Mexico’s splendid Sonora
Alamos, a sleepy colonial town hidden in a vast Mexican desert, conjures magic and beauty for SHARON SPENCE LIEB.
SONORA, Mexico’s second largest state, takes her time in revealing her treasures. Arriving in Hermasillo, ‘The City of the Sun’, we spend an inspiring afternoon at the world class MUSAS, Museo de Arte deSonora, happily wandering among stunning art by Picasso, Magritte, and Botero. Next day, we explore a bit of the vast ochreSonoranDesert, gazing at stately saguaro cactus, colourful Taco/Tecate snack stands and an endless horizon. A few hours later we arrive at Alamos, one of Mexico’s charming colonial “Pueblo Magicos”.
“Welcome to Alamos,” announces author/historian Juan Vidal Castillo, who joins our group on the bus. “Founded in 1691, Alamos is one of Mexico’s best preserved colonial towns. By 1790, we were one of the world’s most successful silver and copper producers. Today, Alamos is known for lively music and art festivals, bird watching, and restored haciendas with beautiful gardens. In 2001, we became a National Historic Landmark, and in 2005, Alamos was designated as one of Mexico’s 22 ‘Pueblo Magicos’.”
THE MEXICAN COLOURS OF LIFE
Our bus navigates the narrow cobblestone streets past Spanish colonial homes painted in eye popping magenta, lime, ivory, lavender and cobalt. We arrive at Hacienda de Los Santos, House of the Saints, where American owners Jim and Nancy Swickard usher us into a world of intoxicating beauty. Soft guitar jazz wafts across courtyards ablaze with tangerine and lipstick pink bouganvillea. Fountains bubble next to inviting swimming pools. Centuries old guanacaste trees offer cool shade over inviting hand carved chairs sporting pink and turquoise pillows. A horse grazes quietly below a terracotta balcony. Who knew the Sonoran desert was home to such magnificent serenity?
“Please join us for lunch at our Agave Café,” the Swickards offer. Over fresh guacamole, hearty taco soup. spicy fish tacos, and piquant margaritas, we admireNancy’s elegant decor: bright lavender walls are adorned with historic photos and colorful paintings. Whimsical piñatas hang over our tables- flirtatious angels, silly chickens, beaming suns, even Frieda Kahlo.
“Americans began moving to Alamos in 1946,” Jim tells us. “Folks wanted to restore the many Spanish colonial mansions here. We started work on Hacienda de LosSantosin 1989 and in 1998, opened as a boutique luxury hotel.”
We later learn that in 2005, Governor Napolitano ofArizona, andSonora’s Governor Bours, honored the Swickards for their humanitarian work in Alamos with the ‘Alvaro Obregon Award’ (an award in honour of the famous revolutionary Mexican president). Now lucky travelers from around the world come to Hacienda de Los Santos to enjoy the luxurious antique filled guestrooms, swimming pools, gardens, fabulous cuisine, and exquisite Spanish Colonial Architecture. Take a cooking or silver smithing class, relax at La Dulce Vida Spa, or just listen to the birds singing in the trees.
MUSIC IN THE DESERT
Throughout the year, Alamos hosts lively music and art festivals. Every January, the town bursts into song and dance with the ‘Festival Cultural Dr. Alfonso Ortiz Tirado’, presenting world-class opera, orchestral, jazz, and Latin music.
Strolling into the warm starry evening, we meet a merry band of street performers. Called “the Estudiantina”, the musicians wear dramatic black capes and purple scarves in the style of 11th century Spanish students. Strumming guitars and cellos, they croon romantic ballads. We follow along, singing and sipping wine from a basket atop a saddle worn by a sweet grey donkey, a “burrito” trudging happily along. I tussle his mane and he nods at me, as if to say, “join in Senora, and enjoy the magic…”
Alamos is romantic and majestic at night, adorned in a tiara of sparkling lights. We veer down an alley to a huge stage near the Cathedral, which glows like a spaceship just landed from a distant galaxy. Families salsa in the street. In this “Pueblo Magico” called Alamos, magic is indeed around every corner.