Fun Night At The Hacienda!

Film Festival Fantastico



Life is a Trip

Life Is a Trip

    The transformative magic of travel.
    by Judith Fein

Fear of Going to Mexico

      Is it safe to travel to Mexico?
Published on February 29, 2012 by Judith Fein in Life Is a Trip

“You’re going to Mexico?” my friends asked. “Don’t you know how violent it is, and how they are killing people in the streets?”

Full disclosure: I am certainly not deficient in the fear department. I do not fancy the idea of my head swinging from a lamppost with my body detached from it. My idea of fun is not being found by local kids in a black plastic trash bag, folded up into a non-breathing, fetal position.

So why would I choose to go to Mexico? Read on, my friends.

In the Spring of 2011, I went to Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo. Problems? Yes. I couldn’t decide which flavor of margarita to order. In October of last year, I went to Chiapas and Tabasco. Was I in danger? Yes, of wanting to be a no-show on my return flight home. And, shiver, shiver, I just came back from Sonora, Mexico. You can drive there from Tucson, Arizona. You have to cross the dreaded “B” word-border.

This time, because I got so many emails bidding me adieu forever, I decided to do a little fact-finding. I went to talk to the police in Alamos, a charming, Andalusian-style colonial town. Actually, three policemen were standing in the middle of the street during one of the largest music festivals in the world, named after Dr. Ortiz Tirado.


When guests exited an opera performance that was held in an indoor venue, they followed costumed local musicians in a street parade called a callejoneada, where wine was carried on the back of a donkey and distributed freely to enhance the party mood. Then everyone headed to another area of the city, where locals were boogeying to a Puerto Rican band.

“Dangerous job?” I asked the law enforcers.

They looked at me as though I had just landed from the planet Gronzo.

“Yeah. It’s dangerous to be bored,” one of them replied with an indulgent smile. “There’s nothing for us to do. Wish we could dance.”

I emailed my amigos back home that they could fill up their calendars, as they didn’t have to wait to see what day my funeral would be.

The next morning, I snaked past paraders in stilts and masks to talk to Joaquin Navarro, the mayor of Alamos, who is also a doctor.

“Is it dangerous to be here?” I asked him.

He laughed. A well-known local politico, he had no security guard, and he was unarmed. He offered to take me to visit a genuine haunted house-his idea of danger.

At the gorgeous Hacienda de los Santos, where I stayed, I was in danger of gaping too intensely at the Mexican art collection, ogling the fine silver jewelry in the gift shop, and eating too much as I dined outdoors, overlooking the lush gardens. Next to me, a wealthy businessman was waxing ecstatic over his five-course filet mignon dinner, which only set him back $27.

So there you have it. My head is still attached to my body. I came home with some great folk art. And although there are a few areas in Mexico I would not willingly visit right now, I would visit the rest of Mexico again in a heartbeat. Or half a heartbeat.

As I write this, wrapped in a red fleece sweater, I am in danger of ripping it off and heading back to warm, welcoming Sonora.

All photos by Paul Ross.

Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist who has contributed to more than 100 publications. She is the author of the acclaimed book LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Sometimes she takes people on trips with her. Her website is

Mike Heraty’s take on Alamos

Alamos, Sonora, Mexico and Pagosa Springs

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This blog entry will not have much to do with real estate. If you want or need specific real estate data or assistance, drop me an email at, or call me at 970 264-7000.


