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)

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