There is something deeply liberating to hit the road and know you might never turn back.
Every day is different, unexpected and full of surprises.
The simplicity, spontaneity and freedom of this lifestyle resonate with me to my very core. After all, with a last name like Fernandes, I might have genuine gypsy blood in me!
First of all I was lucky to find a sweet parking spot, safe and free, within walking distance of the touristic centre. The pets were in the shade and I could meander the beautiful village-like streets of the Zocalo (the city centre) without worrying about them or the safety of my truck. This made a world of difference. I had loved Cholula, but because of the parking situation I was not able to stay the extra day to visit the town. Conversely, I decided to extend my stay in Puebla and enjoy the museum and the antiques market.
The first thing you notice is the impressive Cathedral occupying the entire block south of the Zócalo. Around it is a beautiful park, the most attractive one I’ve seen so far, with its lush mature trees, a pleasant fountain and other water displays. Surrounding the square are the terraces, restaurants and boutiques one would expect. The atmosphere is pleasant and relaxed. Tourists and locals alike taking the time to stop and enjoy an ice cream or other street snacks.
The cathedral is grandiose, inside and out, but a little too ornate for my taste. Its architecture is a blend of severe Herreresque-Renaissance and early baroque styles (and I am quoting “the Lonely Planet guide to Mexico” here). The interior is heavily and elaborately gilded and the centre is “cut” by an island (I don’t know how else to describe it) containing 3 beautiful organs, each from a different period. The effect creating a disconnection from the spaciousness and awe-inspiring sentiment that one would feel in such a grandiose environment. It felt cold, devoid of the hushed whispers generally accompanying devotional practices.
I followed the Calle 5 de Mayo, a wide pedestrian street in full market swing on which most of the recommended Churches seems to be. Every style of church was there, from extremely gilded and ornate to the quietly simple. The Santa Monica church was unmemorable in itself, if it were not for the shrine to the Lord of Marvels (“El Senor de la Maravillas”). A bloody rendition of the Christ carrying the cross under glass which is subject to one of the largest pilgrimage and devotion in Mexico.
The shrine to the Lord of Marvels in
I enjoyed my walk and regaled in the many food stalls and street vendors selling home-made baked goods and such. I stopped at a brazero fascinated by the cooking process to discover that what they were serving were tacos! Not the kind that I’ve seen in Canada that’s for sure.
On my way back, I came across a street market and a fish market and I stocked up on beautiful fresh produce and the rare dark leafy greens. I also treated myself to a large steak from a white fish of some kind and couldn’t wait to have it for dinner. It tasted like butt! No matter what I did, even adding my Portuguese chili sauce it was still disgusting – a bottom dweller for sure.
The next morning I decided to visit the Museo Amparo, the largest private collection of Pre-Hispanic artifacts. It was well worth it!
It also happened to be Sunday and the weekly antiques market was but a few blocks away. I found it in a colorful area of town, with pretty stores and cafes and opening into a small plaza. I was surprised to find it very undescript except for the occasional typical Mexican wares. I did however find 2 wonderful pieces of pottery for my collection.
a quinceria – turning 15
Maiolica pottery, typical of the regio
I also had to sample one of the many traditional dishes that make Puebla’s cuisine famous, the Mole Poblano. The restaurant was very pretty and the dish divine!
notice the Michelada!
I just had to take a picture of this poster of the famous “mano a mano” wrestling typical of Mexico!
Until next time my new road amigos!
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A church on top of a pyramid, that was the appeal to visit Cholula, a beautiful suburb of Puebla, the capital city of the State of Puebla.
After spending the afternoon at the bank and the Aurrera grocery store, a Costco-type store to restock on big essentials, I quickly found the only RV park in town and settled in.
The owner had told me that it was an 8 blocks walk to the pyramid, so off I went, early next morning armed with water bottle and sun hat. The closer I got, the prettier the streets, with brightly colored homes lined with Bougainvilleas still in bloom.
