January 1st, 2013
Mexico ranks fifth among the world’s nations in biological diversity, with nearly 29,000 plant and animal species living in its deserts, rainforests, mangroves, and mountains. The state of Puebla, known for its mild climate and varied ecosystems, is home to large percentages of this flora and fauna — including more than half of the country’s 1,100 different species of birds. A new e-book in English, The Birdwatching Hotspots of the State of Puebla, Mexico, provides a free field guide for novices and experts alike.
All About Puebla asked author Jajean Rose-Burney, a Peace Corps volunteer from New York who recently finished a two-year assignment here, how he got started as a birdwatcher, why he decided to write the book, what he’d like readers to get out of it, and where he likes to go birdwatching in Puebla. Here’s what he had to say.
AAP: How did you end up studying birds in Puebla?
Rose-Burney: My wife and I joined Peace Corps, a program of the U.S. federal government that has volunteers all around the world. We are both urban planners and were looking for a little break. During training in Queretaro, we were told that our assignment would be SEMARNAT, Mexico’s federal environmental agency, in the city of Puebla. I was devastated. I didn’t want to live in a big city, and I didn’t want to work in a big government planning office.
Fortunately, I got everything that I didn’t want — and am incredibly lucky. During the past two years, I’ve worked on some great conservation projects, including the establishment of a new natural protected area at the Valsequillo Reservoir. I’ve met and worked with great people. I had the opportunity to travel throughout the state and most of southern Mexico. And I have been able to turn my love of birdwatching into my work.
When did you start birdwatching?
I have been birdwatching as a hobby since before I started walking. My parents worked at nature reserves and ran a summer camp when I was little, so I grew up around the outdoors. I always brought my binoculars on family camping and hiking trips. Before coming to Mexico, I had never done birdwatching for work. It was always just a hobby. I have actually done more birdwatching while in Puebla than at any other time in my life. When we travel, whether it be to Cholula or to Tulum, we go birdwatching.
I helped start and was a guide for a recreational bird club, called the Club de Observadores de Aves de Puebla, which goes on monthly field trips to parks and nature reserves in the city and throughout the state. To sign up for the tours, you can contact the club.
What prompted you to write the book and, more specifically, focus on Puebla?
Many other places in Mexico are well-known for birdwatching. Although there are a few dedicated birdwatchers in Puebla, the state has been practically ignored by the outside world. Fortunately for me, Puebla is an awesome state to go birdwatching in.
As you will see in the book, Puebla is one of the most diverse states in Mexico, and trails only Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca in total bird species. Puebla has many migratory species, those that nest in the U.S. and Canada and winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America, like the ducks and herons in Valsequillo. Puebla has numerous endemic species — species that only exist in Mexico — like the Red Warbler in La Malinche and the Paso de Cortes. Puebla also has many really beautiful and attention-grabbing species, like the Blue-crowned Motmot in Cuetzalan.
What are your favorite places to go birdwatching in Puebla?
The Valsequillo Reservoir is my favorite place to go birdwatching within city limits. The large reservoir attracts thousands of ducks, grebes, herons, and other birds. On any given day, especially during the winter migration, you can cross the reservoir on the ferry boat (known locally as la panga) in San Baltazar Tetela and see at least 60 species of birds. Ease of access, diversity of birds, and beautiful views of the reservoir and surrounding volcanoes makes Valsequillo a must-see.
Picking a favorite place to go birdwatching in the surrounding state of Puebla is difficult. Rather than chose one site, I would say that the entire Mixteca region in southern Puebla is the most fascinating. Tropical deciduous forests and cactus forests — both more colorful in the dry season — reach as far you can see, while the river canyons are lined with majestic ahuehuetes, or Mexican cypress, a tall evergreen that is also Mexico’s national tree.
The Mixteca is home to numerous species that are endemic not only to Mexico, but also to the Mixteca itself, meaning that they exist nowhere else in the world. These include the Dusky Hummingbird, Grey-Breasted Woodpecker, Boucard’s Wren, and Bridled Sparrow, among others. There are also many emblematic species, like the ruby, emerald, and white Elegant Trogon, or the large, rufous-colored Squirrel Cuckoo, or the sparrow-sized Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. And then there are the beautiful people, the food, the languages, and the history…
What do you hope that readers will take away from the book?
