Remember the earthquakes that shook south-central Mexico a couple of months ago? Well we finally got to see the effects of it when we got to the mountainous state of Puebla.
The road towards Oaxtepec was a really beautiful introduction.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the government-run “Centro Vacacional” in Metepec, just outside Puebla, where we had planned on staying the night. But it was closed for repairs. It was the first place we’d seen with damage from the September earthquakes.
Even still, the village was ready for its annual festival, which seemed to start when we got there!
We stayed at a fishing lake close by. No hot water, but fast internet! And a nice spot by a waterfall where the next morning I used my new three-pound dumbbells from Walmart (don’t judge).
We spent the next morning in Metepec admiring the dark brick buildings. Edd thought it reminded him of England. Many of them were being braced by timber.
We explored the shady central park and had a great lunch nearby in the small Mercado de Metepec.
Before we left, we saw at least one hundred people queuing in the town’s covered basketball court. Each person was carrying a manila folder with photos and documents. A guy walking his dog said the residents were coming to collect checks from the government agencies for the damages done to their houses.
Apparently this was the third or fourth time the government had come. First they assessed damages, and now they’d come to pay out. But the guy said that the maximum amount was around 25,000 pesos (1300 dollars) per house. He said many people were still living on the streets.
It was pretty sad to see such a beautiful village with so much destruction. But that didn’t stop the fiestas!
We planned on driving to Puebla that night, but we changed our mind when we drove into Atlixco, kind of like Metepec’s big sister town, just across the street.
During the month and a half surrounding the Christmas holiday season, the Pueblo Mágico of Atlixco goes crazy creating a Mexican Christmas Village. They shut down whole sections of road, hang lights everywhere, and do a pretty good job of creating a family atmosphere.
The light tunnels form a zig-zagging path from the main square (the zócalo), through gardens and plazas, down the main avenue by the train station, past the taco and chicken stands, and to the never-ending fairgrounds on the outskirts of town.
It might take you one whole hour to walk from the center to the fairgrounds without stopping! But of course, you have to allow time to take selfies with the lights, drink cups of hot mulled wine, sample cranberry mezcal, take a mini train ride, and eat sugary donuts and churros.
We even met a Moroccan name Majid! His Spanish was excellent, complete with a Mexican accent that made me second-guess where he was from! (Moroccans have this incredible knack for languages).
He has been living in Puebla for four years. There is a mosque there and everything.
I got to practice a little Arabic with him. He said I was the only foreigner who had ever done so. He gave me a book of stories by the Lebanese writer Jibran Khalil Jibran, and also a nice discount on some kahl eye makeup.
It was a wonderful night! Funnily, it ended with us sleeping in a Pemex gas station. We asked permission from one of the attendants, but she didn’t think it was a big deal. It was open 24 hours, so we felt pretty safe. Truckers stay overnight in the larger Pemex stations. It was one of the most peaceful parking lots we’ve ever slept in!
The next day we drove into Puebla! We stayed in a Walmart.
Puebla has a network of elevated cycle or non-motorized lanes that have been built above the busy roads. The system linked up to the Walmart, so we just cycled into town each day! However, we only ever saw a other handful of people using it.
Of course, the elevated ciclopista just ended abruptly, leaving us a couple of kilometers from the center without cycle lanes! Seems a little half-assed! And the residents of Puebla, the Poblanos, weren’t used to cyclists on the road. So it was a tricky ride to the center!
Once in the city, we were able to relax and enjoy the decorated central plaza.
We ate a couple times in el Mercado de Sabores. Edd really enjoyed the cemitas, a sandwich named for the soft bun it’s served on. It’s usually slathered with refried beans, and layered with your choice of meat, sweet pickled chipotle peppers, Oaxacan cheese (which is like string cheese), avocados, and pápalo leaves (a bitter crispy green).
One thing that distinguishes Puebla is its gorgeous brick and tile buildings. Every one seems to have a different pattern.
On Sunday we went to a much-anticipated activity for Edd: the Railroad Museum. You can jump aboard several of Mexico’s decommissioned train cars, many of which were built in the US!
Unfortunately, the Poblanos were not always very helpful to us tourists. The receptionists in the tourism office didn’t know which local museums were free on Sundays. The people in one market stall forgot to make our food and kind of laughed at us when we got up to leave.
On the second day, we arrived back at the Walmart parking lot in time to catch our van alarm going off! At the same moment, a parking security guard walked out from behind the van.
We asked him what happened. He said sorry, he’d brushed against the van by accident. But you have to body slam it to trigger our alarm. Plus, the alarm has an LED light which indicates what triggered it. Someone had tried to open the front door.
We reported the incident to the customer service desk. You should be able to trust your own security staff not to swipe stuff!
On Monday, we went to the municipal wastewater treatment plant to ask about emptying the old RV tanks. They told us go to the main office to ask for a permit. Once there, we explained that we had a small RV and only needed a sewer to dispose of 120 liters of aguas residuales.
But they said that we had to fill out an application for a government contract to do that, like sewer tankers have. We left, cursing that we’d just dump everything on the side of the road and blame it on their stupid bureaucracy.
So we went to get our brakes changed. They had started to squeak and then suddenly grind!
The mechanic found that one of our brake pads was completely gone! This was a surprise to us, since we’d only changed them in California. We wanted to know why they’d worn out so quickly.
The garage owner explained that the calipers are not releasing when Edd lifts his foot off the brake pedal, and that is causing the brakes to rub more than normal.
He said if we wanted we could come back another day to fix it. This was after the mechanic had all the tires back on! Why didn’t they tell us before they had the new brakes on? Especially when they could’ve fixed it there? Ugh.
At least we got a cheap sandwich from this nice guy across the street.
We were pretty happy to be leaving Puebla. We stopped for one night at a big RV park in Cholula, a suburb just to the west.
We woke up in the morning to cycle to the half-excavated pyramid which the town is famous for. Of course we got scolded by an employee of the site’s museum for attempting to lock up the bikes anywhere near the vicinity. Maybe this is why bicycles aren’t more popular here!
We went into the archaeological site through a cool underground tunnel! Then we spent a while on the grounds. The pyramid was mysteriously abandoned by about 800 AD. By the time the Spanish came, it was so overgrown that they built a church on top. Though they made a habit of doing this (like on the Temple in Mexico City), this one may have been coincidental!
Do some research on the Cholula pyramid if you don’t plan on hiring a guide because the signs aren’t very comprehensive. It was a fun visit anyway.
We cycled over to Cholula’s massive zócalo for some lunch. At one lunch place, the woman behind the counter turned her back to us when we asked what she had for lunch. Then she just started talking to another girl! We just walked out. It was a frustrating day.
We know that the Poblanos were hit hard by the earthquake and maybe things aren’t going well. Still it seemed that villages like Metepec and Atlixco, which were hit the hardest, were the most welcoming. And more importantly, they knew that even an earthquake couldn’t shake their Christmas spirit!