Posts Tagged ‘city market’

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A Weekend in the ‘Magic Town’ of Cuetzalan

Monday, November 14th, 2011

A panoramic view of CuetzalanIt took me four years of living in Mexico to visit Cuetzalan, but it was worth the wait — and the winding, three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to get there from the Puebla capital. The tiny town, carved into a mountainside in the state’s Sierra Norte, is surrounded by natural beauty: Its thick tropical forests conceal waterfalls, grottos, and coffee plantations. And, although the area is frequently blanketed by the clouds, mist, rain, or fog typical of the region, on clear days visitors can see for miles across the gorgeous peaks and valleys that stretch east toward the Veracruz border.

I arrived at the Cuetzalan bus station early on a sunny October afternoon and walked down the town’s steep cobblestone streets toward its main square. After admiring the view — wow — and wandering around a bit to get my bearings, I checked into Hotel El Encuentro (Av. Hidalgo #34), which appeared clean, seemed safe, and cost an affordable 320 pesos ($24) per night. It turns out that the group that runs the hotel also operates the Xoxocitc Botanical Garden, which maintains orchid, heliconia, and butterfly gardens, as well as a collection of endangered tree ferns. After stowing my bag, I set out to find lunch and to explore what makes Cuetzalan one of Mexico’s longest-running “magic towns,” or pueblos mágicos.

Café Época de Oro serves as a restaurant and a museum of coins, antiques, and movie posters.I ordered a plate of chicken enchiladas at Mesón Don Chon, and it would have been a lovely meal had I not been badgered by countless vendors who wandered in off the street. They were relentless, so I ate quickly and returned to the main square. I checked out the massive Parroquía de San Francisco de Asis, which took 200 years to build and decorate (1790-1990) and, perhaps because it was finished so recently, boasts a vibrant interior that seems wonderfully ostentatious for a church founded by Franciscans. As I took it all in from the front pew, I decided that any house of worship that could successfully incorporate a grapevine motif into its altar decor was OK by me. Shortly thereafter, I met up with my travel-savvy friend Freda. We grabbed a beer at the retro-kitschy Café Época de Oro, a restaurant that also serves as a museum of coins, antiques, and movie posters from the golden age of Mexican cinema. According to the newspaper Sierranorte, owner Oscar Rubén Rivera Dáttoli is not only a meticulous collector, but also quite a local character who plays 17 musical instruments and likes to write and act in Vaudeville skits.

Traditional "voladores," or fliers, perform in Cuetzalan's main square.The café offers an excellent view of the main square, but we were drawn outside by the high-pitched flute sounds of the voladores. These “flyers” dress in colorful costumes (which are traditional except for the tourism-board shirts), scurry up a tree trunk that’s at least 60 feet tall, and then — tied by their ankles to ropes wound around the tree — jump off as if they were scuba diving in mid-air, backward and head-first. Four people soar around the tree as the rope unwinds, while a fifth person dances on a tiny platform at its top. The impressive, death-defying ritual expresses people’s harmony with, and respect for, the natural and spiritual worlds. Although its precise origins are unknown (and hotly debated), its importance to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was recognized by UNESCO in 2009.

We strolled around town a bit more, peeking inside churches, hotels, and the cultural center, before capping off the evening with, well, a nightcap. We sampled a shot of yolixpa, a locally made herbal liquor with a strong anise-like flavor, and then washed it down with some tequila at Bar El Calate (Morelos #9B).

On Sunday morning, I got up early to go to the weekly market. Nibbling on a freshly made hotcake from a street vendor, I carefully negotiated the steep steps and bustling walkways. The market occupies the entire main square and flows into the adjacent avenues, beckoning buyers with ripe papayas and melons, recently butchered pig heads, shaved tree sap for starting fires, and delicate jewelry made from seeds and beans. One particular decorative bean — nicknamed vaquita for its black-and-white spots that resemble a dairy cow’s — also happens to be delicious when boiled with garlic and bay leaves. So my search for a bag of these beans began and, with the help of a young mom who knew her way around the market, it ended successfully, and I bought a necklace from her as a thank-you.

Travel tip: Bring walking shoes. Your calves are going to get a workout while traversing Cuetzalan.

A few hours later, after hauling our bags up to the bus station and leaving them in storage, we hired a Mototaxi by the hour to take us to a few spots outside of Cuetzalan, including the ruins at Yohualichan and the waterfalls Las Brisas and El Salto. Yohualichan is a village and archaeological site about 5.5 miles outside of Cuetzalan that’s reachable via a rustic, bumpy road. The first people here were the Totonacs, who built the site’s houses, ceremonial buildings, and ball court between 400 and 800 A.D. The temples paid tribute to water and forest animals. According to legend and the INAH’s sign, the Totonacs also constructed the pyramids of the sun and moon at Teotihuacan and El Tajín. Yohualichan was subsequently occupied by Toltecs, Chichimecas, and Nahuas, who ransacked the previous settlements and re-purposed the materials to erect their own buildings, some of which still exist today.

