I still think of our day trip to Cholula and Puebla as something out of a Woody Allen movie where you arrive in a delightful, perfectly set up town, and your story begins. There might even be an impromptu dance involved, a sudden spotlight where it is just you and the horizon, a sweet song that might burst from one of the hilly tops at any moment… One way or the other, it was definitely a “meet cute” and we quickly fell in love with the bright colors of the two towns, marketplaces, beautiful churches, and smiling locals.
Our day was off to a regular, very early start, as well as the bizarre disappearance of our tour agency that had totally forgotten about us, along with a hilarious and adorable Columbian family with whom we exchanged more than a few confused glances and broken Spanish/English sentences. “Crazy” or “loco” seemed to be the dominant word of the morning, when we finally (miraculously) stumbled upon our tour operator, and got on the mini van. Whether we were going to Puebla or not, that was no longer important. It was Christmas day, and we had to make it. So off we went!
Our first mini stop on the way the incredible volcano. Coming from a non-volcano country, I’m always mesmerized by these sleeping monsters, that are beautiful and yet terrifying at the same time. So much dormant power, so much elegance yet roar in their calmness, albeit passing.
The grapes and peaches sold here were tasty and juicy. Also, cheap!
After about 15 minutes of posing in front of the great view, we were back in the mini van to San Andrés Cholula, a small town with a few beautiful churches. If it were up to me, we’d have visited them all. But alas, as our tour guide said, there are more churches than people in Mexico, so we can’t see them all in one day.
Greeted by colorful flags, and a much less busy feel of Mexico City, we jumped out of the bus.
It seems that bread and brioche kind of pastries, “conchas” (aka Mexican sweet bread rolls covered in cookie crust) were everywhere (and that is in the 3 streets that we saw).
Same goes for these intriguing drinks made of chocolate… Not bad!
The whole world disappeared though once we stepped into this church… Santa María Tonantzintla. What an inexplicably extraordinary piece of art, history, culture, and evidence of the melange of people! Is this heaven? (no pun intended)
Built in the 17th century, it is one of a kind fusions of indigenous and European architecture, but also visions and approaches to religion, that metamorphosed into Christianity with a hint of local beliefs. This style is referred to as “indigenous baroque”. The cool part is that this mix sneaks in on you from all angles: for example, in the name of the church that basically means “place of our little mother Saint Mary” in Nahuatl (one of the indigenous languages), the word “Tonantzintla” comes from the Aztec goddess “Tonantzin”, or the “earth mother”, finally morphing into the Virgin Mary with the arrival of the Spaniards. Amazing, or what? Even when colonized, the beliefs of the past live on in a new avatar of sorts, showing its head, and reminding us all of the layers of cultures and history that come before us and will after.
On this lyrical note, I would say the facade wasn’t mindblowing at first. It was definitely cute, but not reflective of what was inside.
Once we stepped in though, I was convinced I’d lost all power of speech. And even though we were not allowed to take photos, I still managed to snap a few shots. How can you not!?
It seemed that every single inch of the walls and the ceiling were covered with molds, statuettes, and faces of childlike beings. It’s a mosaic of wonder, requiring at least half a day to be truly appreciated and studied.
Having had about 10-15 mins in total awe in this surreal atmosphere, we were back in the van headed for Cholula. On the way, we saw quite a few of the town murals, which I thought were imaginative!
Not after long, we were up and about, going up the steep-ish road to the Great Pyramid of Cholula, aka Tlachihualtepetl, on top of which sits a beautiful church. Another amazing clash of civilizations.
I believe we might have had the most fun going up and down the hill, as there were so many things going on: people chatting, playing, eating, buying food and crafts. A fun day for Christmas! In my mind, it remains as an exciting blur of colors, flavors, and faces.
Delicious fruits pretty much everywhere! And then I saw the “helados”, aka ice cream, with so many cool flavors, but my favorite was “beso de angel” for obvious reasons 🙂
Finally, we get to the top, and marvel at the simple beauty of the church on top of the pyramid. Although it was a clear day, we did not get the dramatic backdrop of the volcano to complete the picture. Nonetheless, it was beautiful with a small-town feel and a great view of the valley.
Next stop: Puebla, a World Heritage Site and one of the most well-known colonial cities of the Spanish era, founded in the 16th century. We learned it is famous for its Talavera pottery and mole poblano (yum!).
As soon as we arrive in Puebla, we go to eat the famous mole poblano, the sauce for which usually consists of chili pepper and chocolate (and of course other ingredients)! It is really really good. I couldn’t get enough of it (and thank God this was a buffet style restaurant).
Once we were finally full of mole, off we went to discover a bit of the city. Very charming, with each building different from the other.
First stop: Puebla Cathedral, the second largest in the country.
And pretty much the rest of the day we strolled around the centre part of the city…
…and then headed towards the little market where I wanted to buy pretty much everything, especially the Talavera pottery.
The limiting thing about going with a tour company is that you are rushed and can’t really take your time. So soon after, we had to head back to the bus and off to Mexico City.
Bye Puebla, we loved you!