I recently returned from a trip to northern Mexico at the edge of the Sierra Madres to the town of Alamos within the State of Sonora. Interestingly, the town is about the same size as Pagosa Springs. It is a Spanish Colonial Mining Town founded in 1681 following the discovery of silver in the area. Because of the great wealth created from nearby silver mines, scores of large colonial Spanish mansions were built in the town. Many were destroyed in the early 1900’s before Americans began to rediscover the area in the 1940’s. A number of the families living in Alamos can trace their heritage back to first settlers that came to work the mines.  Presently there are a number of Americans that maintain homes there for the winter months, and a few that live there all year, though I have found the summer heat to be quite intense. Like Pagosa Springs, Alamos has struggled during the recession to continue to attract tourists that are willing to spend money locally. Unlike Pagosa Springs, they have also had to deal with all the negative press relating to the drug wars that continue to plague many parts of the country. Though there has not been any drug violence in Alamos (it is far enough off the cocaine highway) the number of visitors from the U.S. has declined sharply and the town has seen a significant reduction in tourist dollars flowing into its coffers. Still, they work hard to keep their city clean, safe and friendly. They do a good job of promoting Alamos with a series of events scheduled throughout the year. While I was there last month the 28th Annual Festival Alfonso Ortiz Tirado was underway. This is a music and art festival named after a famous opera singer and doctor that was born in Alamos in 1893.

This year performers came from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica and other Central and South American countries. The following link will take you to the Festival Program Guide- get ready to polish up on your Spanish:  Alamos Festival         The event was attended by loads of Mexican nationals, many from within the region, but many from as far away at Mexico City and Oaxaca. About a third of those attending the festival were foreigners, from Central America, Europe, South America and Gringos like myself from the U.S.  Everything was very well organized, events began and ended on schedule and provided everyone with a fabulous variety of musical performances. Thursday evening the group Puerto Rican Power played for the crowd and had everyone on their feet dancing the salsa:  Friday evening the group Opera Prima Rock performed a two hour tribute to the music of Queen. I was amazed how popular their music was and how many members of the audience knew all the lyrics. The group had everyone on their feet for the encore “We Are the Champions”.



Saturday evening the Italian Tenor Alessandro Safina performed. In 2007 he recorded a duet with British Soprano Sarah Brightman for her Symphony album and joined her on her Symphony World Tour for 2008 and 2009. His vocals and his orchestra were fabulous. Following his performance,  Callejoneada con la Estudiantina Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado completed the music celebration with all of the musical artists dressed in 17th century Spanish costumes, parading through the streets and alleys of Alamos playing traditional songs and telling stories. This went on until the wee hours of the morning. In all, the experience was wonderful.

Anyway, what I found most interesting is how well attended the Festival was. You had to travel 30 miles west of Alamos to the city of Navajoa to find lodging if you had not made a reservation at least two months earlier. The Festival has been sponsored and coordinated by a group of stakeholders including the Town of Alamos and surrounding communities, the State of Sonora the National Institute of Fine Arts, with commercial financial support from Coca Cola, Corona, and Telmex. This is a festival I would highly recommend to any music and culture lover. The people are warm and friendly, lodging is great within Alamos if you plan ahead. My two favorite lodging facilities in Alamos happen to be owned by Americans: Hacienda de los Santos and Hotel Colonial.

Hacienda de los Santos, one of three pools.

Both of these hotels are exceptional. Within HDLS is the Poncho Villa Cantina, where Poncho Villa stood after entering the town. If you are a Tequilla drinker, you will find over 500 different bottles of the spirit within the bar. If you can’t find one you like, you’d better think about changing drinks!



Pancho Villa Tequilla Bar at Hacienda de los Santos

Hotel Colonial, Alamos. Janet Anderson, Proprietor.

The restaurants in Alamos are very good and very economical.  I love the food at Hacienda and Las Palmeras is a great spot for lunch or a casual dinner. Terisita’s Panaderia y Bistro is my favorite for a cappuccino and breakfast pastry, a great place to start the day and check email with their WiFi connection.

