I have always been a digital photographer when travelling to new places, but on my trip down to Mexico City, I had another idea in mind. The focus of the road trip was to discover some of the beautiful Mexican colonial cities or “pueblos magicos”. Instead of carrying the weight of a heavy digital SLR camera, I decided to shoot digital photos with a Samsung Galaxy S8. As a result, I decided to bring my film SLR Nikon and shoot in color. I wanted to replace a sharp and vibrant aesthetic for a fuzzier, grainier, and un-focused almost dreamlike quality.
Our trip to colonial Mexico started with a short stop in Mexico City. We then set off with our good friends to San Miguel de Allende, Tepotzlán, and Oaxaca City. Our friends didn’t plan the itinerary with much rhyme or reason and as a result we spent a significant amount of night-time hours on the road. Unlike our previous excursion to Spain where we traveled primarily by train, this trip had long bus rides that took us to distinct and charming locations. Far removed from the mega hotels, and swarming tourists, each setting offered iconic photographic images of colonial Mexico.
San Miguel de Allende
I shot the candid moment of my friend Edgar above in a beautiful garden near the center of San Miguel de Allende on a street called Animas. The spectacular garden provided the perfect backdrop for a pop up photo shoot.
San Miguel de Allende is a well preserved and beautiful old colonial city in Mexico that used to be a large center for Franciscans. Large churches surround the city center. The charm of the beautiful architecture does fade a bit when you realize the lengths the Catholic Church went to in order to convert the local native peoples during the time period. The town may have at one point been more bohemian and artsy but today it seems like a ritzy weekend stay for well to do Mexicans and retiree ex-pats. Local kiosks and supermarkets have been replaced by trendy boutiques, restaurants and roof top bars. It is no wonder many Mexicans see San Miguel de Allende as a “gringo” city. In fact the bus driver mentioned that we were going to San “Mickey” when getting on the bus from Mexico City.
The trip of colonial Mexico then took us to Tepoztlán . In comparison to San Miguel de Allende, Tepoztlán seemed to have a very authentic style about it. Only an hour or so from Mexico City, Tepoztlán is a great day get away for Mexican City residents. Instead of trendy bars and boutiques, Tepoztlán had endless vendors selling aguas frescas, and micheladas. Both hit the spot after we hiked a steep incline to a sacred pyramid on a mountain outside the town called “El Tepozteco.” An hour or so straight up, the hike provided great views of the valley below and served as a sacred pre-hispanic site. The hike provided us with a positive energy that we brought back to town and carried us thru the rest of the trip.
Our final destination our trip of colonial Mexico was the City of Oaxaca. Located 6 or so hours away from Mexico City, Oaxaca has become a cultural destination for all Mexicans. It has also become a tourist destination for the rest of the world. We were guilty in our tourist exploration of the Southern Mexican state accompanied by our Mexican friends Edgar and Nancy. We arrived by bus at 6 am and had a whole day to wander around the enchanting colonial city. While relaxing half-asleep in the central plaza near the Cathedral we had the opportunity to see a traditional Oaxacan wedding in action. It seemed early but the band, and decorated procession sent a message that it’s never too early to party. The strength of the hot Oaxacan baked upon us as we lounged as backpackers watching the celebration.
Oaxaca has a vibrant cultural scene. Part of this has to do with the strong regional pride that the Oaxaquenses. Their traditions, art, history, food and mezcal attract tourists from around Mexico and the world. Tourists come to the region to buy artisan products, try delicious plates with local ingredients and celebrate with a mezcal. It only takes a short trip outside the city to find mezcal fields and mountains provide a background to rolling fields of maguey. We took a day long tour that took us to various locations. We stopped by a mezcal distillery, textile rug workshop, pyramids and the natural wonderland of “Hierve el Agua.”
Dreams of Colonial Mexico
In the end, the trip of colonial Mexico offered magic and mystique that I tried my best to photograph. I aimed to capture a snapshot of the feel, smells, and emotions of this amazing place. I know I will want to return again to visit my friends and Mexico has endless cultural sites and beautiful landscapes that are still unknown. My wife posed for my last portrait at a hostal near the central plaza in Oaxaca Capital.
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