Flour Tortillas with bacon fat

Flour tortillas 1

Sunday dinner.  Warm, fresh tortillas. Life is good.

Yes, that’s right.  BACON FAT.  So good, you will wonder why you haven’t done it before.  In Mexico pork is featured in so many ways, all good.  (Ever had carnitas??). Well, these tortillas are so darn good Stella told me that I needed to get them on the blog right away, as this is the 2nd time (in her 6 L O N G years) that she has been instrumental in the whole rolling/cooking process and if a 6 year old can do this – so can you!  Effort vs reward is huge.  Stella gets the rolling going and Sloan (at 9) is in charge of the stove and cooking them.  They both know just when to turn the tortillas with the right amount of bubbling and browning going on.

SO EASY!

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup bacon fat (cold)\
  • 1 cup warm water

Stir flour and salt together, then work in the cold bacon fat with your fingers.  Slowly add the water and work until a cohesive dough forms.  Not sticking together?  Add a bit more water.  Too sticky?  Add a bit more flour …. You get it.  Knead until you have a soft but firm dough – cover and allow to rest for 30-60 minutes.  (or as long as you need it to)

Divide this into 12-14 pieces and roll into balls.  Let sit for a few minutes to allow the dough to rest – this makes it much easier to roll.  (keep covered)

Roll until super thin – and cook on a dry hot skillet.  Every stovetop is different and you may sacrifice the first couple to the frypan, but thats okay, once you realize your perfect temperature you are good to go.

Cook for approximately 1 minute on the first side and you will see bubbles form.  Only flip when you peek underneath and see brown spots appearing.  Flip it over and continue cooking until you get more of those lovely brown spots.  On my stovetop (flat ceramic) I can’t cook it higher than 5 (or medium) otherwise things burn before cooking through but experiment with your own surface.

Keep warm in a covered container as the steaming also helps with the cooking process.

This recipe serves 6.  If you aren’t feeding 6, then just keep the dough in the fridge and pinch off enough to make yourself a couple tortillas a day!

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Stella is 6 and she’s already done this a couple of times, at her insistence this recipe is going on the blog so we all remember it.  Big sister Sloan is making the guacamole in the background before stepping over to the stove to keep the cooking going.

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Just look at those bubbles forming – we all get excited!  (yes, I know, kitchen geeks)

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This is exactly what you are looking for.  Heaven in a wrap.

Tonight we served carne asada with these tortillas, and it was amazing.

Honestly …. you really don’t like pork?  (sorry Meg & Amy). Use store bought lard or shortening.

Ceviche

Step 1

In a 1 1/2-quart glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the fish, lime juice and onion. Use enough juice to cover the fish and allow it to float freely; too little juice means unevenly “cooked” fish. Cover and refrigerate for about 4 hours, until a cube of fish no longer looks raw when broken open. Drain in a colander.

Step 2

In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, green chiles, cilantro, olives and optional olive oil. Stir in the fish and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Add the orange juice or sugar. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Just before serving, gently stir in the diced avocado.

Make Ahead

Working ahead: The fish may be marinated a day in advance; after about 4 hours, when the fish is “cooked,” drain it so that it won’t become too tangy. For the freshest flavor, add the flavorings to the fish no more than a couple of hours before serving.
This recipe came courtesy of my Food and Wine Magazine – another superb recipe from Rick Bayless.

Empanadas

Most cultures have a pastry/hand pie like this one ….. empanadas are famous in many countries, but I’ve only had the pleasure of eating them in Mexico so that is what I have fashioned these after.  They can be deep fried, but I prefer baking them for fluffy, flaky pastry and creamy filling.  Extra bonus points for the way your house smells while they are baking!

Empanada 1

In today’s version I used chicken, onion & red pepper, topped with a chunk of jalapeño havarti.  The tomatillo salsa was delicious for dipping!

Empanadas are such a treat.  These will give you flaky pastry, and a creamy tasty filling.

