Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

I dream of enjoying tereré in Paraguay… In many parts of South America, drinking tea is a much more social and culturally relevant practice than it is here in the United States.

For example, how often do you meet a friend or colleague at Starbucks for a drink? Probably pretty often.  But how often do you sit in a circle at Starbucks, prepare the coffee yourself and share the same customized cup?  Probably never.  But this is how the people of Paraguay enjoy their tea.

Drinking tereré in Paraguay is a lot like drinking Yerba Mate in Uruguay and Brazil. In fact tereré is also a tea that uses mate leaves but there is one crucial difference in the preparation that goes down in Paraguay; instead of being served hot, tereré is drank with cold water and some people even add ice cubes.

This is not a difference just for the sake of being different.  There is a very practical reason why Paraguayans drink the mate tea cold: it is hot all year round in Paraguay.

Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay – The Social Drink

So what is tereré?  In essence there is very little difference between tereré and yerba mate.  One important similarity is that that drinking of both yerba mate  and tereré is a very social event.

Groups of friends, coworkers and students can be seen all over Paraguay gathering in a circle and preparing their tereré gear which consist of the guampa (the vessel from which the tereré is drank, similar to the hollowed out gourd used in the mate ceremony) the bombilla (the filtered straw used to drink the tereré) and the termo (basically a thermos).

Once the tereré is prepared, all participants remain in a circle and pass the guampa around and drink from the straw.  However, unlike the Uruguayan mate ceremony, in Paraguay, they replace the water after each person has their share.  In other words, no one actually drinks the same tereré.

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Enjoying Terere in Paraguay

Another difference between the two drinks is that it is pretty common for Paraguayans to add additional herbs or even fruit juices to the cold drink although, purists look down on the whole fruit juice thing.  Termos and Guampas are often customized by their owner to express their personal style, support for a sports team or simply emblazoned with the owner’s name.

The history of tereré stretches back to the indigenous tribe of the Guaraní who invented the drink and like in modern times drank it in a ceremony style for communion and socialization.

The Social Aspect of Enjoying Tereré in Paraguay

Drinking tereré is considered a normal part of daily life in Paraguay.  It is also an important aspect of socialization and bonding among friends and family.  At its purest, drinking tereré is supposed to symbolize trust and community.  People gather, share the tereré and talk to one another just as you would talk to your friend at Starbucks. Of course, the process of drinking tereré in Paraguay is much more ceremonial than the manner in which we have coffee with a friend here in the States.

The Essence of Tereré

Of course, on the surface people drink tereré because of the mate leave’s natural antioxidant and energizing effects but the true essence of tereré drinking is to feel a close bond with the people you care about.  Not much about the ritual has changed over the centuries which speaks to the primal function of this tradition and the basic, human need that it fills.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The story of Pachacuti Inca starts in Cusco where he was a ruler and the founder of what would become the great Incan Empire. Although in his early life, he was never meant to succeed the crown of Cusco from his father. Pachacuti had a brother named Urco and succession of the throne was to go to him.  However, Pachacuti earned the right to rule and showed his father that he deserved to rule over the kingdom by fending off an invasion by a rival tribe called the Chankas.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The Merit of Pachacuti’s Rule

The Chanka had long since been an enemy of Cusco and the story goes that they decided to invade the kingdom with a massive army.  Pachacuti’s brother and father, fearing death fled the city but Pachacuti stayed behind and saw the invasion as an opportunity to show his father that the kingdom would not only be safe, but flourish under his rule.  Pachacuti acted swiftly and gathered an army to fend off the Chanka.  Not only did they quell the would be invasion but they beat the Chanka so soundly that legends emerged from that battle.

The Earth Shaker

The people could not believe how badly the Chanka had been beaten by the military intelligence and stratagems of Pachacuti that they created a story about it.  They said that the rocks themselves rose up from the earth to assist Pachacuti in battle and that is how he earned the name “The Earth Shaker.”

Coming Into Power

Of course, Pachacuti’s father eventually died but before he did, Pachacuti earned his father’s blessing as the successive ruler of Cusco.  This was to be the birth of the Incan Empire.  At that time, Cusco was just a small hamlet but Pachacuti had a grand vision for his kingdom and saw it stretching much further than its humble borders at the time of his succession.  He went to work launching military campaigns to conquer neighboring lands and was very successful.

