Malinalco and Chalma Photography Trip

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Last Tuesday we had a day trip to Malinalco and Chalma, about two hours’ drive from Mexico City, to photograph this Mexican town full of color and history and to visit the Sanctuary of Chalma, the second most important pilgrimage site in Mexico after the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Malinalco is a small but interesting colonial-style town with colorful houses, cobbled streets, a photogenic outdoor market with friendly people and even the odd horse and donkey. It also has some impressive Aztec ruins up on the mountainside and a large Augustinian monastery. One of our first stops was at the central square where lots of vendors were selling crosses made out of yellow flowers. These are put on the houses and cars and left for a whole year until next September, for protection. The fruit and vegetable vendors also let us take photos of them, with some of them positively enjoying all the unexpected attention.

With clouds beginning to cover the nearby mountains, we decided to climb up the 400 steps to reach the unique Aztec ruins perched high on the mountainside above the town. This was the place where the elite Eagle and Jaguar warriors were trained and where human sacrifices were made to the Sun god. On the way up, we photographed many different types of flowers and butterflies as well as the impressive views. As we were learning about the ruins and taking photos, the first drops of rain were felt and out came the plastic bags and raincoats. When the rain got heavier we sheltered under some nearby trees and waited till the cloud lifted and we could once again see the views.

Back down in the town, we photographed the unique murals in the Augustinian monastery cloisters, where the local Indians had depicted their idea of paradise.. cactus, exuberant nature, flowers and animals. By then it was time for lunch before we headed to Chalma, some 11 kms away, with menacing storm clouds covering the tops of the mountains.

As we arrived in Chalma, we were greeted by a rainstorm. Luckily the street leading down to the Sanctuary, lined with vendors, was covered with plastic sheets which kept us dry. On our way down, we were obviously some of the last few visitors and unusual ones at that, as few foreigners visit this place. We were offered food, Mexican sweets, fruit, and all kinds of wares. At the bottom of the street is the large church and the square in front of it where people dance before the Señor de Chalma. Legend has it that in pre-colonial times, the locals worshipped their gods in caves. When the Spaniards arrived, a mysterious image of a “Black Christ” was found in a cave and so people began to worship him instead.

We had a quick look inside the large church where a mass was being held and children were running around at the back, and then made our way back up the street which had now turned into a rushing stream in places. It may not have been a dry excursion with blue skies, but it most certainly was an authentic experience and we came back with lots of good shots. Photographers aren’t afraid of bad weather!


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