I am a conservationist at heart, and everything that I do is aimed at promoting the conservation of nature. Low-impact, sustainable ecotourism — like birdwatching — can have positive impacts on conservation. When tourists visit a place, pay for a hotel, or a guide, or even just lunch, they demonstrate to a community that protecting natural resources can have greater benefits for them than using them up.
I want this book to inspire people to love nature, the outdoors, and birdwatching the way that I do. And I think that in order to love nature, you have to experience it, to touch it, to smell it and see it. When someone reads my book, whether a novice or a seasoned birdwatcher, I hope that they get the urge to visit some of these places and experience them for themselves. The places and birds that I describe in this book are so spectacular, so beautiful, and so unique, that anyone lucky enough to see them will have no choice but to fall head over heels for them.
To download the free book, which includes maps and other helpful information, click here.
Text by Rebecca Smith Hurd / Photographs by Ana Hernández Balzac (homepage) and Jajean Rose-Burney
December 26th, 2012
2012 was a big year for Puebla. The state commemorated the 150th anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. The city celebrated its 25th year as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And the pair grabbed the attention of the Mexico Tourism Board, which shifted its focus slightly away from beach destinations and toward interior ones.
Before the new federal administration took office on Dec. 1, Sectur named six more towns around the state as pueblos mágicos (up from one in the history of the program) and chose the Colonial and gastronomic capital as the next site of its annual travel-industry schmoozefest, Tianguis Turístico. Puebla also received its fair share of international press coverage, with The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Saveur, Forbes, PBS, Fox News, NBC, and Discovery Travel & Living highlighting some of what the city and state have to offer.*
All About Puebla’s contributors covered as much ground as we could, posting 26 new articles and frequently updating our Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest accounts. We started offering culinary walking tours in Puebla on behalf of Eat Mexico. We also hosted five events for foreign residents and their families and added another 50 people to our “expat” mailing list. We look forward to doing even more in 2013 — please come back and read these pages often!
To recap, here are a few of our favorite posts from the past year:
—The Rosary Chapel, a shining example of Mexican Baroque architecture, was once regarded as the “8th wonder of the world.”
(Read full post.)
—5 common myths and misconceptions about Puebla, debunked. (Read full post.)
—Murals revitalize Xanenetla, one of Puebla’s oldest barrios. (Read full post.)
—Get to know the local lingo, or how to talk like a Poblano. (Read full post.)
—A week’s worth of good eats in Puebla, with celebrity chef encounters. (Read full post.)
—Expats create a sense of “home” in Puebla. (Read full post.)
—Finding “Old Mexico” in Pahuatlán de Valle, one of Puebla’s new pueblos mágicos. (Read full post.)
—¿No hablas español? Study Spanish in Puebla! (Read full post.)
—The “end of the world” as we knew it: Sunrise atop the Cholula pyramid on Dec. 21. (Read full post.)
We hope you enjoyed our work. We’d love to know what you’d like to read more of in 2013 — feel free to leave us a note in the Reply field below. We wish you all the best in the coming year!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
* Full disclosure: I worked with the state’s international affairs office from November 1, 2011, to May 15, 2012, to help promote Puebla, Cinco de Mayo, and the International Mole Festival. Beyond that, I voluntarily acted, either directly (via interviews) or indirectly (via this website), as a local source of information for English-language media coverage related to Puebla in 2012.
December 21st, 2012
Today held so much promise in the minds of so many people. December 21, 2012 — the date the Mayan calendar was set to roll over — spelled everything from doomsday to the dawn of a new era, the first day of winter to the last Friday before Christmas, depending on whose opinion you asked. All the hubbub compelled us to do something we’d been meaning to do for quite some time: watch the sun rise from atop the Great Pyramid of Cholula. No matter what happened, we figured we would at least enjoy nature’s spectacular display, take a few photos, and pay our respects to the millions of people who (like us) have helped to continuously inhabit this place over the past 2,000+ years. And that’s exactly what we did. Here’s our favorite shot of dawn breaking over the city of Puebla. —Rebecca Smith Hurd
December 20th, 2012
My first Christmas in Puebla, I had the pleasure of meeting my future husband’s entire extended family. My Spanish was far from perfect, and at times I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer enormousness of it all. No matter which group of kin we were visiting, the gathering always involved at least two dozen people, as well as food, drink, and hustle-bustle of epic proportions.