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

The Story of Pachacuti Inca

Organizing An Empire

With the aid of his son, Pachacuti built Cusco into a might capitol city that was the center of the Incan Empire. He was a very skilled warrior and military strategist.  He also had a mind for politics.  When Pachacuti would conquer a new land and add it to his empire, he was not overtly cruel to the defeated people.  Instead he offered them membership into the empire in exchange for their subservience.  He did not lay cultures to waste but assimilated them.

He also used nonmilitary methods of broadening his borders.  Pachacuti Inca was known to dispatch spies into other territories and kingdoms in order to find out how they might be coaxed into ceding their land to him.  These spies found out about military weaknesses, economic needs and other vital pieces of information.

Pachacuti then came to the leaders of these lands and offered them what he knew they needed and enticed them with wealth, peace and protection under the Incan Empire.  Most took him up on this offer and in exchange, Pachacuti allowed them to continue to rule in their land as sub-governors of the Incan Empire.


The Incan Empire was born and flourished during and after the life of Pachacuti Inca.  He died in 1471 but not before he absorbed into his kingdom much of South America.  His kingdom included what we now know as Chile, the south of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the northern half of Argentina making it one of the largest empires in South American history.

Pachacuti was considered the Napoleon of South America and there are many statues of him in Cusco that still stand today. The story of Pachacuti Inca tells that he was in incredible ruler who organized a sophisticated and massive empire that would last until the Spanish conquest.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos?  That, I thought was the last thing that would ever remind me of the beautiful Mexican culture.  I was wrong!

If you are at all engaged in Mexican culture then you may have come across an image of a woman standing on a crescent moon, light beaming from her body and looking very grave yet chaste.  You may have even seen this image as a tattoo.  This is the Virgin of Guadalupe and she is essentially the Mexican incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ.

The Story of The Virgin of Guadalupe

The legend of The Virgin Guadalupe, is one that holds a very special place in Mexican culture.  The story asserts that the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego an indigenous peasant.  She commissioned the man to build a church but had one very strange request: that he first gather some roses.  The story took place in winter so the man was confused.  He didn’t know where he would find roses growing in the frozen landscape.  Still, he took the request on faith and sure enough, he found pristine roses growing from a frozen hill.

The man was amazed and took the roses to a priest who declared it a miracle but there was a further miracle: the roses had left a holy imprint of the virgin in the man’s poncho which he used to carry the roses. bThat image would become the design for all tattoos of The Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Surprisingly there has not been much variation as far as the designs of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos.  Guadalupe tattoos will almost always be about the same shape; that of a standing woman.  She will almost always be depicted in the same manner; her hands held together in prayer while she casts a glance soberly downward.  She will also always have the same sacred light radiating from her body.

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

Virgin of Guadalupe Tattoos

In fact the only common variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe tattoos is the bordering.  Some opt to surround the virgin with a canopy of other Mexican patron saints.  Some choose to envelop their Guadalupe tattoos in the sacred roses from the legend.  Some people even set the Virgin of Guadalupe to a depiction of the Mexican landscape.

The Cultural Symbol

Tattoos are not the only pieces of art that bear the likeness of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The symbol has become extremely important in Mexican culture both as a religious figure and a cultural one.  It can be seen emblazoned on flags, in churches and even banners calling for political action.  The Virgin of Guadalupe has donned street art and graffiti as well.

The Virgin of Guadalupe represents hope, a reminder to be virtuous and even a feminine deity figure as many Mexicans pray to her in times of need.  Virgin Guadalupe tattoos have even become a popular design for gangsters who see acceptance in the forgiving eyes of the saint.  They emblazon her likeness onto her body as a reminder that she will forgive all and act as their advocate to the Holy Father.

Whether she is represented as a tattoo, embroidered onto a t-shirt or sculpted to life by an artist, the Virgin of Guadalupe is inevitably a tie to the Mexican culture.  It spans religion, culture and art to become one of the most potent and revered symbols in existence in the modern world.

Who Was Simon Bolivar

Who was Simón Bolivar?  Is one of the most frequent questions people ask me when they know of my Hispanic background. Simón Bolivar was actually a pretty complex individual, at least from the standpoint of bygone history.  His nickname was El Libertador (the liberator) because he fought for the liberation of so many South American countries.

In many ways, as I researched the man and his accomplishments, I was reminded very much of Ché Guevara.  They were both born into wealthy families, they were both well-educated and they both became passionate fighters for independence and revolution. They were also seen at the time and now as polarizing figures.

