa María Magdalena Petlacalco is just about smack in the middle

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.

    Flat Earth Map