Outside Seating at Terisita’s Panaderia Y Bistro


You can reach the town of Alamos by driving a little over one hour south from Ciudad Obregon, where you can catch a flight from Phoenix on Aero Mexico with a connection in Hermosillo. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a longer and much more economical journey, you can take a first class luxury bus with on board video sets and Wi-Fi from Phoenix or Tucson. While in town I did check out the local real estate scene. Not much had changed from my previous visit in June of last year. A few properties are moving, but very slowly and at prices well below the peak of 2007. Few Americans are buying and many more are trying to sell. Very few Sellers have shown a willingness to greatly reduce their asking prices. Instead, they seem determined to remain patient, a concept that seems more abundant within Mexico.  The decline in buying interest from Americans has, to some extent been partially offset by a renewed interest from Mexican nationals.  It was also interesting to see the increase in Canadians in Alamos.  Alamos Gold of Toronto, Canada owns a huge gold mining and milling operation just west of Alamos which is targeting production in excess of 150,000 ounces of gold for the year, generating gross revenues of over $200 million. Perhaps this investment in the area will create more visitors to Alamos from our northern neighbor. I initiated a discussion with a resident American of creating a Sister City relationship with Pagosa Springs. The Town of Alamos currently has a Sister City relationship with an Arizona community, but nothing with any Colorado towns. It might be a mutually beneficial relationship, given the similarities of the towns. If you think you would enjoy the wonderfully interesting culture of Old Mexico, I highly recommend you consider a visit to Alamos, and I would suggest visiting during the Festival Alfonso Ortiz Tirado in January. Be sure to book your trip early in order to obtain good local lodging.

Quite Street in Alamos at 6:30 a.m.A Quiet Street Scene in Alamos at 6:30 a.m. the day after the end of The Festival.


Hacienda’s Tequila Collection Ranks High

Ghosts and spirits: Alamos in a glass

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We return from the streets of Alamos, Sonora, feet-weary but not ready to put to bed the spirits that have taken hold of our bodies. Throats dry, we reach for a drink. A bottle  of tequila mysteriously lands in our hands.

With the wild celebrations of the Festival Cultural Alfonso Ortiz Tirado still ringing in our ears, we twist open  the bottle of Murmullo Anejo, a surprise gift from host and Hacienda de los Santos owner Jim Swickard.

Forget the lime and salt; this tequila is best drunk  straight, to be sipped, according to Jim, who also teaches tequila appreciation  classes. So, amidst shared snifters, we savor each drop, exchanging stories that  this smooth elixir, and intoxicating town, somehow extract from us. And in  between raised glasses, we listen to the almost hushed souls of Alamos, sidling  past in the gentle breeze, in the rustle of the leaves.

We are told the following evening, that tequila is not  a nighttime drink, that traditionally, it is drunk during the earlier hours of  the day. But what we discover is that perhaps there is no right or wrong way to  consume Mexico’s most well known beverage. Perhaps it is simply a drink to be shared  and savored amongst friends, anytime, anywhere.

Although being in Sonora does have its advantages.

“Sometimes the tequila outside of Mexico is different  to what’s on the label,” says Jim, whose collection of over 400 bottles of  tequila ranks as one of the country’s largest. And contrary to popular belief,  there is no worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle.

It is not until the end of our journey that we are  told of Bacanora, an even stronger, pre-colonial agave-derived liquor unique to  the state of Sonora. But that’s okay. Sitting by the warmth of a fire, on this  cool Sonoran night, we promise ourselves, and the ghosts, that we’ll be back


Enjoy “El Agave Cafe” at the Hacienda

A dish called Sonora

Wednesday February 15, 2012

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his  stomach. Over four days in Sonora, Mexico, I lost my heart three square meals a  day.

At first, attempting to curb my normal  enthusiasm for new cuisine, I tried to resist the allure of the local  gastronomy, approaching each bite with a coolness normally reserved for a first  date. But with each passing morsel, I felt my guard slip further. So by the end  of our first day together, I was unable to contain my love of all tastes Sonoran.

Sure, I’d flirted with Mexican cuisine before: a  burrito here and there, a taco or two, the odd quesadilla, and arguably the most  un-Mexican of Mexican dishes – nachos. But for the most part, Mexican food  remained a mystery: a cuisine well known, but largely unrealized.