Of course there are the contingents that celebrate both men as freedom fighters and revolutionaries, but their political beliefs were always a point of contention.

Who Was Simón Bolivar and What Did He Accomplish?                                  

After being educated in Spain, Bolivar returned to his homeland of Venezuela although at that time it was known as New Granada.  During the time that Bolivar lived, the late 1700’s and early 1800’s much of South America was still under Spanish colonial rule.

For Bolivar being under Spain’s rule  was unsatisfactory and during his time in Spain he had moved about in the European circles where he conjured up many political ideas and beliefs that he borrowed from European nations. For example, he wanted to implement in South America a parliamentary system like the one Britain had.

He also had some political views that were somewhat unpopular.  For instance, he favored a lifetime presidency for his vision of a united South America free from Spanish rule.  Still, in his heart, Bolivar was a freedom fighter.  He led many military campaigns in South America that won independence for various South American countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Colombia.

Who Was Simon Bolivar?

Who Was Simon Bolivar?

During his life he formed the Gran Colombia which was a united federation that included the four aforementioned countries. Although the union was unstable and Bolivar would have to flee his homeland due to civil war and unrest, he left an indelible mark on the entire South American continent.

Manuela Sáenz

A discussion no matter how brief about Simón Bolivar must include his lover and muse Manuela Sáenz.  Although Bolivar was married to a woman who would eventually die of yellow fever, many considered Saenz to be Bolivar’s proper counterpart as she was herself a fiery activist and proponent of South American liberation.

Manuelita Sáenz as many knew her, helped Bolivar during many of his campaigns and aided in his escape an assassination attempt in Bolivia where he had named himself dictator.  She was herself born in Quito, Ecuador of Spanish descent and became a figurehead of South American liberation thanks to her efforts with Bolivar himself.

Later Life

Simón Bolivar’s days would see him liberate many territories from the Spanish, be named dictator of Peru and Bolivia and finally flee for exile in Europe.   He was a polarizing figure but had a grand vision and with any grand, revolutionary vision, there are bound to be detractors.

Such was the case for Bolivar who had dreams that mimicked the state system of the U.S., the parliamentary system of Britain and ones that were his own.  His leadership roles were short-lived but he succeeded in freeing much of South America from Spanish rule.

Simón Bolivar died in Santa Marta, Colombia on December 17th, 1830.  Many experts believed that he succumbed to tuberculosis.


What is Oaxaca Cheese?

If you just stumbled onto this article searching for some food articles you may be asking yourself what the heck Oaxaca cheese is. If you know what Oaxaca cheese is and are asking yourself the question “where do I find Oaxaca cheese?”  Fear not because I will share with you the answers. For now, let’s start with the basics…

What Is Oaxaca Cheese

Cheese lovers will rejoice over the mild and buttery flavor of Oaxaca cheese.  Although you will probably never see it being paired with wine, it is considered an artisanal cheese.  It gets its name from the region of Mexico where it originated.

It does not hit you as strongly as say a brie or a sharp cheddar and it is more akin to Mozzarella which makes it great for use in baked goods, for quesadillas and empanadas.  It has a stringy texture which makes it a perfect topping for the traditional Oaxacan dish known as Tlayuda.

The History of Oaxaca Cheese

The reason Oaxaca cheese has such a mild flavor is because it is a cheese that is made from cow milk.  The form of Oaxaca cheese that is most popular now is credited to Dominican monks who settled in the region of Oaxaca a long time ago.  The monks would typically make cheese from goat’s milk which would lend a stronger and more pungent flavor but when they arrived in Oaxaca and found that there was no goat’s milk readily available, they had to improvise.

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

The monks used cow’s milk and combined it with a method of cheese-making that is very similar to the process used to make Mozzarella from Italy.  Thus, Oaxaca cheese was born and implemented in many traditional Oaxacan dishes.  Since then it has become one of the most popular cheeses in Latin countries and is becoming increasingly popular with Anglos as well.

The Process

Oaxaca cheese is a curd cheese and it is kneaded and then stretched to give it its stringy consistency.  After it is stretched, it is usually wound up in a ball shape for packaging.  There is also a form of Oaxaca cheese called asadero and this incarnation of the dairy product comes in the form of a brick.

Asadero cheese is usually intended for slicing but it is made with the same ingredients as traditional Oaxaca cheese.  Oaxaca cheese whether in its brick or ball shape however will always be the same color; white.  Not pure white mind you but a very light, off-white.  It will also always be semi-soft.

