Archive for March, 2014|
Saturday, March 29th, 2014
This guest post was written by Margie Hord de Méndez, a Canadian expat who grew up in Honduras and has lived in Mexico for the past 40 years. She lives and works, as a teacher and a translator, in Puebla.
I’ve never seen San Baltazar Atlimeyaya mentioned in a tourist guidebook, which is unfortunate, because this sleepy mountain town makes for an easy, lovely day trip from the Puebla capital. Although one can pass through the city of Atlixco to get there, by trial and error we found it was faster to take the Cuautla turnoff (Siglo XXI) from Highway 190, which avoids quite a few twists and turns on small roads. If you’re lucky, you can catch some great views of the majestic Popocatépetl volcano as you grow closer and closer in proximity.
The next town to look for—about 5 km from Atlixco—is Metepec. Its Centro Vacacional y de Convenciones is a government-owned recreational center with a hotel, camping areas, sport fishing, swimming pools, and quadricycles for rent. Previously a hacienda that produced textiles, its late 19th-century architecture reflects its interesting history; guided tours of its Industrial Worker Museum are available in Spanish. From there, the same narrow main road, or camino vecinal, winds up into the hills toward Atlimeyaya. Lost? Head for the fake, graffiti-covered UFO on one little hill.
Entering Atlimeyaya, follow the signs to the giant ahuehuete tree, an ancient specimen of the conifer (the water-loving Montezuma cypress), which you can pay a small fee (10 or 15 MXP) to visit, just a minute’s walk from the entrance. Nearby, you’ll find springs of delicious cold water, which comes from the snow melting on the volcano. A sign declares that a chemist has declared the water very pure, but if you decide to drink from it, do so at your own risk—and before it reaches the troughs where donkeys and horses quench their thirst. Love horses? You can ride for half an hour or longer around the main roads, with a guide helping you if you wish. The dirt road continues into the foothills, but if you head further up the volcano, be aware that herds of goats and sheep frequently occupy the road, making progress slow.
Just before the ahuehuete, a road to the right that leads to a corridor of restaurants, which allow both indoor and—most popular—outdoor eating options. Choose one, such as La Cascada, near a flowing stream that splashes along in a canal. If you’re young or young at heart, you may enjoy swinging like Tarzan on the ropes over the stream or sticking your feet into the icy water. Keep a close eye on anyone who doesn’t swim. Most restaurants also have dry playgrounds for children.
Topping the list of favorite dishes in the area is responsibly farmed local trout. You can fish for your own nearby and pay to have it cleaned and prepared. Or you can simply order the day’s catch from the menu, either fried or empapelado (steamed in aluminum foil), with tempting flavors such as garlic, almond, or chile. Handmade tortillas help to round out an excellent meal. The fish comes from the adjacent Xouilin trout farm, where you can visit the raceways of royal, rainbow, and salmon trout in various stages of development as they splash around in the 13 degrees Celsius runoff from the volcano. An information center periodically offers videos that educate both children and adults. Admission is 15 pesos for adults and 5 pesos for kids. You can also purchase and take home extremely fresh fish (100 to 120 MXP per kilo); bring an ice chest if you plan to do so.
When you go, don’t be fooled by the fact that everyone will tell you Atlixco is always “a few degrees warmer” than the city of Puebla. Atlimeyaya is situated at a higher elevation (nearly 2,200 meters above sea level) and tends to be cooler, so bring a jacket or a wrap just in case. Mosquito repellent is a good idea, too. —Margie Hord de Méndez
To get to San Baltazar Atlimeyaya, 43 kilometers from the city of Puebla, head in the direction of Atlixco on the Atlixcáyotl toll road. You’ll find a Google map here.
Monday, March 17th, 2014
The tiny town of Santa María Tonantzintla, which lies just south of Cholula off the old federal highway to Atlixco, is probably best known to outsiders for its magnificent church. The architectural gem is said to be the rural community’s version of the ostentatious Capilla del Rosario in Puebla, which centuries ago was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world.
Tonantzintla’s 17th-century edifice beckons parishioners and tourists alike with dueling tower bells and intricately laid white and cobalt blue talavera tiles on its facade. Inside, the nave is literally plastered from floor to ceiling with colorful religious symbols, both European and indigenous, that seem to bring the walls to life. It is, in a word, spectacular.
Visitors may not take pictures of the church’s interior without special permission (or a wedding invitation), but they may purchase locally made talavera at a nearby shop. In fact, one of our favorite producers in the entire region is Talavera Tonantzintla. Although its wares aren’t certified by the government, in part because its pottery is lead- and cadmium-free, the craftsmanship of the artists who painstakingly throw and paint every piece by hand is, at its best, exquisite.
Yet the real treasures turned out by this family-run operation are made of cotto, a type of pottery named after the “baked” porcelain and ceramic tiles of Italy. (We suspect that neighboring Chipilo may have had some influence here.) The pieces produced by Talavera Tonantzintla celebrate the area’s pre-Hispanic culture by flaunting one or more of 55 designs from a Cholultecan codex [PDF]. The images, such as the native turkey (pictured below, far right) are chronicled alongside many others in the book Diseño Gráfico en Cerámica Prehispanica Cholulteca. Their reproduction is approved by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
Shoppers may visit the small factory, which is located inside an unassuming, graffiti-covered building near kilometer 11.5 on the highway. It’s open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays until 3 p.m. However, according to the owners, the best selection of the shop’s work can be found at Tonantzin, Avenida Hidalgo #33 (at Iturbide), in Santa María Tonantzintla. The store is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. —Rebecca Smith Hurd