On Dec. 24, we gathered at his maternal grandmother’s house to share a late dinner — Basque-style salt cod, Poblano chiles stuffed with cheese, refried beans — and exchange “white elephant” gifts. With everyone crowded around the table, talking over one another and the festive background music, it was tough for me to follow (or contribute to) the conversations. So, I endeared myself to everyone by defying most gringo stereotypes and gleefully devouring several jalapeños too spicy for my other half. Charming, right?
As I sipped on a glass of cider during a reprieve, one of his cousins presented me with a beautifully wrapped box. For me? How thoughtful, thank you. We’d only just met. I proceeded to open it, with my beloved and his dad at my sides, as the chatter around me reached a new crescendo. Imagine my surprise to find a pair of red lace panties inside. I blushed, confused and embarrassed, and quickly put the lid back on the box. Only later did I come to find out that it’s customary to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve in Mexico, for good luck, particularly in love. It works, too: Four years later, Pablo and I are married.
La Villa Iluminada
The importance of family — not just mine, but everyone’s — in Mexican culture is evident around the holidays. People typically gather for traditional posadas in the days before Christmas and then continue the festivities through New Year’s Eve and Epiphany, which here is known as Día de Reyes. We kicked off our celebrations last year on Saturday with a dinner for 40 at La Aldea Hotel & Spa in nearby Atlixco, about 30 minutes by car from the Puebla capital. It was a spirited, all-night affair that included joke-telling, an indie rock concert by a trio of cousins, and an impromptu caravan into the city to see La Villa Iluminada (The City of Lights).
La Villa Iluminada is a 1.5-kilometer pedestrian route decorated with holiday lights that winds through the streets of downtown, from the main square to Insurgentes Boulevard, a major thoroughfare to the east. Millions colorful LEDs illuminate historic buildings, lampposts, and temporary fixtures. “For 45 days, the streets will form a circuit of light and color dressed up with figures, Christmas scenes, traditions, and the city’s identity,” officials said in 2011 on the city’s website.
The 2012 Villa Iluminada happens nightly, starting at 7 p.m., through Jan. 7, 2013.
We started our trek in the main square, where everything from city hall to the Italian Coffee shop is decked out in lights. After posing for photos with the three wise men and the giant Christmas tree, we strolled under a canopy of lights, listening to accordion music and savoring the smell of tejocotes, boiling away in freshly made ponche, that permeated the air. Street vendors offered all sorts of wares, from holiday handicrafts to flowers and pine trees. We passed through Atlixco’s oldest archway to reach the boulevard, where folk dancers performed on an elevated stage. The entire street, including the old train depot, glowed with multicolored flowers, stars, angels, and even avocados and pots of mole. It’s quite a sight — and well worth a visit.
The city of Atlixco reportedly invested more than 7 million pesos (US $550,000) in the expansive display, which is expected to attract 200,000 visitors during its run. Special attractions include carnival rides, various concerts through Dec. 23 and fiestas de reyes on Jan. 4, 5 and 6. For more information (in Spanish), click here. —Rebecca Smith Hurd
To get to Atlixco by car from the Puebla capital, take Vía Atlixcáyotl (head south/west from the Periférico) until it turns into a toll highway (438D). When the highway ends in a split, veer left onto the Puebla-Matamoros Highway. Turn right onto E. Zapata, which ultimately turns into Insurgentes, where you’ll run into the festival. For those traveling by bus, Linea Oro offers service to Atlixco from the CAPU station.
Post updated on December 14, 2012
December 16th, 2012
Las posadas are a long-running Christmas tradition in Mexico, where they were introduced by Spanish Catholics some 400 years ago. In the strictest sense, the events re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. The religious celebrations often involve a procession and the construction of a manger.
