Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Ardith Toogood – CFUW CIR
Ah, the joy of a wee sleep-in following the exhausting schedule of the 30th Triennial Conference! I decide to have my breakfast in good time since some delegates who took pre-booked tours yesterday were given a last-minute earlier start time.
It’s 9:00 am and time for the one and only IFUW tour I have booked. I spot Janet and Fred Bowes near the tour office in the lower lobby where we have been told to assemble. Is no one else taking the 10-hour trip to Cholula and Puebla?
I know that the Boweses have booked a hotel in Puebla as their starting point for further personal touring, and the thought of returning alone on the two-hour drive back to Mexico City does not thrill me. Then Fred remarks that the tour office manager had tried to cancel this tour the other day, and succeeded in convincing several delegates to book something else. Fred and Janet held firm – and apparently I was unable to be found. So – there is a positive side to being exhaustively busy!
Along comes Noah, our Mexican tour guide, saying he will load Janet and Fred’s luggage while we wait for “the others.” Others? I glance at the list and recognize Arielle Wagenknecht’s name. But she says that she and her husband Luc are booked on a different tour.
“Hi!” says Kathy Horvat of WG-USA. “I’m supposed to be on the Puebla tour!” Whew! Am I glad to see you, Kathy. Out we go to board the van and meet driver Ishmael, introduced by Noah as “the second best driver in Mexico City!” There are Arielle and Luc, sitting in the van! They have missed the other tour and are going to Puebla after all. Great! We are ready to roll, and we all comment on the bright sunshine and the clearest morning we have had so far in Mexico City with its steady temperatures of 22 – 23 degrees Celsius during the day and 8 – 12 at night. As we leave Mexico City we learn that three trains a day in and out of the city are reserved for women and children only – “for safety.”
The countryside along the “royal road to Puebla” is lush and green with the blue mountains providing a gorgeous backdrop to the landscape. Noah tells us about the legendary “ sleeping lady” volcano and her brave warrior Popo (Popocatepetl), the second largest peak in Mexico at 5426 m (17,802 feet), and we ask if we can stop to take pictures. There he is, his snow-cap visible if you are quick at snapping photos between banks of fluffy white clouds that drift almost constantly over his summit. Janet passes around some sunflower seed brittle she has bought at the coffee shop. We are now 60 km southeast of Mexico City and ready to enter the state of Puebla.
On to Cholula – site of the grass-covered pyramid – the largest monument in the world and largest pyramid by volume (Giza is smaller but higher) – on top of which has been built a church that is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination.
We admire the views to our left as we begin the climb along the inlaid stone path leading up and around the pyramid where reconstructions give insight on the unexcavated structure. Arielle and Luc sit down to rest, and then Kathy takes a path leading down towards the city. Fred, Janet, Noah and I continue to climb, stopping to sample nuts and other goodies from one of the stalls laid out along the way – but we pass on the roasted grasshoppers.
Finally we reach the last flight of steep stairs, and I count – forty-eight – so that if I have to close my eyes or stare straight down at the steps on the descent, I will know how far I still have to go before reaching the relative safety of the path!
What a view! A platform at the top, reached by an additional flight of eight steps, affords a spectacular panorama of the other side of the city and countryside.
I take a non-flash photo of the interior of the church where mass is being celebrated.
Leaving Janet and Fred to browse the souvenir shop, I head towards the dreaded steps – but they are not as scary as I had thought.
Soon we are again on the road to Puebla, founded 600 years before the Aztecs built Mexico City and said to be the site of James Michener’s fictional tale, Mexico. Noah tells us that corn, wheat, barley and squash are grown in the valley, and that Puebla is also known as the “sweet potato city.”
What an absolutely beautiful city! Is there any direction that does not have a view begging yet another photo?
“What would you like to do first?” asks Noah as he suggests cathedrals and other tempting sites. “Eat!” says everyone at once. “We go to the Cathedral of Puebla?” offers Noah hopefully. “No! Eat first!” we respond. “It’s going on three o’clock!” exclaims Arielle firmly. “We cannot do anything before we eat!”
Noah invites us to examine the buffet at a bright and cheery restaurant and the group is ready to eat anything – but, oh dear, all the tables in the lovely courtyard are already occupied. “I take you to a better place!” promises Noah. And he does!
We have a delicious five-course meal for 100 pesos in a charming hotel located behind one of many innocuous-looking doors on the street, behind which is a gorgeous courtyard with a soaring glass dome, flooding light onto the gallery, plants and tables clustered beneath it. Our Corona beer (is there any other available in the Mexican restaurants?) hits the spot and goes well with our chicken mole poblano, a rich chocolate- tinged sauce made with 57 peppers and spices that has simmered for several days. Mmmm! Pure heaven!
Arielle waits on a shaded bench in the city square across from the palace, admiring the flowers and passersby and waiting for us to return from our walk over the cobbled streets, visiting the historic Templo de Santo Domingo with its ornate gilt Rosary Chapel, and the huge Cathedral of Puebla with the tallest towers in Mexico. It is said to be pictured on the Mexican 500 peso bill but alas, I cannot verify it! The two side doors are open for us to enter, but the massive centre door is closed and will be opened only every 25 years, explains Noah.
Thunderously black clouds are rolling in, and we barely get inside the van before drenching rains flood the streets. We drive round and round, searching for Fred and Janet’s hotel – and finally locate it along a street that looks like a river. Not a problem! Ishmael pulls the van into the courtyard and our Calgarians disembark with kisses and best wishes to all.
Kathy, Arielle and I discuss IFUW issues non-stop all the way to Mexico City. Two hours later, we are back at the Melia Reforma Hotel for a late light supper in the Cafe Miro and fond reminiscences of our day.