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Archive for March, 2015

  • Mexican papel picado.

    Magical Paper

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    photo 3amate mayan paperThe invention of paper in 105AD in China fulfilled a human need for expression and communication. Stone, animal skin and leather were used prior to paper production. However paper provided a lightweight and flexible alternative. It can be procured more easily than animal skins, transported more effectively than stone. The testament to its success is that nearly 2000 years after its invention it is still in use today despite modern technologies.

    For the first five hundred years paper was a precious and expensive commodity. The Chinese Monks took the paper to Japan in 600 AD. Where paper was make from the Mulberry Tree. Its use became more ubiquitous. It was subsequently used for decorations.

    In parallel development in Mesoamerica, the Mayans in 600AD invented paper. It was made from the bark from the Finca Tree. It is called Amate. For nearly 900 years, until the Spanish conquest the bark was used for record keeping, decoration during religious ceremonies and rituals. The Mayans paper making skills spread throughout Mexico. Before the Spanish invasion, there were 40 villages making paper. The paper was demanded as tribute (a kind of tax) from the Aztecs. The Aztecs wrote books called Codices. The codices were accordion like in their structure. They were mostly destroyed during the conquest however 5 remain. It was also used as gifts on royal occasions and rewards for warriors and for rituals.

    The Mayans propagated the use of paper through southern Mexico to Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

    After the Spanish Conquest because of the religious and magical use of the Amate paper it was banned in Mexico. Only used if the preferred European paper was in short supply.

    The production of Amate was never quite outlawed and it continues to be produced in the remote mountains of the State of Veracruz and Puebla. The paper was invested with magical qualities. In the 1900 the production of the paper drew the attention of academics. The Otomi people became aware of the commercial opportunities of the Amate paper. The Amate paper is often used for colourful painting depicting life in Mexico. The paper decorations that are seen throughout Mexico origins go back in the bark paper that was made 1400 years ago in Southern Mexico.

    Mexican paper cuts hand made in Mexico



  • Pacific Coast Mexico

    The Pacific Coast – Paradise Route

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    Images: The Pacific Coast Mexico, Maruata and Pichilinguillo.

    Paradise Route- Our trip along the Michocan Pacific Coast 2006

    From Patzcuaro, we wound our way downwards past volcanoes, fields of maize, bananas, papayas, avocados and mango trees. After an hour’s driving we’d taken off our woolly jumpers and were sweltering. And then wilderness, tiny shack villages with names like Infernillo (Little Hell) and “ watch out for crossing armadillos”, signs. Finally the Pacific Ocean. We arrived at Playa Azul, not as quaint as it sounds after the 1985 earthquake had left many buildings twisted and bent, and poverty then left them empty and slowly crumbling. At a juice bar in the centre of Playa Azul we chatted to the owner who recounted his experience of the earthquake twenty-one years earlier. He was standing at his juice bar at the time. The epicenter was in Lazaro Cardenas just 10 miles down the road.

    Work happens at altitude in Mexico. The beach is for relaxation.

    Before leaving Playa Azul we went to the giant turtle sanctuary, a government run project. A man dug a big hole in the sand with his hands and out came about 80 baby turtles and a mass of cracked eggshells. He put the turtles into a big plastic bowl and an hour later they had woken up and were let loose into the sea.

    We made our way to Caleta de Campos. Where we stayed in an air-conditioned, recently built hotel with beige interior and pool for £40 a night. Caleta de Campos itself was rough and ready. For some reason rubbish was just thrown out on to the street. We thought we saw a rubbish truck but realized three days later that it had broken down and had been used as a dustbin. However the beach was fine with a number of little restaurants selling seafood.

    At this point we said goodbye to hot water, petrol stations, cash point machines, working telephones but not an Internet connection.

    We moved five miles further along the coast to Nexpa. Where we stayed in lovely cabañas for 15 miles a night. This is a surfing beach and is populated by American and Canadian surfers. We were hindered by a lack of cash and fuel and returned briefly to Caleta de Campus to connect with the outside world.