Where to Get Oaxaca Cheese

Unfortunately you can’t just waltz into the national chain grocery store down the street and expect to find Oaxaca cheese. Unfortunately, the most readily available source of Oaxaca cheese is online.  There are very reputable sites where you can order authentic Oaxaca cheese such as MexGrocer.com and FoodServiceDirect.com.

For the freshest Oaxaca cheese you are going to have to do some digging.  Hopefully you live in a state with a fairly large Latin community because if you do, you can bet there will be a local Mercado that sells fresh Oaxaca cheese.  If you are south of the border you can also try a lecheria to get your fill of Oaxaca cheese.

Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico

Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico, how is it?

Should you find yourself in Albuquerque New Mexico in between Halloween and the early days of November you may see some peculiar sites.  Women in brightly colored, long flowing dresses with their faces painted like a skeleton dancing through the streets. Skulls crafted from sugar and painted to look more lively than a skull should ever hope to look.

Alters erected on the street and signs reading “Silence is Death” and “Reclamando Nuestra Querencia” in the style of street art.  It is the Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico.  Consider yourself lucky to be in this southwestern city of the United States at this particular time in the fall because Albuquerque hosts one of the most elaborate and culturally relevant celebrations of the Day of the Dead in the country.

Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico

Obviously, the Mexican contingent is alive, well and is represented in great numbers in the state of New Mexico and the Hispanic population goes in this southwestern city go to great lengths and take much pride in throwing one of the most elaborate and thrilling day of the dead celebrations in the country.

The main attraction is the day of the dead parade which is also known as the Marigold Parade.  If you catch a glimpse of this celebration you will see people of all ages marching through the main streets of Albuquerque holding up photographs of loved ones who have passed.

The spirit of the festival is to celebrate and reflect upon the cycle of life.  It is not to glorify death but to acknowledge it as a natural part of our human existence.  Día de los Muertos is also a very important time of the year for Hispanic people because it is the time to remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones.  During this festival, the spirits of passed loved ones are invited to be a part of the family unit once again.

Day of the Dead In Albuquerque New Mexico

Day of the Dead In Albuquerque New Mexico

Cultural Icon

The Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico moved beyond the traditional incarnations of the holiday (although the traditional rites and means of celebration are in no way done away with) to become something of a cultural icon.

People from all over the country descend on Albuquerque in the fall to witness this spectacle for themselves.  Local organizations have been formed and committees have been dedicated to funding, promoting and organizing the Day of the Dead in Albuquerque New Mexico.

Local artists are invited to submit their creations and compete to have their work featured on posters, t-shirts promotional items and in the parade itself.  There is a theme that is selected every year that range from political calls to action to reflective mottos on Hispanic culture to coincide with the traditional themes of the holiday.  Local musicians and bands perform for the crowd, playing contemporary songs and ones that hearken to the meaning of this holiday which is meant to be at once somber and lively.

The Día de los Muertos parade and celebration continues to be focused on community and culture. Hispanics are not the only ones in attendance either; people from all walks of life enjoy taking part of this important festival.  Día de los Muertos is a very unique time so should you be in Albuquerque around October 31st, be sure to take in all of the sites and participate in this rich cultural tradition.

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Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico will take you to one of the more confounding cities in the country.  It is the capital city of one of Mexico’s most impoverished states but you wouldn’t really know it if you were placed in the heart of Oaxaca and never ventured beyond the city limits. It is naturally and architecturally beautiful but that is only half of its story. In truth, Oaxaca is not just a site to see but it was the center of hot political action and still remains a place where intellectuals gather and where revolutions of the past still tinge the air.

If you are visiting Oaxaca, Mexico you have the daunting task of seeing and experiencing everything it has to offer in a limited amount of time but hopefully, I will be able to help with that…

While Visiting Oaxaca Mexico Taste the Food

At this point,  you should just assume that 99% of my articles are going to involve food.  Among the most enjoyable things to do in Oaxaca Mexico is to take advantage of the sumptuous cuisine.  If you are like me and enjoy dining outdoors, there is an excellent brunch/breakfast spot called Casa Oaxaca Café where you can enjoy freshly squeezed juices, Mexican omelets and chilaquiles in the open air courtyard under the fine Mexican sun.

