When traveling, it is often the unexpected and serendipitous events that really make a trip. Before leaving home, most travelers have a pretty good idea what sites they will see, what monuments they will photograph, what beaches they will lounge on. We have no idea, for better or worse, the people we will meet or the strange food we will fall in love with. And we have no way to predict when we will end up in a van with a Mexican family on the way to Veracruz for an unexpected fiesta. More on that later, but first let’s take a look at our 5th week in Mexico.
Mexico Photo a Day – Week 5 (click any photo to enlarge)
Days 29-31 – Puebla, the City Everyone Loves
Puebla, the 4th largest city in Mexico, is a place I’ve been interested in visiting for quite some time. Although there are no marquee attractions in the city, I have met dozens of people who have lived or worked there and they all love it. After visiting, I can see why – Puebla is a great city.
Puebla’s major claim to fame is that it boasts more colonial buildings than anywhere else in Mexico, with over 1000 standing. Just walking around the relaxed city looking at buildings and people is a great activity. The city center is clean and safe with multiple pedestrian streets and a lively zocalo that was bustling with activity all through the day. Northwest of the Zocalo there were tons of lively cafes, bars, art galleries and restaurants near the university. Moreover, no one tries to sell you anything there! We could walk around the city and enjoy the public spaces without being asked to buy anything, which was a nice change after Oaxaca.
If you ever visit central Mexico, visit Puebla!
Day 32 – Cuetzalan: the most beautiful town in Mexico that you’ve never heard of
Pro tip: don’t sit in the front row on the bus ride to Cuetzalan unless you really enjoy watching your life pass before you and like to see near accidents every 30 seconds. The winding road up the verdant mountains was absolutely stunning, and absolutey terrifying. Our driver, which was about the happiest man in the world, by the way, sped around blind curves, passed cars on narrow bridges and often took wide turns so he could set himself up to speed on the few straightaways. He did this while waiving enthusiastically at every passing bus driver and bopping to 80’s pop hits.
The city founders of Cuetzalan must have been sado-masochists, because the city his perched on the steepest hill in Mexico. Walking anywhere was akin to hiking and it was a trek just to go one block to the tienda. Few cities in Mexico sit on such a dramatic location, and few are as beautiful. The main plaza features a gorgeous cathedral, a clock tower and a 100 ft tall pole in which men, known as voledores or flyers, jump off and fly around in rituals. We timed our tip to be there on the weekend in order to see the performances.
Day 33 – Zozocolco: the Accidental Fiesta
The owners of our guest house invited us to go to Zozocolco to the see the Festival de Globos de Papel de China and we had to say yes. How can you pass up a fiesta with local people?
We got in a van with the owners, David and Rocio, their 10 year old son Marco, and picked up David’s mama on the the way. We cruised through verdant tropical mountains to the state of Veracruz near the gulf coast and ended up at one of the most colorful events I’ve seen.
In the plaza in front of the church, giant balloons made of thousands of sheets of thin tissue and containing a heating element, expanded and grew to massive sizes when ignited. Once filled with enough hot air, the balloons, which were often as tall as the church, would take off and float away to the amazement of everyone in attendance. There were thousands of people attending the event, which had a band, dancing, games, food and cervesa, and I am pretty sure we were the only gringoes there.
Day 34 – The Rainstorm from Hell
On Sunday, it poured rain unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The steep streets turned into cascades, the voledores couldn’t perform and we spend most of the day trying to stay dry. I bet it rained 10 inches that day. It was a deluge.
Sunday is also the day of the big market, and I expected it might be canceled but the locals were prepared. Vendors strung up tarps, planted umbrellas and wrapped themselves in plastic to brave the rain. Upland markets are usually chaotic in normal conditions, add in a rain of Biblical proportions and it was even more interesting.
So in the end, we didn’t get to see the voledores, but we got to visit a fiesta with a local family and that was better. It was something we could have never predicted, but will no doubt be one of the highlights of the trip.
Have you ever had a spontaneous change of plans while traveling?