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?
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Sounds wonderful! And l loved the photos 🙂
Thank you. We have really been surprised by how great Mexico is!
I’m just enjoying your posts on Mexico. I love the ones which feature heritage, culture and people, Mexico seems so colourful! A former colleague recently moved to Mexico City and he tells me to visit him soon – I gotta make sure that plan works out! 🙂
You gotta visit. There is a lot of culture and color here, for sure. There are still many indigenous people who wear traditional clothes and this country easily has the best collection of cities in the Americas. Make sure and come!
Each week you seem to out do the previous week with you happy/lucky finds. Impromptu fiestas and stunning city sights – what could be better! Glad you are enjoying Mexico!
We did have a great first half of the trip. I am fearful of a letdown!
Sounds like a great week. What percentage of the time do you think you do spontaneous things?
Probably 25%. I wish it were more. The two times I traveled by myself, it was probably 75%.
Jeff what a jam packed time. I love the surprises that appear while traveling. At this time because our trips are relatively short due to work commitments it doesn’t allow for tons of changes to an itinerary. However I will say that paragliding off a cliff in Turkey was a relatively spontaneous de soon on a rest day from cycling. Yes you would have hated it. 🙂
That is one benefit of a longer trip – you have the flexibility to do different things. The way you travel, each day is a physical adventure! Paragliding on a rest day sounds very spontaneous.
Although getting there sounds a wee bit precarious, Cuetzalan looks like an incredible place to visit! I so agree that sometimes that most magical happenings on a trip are the unplanned activities such as the festival you attended. When we were in Italy a number of years ago, we ended up in the midst of a festival in Gubbio called the Corsa dei Ceri.
It was incredible & one of the most memorable days we spent on our travels there. So much fun!
Wow! That festival looks intense. That is certainly one of those unexpected things to see. Festivals are a double edges sword – they are often the highlights of the trip, but finding a hotel room and space on buses can be hard!
It was unbelievable! Thankfully we were staying in a villa nearby & we had our own car. We arrived fairly early, not even realising what we were in for. It was amazing!
Nice. Sounds like you got lucky on more than one level!
We certainly did!
Wow, what a great journey you’re having. I look forward to more posts on these places, especially the festival in Zozocolco. It sounds fabulous! I think I’ll put Cuetzalan and the volodores on the list. Plus it’s reminded me to check out what festivals are happening during the 5 months we’ll be there next year.
You should absolutely go to Cuetzalan during your stay. It is about 5 hours from Mexico City by bus, but if you have a car, you can drive from San Miguel on a shorter route. The whole area around Cuetzalan has waterfalls and ancient ruins. We’d have stayed longer but there was rain in the forecast the next two days, and when I say rain, it was a deluge!
Hey Jeff – just catching the end of your meh-hee-Co posts and hope to read the others – but how fun this part of the trip was – I can picture those vendors in the rain and the unplanned party sounds great. Laughing at the way u described the bus driver and so fun when workers are in their element like that – and whew – must have used up all your b-vitamins sitting there in front like that –
Thanks for reading. Yeah, sitting behind the driver was intense. The views were stunning, but terrifying. The bus left late and arrived early – a first in Mexico!
Arrived early- right on – and can hear the 80’s pop music – lol
Yes, the only time to ever arrive early!
I like the day to day event calendar!! But the question at the end of this post: “Have you ever had a spontaneous change of plans while traveling?” I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer! Eat a torta for me!
Just ate a torta for breakfast. I assumed that question wouldn’t really apply to you.
Jeff, you two are definitely doing Mexico right! Puebla has been on our list for a long time, and now we get to add Cuetzalan and Zozocolco. We spontaneously change our plans pretty often because when we left corporate life we committed to “living in the moment.” So far we’ve never regretted it. 🙂 ~Terri
That is a great way to do it. You also travel for extended periods so you have the luxury to do that. Yes, Cuetzalan needs to be high on the list. Only 2 hours from Puebla and tons of stuff to do in the area. It is probably the prettiest village in Mexico.
Award for best random use of the word “verdant” in a blog this week.
But the mountains were very verdant.
I think I just found a blog post title for my Taiwan/Philippines trip.
What a trip you had over Mexico, I lived 2 years and didn’t manage to see as much as you did. I just moved to Bucharest, and its been a bit over a month and I have already started to miss Mexico City. I loved that place, even with all the bad things, yes its safe, but you have to be careful. For a tourist that stay within the touristic places its highly unprovable for something bad to happen, but remember to stay in the safe areas…
thanks for these posts they bring me a bit of nostalgia 🙂
I am glad you enjoyed. Mexico City is a place we’d like to live someday too. We got lucky to be there on some rainy days to it was cool and the air was clean. Bucharest is a place I want to visit someday too. There are too many places to see!
We were in Puebla years ago for a bamboo conference. Just loved it! The food! Specifically chile en nagoda, a specialty of Puebla. The ceramic tiles on buildings are beautiful too!
The tiles are a beautiful addition. Such a great city and I agree about the food – so good!
I would love to go and see Mexico in my golden years and visit it’s beautiful cities especially these dinner influence by the French I know now I don’t have to go across the world to visit other countries when we have it all just a couple of steps away of America
Mexico is a real gem. I hope you get there someday. It is awesome!
Hi, Jeff! I know it was a few years back, but do you happen to remember what the road was like between Cuetzalan and Zozocolco? Is it paved / suitable for a 2-wheel-drive vehicle? It’s a trip I’m thinking of doing at some point in the next few years, and I’m gonna assume that interstate public transport on the backroads in that part of the Sierra Madre is nonexistent. Thanks!
Sorry for the delay in my response. The road was paved – we took buses and cars in the area with no problem. The roads are just winding and narrow at times. We easily got to Cuetzalan from Puebla by bus, but beyond that, I’m not sure. I imagine there are local buses, but you may need some Spanish and a sense of adventure to get there.