The church stood on top of a grassy hill with a wide winding pathway leading to it. Where is the pyramid? I hope it is not a tourist trap, I thought. The church itself was very interesting, celebrating the cult of Our Lady of the Remedies, a 12th century Spanish legend. I am not sure what started the worship of this young woman and her baby, but it grew in size until the catholics built this beautiful, delicately feminine church in the 16th century. Whether they knew at the time that the hill was indeed a pyramid or not is left for debate.
I couldn’t take pictures of the interior, nor did I find postcards.
From the top courtyard one has a panoramic view of Cholula and Puebla. But what I enjoyed the most was the sight of the two active volcanos overlooking the city. I had followed Popocatepetl, the imposing and snow caped volcano on my drive to Cholula, but to finally see it unobstructed, majestically guarding the ruins from a distance, with a clearly defined wisp of smoke coming out of its peak was truly awe inspiring. Next to it sits Iztaccihuatl. I’ve never been near an active volcano before, so this was quite a beautiful experience. What a force of nature -you can feel it in the air and I couldn’t help wonder how living in the shadow of an active volcano would affect the population?
On my way down I followed a path that wound around the back of the hill, revealing a large archeological site at the base. From this site and looking up at the church it becomes then apparent that this is indeed a large pyramid. Indeed, Pirámide Tepanapa is the world’s largest pyramid by volume: bigger, in that sense, than the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.
After the tour of the ruins I went in search of a Cocina Economica for lunch and happen to discover this amazing vegerarian, self-sustaining and organic restaurant on top of an old building! I decided to try the Chilaquiles a local dish consisting of a bed of blue corn taco chips covered in a red chili sauce, with beans and cheese and a fried egg on top! It was delicious.
I decided to skip the street snacs of Chapulin – grilled and spiced grasshoppers. I hear it is crunchy and you only taste the seasoning… I’ll take their word for it!
My ticket allowed me entrance to the small and humble museum and to the tunnels.
Archeologists discovered a labyrinth of tunnels running underneath the pyramid. So far 8 km of network has been uncovered, 800 meters of which is open to the public. I was surprised by the size and the shape, allowing a person to stand, as well as the extent of the system, with at least 3 levels that I could see.
The other great appeal of the city is the incredible shopping – a pre taste of Oaxaca, the State, along with Chiapas that is the richest in folk-art and craft. Indeed every time I asked the origin of an article I liked, the answer was inevitably “Oaxaca”.
I didn’t tour the many beautiful churche of Cholula. It is said that Hernán Cortés had vowed to build one church per day of the year in Cholula for his victory over the Aztecs. Cholula doesn’t have 365 churches but boasts about 45 of them which, for a town of its size, is quite impressive.
Because of its charm, culture, location and relaxed atmosphere Cholula is now number 2 (after San Miguel de Allende) on my list of places I could see myself settle down.
Until next time my new road amigos!
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The fact that I didn’t do any research on my next destination certainly added to the WOW factor. All I knew about Teotihuacan was that it is the largest archeological site in Mexico.
I arrived late afternoon in the only RV park in the area, in the little town of San Juan Teotihuacan. The park is nestled right in the center of town, which was great for browsing and shopping. The owner Mina, an elderly woman who spoke excellent English was an absolute sweetheart and went out of her way to make everyone comfortable and welcomed. You can tell that she absolutely loves this part of Mexico and wants to share it with her visitors. Although she is not a native of these parts, her passion for the pyramids and their ancient history is evident.
Mina offered to drive me to the gates, a mere 2 kilometers by foot, but since I am still recuperating from my back injury and knew I was going to do a lot of walking in the archeological park, I gladly accepted.
We took off early in the morning and I was there by 8:30 am before the sun was high in the sky and the tourists thronged the gates. As it happens, there were not that many tourists – a recurrent observation throughout Mexico right now it seems.
I entered through the uppermost gate, the one closest to the Moon Pyramid, so that as I meandered my way down, I would finish my visit at the gate the closest to the campground.
The first buildings that I visited were called the Temple of the Jaguars, aptly named for the exquisite and brightly colored murals of jaguars. It consisted of living quarters, around an inner courtyard. Main buildings still had murals of birds and carvings of the typical 4-petaled flower that is found on many of the artwork unearthed in the area.
