2009 – Mexico – Part III

BEYOND MEXICO CITY
Cuernavaca

After 8 days in the Mexico City, we were a little tired of the traffic, noise, and the bustle and hustle of the metropolis. Thus, we took a very comfortable bus and headed to Cuernavaca, which lays about 100 kms (63 mi) south of Mexico City.

Cuernavaca
Panoramic View of Cuernavaca

Cuernavaca, capital of the state of Morelos, seats in a valley surrounded by the Tepozteco Moutains and it is often called the “land of eternal spring,” due to its almost perfect climate and flowering landscapes. Also, a sense of history permeates the place: Moctezuma II and the Emperor Maximilian build private retreats here; Emperor Charles V gave Cuernavaca to Hernán Cortez as a fief and in 1532 the conquistador build a palace (now the Museo de Cuauhnáhuac), where he lived on and off for a half a dozen years before returning to Spain; and it was the center of Emiliano Zapata’s upraising during the Revolution that span de second decade of the 20th century.

We had booked a room in an hotel, close to the Historical Center, the Casa Colonial. It is a charming small inn, with each room decorated differently in a colonial style with dark wood antique furniture. Although we were right in the middle of downtown Cuernavaca, the interior courtyard filled with palms, bamboo, fichus and other plants, as well as a gleaming pool, gave the place an air of calm and peacefulness. We spend several hours seating at the tables in the garden, sipping wine or cooling of with a beer.

In Cuernavaca, we stayed mostly around the Historical Center, visiting the following places:

The Cathedral

Also know as the Catedral de Asunción de María, it’s construction began in 1529 and was completed in 1552. The church walls are decorated with impressive frescos dating to the 1500s that have a distinctive Asian style. No one is certain who painted them.

Palacio Cortés or Museo Regional Cuauhnáhuac
Cortez' Palace
Cortez’ Palace

The Palacio Cortés, once home to Mexico’s most famous conquistador, is now the Museo de Cuauhnáhuac,devoted to the history of Morelos state. It’s also home to a stunning Diego Rivera mural The History of Cuernavaca & Morelos, an illustrated history of the brutality and treachery of the Spanish Conquest. In one panel, a Spanish soldier holds a hot poker, poised to brand an Aztec prisoner on the neck; behind him, men in armor pour gold pieces into a large trunk while a priest blesses the transaction. The largest images in the gallery are full-length portraits of Emiliano Zapata, the revolutionary who fought for agrarian reform with the cry, “¡Tierra y libertad!” (Land and liberty!), and Father José Maria Morelos, a hero of the War of Independence.

Jardin Borda
Jardin Borda
Jardin Borda

The Borda Gardens stared as a sumptuous vacation house build in the late 1700s by José de la Borda, a silver magnate, who made his fortune in the mines around Taxco. When he died in 1778, his son Manuel inherited the land and transformed it into a botanical garden. The large enclosed garden next to the house was a huge private park, laid out in Andalusian style, with kiosks and an artificial pond. Maximilian took it over as his private summerhouse in 1865. He and Empress Carlota entertained lavishly in the gardens and held concerts by the lake.

The gardens were completely restored and reopened in 1987 as the Jardín Borda Centro de Artes. In the gateway buildings, several galleries hold changing exhibits and large paintings showing scenes from the life of Maximilian and from the history of the Borda Gardens. Next to the entrance there is a small theatre, where we enjoyed an excellent piano recital featuring three young students of the Instituto de Cultura de Morelos (Cultural Institute of Morelos).

Tepoztlán

We had read that “Tepoztlán is one of the strangest and most beautiful towns in Mexico”. We were intrigued by that description, and decided to spend a day visiting the place. We didn’t found it strange, but it was beautiful. The town lies in a lush valley whose walls were formed by bizarrely shaped mountains that look like the work of some abstract expressionist giant. According to legend Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent god, was born near by Tepoztlán. This and its natural enviroment has given a mystic aura to the village that has attracted artists, artisans and New Age types who have set up residence there.

Worth visiting was the former convent Dominico de la Navidad. The entrance to the Dominican convent lies through the religious-themed “Gate of Tepoztlán,” constructed with beads and seeds, just east of the main plaza. Built between 1560 and 1588, the convent is now a museum, that reminds you of what it must have been the monastical life back in the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Many people come to Tepoztlan to hike the up to Tepozteco pyramid. We had read that “the climb is steep and fairly strenuous, although perfectly doable in a few hours and not dangerous.” However, we decided not to try it, and stopped at base of the trail that takes you to the pyramid. We found the excellent restaurant Axitia there and enjoyed a lovely lunch in an enchanted setting, amid jungle like gardens.

Taxco
Taxco
Panoramic View of Taxco

In Mexico and around the world, the town of Taxco de Alarcón — most commonly known simply as Taxco — is synonymous with silver. The town’s geography and architecture are equally precious: Taxco sits at nearly 1,515m (4,969 ft.) on a hill among hills, and almost any point in the city offers fantastic views.

Hernán Cortez discovered Taxco as he combed the area for treasure, but its rich caches of silver weren’t fully exploited for another 2 centuries. In mid 1700’s, the French prospector José de la Borda made his fortune silver mining here, becoming the richest man in Mexico, then known as New Spain.

In the late 1920 an American, William Spratling, who was visiting the area noticed the skill of the local craftsmen and opened a workshop to produce handmade silver jewelry and tableware based on pre-Hispanic art, which he exported to the U.S. in bulk. The workshops flourished, and Taxco’s reputation grew to what it is now.

Today, they say that most of the residents of this town are involved in the silver industry in some way. Taxco is home to hundreds (some say up to 900) of silver shops and outlets, ranging from sleek galleries to small stands in front of stucco homes.

We didn’t care much for the market atmosphere that perverts the downtown area and the myriad of vendors trying to sell their wares to the tourists. The narrow cobblestone streets, although picturesque, were hard to walk and, because there were no sidewalks to speak of, we had to dodge cars and motorcycles all the time. Also, most of the town sits on a hill, thus we had to do a lot of climbing, something that wasn’t too enjoyable for two senior citizens like us.

CONCLUSION

After returning from Taxco, we spend another day in Cuernavaca. At noon we went to a concert by two children choirs, one from Morelos and the other from Mexico City. The program included classical pieces, as well as traditional and folkloric Mexican music. It was well done, in a professional manner.

That evening, we walked around the plazas in the center of town, among the throngs of people and vendors, soaking up the ambiance and saying goodbye to Mexico. We had a good time; we had met a culture that was almost unknown to us; we had found friendly and open people, proud of their history and traditions; and we left with a desire to return sometime in the future.