Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mexico: Part 2

Taxco Cathedral, with VW beetles
It is the Saturday before Palm Sunday, and we are in the small Mexican hill town of Taxco (pronounced (Tach-ko). Our little hotel is perched on a steep hillside with a wonderful view of small white houses, churches, flower gardens and swimming pools (!) clinging to the precipitous slopes. Taxco is famous for silver mines -- long exhausted -- and now boasts hundreds of little “tianguis” (stores) where silver jewelry and other handicrafts are sold.  The main square is dominated by a mostly pink baroque fantasy cathedral built by one of the richest silver barons. It has a beautiful wood floor and excessively elaborate gilt altars. We treated ourselves to tasty ice-creams, from over sixty different divine flavors, “los sabores de los dioses”, including tequila and burnt milk.

Hat seller in San Miguel
We have covered a lot of ground in the past week. We left Guanajuato by bus last Saturday for the short trip to San Miguel de Allende – a beautiful town of orange, brown and yellow buildings built upon a hill. We spent three days wandering the streets, checking out the local markets and visiting a lovely botanic garden and nature reserve with a great range of cacti in bloom, and some interesting birds. 

San Miguel (or SMA, as those in the know call it) has become a haven for gringo ex-pats, and in several of the restaurants they were quite reluctant to speak to us in Spanish. It appears that many of the gringos expected life to be a lot cheaper in SMA than turns out to be the case, and many have turned to selling real estate, or their own art work. The amount of art on sale and on display was astounding. We were not tempted… 

Our hotel in San Miguel
Despite this, San Miguel is definitely worth a visit for its beautiful buildings, friendly people, and great food and lodgings. The bedroom in our tiny 4-room hotel had a 16 ft. high brick vaulted ceiling and a bed the size of a small football field.

Kitchen in Robert Brady Museum, Cuernavaca
After an easy bus trip back to Mexico City and a slightly nerve-wracking subway trip across the city with our luggage, we picked up a rental car and headed off south, in the rush hour, towards Cuernavaca, where we spent 2 nights. We would not recommend Cuernavaca as a place to spend much time – it is a bit grungy and down at heel. The cathedral is built of stone that Cortes salvaged from the local Aztec temple and it looks like it – a large pile of black rock in the general form of a European cathedral, with primitive frescoes inside painted by locals who converted to Christianity. It is extraordinarily old for the New World, having been started in 1528. One delightful surprise which redeemed Cuernavaca for us was the Robert Brady Museum – a beautiful collection of arts and crafts in a fine old house. The former American owner, Robert Brady, was educated at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and at the Barnes Foundation. You could see Barnes’ influence in the collections of old keys, painted chests, African masks and Asian wall hangings in among paintings and prints of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Aztec temple in Malinalco
We would never have realized Mexico was so mountainous if we had not driven from Mexico City to Cuernavaca and from there to the “pueblo magico” of Malinalco, a very picturesque little town southwest of Mexico City. It was once an important Aztec religious site, and boasts the only monolithic pyramid in the world, carved out of the side of a cliff. It was really impressive, and because it was built out of one piece of solid stone, the Spaniards weren’t able to use it elsewhere as building material. 

We had our first lodging disaster and “Lonely Planet” letdown in Malinalco, where the hotel we had booked turned out to be awful – a small, cell-like room, with minimal curtains, a narrow and uncomfortable bed, zinging mosquitoes, barking dogs, and the rumble of trucks and cars on the nearby highway. We stuck it out for one night, despite having prepaid for two (not like us). For our second night we found a beautiful little B&B with a pool and tranquil garden where we enjoyed a happy afternoon, a quiet night and a delicious breakfast.

And so to today, where we are sitting on a terrace looking down on the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of Taxco. It is hard to believe we’ll be back home next Thursday.

San Miguel de Allende


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