Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Huautla de Jiménez: in the footsteps of María Sabina and John Lennon

A couple of weeks ago, after a pleasant overnight stop in Tehuacán in the state of Puebla, I set off for Huautla de Jiménez, a small town high in the Mazatec sierra in the Northern corner of the state of Oaxaca, close to the border with the state of Puebla.

Huautla is famous – or notorious – for being the place where María Sabina lived, worked and died. Continue reading

Cuernavaca to Tehuacán

As part of the two week road trip I made in central Mexico in August, in one day I drove from Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos, to Tehuacán in the state of Puebla, a distance of about 450 kms. It is possible to do this journey in a more direct manner going mostly on autopistas via the city of Puebla, but I wanted to travel on smaller roads and explore a little known area of Mexico.

From Cuernavaca, it is possible to take the libre to Cuautla and then join the autopista that crosses Cuautla near Oaxtepec, which has the double advantage of avoiding the toll and also being able to travel very quickly through Cuautla towards Izúcar de Matamoros.

Main church in Izúcar de Matamoros

Izúcar de Matamoros is a busy, bustling, traditional market town. To my surprise, it had an Italian Coffee Company outlet in its main square. The town is known for its ceramics – I once saw some intricate, stupendous arboles de la vida in an exhibition in Los Angeles which came from a craftsman in Izúcar.

From Izúcar, Highway 180 winds southeast on its way to Oaxaca through the Sierra del Madre Sur to Acatlán. I liked Acatlán. It had good and very cheap handicrafts, and an attractive church. It is one of many places in Mexico that never makes it to the tourist guides but is interesting precisely because it is an ordinary Mexican city.

Principal church in Acatlán

Highway 180 continues southeast towards Huajuapan de León which is just inside Oaxaca near the border with Puebla. Before there, however, I wanted to take what looked like on the map a good short cut heading North East from Saltrillo to join Highway 125 to Tehuacán near San Pedro y San Pablo.

The route started well enough and was signposted to Tepejillo, which, according to the map, was on my route.

Church just outside Tepejillo

The road continued to Tulitlán, relatively straightforwardly, and then very suddenly and surprisingly turned into a dirt track. By now there were great views over the surrounding sierra.

The dirt track was getting increasingly rutted when I came to a fork – I took the left side signposted to Tehuacán, my eventual destination, whereas my original intention had been to go through the villages signposted to the right. In retrospect, this was a mistake – but an interesting one. The road got rougher and rougher, more and more isolated, and did not seem to be heading anywhere.

Then, bizarrely, in what seemed to be more than the middle of nowhere, I came across a group of people in the process of building the road I was travelling on. It reassured me to see signs of human activity but also meant a number of longish waits whilst the bulldozers cleared the road of rubble to allow the traffic to pass.

Finally, and suddenly, the dirt track reverted back to a shiny new road, cutting its way through the sierra. Given it was the rainy season, though thankfully not raining at that moment, there were frequent remains of past landslides on the road.

I was now feeling happier as I appeared to be back on the map and was able to identify the village of Joluxtla, with its pretty church.

Church at Joluxtla

Finally, I appeared to arrive where I wanted to be heading, on Highway 125, and was hugely relieved to see the following road sign.

The next town on Highway 125 was Santiago Chazumba, which like many of the small towns and villages I had passed through, had an attractive church.

Entrance to the church at Santiago Chazumba

Shortly after Santiago Chazumba, Highway 125 enters the Reserva de la Biosfera Tehuacán Cuicatlán. This is a huge – almost 500,000 hectares – protected area, important for its biological, geological and cultural diversity. Contrary to what is normally thought, and, on first sight appears to be the case, there is actually great biological diversity in these dry tropical areas in the south of Mexico. The scenery driving through the reserve, is very distinctive. From a distance, the hills appear to be full of needles, which then differentiate as you get closer into long, tall, phallic cactuses.

As the road approaches Tehuacán, situated in a valley surrounded on the south side by the Sierra del Madre Sur and the north side by the steeply rising Sierra de Tehuacán, there are fine views over the city.

The city itself is spacious, flat, and very easy to negotiate by car. It has a very calm, pleasant, relaxed vibe.

Typical street in the center of Tehuacán with the Iglesia de Carmen in the background

The main square has a good example of the kind of architecture found in the historic center of Puebla, which houses the city’s government offices.

In the Iglesia de Carmen, there is an interesting figure of Christ, known as Nuestro Padre de las Maravillas, wearing all the petitions that have been made to him for help.

I stayed in Bogh Suites hotel just off the north west corner of the Zócalo which was fine for one night. Finally, and this is definitely worth mentioning, I had the best ever Chiles en Nogada at the restaurant Mi Generala on the east side of the Zócalo. It had the perfect combination of hot and cold, smooth and crunchy, spicy and plain. It was so good I went back to Tehuacán after visiting Huautla de Jiménez just to eat there again – but that is another story.

Paragliding in Valle de Bravo: “¿Quieres chiflar o cantar?”

On my last morning in Valle de Bravo, I decided to go paragliding. After all, this was meant to be one of the prime spots in the world to do it, and I had already done it once before on the Isla de Juventud in Cuba, and if I had not then conquered my fear of heights, I had at least managed to endure the terror.

Besides, I had met Spencer, the young American who would be my pilot, in the hotel where we were both staying and he seemed a steady, balanced kind of a guy, from Utah. Continue reading