I tagged along a French couple who had hired a guide and listened at a distance, but decided I didn’t like his preachy tone. I then came across a larger group of English speaking tourists with an elderly guide and immediately liked his enthusiastic and theatrical personality and so I started following them, at first at a distance, and then completely merging with the group. I never got the guide’s name but I found out he is the most senior guide of the Teotihuacan pyramids at age 90.
We then entered the Pyramid of the Moon’s Courtyard. What a grandiose sight, with the pyramid flanked by 12 platforms, 6 on each side, sitting at the northernmost end of the Calzada de Los Muertos, the Avenue of the Dead – the length of which only becomes evident once you have climbed the top of the pyramid.
As you can see the climb up was quite steep, but coming down was even more daunting, as you are now facing the void, and your legs are a bit weaker from the recent climb. Hang on tight!
But the view from the top was breathtaking. From there you really grasp for the first time the sheer size of this archeological site. It spans kilometers of buildings, structures, plazas and of course pyramids, as far as the eye could see!
Our guide then led us to a platform where it is believed they performed Sun gazing rituals, and so in his theatrical flare, he dropped his cane and led us through a short meditation of feeling the sun’s energy coming down and filling up every part of our bodies. I liked this guy more and more!
We slowly made our way down the avenue to the Pyramid of the Sun. Even though it is much higher than the pyramid of the moon, since the latter sits on higher ground, they actually have the same height. But the climb is a different story! At the foot of the pyramid, our guide blessed us in Latin for the safety of our climb, we all burst into laughter!
The world’s third largest pyramid, only surpassed in size by Egypt’s Cheops and the pyramid of Cholula (my next blog!), you climb it through a series of tiers, with thankfully leveled terraces in between allowing increasingly weary tourists to take a break. This gave me the opportunity to chat with one of my new companions, Steve. Steve and his wife had been visiting friends who now reside in San Miguel de Allende and decided, along with some American friends to charter a bus and a guide to visit the area.
I was glad for the lack of tourists when I saw the switchback cordons designed to line up people for the climb. Imagine having to wait 2 hours in the blistering sun before climbing to the top, side by side with hundreds of other people – Yikes!
From the top, you have a clear view of the valley, the villages surrounding the area and – is that another pyramid in the distance? with the avenue that continues on until it fades! I also noticed where the museum was and made a note of it.
notice the Temple of Quetzalcaotl on the left in the distance
Vendors were gathering in great numbers now, selling their wares. I had already bought a circular piece of local obsidian that the Aztecs used to look directly at the sun. There were so many things for sale, sun hats being number one! Then came the jewelry, some cheap, some exquisite. Local arts and crafts. It was beautiful. I am curious by nature, so I would stop and look at their wares and was polite and patient when some of them would aggressively follow you and put their articles right under your nose. But they also had ceramic jaguar heads, beautifully decorated, with blow holes that would mimic the jaguar’s roar. It was actually quite awesome to be sitting at the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, trying to imagine how this site would have looked like thousands of years ago, brightly coloured, busy with people coming and going, with an open market may be somewhere… and to hear the sound of jaguars roaring in the distance – it added to the illusion!
The descent got tedious for me, by now my bum leg was giving out so I had to climb down facing the other way awkwardly clutching the rope railing from behind, but there was no other way. A tumble would have met sure death and I am sure even our friend’s blessing could not have saved me. When I finally touched terra firma, I knelt and kissed the ground! I too have a theatrical streak! I should have asked one of the chuckling tourists to take a picture as I am sure they felt the same way I did and would have enjoyed participating in the play acting.
I meandered my way through the peddlers, buying beautiful turquoise jewelry for the price of bread and finally arrived at the museum.
Funny side note: reading the entrance sign, this is what I learned:
Teachers are called Maestros in Spanish – Love it! Pets are called mascottas – how appropriate, but the best one is for retired citizens : Jubilados! Isn’t that the best descriptive term for retirees? It gives the impression of people jumping up in the air, jubilantly celebrating their freedom from work! (The truth might be different, but I love the image of what it should be like don’t you?)