    We finally made our way further along the Pacific coast to a little bay called Pichilinguillo, The village was only accessible by donkey along a dirt track until 1980 when a coastal road was built. They have only had electricity for a few years. Until then everything came by boat along the Pacific coast. This is the Mexican equilivant to Cornwall in 1700 and 1800’s. Except here the contraband drugs from Columbia and the army and the navy frequent the beaches with guns, they stand on rocks peer out to see and then drive away. The sand is white and the sea is turquoise. We have seen pelicans, iguanas and numerous crabs that hang out on the cliffs, scuttling like spiders when they see us. The first evening we were watching strange spurts of water on the horizon and suddenly the black silhouette of a whale leapt and dived into the ocean. We felt blessed and despite the lack of amenities we decided to stay longer.

    The fisherman land mostly red snappers. They are gutted on the boat often while they are still alive and are on our table half an hour later. One fisherman had a big catch and kindly gave us a huge fish. The restaurant cooked it for us. It was delicious like tuna. There are no freezing facilities so the fish are just sold to the three local restaurants. One of the fishermen took us out on his boat to look at the numerous sea caves along the coast. Outside of our sheltered bay, in a small boat the ocean become a dark swelling past.

    Rural isolation, however does equate to nylon, flowery bed sheets, no flushing toilet, a concrete unfinished ramshackle hotel, electricity power cuts and an endless diet of seafood and walkers crisp. Despite this the hotel owner as been very generous with endless cups of tea and tried to convince us to go into business with him doing up his hotel.

    Before we left Pichilinguillo the grandson of the hotel owner took us along a dry riverbed where a hot spring flowed into a cold river. A beautiful walk into the mountains behind the ocean. Lots of lizards, Brahmin cows and the smell of orange blossom. The hot water from the spring was too hot until it mixed with the cool stream. Although I thought we were in the middle of nowhere, we were close to the footpath and a gentle stream of people passed herding the cattle and chatting.

    A rollercoaster drive north to Maruata along the coast, on the map the route appeared as a straight line but in fact zigzagged its way in and out of steep coastal valleys. Past trees with yellow, white and green flowers with no leaves.

    Going into the sea at one of Maruata’s three beaches was a little like taking a spin in the washing machine. This is a favourite haunt of the giant turtle. We didn’t see any turtles but plenty of chickens, cockerels, chicks, donkeys, cows and horses as the whole beach doubles up as a farmyard.

    Today is Monday and we are in Colima which sits beneath two active volcanoes and hence a switch of neurosis from tsunami to earthquake and volcanic eruptions.

  • Cement Encaustic handmade floor tiles – Milagros

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    photo 2 photo 1

    For the past year, Milagros have been developing a range of solid coloured cement encaustic tiles, with a workshop in Mexico

    The cement encaustics tiles have a 5mm layer of coloured cement on a background of lightweight concrete, made using volcanic aggregate.

    The subtle variations in the colour of each tile, makes the laid floor shimmer.

    The making process and the nature of the materials used gives the encaustic cement tiles a distinct character. The floor tiles are not wholly flat or square. When installed the blend of slightly convex and slightly concave individual tiles creates a pillowed effect in the tiled expanse. The light reflects off the tiles at slightly different angles which combined with the variation in the glaze creates a surface with a broader range of tones than machine made tiles.

    Milagros concrete encaustic tiles are hand made in Mexico. Each encaustic tile is individually made in a hydraulic press. First a layer or coloured pigment is added to the mold then a dry mix of volcanic concrete is spread on the back, before the tile is compressed with 25 tonnes of pressure. The compressed tile is cured and dried. This produces a floor tile which can last centuries. Spanish traders in colonial times introduced encaustic tiles to Mexico as ballast in cargo ships which were destined to return to Spain with the produce and treasure of the New World.

    The tiles are now available to buy from our website milagros.co.uk.The tiles can be sent out to anywhere in the UK and Europe.