Mar 29, 2012

More Regatta, and a Trip to San Sebastián , The Paris of America

An ounce of practice is worth more than
Tons of preaching.
Mahatma Gandhi 

Little girl by old bench
Mike spent part of an afternoon racing with Lanea and Conor on s/v Moondance, an Islander 36, on the third and last day of the Banderas Bay Regatta. They had unparalleled sailing conditions.

David from s/v Bluefin was there also and since he has the knowledge of a worldwide racer, he was the defacto tactician for the race. With his vast understanding of racing and sailing and the help of everyone onboard, Moondance won their category by minutes instead of seconds that day! Some good celebration happily followed; everyone deserving a big pat on the back. Not that Lanea and Conor needed that much help since they had already won the first two days of racing but the winnings were then with a much thinner margin. Way to go Moondance!

Mike at the helm of Moondance for a short while
Waves at the bow
Dinghy ride back home
It is high time for a change of pace so we head up to the mountains for some cooler temperature and new scenery. We are headed for San Sebastián del Oeste in the Sierra Madres. At approximately 4,850’ of altitude we see pine trees gracing the steep mountain sides surrounding town. The air is cleaner, fresher and crisper; we know we are somewhere different.

San Sebastián started as the mining capital of New Spain in 1524 and became a town a little over 400 years ago in 1605. San Sebastián is being considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site but I am not sure it has been granted yet.

El Progreso Bridge to San Sebastián
In the early days, mules brought salt from Las Peñas (now Puerto Vallarta) over to San Sebastián to help process the ore (mostly silver and some gold) that would eventually go to Guadalajara, then Veracruz on its way to Spain once a year. Near 1785, San Sebastián had about 30 active mines and between 20,000 and 30,000 inhabitants (figures vary depending whom you read) and was the capital of the State of Jalisco (today it is Guadalajara). After the 1920-21 revolution, the mines were abandoned and the town only counts 525-600 residents today.

This area went from mining to agriculture and now tourism. As the road from Puerto Vallarta is improving, more people meander up that way to visit this quaint town nicknamed “The town that time forgot”. Stone bridges, archways, cobblestone roads and alleyways, clay tile roofs, thick adobe fences and walls, and various quality ironwork adorning strongly built structures speak of a time when money was abundant here. The buildings were erected to withstand time unlike so many of the shacks we usually see in most Mexican cities today.

Back alley in San Sebastián
Stone bridge
Agave covered hill near distillery
Agave hearts (aka pineapples)
On the agricultural side, this area has cattle and Arabian horses. Farmers also grow grains, corn, coffee, citrus, mangos, and agave (for the famous Tequila and for the more local and lesser known Raicilla [previously called Mezcal], the grandfather of Tequila). Forestry, hunting and fishing round out what supports this area today. Many locals have been here for 5-6 generations and are proud to share their history.

Church steeple behind main plaza
Inside San Sebastián church
Adjacent to the usual central gazebo/bandstand in the noble central plaza of colonial-era, you will find the Temple of San Sebastián, patron saint of athletes and soldiers. This structure was built much more like a fortress than a cathedral, portraying Roman and Corinthian architecture. It was first built in 1600 coinciding with the birth of the town but was rebuilt after the big 1868 earthquake. The inside is simple and cozy with sculptures and artwork adorned only with white, light blue and a little gold.

Hacienda Jalisco is a fairly famous small hotel and museum we unfortunately didn’t get to visit as it was closed that day. First built in 1840, it was refurbished in the 1960s by “Roberto” Bud Acord (1927-2008), a California artist with a vision and a passion for preservation. Bud ensured the hotel stayed like it was in the 1840s. There is no phone or electricity and patrons enjoy oil lamps or candlelight when staying over. The three foot thick walls help keep the place warm in the winter, cool in the summer as well. All shutters and doors are made of local pine, which in itself doesn’t sound that different until you realize very few homes in Mexico have any wood in their construction due to the constant threat of termites which are very abundant. The likes of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, John Huston (Night of the Iguana was filmed nearby) and Peter O’Toole have stayed there. The hotel sits on seven acres and contains a small coffee plantation and a garden. Ninety percent of the fruits and vegetables served to guests are organically grown right on the property.

Some buildings in San Sebastián are supported by beautiful old well preserved wood beams; a few however do show signs of termite infestation with seemingly no intention to fix them.

In its heyday, San Sebastián had telegraph, medical facilities, separate boys and girls’ schools and a bank. It is said some of these improvements were up and running in San Sebastián before Mexico City, a statement that is often debated. A lot of money flowed through San Sebastián and people were very elegantly dressed wearing satins and perfumes giving the town the name of “The Paris of America”.

Hotel Pabellón at one of the corners of the main plaza was at one time a fortress where silver shipments were stored while awaiting transport. The garrison had turrets on all corners where soldiers could fend off the attackers. None are left standing but we are told a well preserved one can be found in an ‘unnamed’ bar. A tunnel was dug from a mine to this garrison to prevent banditos from stealing the ore en route. Later on this garrison was used to store grain.

Baskets in trees (don't know what they are for)
Also of note in this general area of the Sierra Madre, although we could not identify any are the Chicle Trees where the sap is used to make small figurines by hand and is also responsible for Chiclets gum.

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