“The nine nights of posadas leading up to Christmas are said to represent the nine months that Jesus spent in Mary’s womb, or alternatively, to represent nine days journey to Bethlehem,” notes Suzanne Barbezat of Discover Oaxaca Tours.
Posada literally means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish. However, in modern-day Puebla, the word is often used as a synonym for “holiday party” featuring carols, piñatas, sparklers, hot beverages like ponche or atole, and the distribution of aguinaldos (“bonuses,” in this case gift bags filled with cookies, candies, nuts, and fruit). We attended a “punk rock posada” last night that involved many of those things but catered to an alternative crowd and thus featured mezcal and indie music. And, although we filled the piñatas with traditional ingredients — sugar cane, mandarin oranges, whole peanuts, tejocotes, guavas, and baby jicamas — one of them was a traditional star and the other was a caricature of the Yo Soy 132 movement.
Interested in attending a posada? The Museo Amparo hosts one tonight at 6, for 80 pesos per person.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
December 11th, 2012
“What do you tell people who have never been to Mexico?” the hosts of yesterday’s #MexChat, a monthly travel discussion on Twitter, asked participants. My reply: “I tell people … that they’re missing one of most culturally rich, delicious destinations on planet.” I was, as always, largely referring to the city of Puebla, which today celebrates its 25th anniversary as UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this day in 1987, the U.N. added the city’s historic downtown to its prestigious World Heritage List. The list today comprises 962 sites worldwide (about 30 in Mexico) that form part of the cultural and natural heritage UNESCO “considers as having outstanding universal value.”
The powers-that-be cited Puebla’s abundance—more than 2,600 Colonial-era buildings—of “new aesthetic concepts” that resulted from the blending of European, Arabic, and American architectural styles in the 16th and 17th centuries. UNESCO also praised the preservation of “great religious structures” and “fine buildings like the old archbishop’s palace, as well as a host of houses with walls covered in tiles.”
To commemorate this auspicious occasion, the city plans to release a new guide chronicling important religious sites in Puebla, such as the Puebla Cathedral (pictured), ex-Convento de Santa Mónica, La Capilla del Rosario, and Casa del Deán (of which this site donated a photograph). Look for the booklet in the tourism office in the near future. In the meantime, ¡Felicidades, Puebla!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
December 8th, 2012
The Mesas Poblanas (which translates to “Pueblan Tables” in English) distinction is awarded by the office of economic development and tourism to dining establishments “characterized by quality customer service, attention to detail, and a strong local identity.”
The 2013 list comprises 15 restaurants, which are divided into two categories: gourmet and traditional. The former denotes innovation, the latter an adherence to classic recipes. Nearly half of the restaurants in the inaugural group—Casareyna, Casona de la China Poblana, El Sueño, Mesón Sacristía, Royalty, San Leonardo—are located inside downtown hotels. A free, pocket-size booklet describing the eateries and locating them on a handy map is available around town, and you can find links to the restaurants’ websites here. The city plans to update the guide annually.
Each restaurant volunteered to participate in Mesas Poblanas and was visited once by an anonymous reviewer for quality assurance, officials explained during Thursday’s press conference at Casa del Mendrugo in the city’s historic center. “It’s the first quality club in Puebla!” That may be true, but Mesas Poblanas is by no means a definitive guide, and the federal tourism secretary’s quality standards — Distintivo M and Distintivo H — appear to remain in effect.
The guide comes at an auspicious time, given the international press coverage Puebla has received this year, nearly all of which touts Poblano food, and the upcoming Tianguis Turisticos trade show, which is set to take place here in March. This is the first time the annual conference, run by the Mexico Tourism Board, is being held in an urban (vs. beach) destination.
Wny is Poblano food such a big deal? “No other city reflects the richness of Mexican cuisine as well as Puebla, a cuisine blending chiles, seeds, spices, mole paste, tortillas, cheese, insects, mescals, and a long list of native products,” the Mesas Poblanas guide boasts. “It was included in the list of Intangible World Heritage by UNESCO [PDF] on November 16, 2010. Puebla’s gastronomy is one of the most representative of Mexican cooking, folled with tradition and fusion, and it has made enormous contributions to the legacy of mankind for the past four centuries.”