Make sure when you roll out your dough that you do it a little thinner than you would for a pie – you want to make sure you have a good ratio of filling to crust.

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Saute onions and garlic until softened, then add red pepper and cook for only a couple more minutes.  Stir in cooked shredded chicken and season to taste.  In this version, I added a couple of tablespoons of tomatillo salsa, and then topped with jalapeño havarti cheese for an extra bit of kick and creaminess.

Other suggestions for empanada filling:

  • ground meat seasoned with taco spices, topped with Oaxaca string cheese
  • leftover pulled pork and pickled red onions
  • wilted spinach, sautéed mushrooms and feta cheese
  • go sweet with fruit, cinnamon and a bit of vanilla

I’ve included my pastry recipe here, but if you aren’t into making your own pastry go ahead and use a prepared frozen pie shell.  Just take it out and roll it a bit thinner.

Cut your pastry into rounds, brush beaten egg around the outside and then put about a tablespoon or two of filling in the middle, add some cheese on top.  You will want enough filling so that your ratio of stuffing to pastry is tasty.  Fold edges up together and press to seal.  Set them on a baking sheet and pinch/crimp the top to make sure it is well sealed.

Brush beaten egg over the top of the sealed empanada, and then poke a hole so steam can escape and the pastry doesn’t leak too much of your goods outside the shell.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  You can also freeze them on a cookie sheet at this point and bake later, from frozen.  Just bake a little longer.

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Oh, these were G O O D.  Before baking season the tops with salt and pepper.

Everybody loves flaky pie crust – but people are divided on whether to use shortening, lard or butter.  Through trial and error, I think I have found the best of them all – by combining lard and butter.  Try it ….. so light and flaky – you will love it.

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 3/4 cup cold vegetable lard or (if you prefer) shortening
  • 3/4 cup cold butter
  • 5 tbsp very cold water
  • Lightly beat egg and vinegar

Whisk flour and salt

Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in lard/butter until pea sized.  Add very cold water to egg and vinegar mixture.  Make a hole in the center of the flour blend and stir in the egg/vinegar/water combination.  Work just until pastry comes together – adding slightly more liquid if it doesn’t, and if it is too wet, add a wee bit more flour.  Work together just until it all comes into a solid mass.  Knead very lightly on floured surface.  Wrap tightly and put in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Roll on lightly floured board until just thin enough to use for pie dough.

This recipe makes enough for 1 smaller pie (top and bottom) or a large deep dish pie crust bottom.

Mexican Pickled Vegetables (Escabeche)

Escabeche 1

Today’s version included potato slices, onions, carrots, cauliflower and zucchini.

Have you ever noticed those bowls of pickled vegetables at every taco stand you’ve been to in Mexico?  They are easy to make at home, fantastic to have in the fridge and add a flavourful zip to any side dish (or pizza!).  This recipe is perfect, feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand ….. I’d skip broccoli though as I have found that it doesn’t keep either it’s bright colour or crunch.

Ingredients

  • 8-10 jalapenos
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1.5 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (Kosher or sea salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (use Mexican if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 8-10 cracked peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  • Give the jalapenos a rinse and then cut into 1/4 inch slices.
  • Peel the carrots and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • Peel and quarter the onion, chopping into thin slices
  • Peel and roughly chop the garlic
  • Heat a dollop of oil in a medium sized sauce pan on medium-high heat
  • Saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes
  • Add the jalapenos, carrots and the spices: ½ teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, 8-10 black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf.
  • Briefly saute and then add 1.5 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer
  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the jalapenos turn army green
  • Fill each jar with the veggies and top with the brine
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge
  • The jalapenos and carrots will have most of their flavor after a few hours of resting in the brine

I’ve tried a few recipes now from a blog …. “Mexican please”, and they are all great!  This is no exception.  I don’t use quite that many jalapeños (usually 2-3 large ones) and I also put in whatever vegetables I have on hand, cauliflower, zucchini, radish etc.  Just make sure to not overcook the more delicate vegetables.  For items like cauliflower and zucchini I only add them to the cooking liquid for a couple of minutes.  Be mindful of the amount of liquid you have and make sure you have enough to cover the vegetables once you get them into your pickling jars.  It is okay to top up with a bit more vinegar or water if need be.

