Friday, January 22, 2010

San Sebastian del Oeste

Ripe coffee "cherries" growing in the shade of citrus trees.

Geraniums in the window.

The church of San Sebastian, as seen from the "bandstand" in the town square.

The interior of the church.

    We rented a car yesterday and drove inland, up into the mountains, to an old mining town called San Sebastian del Oeste. It was once the capital of the state of Jalisco with over 20,000 people, but now has a population of only about 600. The drive itself was beautiful as we wound up higher and higher into the green mountains. The drive was was similar to "the scenic route" of my childhood memory, steep and winding. We saw some very interesting animal crossing signs. One was an armadillo, another a wild pig of some sort, and the third a mountain lion! We didn't see any wildlife quite so interesting unfortunately! On the sides of some of the steep mountainsides were huge boulders and rocks, and signs portrayed a car with rocks falling on it from above. Just something else to watch out for, other than armadillos.

    We finally reached our destination; San Sebastian. First stop was a coffee plantation; we could smell the coffee roasting as we stepped out of the car. Such a familiar smell! There were tiny glazed terra cotta cups to sample the coffee, and then we walked out into an open back yard. There they sorted beans, roasted, and sold the coffee. There was a cage with two big, colorful parrots, and the kids enjoyed seeing those. We walked back into the shady plantation where the coffee was grown. Most of the berries were still green, but a few were turning red. This coffee was truly shade grown- beneath huge citrus and avocado trees! Talk about getting good use from your land!

    After the coffee plantation, we drove further into the town and walked along the cobblestone streets to the town center. In the town square were beautiful gardens, with pointsettia plants taller than I am! In the center was a big gazebo, with lots of white wrought iron and lamp posts topped with white dragons! I learned later that these gazebos are called bandstands; that would explain the lack of any benches. The air was much cooler than here at the coast; still warm in the sun, but there was a fresh coolness about it. Plastic red and white flags fluttered above the streets, and most of the buildings were painted in white and burgundy. Pots of geraniums in all colors graced windows covered by wrought iron bars. There was a peacefulness to the town, in spite of the loud Mexican music coming from near the square.

    We walked around a little while Erik scoped out a place for us to get lunch. We ended up in a restaurant looking out over the square, past the tall white dome of the church, and beyond to the green mountains. I enjoyed a fresh squeezed orange juice along with a delicious chile relleno, rice, a handmade corn tortilla, and beans made with real lard from the taste of them! Typical fashion for the men of San Sebastian seemed to include jeans and cowboy hats, and Peregrine was very excited to see the occasional "vaquero" ride by on his horse, shoes clip-clopping along on the cobblestone.

    After lunch we walked down- literally; it's a very hilly town- to the church named for Saint Sebastian the Martyr. It was built in the 1600's, and then rebuilt in the 1800s after an earthquake. (I kept looking at the the brick buildings and brick walls and wondering how the town would fare in an earthquake.) It was a large church for such a small town, but quite beautiful. It had a very European feel, with great arches coming together overhead, and they were painted in shades of blue and purple. Poppy, of course, liked that! At the front of the church were several huge bouquets of flowers; the fragrance of lilies scented the church. I learned later that it was the last of three days of the feast of San Sebastian.

    We left the church and walked down another road. We stood overlooking a small ravine with a little waterfall and stream flowing at the bottom. Vegetation grew lushly out of the brick walls that had been built to fortify it; I was amazed to see clumps of impatiens growing three feet across, like small bushes! We continued on and stopped in the small shop of a silversmith, who had all the tools of his trade there and made beautiful jewelry. We enjoyed looking through open doors into sunny courtyards, filled with plants and people going about their everyday lives. We stopped in at a place that rented rooms; there were several rooms around the most beautiful open courtyard. On the floor were laid bricks in sun or star patterns, and in between the bricks grew tiny green plants; you felt like you were walking on a living tapestry. There were several sitting areas outside of the simple rooms; couches and tables and chairs, and lots and lots of plants. We toyed with the idea of spending the night, but thought better of it, as we were totally unprepared. We did take a card though; it would have been nice to spend more time in that charming town, and the price for our entire family? About thirty dollars!

    We walked back up to the town center and watched some men comb their horses, mount them, and ride away. Very exciting for a certain young man with a horse infatuation. From there we decided to take a different road, a narrow steep path that led down and out beyond the town. We crossed a small brick bridge with three arches under which flowed the same small stream we'd crossed over earlier. We walked out a bit, and then back up the road where we were enticed by the delicious smells of fresh bread baking. There, in a small open window just above street level, we could see a tray of cooling pastries. There were no signs to lead one to this panaderia, only that smell. We walked on until we found an opening in the wall, and entered into what seemed to be nothing more than someone's yard. At the end was a huge stone oven, and next to it a smaller one. And there, in two small rooms, were the bakers, three women, shaping dough and emptying trays, and watching over pans of baking rolls and sweet breads. We waited outside a moment, unsure of how to proceed, but quite sure that we would like very much to sample their wares. Finally one of them motioned for us to come in, and pointed us toward an empty tray and a pair of tongs. We got the idea; we simply needed to fill our tray, which we managed to do. We picked out a few rolls and things, stopping briefly to admire two huge spiders living behind the glass case that housed the sweet rolls. While not the most delicious of the things we bought, the most memorable was a cookie in the shape of a pig; it had the distinctive taste of lard.

    And so our time in San Sebastian came to an end. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and we decided to head back. It was a magical day, one I won't soon forget. There is something I love about mountains, and about mountain towns, and one got the feeling there, in spite of stalls of gaudy plastic trinkets for sale, loud music, and high heels clicking on the cobblestones, that there is something about life there that is much the same as it has been for a good long time. Something relaxed and unhurried, something beautiful. I would love to return someday when we have more time to explore.


  1. The photos are gorgeous! It sounds like you are having such a fabulous time! Enjoy!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thank you for sharing so much of your adventure, here and on FB.

  4. Thinking of you today, dear friend... praying that all is well with you and your sweet family. Can't wait to hear news of your newest little one!

    Lots of love to you,


I love hearing from you and try to respond to your comments here on the page.