Photographer & Author: Francesco Stumpo
Camera: Nikon D3100 
Film: N/A
Processed: Photoshop CS6, Lightroom and VSCO.

Date: June 1st, 2018

Photo Essay:
Exploring the United Mexican States

Heading south in search of colorful landscapes and Dia de los Muertos festivities between Mexico City and the states of Morelos, Puebla, Oaxaca and Tlaxcala, Mexico.

Whenever I visit a new country, I research its real name and get familiar with their history (even if its brief), as I have learned that being aware of these sort of atlas-like-facts brings a insider knowledge that comes in very handy. Yes, the United Mexican States, much like the U.S.A., is divided into federal states united under a government to form a Republic. With that in insight in mind, I had the goal to not only visit Mexico City and stay locally, but to truly take on the idea of getting to know a country by visiting its various states.

Start: Mexico City

Countless of friends, local and foreign had mentioned over the years: “Visit Mexico City once and you'll instantly feel at home.” Visiting  the old colonial quarters, experiencing colorful spaces  everywhere and the lush neighborhoods, I couldn’t help to agree. Yet it was hard not to feel nostalgic and longing for places scattered around Venezuela’s towns, lost european corners and hints of third world infrastructure.

While in the city, we stayed at a friend’s cozy penthouse flat in La Roma Norte overlooking the vast city of roughly 24 million people (8 times the size of Uruguay). There we spent time walking from one spot to another, witnessing some rubbles from the recent (second) September 18th Earthquake, as well the clashing art and graffitis and countless street tacos.

Enough has been written about this magical metropolis, yet it’s history and geographical relationship to its location is something that stayed with me, even on the plane back. The National Anthropology Museum stands as a living archeological site of human evolution, records and progress, highlighting not only the Mexican heritage but the world’s as well. Plenty of leisurely walks were enjoyed afterwards, in the heart of the Chapultepec Park, as we visited the top of the Castle (where once battles were fought, and President’s used to live) and cherished the views of monuments, new and old skyscrapers and distant foothills.

Next: Puebla de Zaragoza

Any stop after Mexico City can be a bit of an adjustment, as you are going from an incredible dense metropolis, to probably a smaller destination. This time, we headed to the neighboring city of Puebla (or “town” in english), yet do not be disguised by its name as it’s one of the fastest growing capitals in the country of Mexico (with a region comprised of San Andres Cholula and Puebla de Zaragoza). While there, the museum exploration, outdoor terraces and high ceiling patios carried on.  This time, a particular contemporary museum called the Barroco Museum stood out, as it was designed by a japanese architect, dedicated to barrocan art and located in a mexican city (what an example of globalization and the famous Bilbao effect!).

Pause: Tepoztlan

As the middle of the week approached, and the festivities started in preparation for the Dia de los Muertos, monuments, shrines and decorations started to adorn every corner of any place you would visit. Thanks to my friend’s business trip we ended up driving to Tepoztlan in Morelos. Famous for its long hike in the foothills of the Tepozteco mountain, I got to see the trail and pilgrimage made by tourists and local alikes to top of it’s intact archeological site.

Besides it’s historic richness, Tepoztlan is also considered a Pueblo Magico. An initiative that “promotes a series of towns around the country that offer visitors a "magical" experience – by reason of their natural landscapes, cultural offerings, historical significance, and craft movement. Overall, this was a good opportunity to visit a truly small town and escape from the city life for a day, encounter sites full of exciting moments, all while drink plenty of “carajillos” and smelling the Mexican marigold everywhere, better known as the “Flor de los muertos”. While also paying homage to local’s dead and alive during sporadic visits to the monuments, the local cemetery and people’s front doors.

Escape: Oaxaca

As the weekend approached, we had in mind to visit one last neighboring state so we put our finger on the map towards the south of the country and made our way to Oaxaca. Known as one Mexico’s more native state, and full of indigenous traditions, folklore and history, we were thrilled to spend a few days in the heart of the country.

Recharge: Val’Quirico

Back to San Andres Cholula, and just outside of Puebla metropolitan area, we spent our last day in Mexico recharging in Val’Quirico, in the neighboring Tlaxcala state . Through the pathways and roads to get hacienda porfiriana, there is little to none going on, as the large renovated plantation stands as one of the first attempts to bring tourism to regions outside of the city and towards more untouched regions.

Once there, local restaurants, artisanal shops and courtyards are abundant, all surrounded by stone, adobo, wood and typical mortar and brick structures. Old and new are combined to make way to this new community, yet it becomes harder to tell the difference as the details, wear and tear and architecture starts to blend all together. For some it’s an artificial town, a replica of an italian village in the middle of nowhere, and for others it’s one of Mexico’s newest towns. Who’s to decide?

We sat down in one of the local restaurant, order our last meal and shared an obligatory carajillo. We reminisced of the travels local and far from one week in the country, as well as the 5 destinations we were able to experience. All equally positive, yet unique in their own distinct ways. Overall, traveling through  the country of Mexico during the fall and Dia de los Muertos week was truly incredible experience. From feeling like a tourist again, to the small town villages, and the immense amount of culture, I will be back for more!

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