Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mexico: Part 3

We are now home to sunshine and spring flowers after our interesting, enjoyable though not exactly restful trip to central Mexico.

Palm weaving outside the church in Taxco
Last Saturday night, the evening before Palm Sunday, we were sitting on a balcony overlooking the main square of Taxco, and watching some highly energetic and costumed locals performing dances that involved a lot of foot stamping and handkerchief waving. 

The next morning we enjoyed watching skilled weavers making elaborate crucifixes out of palm leaves to sell to everyone entering the church, which was packed. And then, a noisy procession of several hundred people, many with middle-Eastern head dresses, came winding through the steep cobbled streets blowing trumpets, sousaphones and whistles and letting off fireworks. They were carrying a complex, palm-bedecked float to the church, which was already filled to capacity. We did not stay to see how that worked out, but instead went to the Taxco silver museum – named after the American silversmith, William Spratling, who revived the silver industry in Taxco. 

Palm Sunday Procession in Taxco
Interesting that two of the best local museums we visited in Mexico were founded by gay expat American artists in the 1950s.

The long drive from Taxco (southwest of Mexico City) to Puebla (southeast of Mexico City) turned out to be a lot easier than we expected, and was interrupted by an entertaining stop for “breakfast” at a roadside cafĂ© – plastic chairs and a tarpaulin roof beside the highway. The place was very busy at 11 AM, the main attractions being inexpensive and excellent food, and the three buxom waitresses in stretch tights with colorful eye make-up, one of whom provided an endless supply of fresh tortillas, flattening the dough into thin circles and toasting them on a griddle. Our two breakfasts of eggs, rice and beans, a liter of fresh guava juice, plus unlimited tortillas – $8.

Pottery Market
Speaking of late breakfasts, we eventually worked out that in central Mexico people eat only two meals a day – a late breakfast/early lunch between 10 AM and 12 noon, then an early dinner between 5 and 7 PM. Being used to Argentina and Spain where dinner doesn’t start till very late at night, at first we were turning up for dinner to find that restaurants were closed, closing, or empty. More than once the floors were being washed and chairs being put up on the tables while we ate. We got into the swing of it, however, and started eating earlier and earlier in the evening. Mexico is also great for snacks – there are stalls selling potato chips, popcorn, cakes, ice cream, and fresh fruit snacks everywhere, as well as more exotic local treats like chilaquiles, tlacoyos, and chapulines. The last of those is fried grasshoppers – not sure what the others are.

Our final stop was the colonial city of Puebla. If you visit just one city in Mexico, this is the place to go. It has beautiful old, well-kept buildings, quiet streets (no car horns!) with bike lanes, great restaurants and good museums, and is so well organized that it is easy to find your way around. 
Puebla street - old buildings, no cars, bike lane!!
The city is famous for its pottery, and many of the buildings and most of the churches are decorated with blue and white tiles (azulejos). Added to this, the attractions are (unlike most Mexican cities) very well signposted with information about the sights in Spanish and English, and sometimes Nahuatl and Braille. The cathedral is vast and relatively austere – it was packed when we first visited as the archbishop was conducting Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week. 
Puebla tiles in the Capilla del Rosario
Our bibliophile friends will be happy to hear that one of the main attractions in Puebla is a library – the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, claimed to be the oldest library in the Americas. We also enjoyed visits to the artisan market and the artists’ quarters, both located in their designated areas by the well-organized Poblanos.

On our way back to Mexico City for our flight home, we stopped for half a day at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, a huge complex of ancient buildings, many decorated with fantastic stone sculptures and murals, which was constructed by a civilization far older than the Mayans or Aztecs from 100 BC to about 500 AD. 
Teotihuacan - Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Moon
We spent an interesting (and exhausting) few hours clambering up precipitous pyramid steps and walking along the 1½ mile Avenue of the Dead.

What struck us most about our trip to Mexico was how kind, friendly and helpful the Mexicans we encountered were. The streets of the cities felt safer than many we have visited, with little excessive alcohol consumption and minimal begging; people would stop in the street to ask us if we were lost or needed directions; locals were happy that we were visiting their towns or eating in their restaurants. Reputedly some parts of Mexico are dangerous for travelers and infested with robbers, kidnappers and drug dealers. Happily we avoided them, or perhaps we two elderly gringos just did not look like good targets. We even got out a few hours before the 7.2 earthquake hit central Mexico. We plan to go back and do some more exploring before our legs give out – we walked over 100 miles in 20 days.

Plumed Serpent carvings in Teotihuacan

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