Saturday, December 16, 2017

Original Villages | Tláhuac: Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl - Where Cowboys and Cowgirls Roam

A Rural World Inside Mexico City

Delegación (borough) Tláhuac, as we have described previously (Tláhuac, Crossroads Between Two Lakes and Two Cultures) is both physically (about fourteen miles as the crow flies) and culturally far from el Centro of Mexico City and from the 20th century neighbohoods of Cuauhtémoc, Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juárez that surround Centro. It still consists, essentially, of its seven pueblos that were there when Hernán Cortés and his troops passed through in 1519 on their way to Tenochtitlan. Yes, the buildings are mostly 20th century, although simple, and the people have all the basic modern accoutrements of cars, TVs and cell phones and there is the new Metro Line 12 to reach "the City", but the pueblos still feel like small towns somewhere in the countryside.

This rural feeling is most evident in the most easterly of the pueblos, San Andrés Mixquic, which we recently visited in the delegacion's southeast corner, bordering the State of Mexico. It is surrounded by chinampas, agricultural fields, rooted in what remains of Lake Chalco, one of the five original lakes in the Valley of Mexico, whose causeway we crossed to get there.

Our inquietud  (desire, curiosity) to visit more of Tláhuac's pueblos was recently given the opportunity to be satisfied when we saw, on Facebook, an announcement of the patron saint fiesta of Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl. It lies in the northeast corner of the delegación, set apart equally from the other pueblos, and the City, as is Mixquic.

We were especially excited to see that the fiesta was to include a cabalgata, a horseback ride, in Mexico City! We had seen many cabalgatas in rural Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, when we lived there. In one of our former lives we were riders of horses, so we love them, their beauty in form and motion and their animal strength. Mexican horses are trained in the Spanish style and show excellent, beautiful conformation, form. So we were more than eager to head to Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl on a recent Sunday morning.

Looking for the Horses 

It actually isn't difficult to reach Santa Catarina. The Metro takes us to the center of the delegación, San Pedro, the first pueblo we had visited in June. From there, a taxi driver is happy to take us out of the village and across the fields to Santa Catarina. He drops us off a block or so from the church, as the streets around it are closed for the fiesta. Paying him and thanking him, we get out and walk the short distance to the church.

Parochial Church of Santa Catarina
(St. Catherine)
sits within an atrio (atrium), filled with pine trees.

Entering the atrio, we see a very pretty, charming church facade, painted white with bright blue trim. There are only a few people, mostly ladies, around a table near the entrance. To the left of the entrance is a tarp-covered space with a flower-bedecked altar and folding chairs, obviously set up for an outdoor Mass, typical during a fiesta.

We approach the ladies, introduce ourselves and ask about the cabalgata, which the online announcement said would begin at noon. It is nearly 12:00. They say they know nothing about it, but one woman says she just saw a horse down one of the side streets outside the atrio. We head off and two blocks along, come across a muchacho (teenage boy) sitting astride a pony, talking to a friend.

We approach and ask if he knows about the cabalgata. He says that yes, there is to be one, but he is vague about when and where it will occur. With that, he trots off towards the church.

We try to follow him, but when we reach the corner by the church we see him disappear aound another corner farther on. We can´t keep up, but walk in that direction. It takes us past the side of the church to where we find a small plaza. It is attractive, but unusual to be behind the church instead of in front.

Side entrance to the church.
The overall rough stone construction gives it the look of a Spanish fortress,
attesting to its colonial origins.

The Plaza
contains a new kiosk
and three ahuehuete (old man of the waters) trees, Moctezuma cypresses,
a waterside tree that was sacred to the Azteca/Mexica

Ahuehuete (old man of the waters),
provides wonderful shade from the Mexican sun,
warm even in November. 

Along one side of the plaza is a long, one-story stone building.
Its rough stone, like that of the church, speaks of its age.
The numerous doors lead to various offices providing services from the Delegación. 

When we arrive at the far corner of the plaza where we saw the muchacho disappear on his horse, we see no sign of him or of any horses. It is now after 12:00. Where, we wonder, is the advertised cabalgata?

A woman is selling "fair bread", another fiesta tradition, from a stand at the intersection. We ask her if she has seen any horses. "No."

Here Come the Horses!

Just at that moment, as we are about to despair of seeing any cabalgata, we suddenly hear the familiar clippity-clop of horse hooves coming up a side street.

Four horses with riders,
a woman in front and another in the rear,

We hail the riders and, muy amable (very kindly), they stop. We ask about the cabalgata. Yes! There is to be one, but they aren't sure when exactly it will begin. They are headed for the plaza to wait. This is all very Mexican. 

We once owned a chestnut similar to this one.
Brings back such wonderful memories of riding
(although English style, not Western). 

This "flea-bitten grey" (what a horrible name)
has perfect conformation,
as does the rider. 

Once back in the plaza,
other horses and riders gradually show up.
Everyone is very relaxed; no hay prisa, there is no hurry.

We tell this caballero, horseman, gentleman,
that his horse is Plata, Silver,
so he must be el Llanero Solitario, the Lone Ranger.

Muy guapo vaquero
Very handsome cowboy.

