The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Next morn­ing, we drive to the Na­tional Au­ton­o­mous Univer­sity of Mex­ico cam­pus to meet Cuauhte­moc Me­d­ina, con­ge­nial chief cu­ra­tor of the univer­sity’s con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum (MUAC), Mex­ico’s an­swer to Tate Mod­ern, with art fairs that are now firm fix­tures on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit. “The world has re­alised there’s more to Mex­i­can art than just Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera,” he tells me as I ex­pe­ri­ence the work of elec­tronic artist Rafael Lozano-Hem­mer — two cop­per con­duc­tors that pick up the rhythm of my heart­beat and send it flick­er­ing across 300 light bulbs on the ceil­ing.

Kahlo and Rivera were early col­lec­tors of pre-Columbian arte­facts. I imag­ine Diego pop-eyed and portly, Frida as po­tent as a shot of tequila, wan­der­ing the pueb­los of the Sierra Madre bar­ter­ing for pot­tery, as we head an hour north out of the city to Teoti­hua­can. Built by an un­known Me­soamer­i­can group in 100BC, and aban­doned around 550AD, it is the most mys­te­ri­ous pyra­mid com­plex in Mex­ico.

Ver­mil­ion fly­catch­ers dart from nearby pine trees as we blast up in a hot-air bal­loon, which is the best way to see Teoti­hua­can’s near-3650ha im­men­sity. Ea­gles hover par­al­lel to us as Ernesto points out the Pyra­mids of the Moon and the Sun be­low. “One gi­ant big as­tro­log­i­cal clock,” he ex­plains, as we de­scend for an after-hours tour with ar­chae­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Ramos. I have a whole Me­soamer­i­can city to my­self and watch the drop­ping sun bathe the vol­canic stone in tan­ger­ine light. At dusk, we head north again, pass­ing through a ranch rear­ing fight­ing bulls, the road­side lined with bar­rel cac­tus as straight as carved jade columns. The stars are so close to the earth that Orion ap­pears as if in a yoga pose on the hori­zon.

We break our jour­ney in San Miguel de Al­lende, the most im­mac­u­late of the pre­served colo­nial sil­ver-mining ci­ties, lined with cob­bled streets and oxblood-coloured houses, in the moun­tain­ous state of Gua­na­ju­ato.

It was in San Miguel that the sil­ver barons built their fam­ily homes away from the harsh re­al­i­ties of the mines and, in nearby Dolores Hi­dalgo, that the War of In­de­pen­dence be­gan in 1810. To­day, San Miguel is a mag­net for an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity of artists, but there are still Mex­i­can gems to be found. At Fabrica La Aurora, a high­end art cen­tre in a for­mer tex­tile fac­tory, is the gallery and stu­dio of Fer­nando M Diaz, who emerges with paintsplat­tered train­ers wor­thy of a Jack­son Pol­lock. He is 63, but his work comes straight from the heart of the new move­ment, in­clud­ing a red sculp­ture in iron and steel in­cor­po­rat­ing Aztec mo­tifs and an­other one in blue, fea­tur­ing two round cir­cles, the sign of rain god Tlaloc.

The lat­ter is also the em­blem of Cuna de Tierra, an award-win­ning bou­tique eco-vine­yard and or­ganic farm that farms fresh­wa­ter cray­fish, near Dolores Hi­dalgo. With Gua­na­ju­ato state’s mi­cro­cli­mate and fe­cund vol- Aber­crom­bie & Kent has pri­vate jour­neys in Mex­ico from five to 14 days, with ex­ten­sions avail­able. More: aber­crom­ Rec­om­mended ac­com­mo­da­tion in Gua­na­ju­ato is at Villa Maria Cristina, a Re­lais & Chateaux prop­erty close to Museo Casa Diego Rivera. More: re­lais­ In Guadala­jara, 37-room Casa Fayette of­fers eclec­tic art-deco style and is a mem­ber of De­sign Ho­tels, which also has four prop­er­ties in Mex­ico City, in­clud­ing DOWN­TOWN Mex­ico in a re­pur­posed 17th­cen­tury her­itage build­ing with a roof ter­race. More: de­sign­ho­ canic soils in the Sierra Madre, Cuna de Tierra pro­duces world-class wines, has won many con­tests in Europe and is a leader in the new Mex­i­can wine move­ment. “We are so proud,” says Paco, Cuna’s quixotic bar­rels ex­pert. “Mex­i­can wines once had a ter­ri­ble rep­u­ta­tion but that’s chang­ing. It’s like Napa Val­ley 30 years ago.”