I was also very puzzled by the sign indicating that bows and arrows were not allowed inside the museum – very curious indeed.
The museum was exquisite, with a large collection of artifacts found on site, an interesting history of the area and its evolution in time and best of all: skeletons! Who doesn’t like mummies and skeletons, right?
These were sacrificial victims buried at the foot of that last lone pyramid I had seen in the distance, the Templo de Quetzalcoatl – a definite must see I thought to myself.
The group of 4 young women was particularly touching. I was evident that they had been laid to rest with great care, almost love and tenderness. They were adorned with heavy pendants, ear discs and obsidian arrowheads were found all over the site. The 8 gentlemen ranged in age and in social status, indicating that they volunteered for the honor of the sacrifice. The necklaces they wore were made out of bones and ceramic to look like human jaws.
By the end of my visit to the museum, I was tired and famished. I had noticed on the map of the site that a restaurant La Gruta (The Cave) was just outside the gate. My walk there quickly made it clear that this was going to be quite out of my price range, but I decided to continue to investigate and I was not disappointed!
Back to the gates I asked the guard if he knew of any “cocina economica” in the area and he pointed me to the group of men handing out pamphlets at the gate. Each one was harranging tourists with the menu of their restaurants nearby. I picked one, having been promised an economical menu. A car came to pick me up and delivered me to the restaurant I had selected.
And here’s something I’ve learned about Mexicans: they always say yes and promise you whatever it is you are asking for. Once in, you discover too late that it was not so.
My cute mechanic had told me he had a blow torch to fix my truck, but when it was time to cover the patched up hole with a metallic plaque, he seemed surprised. What blow torch? I don’t have one! So sitting down at my restaurant I found out this was no cocina economica and ended up having the only thing I could afford, a delicious Aztec soup and my now favourite beverage, a Michelada (a beer with clamato juice and spice).It was however wonderful to enjoy my meal being serenaded by 2 musicians playing traditional music. I learned, watching my neighbours, that you can purchase a song at your request.
The staff dropped me off at the southernmost gate, right in front of the famous Templo de Quatzalcoatl.
To get to it, you enter a courtyard flanked on each side by 4 plateforms. You can tell that more structures are to be uncoved. An unassuming pyramid stands directly in front of you. But the jewel of Teotihuacan, in my humble opinion, lies just behind it! Upon climbing the first small pyramid, the temple comes into view, right behind it, so close in fact that when you descend the first pyramid on the other side, but 5 meters away stands the other one.
Why did I like this pyramid so much you ask? For several reasons: First of all it is the only one that still has the snake or dragon-like figures standing out of the rocks. On each side of the staircase detailed carvings are wonderfully preserved. One can still notice where shells were inlaid in the jaws of the animals. But most of all it was the atmosphere of the place that took you in. Being sheltered by the pyramid in the front, it created a cocoon of stillness in the welcomed shade and one couldn’t help but sit and meditate.
I noticed the handful of tourists that discovered this site at the same time I did couldn’t resist closing their eyes and take in the specialness of this place. I could have stayed there for hours – but it was closing time and had to find a taxi back to the campsite.
Did any of you readers visit Teotihuacan and what were your impressions? Please do share – I would love to hear from you:)
I stayed a few days in San Juan Teotihuacan. I liked the fact that I could walk a few minutes and treat myself to dinner in the street. One night, I was walking Marley, the sky was stormy and the evening air was full of bird songs. For a moment I thought I was back at the pyramids with the peddlers blowing into their musical pipes. But no, it was hundreds of blackbirds typical of the region, swarming and dancing in the sky, creating this musical concert. I realized then that bird songs are a particularity I truly enjoy in Mexico!
I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy visiting ruins or not, but now I am hooked and I was off to the next stop on my itinerary, the beautiful town of Puebla, capital city of the State of the same name and home of the famous church on top of a pyramid – who can resist that?
Until next time my new road amigos!
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