31 July 2015

Mask Maker

We found a few different people who make masks.  For the tastaon masks they begin with this leather frame and then add on wooden pieces.  The painter for these masks moved to the US so they send the up to him to be painted.  These are masks from previous years- this mask maker has been working for over 20 years.  They are an amazing site.

30 July 2015

Banners and Food

As usual, and this is one of my favorite things about festivals in Mexico, there were lots and lots of banners around.  Nearly all were red and white because those are the colors for Santiago here.

My husband talked to the people who were in charge of the food in Ocotan.  The man who is chosen as Santiago is responsible for supplying food for three days for the whole town.  Everyone kept offering us food while we were there.  It's a huge feat to do this and there were about 60 people helping with it. They were doing the same thing in Ixcatan.


We ate corundas in Morelia (more on that later) and I wanted to make them at home because I loved them.  I didn't have fresh corn leaves, nor did I have banana leaves since they're only sold in a few places in Guadalajara.  But I did have plenty of dried corn stalks for regular tamales and they're not the same, but they worked.

Corundas are unfilled triangular tamales topped with crema and salsa.  Here's the basic idea of how I made them.  I think it's about as hard to give exact measurement for tamale masa as it is for making bread dough so nothing here is exact but it should make sense if you've made tamales before.  And really, masa is forgiving.

Soak a bunch of corn husks, or banana leaves, or use green corn leaves (not husks) if you have some growing in your garden, or your neighbor's.

Mix a kilo of fresh masa (or reconstituted masa) with a few tablespoons of butter or lard or oil and just enough chicken broth or milk or water to make a spackle-like consistency, or a rather thick batter that will hold together.  Add some salt- maybe a teaspoon and a bit of baking soda and maybe 1/2-1 tsp of baking power.  Mix that by hand or in a machine or with a hand-held mixer till it's fluffy.

Get a big pot of water boiling with a steamer in it.  If you're using a crockpot, start that earlier.

You want relatively thin strips of whatever you're using to wrap your tamales.  Take a blob of masa about the size of a squash ball and try to shape it into a triangle.  If you have something long to wrap it in, wrap it around the three sides consecutively.  If you're using dried corn husks, tear them into small strips lengthwise and wrap the masa as best you can.  Or do it in whatever shape makes you happy if the triangles are giving you a headache.  When all the masa is wrapped, put the tamales in the steamer.  You should have about 15.  They'll take about an hour to cook at the most (or 3 in a crockpot) and remember to check the water level.

The crema is an easy topping.  For the tomato sauce, blend 5-6 tomatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a hunk of onion.  Pour that into an oiled skillet and fry for a few minutes.  You can add some shredded chicken if you like and salt to taste.

29 July 2015


We go to San Juan de Ocotan fairly often and we'd seen the street art pictured below of Santiago.  We had no idea what the siginifiance was (like so much of what we see even though we ask questions all the time), but it finally makes sense now.

Also, people don't just dress like Tastoanes, there are also plenty of Spanish out there to help Santiago.  And everyone place chooses a Santiago- he's always on a horse.

28 July 2015

Tastoanes Masks

There are a lot of different styles of masks that can be worn by Tastoanes. The mask maker in San Juan de Ocotan said that traditional masks are made with a leather base that have wooden pieces attached to them.  The nose piece is long with a circle at the end with a star on it and there's an mouth piece with a tongue sticking out.  Each half is painted a different color.

But there are lots of other styles too.  We saw Chicago Bulls masks, unicorns, all sorts of wild animals, and so much more.  And in Nextipac they were completely different again.

27 July 2015


I had written down somewhere that we should go to Tonala on July 25 to see the Dance of the Tastoanes.  I have a lot of things written down that we haven't had time to go to and I didn't really know much about this one. When it turned out that we'd be in Guadalajara on the 25th I started reading more about it to see if we wanted to go.  And yes, we wanted to go, although we didn't go to Tonala.

The Dance of the Tastoanes is a centuries-old dance that started in Spain, but it's a lot more than a Spanish import here in western Mexico. That link explains it better than I ever could, although the author hasn't been to Jocotan or San Juan de Ocotan since he refers to them as towns or villages.  They used to be but now they're part of the Guadalajara metro area right and most people drive by them without ever going into them.  But they're very close to us and we know lots of people in both neighborhoods so I was delighted to discover this and it consumed most of the weekend. I highly recommend seeing this if you're in Guadalajara in late July or early September.

First, some logistics.   There are several towns/suburbs that do this dance.  Most do it on July 25-27 for Santiago's feast day, but Jocotan and Santa Ana do it on around September 7-9 (and in Jocotan, they plan it on August 15 which is also Dia de Atole and everyone gets atole that day).  We skipped Tonala because we've been there before and it's not my favorite drive but we did go to San Juan de Ocotan twice, Nextipac, and Ixcatan.

Each place has its own style of masks and clothing.  I'd read than Nextipac was the best place to go but when we arrived at around noon on the 25th we learned that they don't use the older leather and wood masks (more on that later), but instead use flexible leather or plastic masks that we've seen in a lot of different rituals and dances.  They were just beginning the mass before the dance so we didn't stay there long and went back to San Juan de Ocotan where we'd been earlier that morning.  That's the place I recommend going if you just pick one place if you're interested in the masks.

We also went to Ixcatan on Sunday afternoon.  Their masks were again a little different, and so was the clothing.  I'd been wanting to visit Ixcatan since the location looked interesting and I wasn't at all disappointed.

My husband went to Jocotan and then Ocotan on Saturday evening to find people who make these masks and talk to them.  He was also able to learn a little more about the entire event, like who provides the food for the entire town for three days.  More on that later too.

We have a lot of photos!

24 July 2015


We were in Cuitzeo on Monday, just north of Morelia.  It's a truly lovely little town.  They were getting ready for one of their big fiestas of the year for Mary Magdalene.  We didn't stay long since the monastery was closed and I hope we can go back another time to explore it.