It wasn’t until I landed in Sonora, and lifted  the veil of that first tortilla, that I began to understand what Mexican food was  really about. Yes, there are beans, there is cheese, and there are more forms  of corn than you could poke a Taquito  at. But there is much, much more.

Upon introduction, at the El Agave Café, I gush  over the green and red salsa, which with the creamy guacamole, comes as a  precursor to nearly every meal. Served with a smooth bottle of Pacifica (beer),  this is followed by a fiery tortilla soup (a red chili and cheese broth),  smoking-hot enchiladas (flatbread rolled around a filling and covered with a  hot pepper sauce) and a sweet coconut flan. Not a bad first date.

Then,  less than 24 hours later, we find ourselves sitting down for breakfast, where  traditional refried beans, Huevos Mexicanos (eggs scrambled with salsa) and chilaquiles (Mexican bubble and  squeak) accompany fresh fruit juices. So much for taking it slowly.Later that day, on a walk through the town of  Alamos, I am introduced to the local markets. Here, churros, coyotas (cookies  filled with brown sugar) and sweet pastries – some served from the back of a pick-up  truck – vie for the business of cashed-up, sugar-hungry children. I opt for the  potato chips, doused in fresh lime juice and chili sauce.

Over the next 48 hours, I am seduced by everything  from a light green chili soup to tostadas (a Mexican open-faced ‘sandwich’),  from chile relleno (stuffed peppers) to chimichangas (a deep fried burrito).  But my favourite dish, the one for which I fall hardest, is the tamales (a corn-based  dough, steamed in banana leaves).


And then, with a heavy heart, and full stomach, my journey through Sonora is suddenly over.

But as I overlook the Gulf of California from the village of San Carlos, with tasty tamarind margarita in hand, I realize that this is a love affair that will linger on.


For more information on Sonora, and Mexico,  visit:




Travel Blackboard….Many thanks!!!

To read this article online, please visit

  Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Hacienda de los Santos, Alamos

When dust gives way to cobblestones and a noisy, crazy festival startles the quiet of your afternoon; when you are swept into a song and learn the lyrics (and a language) of a Mexico you’ve just met; when, throat dry and feet numb you stop at the disconcerting beauty of Hacienda de los Santos: welcome.

A saint, says Leonard Cohen, is one who works in chaos, but balances with love. Hacienda de los Santos, or House of Saints, seems then a saintly wonder in this city of music and fiesta and we unravel at its entrance as if children roused from sleep.

Bougainvillea drips from the walls of a courtyard, which, like a secret now shared, opens out onto a pool that’s surface is almost too beautiful to break. Greeted with the tart and sweet Jamaica (hibiscus tea) we stand in the sudden open and look out out to Mount Alamos.

I’ve forgotten that accommodation can, itself, be the destination.

Hacienda de los Santos comprises 27 guestrooms, suites and villas each named for a saint. I think, then, this must be Heaven, for the saints live here – or at the very least visit when we sleep.

Each room has its own soul and is decorated accordingly, but comfort is not forsaken for looks: the bed too comfortable to leave, the bathroom kitted out with things I didn’t know I needed.

There is a theatre too, private dining rooms, and the sense that, even when full, here is always a pocket of peace.

Having been lured out by promises of opera and street music, we return to find the fireplaces in our rooms lit, the pool in our courtyard encircled by candles and sipping tequila (the Murmullo just one of the 400+ tequila collection available at the bar) awaiting us in the Presidential Villa.

“Do you need a gardener?” I ask owner Jim Swickard. He thinks I’m joking, but Alamos both within and without the walls of Hacienda de los Santos has the power to turn tourist into resident and I want to stay a little longer, in this, the House of Saints.

Images courtesy of Hacienda de los Santos.

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Source = e-Travel Blackboard: Gaya Avery