Monday, September 19, 2011

In Search of English Books -- Puebla

(Note: this should have been posted around September 16, 2011.)

Puebla, Mexico
After checking into Casa de Palma and having a rest, we headed out into the drizzly night in search of English books. We've been dying for them, feeling like nomadic people lost in a desert without water. The desk clerk stopped us and offered us a paragua (umbrella), which is such a sensible word; literally "for water."

With paragua in hand, we marched up the cobblestone streets, admiring the 16th, 17th, and 18th century architecture. With the celebration of Miguel Hidalgo's fiery revolutionary speech set to take place at midnight, the streets were alight with glittery banners and the happy faces of thousands of Mexicans ready to honor the forefathers who helped liberate their country from Spain.

We were on a high, with all the happy expectations of at last refreshing our small library! Alas, the store was closed. We asked directions and trekked off to the next possible store. It too was closed, but there was another a half block away, just outside the security zone. We didn't hesitate. Doors locked. Drat! One more ... we trekked another half mile. Although it was closed, we'd left our bread crumbs so we'd know how to find the stores in the morning.

We headed back towards the zocalo (town square in colonial towns, usually green parks bordered by the cathedral and city hall or government palace). Oops! No paraguas allowed past the security scanners when returning to the town center. Chagrined, we both knew we had to make the best effort to return the hotel's generously loaned umbrella. Off we went, hiking the extra mile or so to skirt the security perimeter so we would come up next to the entrance point closest to our hotel. (You may recall there was a battalion of armed officers parked under the windows just outside our hotel.) We figured if we got that far, one of us could go through the checkpoint and get the hotel desk clerk, who could plead the case for their umbrella.

It worked! It only took us about an extra 90 minutes, but we restored the paragua and established goodwill. Then, hungry, we headed off for a late dinner at a recommended restaurant bordering the zocalo.

Exhausted and satisfied by a simple, Mexican (delicious, or riccissimo) dinner, we collapsed into our comfortable bed long before the midnight celebrations began. We awoke, though, to fireworks and revelry. All across the country, Mexicans were celebrating El Grito de Dolores, the speech of Miguel Hidalgo, which served as a spark for revolution in 1810. (More here:

Refreshed by sleep, we set forth in the morning hoping for books the way a fisherman hopes for results. Alas, the only English books we could find were language instruction texts, and those, while tempting for Celeste, were very expensive. Books generally are, in Mexico; something Celeste hopes will change with the digital book revolution.

Fortunately, we had something else to look forward to: a trip to Cholula, which boasts the world's second largest pyramid. Undaunted, we headed for the bus terminal to continue the adventure.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wedding Anniversary in Puebla

Our 4th wedding anniversary arrived on August 31, but George and I celebrated it in style this weekend with a 3-day stay in Puebla. The city of Puebla is 2 hours west of Orizaba by bus and is the fourth-largest city in Mexico.

We scheduled our celebration to coincide with the 3-day weekend honoring Miguel Hidalgo's call for independence from Spain. This is the 100th anniversary of that event, and big celebrations were happening all over the country. At CEICO, the school where I'm teaching, the fiesta included reenactments of Hidalgo's declaration and the serving of much food to parents and students alike. Thankfully, I was granted permission to leave before 7pm, so George and I could catch the 3pm bus.

After a short but typically exhausting work week, it was a relief to sit aboard a comfortable bus and watch the road pass by. We saw several shepherds, and a horse-drawn hay cart along the way. Those pastoral sites provided great contrast to the traffic jam that held us up ...

At last we arrived. Puebla's bus terminal is the largest we have ever seen, with hundreds of buses arriving and departing. Our terminal was well-organized, though, and we easily rolled our luggage to the booth for a prepaid, secure taxi. The prepaid fare to our hotel was 55 pesos (about $5.00 U.S.) Within 5 minutes we were underway, traveling through depressed neighborhoods covered with graffiti. The driver had to detour several times due to street closures, consequences of the holiday, but eventually wound his way into the historical district.

The phenomenal 17th and 18th century architecture moved us instantly from fatigue to anticipation. Towering stone and tile buildings with "gingerbread" facades drew our eyes hither and thither. Mine stopped on a machine-gun wielding figure atop the hotel two blocks ahead of us. The taxi stopped at about the same time, the driver explaining (in Spanish) that he could go no further due to the security. We would have to roll our luggage the rest of the way, past the barricades.

Fortunately, we had wheels. (We had packed light, but our hiking boots had required a separate bag.) We hauled our things from the cab to the nearby checkpoint, where we passed through a metal detector and police in bulletproof vests had us open our items for inspection. After about 10 minutes we were on our way with an amiable thanks from them. We rolled our luggage over the cobblestones, past media trucks and over their cables, to the zocalo -- the name for the central square in most Mexican towns, which typically hosts the main cathedral and the government palace. This was no exception. The municipal palace was decked out in spangles and flags, and the central square (a spacious greenbelt with fountain and benches) was home to a large, temporary, tented performance area equipped to seat about 100 people. Everyone else would have to see events via one of several large screens set up along the perimeter. Fortunately, the crowds had not arrived and we were able to wheel our luggage the short block to our hotel without bumping or elbowing others.

The Casa de la Palma is a converted 18th century mansion with a modest entrance. We might have missed it except for the parking signs just in front, because its door was blocked by twenty police officers in riot gear. It turns out our hotel was adjacent to another security checkpoint. Stepping past the officers with a quiet "Buenes tardes," we entered a different world.

George had booked us a spacious suite with balcony. The English-speaking clerk provided us brochures and a map, and helped us up the curved stone stairway to our room "The Persian Suite." Decorated with prints and statuettes from India (think "Kama Sutra") the room is naturally lit through glass doors that lead onto the balcony, and comfortably furnished. It has a massive bathroom with modern plumbing (which means that you can place tp in the toilet) and twenty-foot ceilings throughout. George had outdone himself!

(... more to come tomorrow)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The View from Up Here

We made it!

Saturdays are becoming great fitness days. The hike up Cerro de Borrego takes us about an hour, which includes a few good rests and a bottle of water.

You can see that the rains have washed out part of the slope, but maintenance crews have cleared the stairs. (The hike is partly on steps, partly on dirt, and partly on rock.)

Once we reach the top, we spend an hour or more exploring the ruined fortress and the trails that lead around the hilltop. We still have quite a few left to explore, which leaves us looking forward to many more Saturdays.

This week, a rarely trodden path gave me the chance to photograph butterflies which have remained elusive at lower elevations.

And, we saw some butterflies-to-be.

It's beautiful up there! Happy trails.