My ears pop as we drive higher into the Sierra Madre to­wards the state cap­i­tal of Gua­na­ju­ato. Cy­clists puff up the moun­tain­side to the ru­ins of La Va­len­ciana mine. Founded in 1558, it pro­duced al­most a third of the world’s sil­ver by the 18th cen­tury.

Thank­fully, my new guide, Al­fredo, is driv­ing as the route into the city, which is a UNESCO World Her­itage site, its glory largely undis­cov­ered by the out­side world, in­volves labyrinthine un­der­ground tun­nels, the legacy of the re­di­rect­ion of a river. I spend the next day pho­tograph­ing Chur­rigueresque churches, man­sions in shades of turquoise, mus­tard and wild rose, and get­ting lost in a war­ren of al­leys, peer­ing through lace cur­tains as housewives mill fresh tor­tillas. Later, I sit out­side the con­cert hall and the val­ley’s acous­tics act like a gi­ant stone ear to the so­prano voices ris­ing into the night sky.

“Jalisco state is land of tequila, mari­achi bands and charro rid­ers,” Al­fredo tells me as we head three hours west to­wards the state bor­der next morn­ing. We drive by shiny ma­cho trucks, through ranches where rancheros sway on am­bling palomi­nos. Yet Jalisco’s cap­i­tal, Guadala­jara, Mex­ico’s sec­ond city, is the epit­ome of cul­tured ur­ban chic; it hosts FIL, the big­gest book fair in Latin Amer­ica, and the in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val FICG.

In Lafayette, the new hip­ster dis­trict, an art deco and mod­ernist de­sign haven, I hire a bike and ex­plore the streets of white and peach bun­ga­lows, on which jacaranda blos­som rains down. The early work of prize-win­ning ar­chi­tect Luis Bar­ri­gan is here — build­ings cre­ated be­fore he met Le Cor­bus­ier and fused mod­ernist clean lines with Aztec pri­mal colours, cre­at­ing a blue­print for Mex­ico’s fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Guadala­jaran brothers Al­berto and Hec­tor, a de­light­ful comic dou­ble act, are to be my guides to the re­dearthed high­lands of Jalisco and its bou­tique tequila dis­til­leries. As the city dis­ap­pears, we en­ter a strange land­scape of neat rows of spiky blue agave where har­vesters are dig­ging up the gi­ant pineap­ple-like fruit and hack­ing off its leaves with ma­chetes.

We drive on into the bone-white mid­day sun, over bare, dry moun­tains, their peaks stub­bled with an oc­ca­sional pine. It takes two hours for my ears to de­com­press as we de­scend the Sierra Madre and pass through flow­er­ing sug­ar­cane plan­ta­tions. In an­other hour we are at sea level in the lush Pa­cific state of Na­yarit, driv­ing along the coastal road of the Bay of Ban­deras, lined with co­conut and mango stalls.

We pass the re­sort towns and head to the bou­tique re­treat Imanta, on about 100ha of pri­vately owned jun­gle on the ex­clu­sive Punta de Mita coast. I spend the next morn­ing on top of the ob­ser­va­tion tower watch­ing for hump­back whales, then the af­ter­noon rid­ing bare­back on the beach as my mare throws up pow­dery sand, and pre­his­toric-look­ing chacha­laca birds swoop over­head.

Soon time and his­tory sink with the sun, and I am left alone with the pri­mal breath of the Pa­cific and the frag­ile im­mor­tal­ity of the stars. In so many ways, Mex­ico has changed. Here, though, it seems as though noth­ing has.

TELE­GRAPH ME­DIA GROUP • vis­it­mex­ • • li­man­ • far­bri­calaau­ • cu­nade­ • imantare­

Im­mac­u­lately pre­served San Miguel de Al­lende

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