Pork Carnitas

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A homemade corn tortilla, some pickled onions, avocado served with the tender pork and you have a perfect taco.

On our Mexican travels we have had some amazing carnitas, both in Michoacan, which is renowned for carnitas, but also at a Saturday mercado in Mexico City.  Once you have had great carnitas, that is something you will dream of when you get home!  Finally I’ve figured out how to do it at home, and it is the method as well as the recipe that is important.  

Ingredients

  • 2-2.5 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2-3 tablespoon oil

For serving:

  • 12-16 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • freshly chopped cilantro
  • 3-4 limes, quartered

For the brine:

  • 1/2 cup sea or kosher salt
  • 2-3 quarts water

Instructions

  • Add 2 quarts cold water to a mixing bowl along with 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt.  Stir to dissolve.  Cut the pork shoulder into 2″ chunks.  Add the pork chunks to the brine, cover, and store in the fridge for an hour.  If the pork isn’t completely submerged just add a bit more water.
  • Once brined, remove the pork chunks and pat them dry.  Add them to a clean mixing bowl along with:  2 teaspoons Mexican oregano, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional), 1 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons oil.  Combine well.
  • Add pork pieces to a casserole dish along with the juice of 1 orange, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 onion cut into chunks, 1 jalapeno sliced in half, and 4 peeled garlic cloves.  I usually put the leftover orange pieces in the pan as well.   Cover tightly with foil and bake at 300F for three hours.
  • After three hours give it the fork tender test.  If you can insert a fork into the pork with no resistance then it’s done.  If the chunks are still firm give it another half hour.
  • Remove the pork and set aside.  Strain the resting liquid into a bowl and be sure to give it a taste!  As it sits the fat will rise to the top — you can remove some of the fat if you want but I use most of it.
  • To crisp up the Carnitas we’ll put the shredded pork chunks under the broiler (approx. 525F).   You can use the same baking dish, just be sure to remove the leftover fruit and veggie chunks.  Add the pork back to the dish and shred with two forks.  I usually give it a partial shred, leaving it chunky, but you can always shred finer if you want.
  • Drizzle some of the resting liquid over the pork and broil for 5 minutes.  Take a look and broil for another 5 minutes if you want it crispier.

 

For serving you’ll need corn tortillas, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, some freshly chopped cilantro, the Salsa Verde, 3-4 limes, and cheese (optional).  You can warm up the tortillas in the oven but you’ll get happier faces if you crisp them up in hot dry skillet first.  I usually put a large skillet over medium high heat and crisp up 3-4 at a time, storing them in a tortilla warmer or tea towel.

If there are Carnitas leftovers, store in an airtight container in the fridge.  I usually store the resting liquid separately.  To re-heat, simply add pork to a saucepan along with some of the resting liquid, cover, and simmer over medium until heated through.
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Chop the pork into 2 inch pieces and coat all over with the oil and seasonings.

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Nestle all the pork in with the onion, jalapeño, garlic and squeeze the orange all over.  Tuck the orange pieces in, then cover tightly before slow roasting.

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Three hours later this pork is tender and your house smells amazing.

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I drizzled the pork with a little bacon fat just to add to the porky goodness.  Yum.

Carnitas 2

Put the pan under the broiler, and watch carefully – you only want a few crispy bits.

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Stir the pork back into the cooking liquid and garnish with cilantro.

Carnitas 1

Fragrant and juicy tomatoes make a fantastic base for this refreshing Pico de Gallo.

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What a fantastic bite!  Reminiscent of eating carnitas on a street corner or mercado in Mexico, we loved every morsel.