To coincide with the Mesas Poblanas announcement, the city also released a “gastronomic calendar” (available only in Spanish) that describes some of Puebla’s seasonal ingredients and dishes, from huauzontles (goosefoot) and escamoles (ant larvae) in the spring to huasmole (goat hip stew) and alfeñiques de azúcar (sugar skulls) in the fall. If you’re interested in trying some of these foods, join us for A Taste of Puebla walking tour, during which we’ll discuss regional produce at traditional market.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
December 2nd, 2012
Being an “expat”—or at least living outside your native culture and functioning in another language—isn’t always easy. Feeling frustrated, lonely, and homesick from time to time is inevitable, especially in a city like Puebla, where the locals have a reputation for being exceedingly kind to strangers yet glacially slow to add anyone new to their social circles. Thus, it can be helpful to connect with other foreign residents to form friendships, share resources, support one another, and build community.
It took me a while to figure out how to do that, because unlike Mexico City, Puebla doesn’t have a Newcomers Club or a U.S. Embassy or any other organization that coordinates events for Americans, Canadians, or folks from elsewhere in the world who speak English and aren’t affiliated with a specific employer, church, or school. (I say “English” because not everyone’s Spanish is perfect or even passable, especially when they first arrive in Mexico.) So, with the help of a few others, I started an “expat” group in September 2009, about six months before launching this website. Through word of mouth, our initial group of five has grown to some 160 people from a dozen different countries.
Although “home” is wherever my husband and cat happen to be, having a supportive social network is important, too.
It seems like it took forever, but as a result of the friends and connections I’ve made through the group, this week I finally felt like I was home in Puebla — an insider instead of an outsider. By “insider,” I simply mean my social calendar was filled with events, from a Thanksgiving potluck to a SoHo-worthy art open house and a gala anniversary party to a gourmet dinner at the most contemporary restaurant in town. All four private affairs were hosted by foreign residents and Poblanos (including the dinner, which was organized by All About Puebla). Could it be that we’ve achieved some sort of critical mass, in terms of people, energy, and diversity? A girl can dream, can’t she? In any case, what a privilege it was to be in the presence of such stimulating company, having conversations in English and Spanish!
Thank you, everyone, for your efforts, your invitations, and your contributions to the group. If anyone out there would like to join us in the future, drop me a line and I’ll add you to our emailing list. Happy holidays!
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
November 25th, 2012
The Otomí community of San Pablito has been making papel amate for centuries. Residents of the village, located in a fairly remote region of Puebla’s northwestern mountains, believe that this traditional paper has mystical powers. Their shamans make dolls, or dahi, from it to represent and control spiritual forces, as well as to conduct healings, cleansings, and other ritual ceremonies to protect people. San Pablito is one of the few places in Mexico that continued to make amate paper after the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, and thus its craftspeople have turned the trade to an art. Today their finished works, which often feature intricately woven fibers and detailed paintings, are highly sought-after by connoisseurs of Mexican folk art and artisanal wares.
Amate comes from the Nahuatl word amatl, which means “paper,” and it was used by the Aztecs to record the culture’s codices and to decorate shrines, sacred places, and burial sites. The paper is produced from the bark of several trees — wild fig (a ficus), nettle, and mulberry — as well as an aquatic plant (which we suspect is a type of water lily, but the specifics got lost in translation). The different species allow craftspeople to produce varying shades of white and brown papers.
During our visit to San Pablito, members of the Santos Rojas family explained the materials they use, walked us through how to prepare the bark, and then taught us how to make our own amate paper. After squeezing the excess water out of a giant ball of processed bark, we pulled strands of the fibrous white material and laid them in a crosshatch pattern across our own individual squares of plywood. (See photos below.)