Off an even rougher (unfinished) road closer to Cuetzalan, our intrepid driver-cum-guide led us on a hike to two of the area’s waterfalls. Although the path was narrow, muddy, and filled with tree roots, rocks, and other obstacles, I managed it in slip-on shoes, with a helping hand when the going got rough. After about 15 minutes, we were rewarded with an almost-private glimpse of the Las Brisas and El Salto waterfalls. We’d hiked to the middle, putting us at the top of one and the bottom of one, where, if we’d planned ahead, we could have taken a dip in the pool. Another tourist jumped in wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and I shuddered to think of the chafing on his hike back to the road. I decided to stay dry. We hiked back out and made it back to town in time to grab lemonade and a torta for the 4 p.m. bus. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Cuetzalan is located about 110 miles northeast of the city of Puebla. The Vía bus line, operated by ADO, offers frequent departures seven days a week from the main bus station, CAPU. Tickets can be purchased at the station or online from Ticketbus (in Spanish only). To get there by car, take the Puebla-Orizaba highway (150D) to Amozoc, exiting onto the toll road toward Perote (140D). From 140D, head north on federal highway 129 toward Zaragoza to 575. Follow 575 through Zacapoaxtla to Cuetzalan.

For 100 pesos an hour, you can hire a Mototaxi to tool around Cuetzalan.Yohualichan is a hilltop archaeological site about 5.5 miles from Cuetzalan.A modest church stands near the entrance to the Yohualichan archaeological site.The top of El Salto waterfall in Cuetzalan.







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Specialty Food Market Flaunts Flavors of Puebla

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

The facade of the new market features a mosaic of names of poblano dishes.The very mention of Puebla should conjure images of food in every traveler’s mind. Cooks from all over the state are responsible for developing some of the most delicious, iconic cuisine of Mexico—including the internationally beloved mole poblano and the widely misrepresented chalupa. Both dishes were invented ages ago right here in the capital city. Today visitors to Puebla can sample these and other regional recipes at the brand-new Mercado de Sabores Poblanos (market of Puebla flavors).

The market, part of a downtown revitalization effort, opened Feb. 5. It satisfies three municipal needs: increasing tourism, providing a quality space for vendors who specialize in gastronomy, and re-purposing an unused space in the historic center, Mayor Blanca Alcalá said last weekend in an official statement. Alcalá, whose term ends Feb. 15, believes the market will drive future social, economic, and urban development in Puebla—and ensure that poblano cuisine remains one of the city’s biggest attractions. The project took about six months and $4.1 million (50 million pesos) to complete, according to the online newspaper PeriodicoDigital.com.mx.

The Mercado de Sabores Poblanos is a huge U-shaped food court where more than 130 vendors prepare and sell an array of typical street and restaurant fare.

The new market is like a giant food court, with more than 130 vendors.The market establishes an unmistakable modern landmark in the city center. The building’s facade features a vibrant tile mosaic designed by acclaimed painter José Lazcarro that calls out the names of regional dishes. Inside, artist Luz Elvira Torres continues this motif in metal sculptures that dangle from the ceiling, adding a splash of color amid a sea of the white tile that covers the vendor stalls. Laminated signs identify each stall and share a few recipes. By design, the Mercado de Sabores Poblano appears orderly and pristine—a sharp contrast to the chaotic traditional Mercado Venustiano Carranza across the street. Read: What it lacks in charm, it makes up for in hygiene. Meanwhile, the older market is being renovated to house butchers, vegetable growers, and other merchants who did not relocate to the new building, according to a parking attendant who works in the neighborhood and various news reports.

The message: Come to the Mercado de Sabores Poblanos to eat. Go elsewhere for the old-school Mexican market experience.

The food choices are, in a word, abundant. Visitors can sample tacos árabes (pork wrapped in pita), pelonas (sandwiches on deep-fried bread), memelas (bean-stuffed corn tortillas topped with salsa, onions and cheese), pipián verde (chicken in green mole), cemitas (Puebla’s take on the torta), camotes (sweet potato candies), and much more. Vendors range from independent food purveyors to well-established businesses like As de Oro, El Girofle, La Choza del Pescador, and Tacos Tony. Hungry yet?

Pipián verdeCemitasMemela

Mercado de Sabores Poblanos is located on 4 Poniente between 11 and 13 Norte, about halfway to the 4 Poinente bus station from the center of town.

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