I’ve found this amazing new website (new to me anyway), and this recipe is courtesy of Mexicanplease …. check out that website, everything I’ve tried has been perfect …. including the flour tortillas made with bacon, delicious.

One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

Kabah 1

Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

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Kabah 4

These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

Kabah 2

No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

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So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

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Kabah 5

Kabah 7

It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

Loltun 1

Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

Loltun

It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Loltun 6

Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

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This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

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The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

Loltun 9

These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

Cenotes 1

Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

Cenotes 2

The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

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Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

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This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

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This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

Izamal

 

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These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

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We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

Izamal 1

The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

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And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

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The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

Progresso 2

I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

Progresso 1

Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Lorenzo Zinacantan

Zinacantan is an Indigenous village outside San Cristobal.  We recommend you tour this village with a guide (we suggest Alex and Raoul Tours).  In combination with a tour to San Juan Chamula it will take about 3-4 hours.  Just meet up with Raoul or one of his members at the cross in front of the church in San Cristobal.  Be there any time between 8:45 – 9:30 in the morning and you can join in with a group.  What is really impressive about this tour is that they are so respectful of the villages you are going to visit. We really enjoyed our time with Raoul Jr, and loved the way he interacted with the elders of the villages.

church cross

You might wonder how you will find one of the tour guides here ….. but you will.

Zinacantan is similar to San Juan Chamula only in that it is an autonomous village, exempt from the taxes, rules and laws of Mexico.  This village is supported by the flower industry, and arriving in the village you see miles and miles of greenhouses, sometimes on the most impossible slope and you have to wonder about the logistics on managing those.  Flowers are evident everywhere!  They are all over their clothing and the buildings.  It is such a colourful village.  I wish I had been able to take photos inside the churches – they were absolutely beautiful with archways of flowers and banana plants.  Slightly different from Chamula, these churches had altars and a few pews.  Behind the altar though, was an astonishing array of flowers.  You simply can’t believe the colourful display.

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Part of our tour took us into a weaver’s home, where they showed us how labor intensive the weaving is.  Literally days worth to create a shawl.  THEN, they start the embroidery.

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CORN. Part of everyday life, in all its varieties.

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This is life in the village. We were so fortunate to have this family prepare a snack for us in their kitchen, Blue corn tortillas on the comal (flat cooking surface) over a wood fire.  Can tortillas ever taste better?  I don’t think so.

 

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If this is what the entry to church looks like, can you even imagine the interior?  It was stunning.

We were in Zinacantan during festival days (no accident, you know Grant looks up all this extensively!)

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All  in traditional clothing, they are chanting and dancing their way into the church for blessings before carrying on with the next stage of the festival.  (All stages include lots of moonshine!)

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Hard to imagine all the colour ….. these are the men involved in the ceremonies.

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The flowers themselves are stunning, but the artistry in the arrangements really is amazing.

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Just look at the embroidery on the clothing – this is everyday wear!

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The colours are brilliant.  It’s hard to imagine how many hours of embroidery go into the daily clothing for both males and females.

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There were all sorts of activities going on for the festival that involved the horses, but we never did catch the race this year.

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Residents of Zinacantan aren’t quite as upset about getting their photo taken.

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This guy loved having his photo taken, wish I’d turned it to video as he and his horse danced around.  See the school in the background & the cow grazing.  No need for a lawn mower here.

 

 

 

All the guys with black painted faces are panthers, the beak guys with corn in their mouths are crows, and well…. the others are jaguars.  The panthers climb that stripped tree, with the dissected squirrels (real ones, but stuffed) and throw them down to the hunters who race around trying to collect them.  We waited for hours, but no one ever seems to know when something is actually going to transpire!

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Look at all that embroidery, even the youngest wear the traditional clothing.

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You know right away this family is from Chamula by the black wool skirts. (and the suspicious look at my phone)

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If you have time on your vacation to tear yourself away from Mexico’s amazing beaches, we heartily recommend you go inland …. the culture, food and sights you see are well worth it.