We pounded this pulp flat with a pumice-like volcanic stone until it formed a solid sheet. We then squared the edges, tore off any excess bark, and smoothed the paper with the oily side of an orange peel. With stencils and other tools, we added imprints and strips of darker bark (and pounded it into the white background) to achieve the textures and figures of our choosing. After about 24 hours of drying, we had our own finished papel amate designs! —Rebecca Smith Hurd
San Pablito is located about 7 miles from Pahuatlán (when reached via back roads). We recommend that you go with a local Spanish-speaking guide, such as those provided by the tourism office in Pahuatlán. We paid 30 pesos per person for our two-hour tour, and an additional 10 pesos each for the paper workshop. If you need an English-speaking guide, contact Carlos Rivero Tours (and tell him All About Puebla sent you); he can arrange excursions from the Puebla capital.
November 11th, 2012
Driving along the Arco Norte reminds me of California. The highway, which cuts across Tlaxcala, Estado de Mexico, and Hidalgo so that traffic headed northwest from Puebla can bypass Mexico City, could easily be mistaken for Interstate 5. Miles and miles of open road are flanked by golden fields of dry grass, perhaps wheat or hay, that stretch toward greener mountains at their distant edges. Wildflowers add splashes of color in the foreground. Soil-tilling farmers and grazing livestock occasionally add to the scenery, but they quickly disappear as we whip by at 75 mph.
If it weren’t for the abundance of prickly pear and an absence of In-N-Out Burgers, I might—just might—forget where I am for a moment. But I don’t want to. It’s absolutely gorgeous here. However, as we veer off the Arco Norte and head east, past Tulancingo, onto Route 106 in Puebla’s northern sierra, I try to stop thinking about the road, which gets quite narrow and windy. My focus shifts to our destination, Pahuatlán de Valle.
Pahuatlán was founded in 1532 by Augustinian monks who built a monastery on a steep mountainside near both Nahua and Otomí communities. Until earlier this year, when the Mexico Tourism Board added Pahuatlán to its “pueblo mágico” program, the only reason most outsiders visited the region was to buy artisanal paper made from amate bark. In fact, the primary purpose of our weekend trip is to take our friend Sandra, an artist who works with textiles, to buy papel amate in nearby San Pablito. The Pahuatlán area is also known for thick-skinned avocados (“place of the fruit trees” in Nahuatl), small coffee plantations, and a 100-foot-long suspension bridge, which enables foot traffic between the towns of Pahuatlán and Xolotla.
About 3 1/2 hours after leaving the state capital, we pull up in front of Hotel San Carlos, our home away from home for the next 36 hours. It’s a multilevel, Colonial-style building with a restaurant, a swimming pool, lots of stairs and a lookout tower that guests can climb to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding area. What the hotel lacks in luxury, it makes up for in folkloric flair: Lamps, headboards, and artwork in our rooms are made of amate paper. That said, we didn’t come all this way to hole up in our hotel. We head out to find lunch and explore the town square (a couple of blocks away from the hotel).
“I feel like I’m back in 1950s Mexico,” says Sandra, an avid traveler who now lives in Puebla.
Pahuatlán greets us with the sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling small town. Vendors line the sidewalks of the main drag—a dusty cobblestone street—selling snacks and amate paper, beaded jewelry, embroidered blouses, pottery, and more. The zócalo is a hub of activity and a work in progress, we suspect thanks to new federal tourism funds. A group of young men plays basketball in the recently revitalized square’s concrete surface. A newly inaugurated gazebo is surrounded by shade trees and shrubbery that spells out “Pahuatlán: Pueblo Mágico.” A historic home’s facade is propped up by wood beams where the street is torn up for laying infrastructure. A series of Day of the Dead altars lines the front of the municipal building, where the public clock chimes to a different tune, such as “Que Chula Es Puebla,” every three hours. Many local señores carry machetes at their hips, lending an air of authenticity and scene of danger to the scene.
After fortifying ourselves with a hearty comida at Fonda Güina (Hidalgo #5), which makes lovely cecina (salt-cured beef) and itacates (corn cakes stuffed with garbanzo beans), we set about exploring the rest of the area. Here are a few highlights:
Amate Paper Workshop
At the top of our must-do list was a trip to the Otomí community of San Pablito to learn about amate paper. My friends Scott and Maru, who along with my hubby completed our party of five, had arranged for a guide from the tourism office to give us a tour. Armando, a local college student, hopped into our van and led us on a 25-minute drive to a workshop run by the Santos Rojas family. Three generations of artisans explained the materials and walked us through the process—and then, to our surprise, taught us how to make our own (for 10 pesos each). We also had an opportunity to admire and purchase their beautiful wares, from bookmarks to wall hangings.