"El Llanero Solitario"
has his five-year-old grandson with him.
Tradition is passed on.

We are curious about the tradition of horses in the Valley of Mexico. The Spanish brought the horses, of course, but the Valley of Mexico was full of lakes and its people were agricultural farmers, tending their fields and chinampas. There wasn't room for cattle, or, therefore, much use for horses. The Spanish developed cattle country, with its horses and vaqueros (cowboys) farther west and north.

So we ask "The Lone Ranger". He tells us that a lot of open land was created after the Spanish drained the lakes to reduce flooding of Mexico City. Some of this open land was used for herds of cattle. Hence, the need for horses to herd them. Besides, he adds, it is now a very long-standing tradition in these rural delegations to own a horse and ride for pleasure. Confirming this, another rider tells us he owns a hacienda, a ranch, right here in Tláhuac, where he raises and sells horses. He gives us his card and invites us to come visit. The card lists American quarter horses, Spanish horses, Frisians (German) and Percherons (huge French draft horses)!

We recall seeing horses in the mountainous Pueblo Santa Magdalena Petlacalco, on the slopes of Mt. Ajusco, in the southern Delegación Tlalpan. We also saw them recently in ancient, but urbanized Culhuacán, where they participated in a parade and one family, at least, kept a horse in a stall behind their house. Most surprisingly, there were horses in the procession for the fiesta of Santa María de la Natividad in the modern, urban Delegacion Benito Juárez. The ladies there were in full Spanish dress and rode sidesaddle! We don't know where they came from. 


It is now close to 2:00 PM. We wonder if the cabalgata will ever begin. We ask why the wait.
"We're waiting for la banda!"
It makes perfect sense, since there cannot be a procession in any form without a brass band! Eventually, another muchacho pulls up on a motorscooter and says something to the riders. They all gather themselves and prepare to ride off. We manage to ask one what is happening. Apparently, la banda has shown up, but is some blocks away. We ask how long the cabalgata will last.
"Oh, we're going to ride around the entire pueblo, so a couple of hours. We'll probably be back by 4:00."
They all trot off.

We wonder whether we should wait for their return. We have already been here for two hours. It is a beautiful, sunny, warm day. The plaza is a most pleasant, tranquil space, with places to sit in the sun or shade. So we decide to wait. It also gives us time to explore the church.

Walking back around to the front of the church, we find two castillos (castles), being constructed, tall wooden towers for the fireworks show that will take place that night. We chat with a young man who is holding a thick rope, wrapped around a tree for leverage, the other end tied to the top of a castillo to stablize it as it grows. He tells us the company constructing it is from Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico, west of Mexico City by at least an hour. They have traveled a bit to get to Santa Catarina. They are clearly very professional as they stack wooden frames one atop another, then begin to add the wheels and other forms that hold the fireworks. 

Two fireworsk castillos.
They are among the tallest
we have ever seen,
and this is a small pueblo!
It will be quite a show,
but too late for us to wait and see.

Walking sombrero shop.
Unfortunately, we aren't a customer,
as we had recently
purchased a new one.

The outdoor Mass is nearing its end,
with the display of the Heavenly Host. 

The church sanctuary
is colorfully, but simply painted.
There is no Baroque excess.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, per Christian tradition,
was martyred by the Roman Emperor
 Maxentius around 305 in Alexandria, Egypt,
for refusing to give up her faith.

A side chapel is equally simple.
We love the vaulted brick dome.

St. James, the Apostle who reputedly came to Spain to preach the Gospel,
and who miraculously appeared centuries later 
as the Moor Slayer
a common theme in Catholic Mexico
of Christian vs. "heathen"

The indigenous (now Saint) Juan Diego sees the Virgin of Guadalupe
The quintessential image of Mexican Catholic identity.

Small medieval image,
probably of saints.
Its style and apparent age lead us to wonder
if it were brought by Spanish friars
early in the history of this church.
It seems to be a hidden treasure
of St. Catherine's Church

Adios, Farewell to the Horses and Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl

It is now after 4:00 PM. There is neither sign of the cabalgata nor sound of a banda. The Mass is long over, and nothing else is happening except the construction of the castillos. Juegos mecánicos, "mechanical games", i.e., fair rides, wait in the streets for the evening's carinval. 

waits for its riders
in the street beside the church.

So we decide to call it a day, quite a productive and satisfying Amble, nevertheless. We got to see some wonderful horses, meet and chat with their riders about horses in Mexico City and experience the beauty and tranquility of a rural pueblo situated within the City's boundaries. All on a gorgeously sunny November day, under that incredibly blue Mexican sky that does occur at times in Mexico City, especially this "dry season" of the year.

So we ask one of the ever-present vendors awaiting the evening crowd where we can catch a taxi back to the Metro in San Pedro. He says that we only have to walk a couple of blocks, back past where we first met the muchacho on a pony, to the main boulevard to San Pedro. Taxis are always going by. A few minutes later we are settled in a cab on our way back to urban modernity. 

Delegaciones of Mexico City
Tláhuac is the chocolate brown one
in the southeast

Pueblos of Delegación Tláhuac
Santa Catarina Yecahuitzotl
is upper right (red star)

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