Sunday, August 12, 2007

A few details

I felt like Columbus discovering America but of course everything and everyone had been there long before I passed through. It can be hot in the middle of the day but gentle rain and mist are what made it special for me.

I went from the Guanajuato bus station by way of Queretaro and Pachuca and on to Tulancingo. I got a good tip there when I asked two women chatting at a street corner where I could find an economical, clean hotel. They directed me to the Colonial,what I would call moderately priced but a delight, comfortable, well-run, a spurting fountain in the patio, a buzzing restaurant through a passageway. The next morning I saw a bit of the center of the city, including children concluding the city-sponsored music program, also the vendor booths with artesanias set up in front of the Templo de los Angelitos.

Then a two-plus-hour bus ride to Zacatlan, a market town where I arrived a week before their annual Apple Festival. When I was turned away from the place I expected to stay from perusing the internet, I went to a hotel in the heart of the market district, where I was looking down on the tarps protecting the vendors from either rain or sun. The men and women with their goods laid out were already there in anticipation of the hustle and bustle leading up to the Festival.

After a dreary time looking for a restaurant my first evening, the next morning I headed to the indoor market where I breakfasted on mixiote, a tasty lamb dish stewed in wrappings. That night I found the Cafe del Zaguan with its good coffee. It has several rooms that can hold 150 people in all, the high -ceilinged back room with musicians playing, the front rooms more intimate. Obviously a favorite, not just of mine.

The owners of the no-frills hotel where I stayed were a mother and son of Mexican ancestry but American citizens. They were happy to talk with me in English, the mother explaining the vendors ("they come without permission") and a large group of guests ("probably from Mexico City, here for a party"), the son telling me about his work as a customer service rep--he still lives in Texas, just visiting--and why he voted for Our President twice.

The next day, I went to the Clock Museum. The man who had left it to Zacatlan was the self-taught clockmaker who had created the first workshop in Mexico for monumental clocks, the kind I later found topping the Municipio in Pahuatlan. I don't remember all the countries that now have one of the clocks. The business is still going, run by his sons and grandsons. The small free museum had models of ways man has kept time through the centuries, from Egypt, Europe, Pakistan. Sundials, of course, but many other ingenious inventions, from measuring candles to giant structures casting shadows. I was sorry I didn't get back to take the pictures I intended.

Zacatlan is the Mexico I had dreamed of. Not very touristy most of the time (including when I was there) but with good food in the market and a convivial coffeehouse. I bought four small coffee cups made in China, feeling disloyal for passing over the higher priced talavera.

The next morning, two hours more on the bus to Pahuatlan, a small town but with several comunidades surrounding it. Thanks to Ann Crew who passed through Guanajuato, I knew about two hotels and after balancing the claims of low price and the luxury of a swimming pool, chose the higher priced San Carlos, which seems like a large hotel although it only has 28 rooms and, when I arrived, more employees than guests. That was because I was there during the week. Pahuatlan, 3.5 hrs by bus from Mexico City attracts weekenders from there, Puebla, Texcoco and so on. I was told about 25% of the guests are foreigners. Interesting because I only saw one other in Zacatlan and Pahuatlan combined.

When I realized I had left my hat in the bus which lays over for several hours before returning to Tulancingo, I went up and down the main street to find out where I could find the driver. I followed the clues, found him at lunch, decided I was ready to eat too. He pumped me with questions (an older woman traveling alone, he was curious). It became more and more evident to me that in this part of Mexico, people like something that makes a change in their day.

I went in a taxi with several other riders to San Pablito where amate, a paper made from plant fiber, is made by hand. When I was in Zacatlan my sidetrip was to a nearby waterfall. Usually, when I'm traveling, I don't buy anything but on this trip, besides the coffeecups, I bought a hand-embroided cloth with a grape design, some fabric so I could try cross-stitching on my own, a piece of amate with a superimposed Otomi papercut design, and a long strip of fabric with bronze colored embroidered animals. For the first time ever, I unzipped the expandable portion of my suitcase.

Then home by way of Mexico City's North Terminal, definitely the more comfortable way. I left my suitcase in the guardaequipage there, went into the city with only a market-type shopping bag holding what I would need overnight, went by way of La Raza on the Metro, ending up four blocks from my favorite Mexico City hotel, but hey, this is about the Puebla Sierra, with its sun, mist and gentle rain; where you can still see Otomi women in their traditional clothes, come across people who speak Nahua at home and Spanish at work; a part of Mexico where I treated myself well and felt at ease.

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