(To read more about our experience, check out this post about San Pablito.)
Nature Hike (with Coffee and Pan Dulce)
The tourism office also offers walking tours in Pahuatlán, so on Sunday morning we met Armando in the zócalo for guided visits to a local bakery, a coffee producer, and the suspension bridge. First stop: Panadería M&J (Calle Vicente Guerrero), which turns out some 1,000 pieces of sweet rolls a day. Its specialties, baked in a wood-fired brick oven, include cigar-shaped puros, cookie-ringed bisnagas, and buttery, sugar-coated buches. We purchased one of each and two conchas to pair with the coffee at Casa Hernández (Camino Barrio Unido) a short, hilly stroll away. Casa Hernández cultivates, picks, hulls, separates, sun-dries, and roasts its own beans in small batches to make two products: 100% natural and coffee with 30% sugar. Much of the work is done entirely by manual labor.
Next up: Armando takes us on adventurous hike to the Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla suspension bridge and Pahuatiltla River. We head down a steep residential road and onto a dirt trail that runs through the forest. We’re soon surrounded by trees, grass, wildflowers, butterflies. We start to understand why someone might want to carry a machete in these parts, for practical purposes. Along the way, Armando points out the hanging birds’ nests and poisonous plants, which he asks us kindly not to touch. We stop to take pictures of the suspension bridge below in the distance. The pedestrian river crossing was built in the 1950s, and it looks as if it hasn’t been repaired since: The steel cables appear a bit rusty and a half dozen wooden planks are missing, several—but not all—of which have been replaced by young tree trunks. During Easter Week, people bungee-jump off the bridge, Armando notes. It’s a 200-foot drop to the river below.
I am not afraid of heights, yet my heart is racing. I decide that if I die, at least I will plunge to my death doing something interesting. So, I grab my husband’s hand, take a deep breath, and go for it. We survive. When we get down to the river, we are surrounded by more butterflies and the sounds of rushing water. We take a break before heading back the way we came, a strenuous 45 minutes uphill. But we all make it back to town, safe and sound. We pay Armando 60 pesos each for his trouble.
Happy Hour at Café Pahuatlán
It is surprisingly difficult to find a drinking establishment open at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. We wander around a bit before stumbling upon Café Pahuatlán on Calle 5 de Mayo. Run by a couple from Querétaro who recently inherited the property, the bar-café occupies the partially renovated stables of an old mansion. It pairs old-world kitsch with new-world chic. We order beers and tequila shots and Scott inquires about snacks. “Te voy a traer algo que te va a encantar” (“I’ll bring you something you’ve going to love.”), the owner informs us, and a while later reappears carrying a platter of chicken tenders sautéed with chile peppers.
We order another round of drinks, and the owner returns to pitch us his special Red Bull-esque coffee drink, which involves some sort of beans with a “bellybutton.” (Thanks, but maybe not with tequila…) Next, he presents us with a strange green gourd that looks like a certain lady part, or a Klingon. He breaks another one open and offers us his Nahuatl dictionary. Turns out, this tlalayotli is a wild squash whose tiny seeds can be toasted and eaten. Interesting. But we’re hungry. It’s now 8:30 p.m., the bar is packed, and its staff a bit overwhelmed by the rush. So, we ask for the check and walk back to our hotel for quesadillas and a nightcap.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd
Pahuatlán is located about 125 miles north of the Puebla capital. It’s easiest to reach via toll road by car. If you go by bus, plan to spend the whole day traveling. Atah offers service from CAPU to Tulancingo; Estrella Blanca will take you the rest of the way. Guided tours (in Spanish) are available through the tourism office for 30 pesos per person.
Tags: amate paper, Pahuatlán de Valle, Puebla, pueblo mágico, San Pablito, Sierra Norte, suspension bridge, weekend trip
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