Oaxaca is known as “the land of 7 moles” because quite simply, they make some of the best mole you will ever try.  You can find mole dishes in almost every restaurant that serves lunch or dinner in Oaxaca.

Enjoy Art

Oaxaca is well-known for its street art which can be seen on the adobe and concrete walls all throughout the town but it has made such an impact on the local artist scene that there are now proper galleries devoted to graffiti and street art.  One of these galleries is called the Espacio Zapata.  You can also catch poetry and essay readings at this same venue as well as take part in a workshop.

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Attend the Festivals

Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant and colorful Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico.  If at all possible you should plan to be in Oaxaca in November when the Día de los Muertos is in full swing and colorful alters, and painted skulls can be seen all throughout the city.

July is also a nice time to go to Oaxaca because the Guelaguetza festival brings traditional dancers to the town in a lively celebration of culture and art.

Visit the Sites

Among the most popular Oaxaca Mexico attractions are all the excellent photo ops that can be taken advantage of in the region. First of all, Oaxaca is home to some of the most unique and artful Baroque cathedrals in all of Mexico.

Should you find yourself in Oaxaca be sure to devote some time to check out Santo Domingo De Guzmán which is one of the most outlandishly devised examples of Latin architecture.  Like many cities in Mexico, Oaxaca has some great ruins to look at but unlike other cities, Oaxaca’s ruins are not Aztec or Mayan influenced.  You will see astronomically correct pyramids and arenas among the ruins in Oaxaca.

Get Lost in the Nightlife

We love our nightlife, don’t we?  The answer is yes we do and Oaxaca is a great locale for taking in a night of Mescal and dance. Café Central is a great place to cut loose on the dance floor, enjoy the local spirit (Mescal) and even enjoy some late night munchies all in the same place.

The History of Bolero

The history of Bolero can really only begin to be summed up by acknowledging that there are actually 2 countries that can be credited for creating the Bolero style of dance and music.  Some automatically think of Spanish bolero history when they think of the origins of Bolero and while they are not wrong in making this assumption, they leave the picture incomplete.

One must also look to Cuba when speaking of the history of Bolero as this Caribbean country played just as much a role in the development and popularization of Bolero dance and music as did Spain.

The History of Bolero Dance

The development of Bolero dance in Spain comes from a fusion of different kinds of dances.  It grew from the need to have a dance that could be performed at common shows and not just special celebrations.  In fact, every province of Spain had their own unique form of dance and Bolero emerged as the unifying dance for them all that could be performed at any time.

Some assert that they can actually pinpoint the man responsible for creating this unifying dance that would become Bolero and the year in which it was created. The man’s name is Sebastiano Carezo and the year was 1780.

Bolero is also sometimes called Goyescas thanks to the man who helped popularize and immortalize the dance in his paintings; the Spanish artist Francisco Goya.  He created a few very famous paintings that depicted dancers of the Bolero as they engaged in their movements.

The History of Bolero

The History of Bolero

During the early days of Bolero, many Italian dance troupes were performing in Spain.  It is in this time that Bolero dance, originally intended for a couple was adapted for grander theatres and more ballet-like steps were incorporated to eliminate the need for improvisation on the part of the dancers.

Through the establishment of various schools that specifically taught the dance in Spain, Bolero became more organized and uniform to the sultry and passionate incarnation that we know it to be today.

The History of Bolero Music

While the history of Bolero music can be traced to Spain where it was a ¾ metered genre that was accompanied by castanets and guitars and occasionally with vocals, what we know Bolero to be today comes by way of Cuba and the Caribbean.

As Bolero gained more popularity in Europe it was exported to the island nation of Cuba where musicians sped the tempo to a 2/4 meter and incorporated Caribbean rhythm and percussion that were essentially African in nature.

There is evidence that comes in the form of newspaper articles of Bolero music being present in Cuba as early as 1792 and a Cuban musician named Pepe Sánchez is credited as writing one of the earliest trova style Bolero numbers in the country.

With the diminishment of Tango as the most popular Latin music, Bolero spread from Spain and Cuba and captured the ears and hearts of people all over the world.

The images we conjure up in our minds of two lovers, deeply entwined in an intricate yet heated dance when we think of Bolero are the results of both Spanish and Cuban efforts.

Artists, musicians and of course dancers all had a prominent role to play in the history of Bolero as it is a form of expression that spans art forms and ignites the senses in a way that few other brands of creativity can. For more information on traditional Hispanic music take a look at the article Hispanic Singers and Musicians.