Travel to Latin America with Austin’s Mexic-Arte, Cine Las Americas

Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman
The Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City is also known as La Casa Azul or The Blue House. Photo by Nancy Flores/American-Statesman

Stepping into Mexico City’s Alameda Central Park with its majestic fountains, impromptu performance art shows and canoodling couples, you can feel the energy of the megalopolis and its cultural richness. Often romanticized in songs or featured in artwork such as the renowned Diego Rivera mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park,” the cultural hotspot also leads to the prominent Palace of Fine Arts, where Rivera recreated the mural famously destroyed at the Rockefeller Center.

In an effort to explore Latin America’s cultural art scene with an Austin lens, the local Mexic-Arte Museum has been leading art tours in the Mexican capital city on and off since 1996. It’s been offering these experiences more regularly since 2010, when Mexico celebrated its bicentennial.

An upcoming trip on June 22-27 offers Austinties the chance to understand the complexities of Mexican art and culture under the guidance of art expert and Mexic-Arte Museum founding director Sylvia Orozco.

Participants will visit Mexico City’s iconic cultural heritage sites including the expansive National Museum of Anthropology, which is often described as one of Mexico’s most important museums for its comprehensive collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts. Visiting the bellybutton of the city, the Zócalo main square, sheds light into the inner workings of the country’s past and present. And sights such as Frida Kahlo’s brilliant blue childhood home and bohemian Coyoacán neighborhood give new meaning to the artist’s work.

The trip, which depending on airfare ranges from $2,600 to $3,200, includes a curated itinerary of more art-centric sights. Visit mexic-artemuseumevents.org for more details.

Keep an eye out for more opportunities for Latin American travel with Austin cultural institutions that offer unique perspectives. In October, Austinites can join Cine Las Americas on a cinema-focused trip to Cuba for a week. Film enthusiasts can check out sites featured in movies such as “Our Man in Havana,” “Soy Cuba,” and “Fresa y Chocolate.”

More information about that Oct. 22-29 trip can be found on jbjourneys.com.

Missing Pachanga Fest? Pa’l Norte music festival could be solution

Colombia's Pedrina Y Río perform at Pa'l Norte fest. Photo by Nancy Flores
Colombia’s Pedrina Y Río perform at Pa’l Norte fest. Photo by Nancy Flores

When the Pachanga Latino Music Festival announced earlier this year that it was shuttering the daylong festival that brought together local, national and international Latin music artists at Fiesta Gardens for the past eight years, I thought about how many fans were going to miss their annual spring fix of Latin music grooves.

For the past couple of years, I’ve heard buzz about a spring festival in Monterrey, Mexico, that launched in 2012. Pa’l Norte showcases both buzzy and established Latin music artists. Was this Mexican music festival a good alternative for those missing Pachanga?

After all, Monterrey is only about six hours from Austin (Brownsville is about five hours away), and a flight from San Antonio to the “Sultan of the North” is only 45 minutes away. After years of headlines about cartel-related violence that drove many tourists away, Monterrey is rebounding nicely as crime rates have dramatically decreased. Slowly but surely, visitors are returning to enjoy the scenic views and culinary delights.

Monterrey is ringed by mountains. Photo by Nancy Flores
Monterrey is ringed by mountains. Photo by Nancy Flores

I arrived this weekend to check out the two-day festival at Parque Fundidora, a sprawling park on the former grounds of a steel foundry that also features youth baseball fields and open-air theaters. With the backdrop of the picturesque mountains that ring the city, the Pa’l Norte fest offers an idyllic setting for a weekend of music.

Festgoers make headwear out of natural flowers.
Festgoers make headwear out of natural flowers. Photo by Nancy Flores

The festival’s first day brought South by Southwest alums and experimental pop rockers Hello Seahorse!, whose atmospheric rhythms have made them stars in the Latin alternative music world. Colombian alternative pop duo Pedrina y Río were among my picks for top international music at SXSW this March. Their uplifting melodies and genuinely sunny energy energized the crowd.

Later that night, artist Pato Machete, of Control Machete fame, gave fans of the iconic hip hop group what they wanted by performing some of Control Machete’s classic songs such as “Sí Señor” and “¿Comprendes Mendes?” Rapper Serko Fu, who performed at Speakeasy in Austin during SXSW this March, joined him on stage.

Other artists included rocker Enrique Bunbury and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs. Pa’l Norte fest continues today with Latin Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Carla Morrison and legendary rockers Caifanes.