One would think that we’ve become very efficient at packing up our things now that we’ve moved several times these past 12 months. Not quite. Despite our best efforts, we’re still scrambling the last day. We don’t mind, it’s all part of the process and forces us to take a closer look at our things, carefully selecting to eliminate more clutter. But this time we have a car! You can see it in the photo below, off there in the distance. Twelve years old but in great shape, we decided that in the long run it would save us time, money, and a hassle.
We departed San Miguel with slightly heavy hearts for leaving this beautiful city, but also with light wings given the adventure that awaits us. Only 188 miles from San Miguel but a nearly 5-hour drive (add in getting lost, quick potty break, and road damage time), we made it to Valle de Bravo close to 5:00 PM. A beautiful drive, 250 pesos in tolls and relatively uneventful, there was one breath-holding, knuckle-whitening part of the drive. Scott wrote a most fitting account:
… only one scary bit, where we were leading a pack and got maneuvered into the fast lane of opposing traffic, which they meant to do, but there were no dividers between the 2 lanes on the opposing side and we were freaking!! thinking that someone coming toward us would try to pass while we were using their fast lane. Yikes! only in Mexico. Or maybe Africa. We’re at a nice hotel (Cabanas del Canada) with a huge front lawn where Stella is romping to her heart’s content, which makes us happy too.
Avándaro – Valle de Bravo
October 1-3, 2013
We arrived to find no one else was staying at the Cabañas del Canada, we surmise this is because our visit is during the week, which is also the reason we’re able to stay with Stella. Apparently it’s quite busy during the weekend with Mexico City folks getting their doses of country air and dogs typically are not allowed. It’s a lovely lodging in Avándaro- a combination of modern and rustic – and reasonably priced at around $50.00 US. A large room with a huge, relatively comfy (according to Mexican standards) bed, and a terrace that catches the sun’s warmth en la mañana. We spent our internet time on that terrace since we could not get a connection inside. We didn’t have hot water the first night, the water pressure remained Sayulita-low, and there’s no heating system, but given the spaciousness, the massive lush yard, and that the room comes with a mini fridge and microwave, we’re as happy as beans in a burrito.
Each of the three nights we found ourselves cozy inside our casita as rolling thunder and smashing lightning passed through the town. We lost electricity one night and thanks to a fully charged computer, Dexter kept us company.
Valle de Bravo
Wednesday and Thursday we drove into Valle de Bravo, because despite the 3 kilometers and what one may read when one is selecting lodging in Avándaro, it is not within walking distance, at least not safe walking distance on a very busy road with no berm. The cars on that same busy road woke us at the wee hours of the morning.
Valle de Bravo was nothing like I expected. It was much bigger and busier given a population of less than 30,000 people. I was expecting a very small, quaint, colonial town. It is colonial and very charming in parts. In the beginning, I had a strange sensation, catching odd vibes from people we passed. It felt as if they were keeping a secret from us. And Stella had skittish energy here. Between the cool stares and infrequent greetings, we wondered what we stepped into. Eventually, in time, my perspective warmed as did the people we met. I think this was a case of my attitude creating my reality. I wonder if they’re not accustomed to seeing gringos. We met a dear, old, toothless man who shared some of his bread with Stella. Inaudible, he may have been telling us that he shares his bread with all the dogs he meets, but none of what he said matters. His tender actions spoke volumes.
Valle de Bravo is really a town for adventurers. It reminded Scott of Queenstown, New Zealand, and it reminded me of another place (forget name) in Costa Rica. Hiking, biking, paddle boarding (our friends from Sayulita own Stand Up Paddle), and boating. If we had visited just a few weeks later in the month, we would’ve been around to welcome the first of the migrating Monarchs to the area. Piedra Herrada Sanctuary is not far from Valle de Bravo.
Dia of San Francisco de Assisi! And we headed out of Avandaro about 11:30 thinking we would have just less than 3 hours on the road. Google maps was partially responsible, but really it’s just a simple case of national disorganization and the navigator’s (eh hem…me) poor navigating abilities. Between the utterly absent signs for smaller roads and random town signs placed in obscure places, one is bound to get lost. As did we. Add to it, directions in Spanish translated to English using Google Translate look like this:
Once you reach the village of Tepoztlan,
- Go to the center of town and take the road that leads to the highway to Yautepec.
- Once on the street, proceed to your right to locate Camp Camohmila. From there, 200 mts and you’ll progress a cruise, diversion or “Y” named Huilotepec Cruise.
- Turn left (as a reference, locate Groceries “Ricky”).
- Once folded, proceed approximately 800 meters until you reach a new cruiser called Santo Domingo. Turn right, as reference forehead came across a chapel.
- From here, travel approximately 3 km on your right will locate the Hostal de la Luz. Follow the road until it meets wall and turn left.
- The hostel is located one block from the town’s church, which may identified as a two-level white building located in a corner.
Our 2.5-hour journey from Valle de Bravo to Tepoztlán took five hours. The drive, again, was paved with gorgeous yellow and pink wildflowers lining the highway and filling the fields. Despite these gifts of nature, I’d like to say we had an uneventful journey to Teploztlan/Amatlan but this is not the case….
Just about 2 hours into the drive near Toluca we were flagged off the road by Policia Estatal. Two officers approached, friendly enough, we weren’t too concerned. They continued to ask us for paperwork – registration, proof of emissions (given what we’ve seen here in Mexico, I was surprised they even cared), proof of car purchase, official documents, driver’s license (good thing I wasn’t driving since mine is MIA), etc.
We continued to hand them paperwork which they inspected very closely. They asked us many questions about the roof top carrier. We didn’t understand where they were going with the questions until we realized, according to the young one with big front teeth and pretty hair, that we were to have some kind of permit, a placa for the carrier. Using his pointer finger on the dusty car window, he drew a square. Supposedly this is the size of the permit or where it should have been located? Or maybe he was biding his time trying to figure out how much of a score we were. We were THEN informed that we’d have to wait until Lunes (Monday) to go to the Puerto something or other to get the permit IN Toluca. We gathered that our car would be impounded until that time. But wait, there was another option! “Dinero” the older, rounder cop murmured to Scott.
We could simply pay the fine to them at that very moment. Convenient. Easy. We thought, yes, here’s our defining Mexican moment, the moment we pay off a corrupt cop. I thought, okay, whatever, we hand over a couple hundred pesos and call it a day. So we agreed that yes, the wisest decision would be to pay them right then and there – right there on the highway. NOW I understand the meaning of Highway Robbery. They would accept nothing less than SIX THOUSAND pesos or the equivalent of $470 US. HIGHfrigginWAY robbery. We weren’t going to argue with the two guys holding automatic weapons but surely there is something else we could’ve done? We wondered if calling their bluff about impounding the car would’ve worked. Nonetheless, I have never and I will never trust a cop in Mexico. CORRUPT. We hope this is the worst thing that happens to us on this trip. Now, our task is to not be pulled over again. We do not need a permit. They were just looking to intimidate us and get as much from us as possible. Disgusted.
The older guy with the fat face and the hat told Scott to tell the next cops that pull us over that we paid the other guy Comandante Plata in Toluca. Wow.
I spent the night reeling about alternate endings to that scenario. One of them I told the police I was a journalist for the New York Times and I would like to have their names, por favor, for my next article: Corruption in Mexico. In another scenario, a space ship randomly appears out of the sky and zaps both cops just after they high-fived each other for their big win. Another, I was a crazy woman running into the street waving 6000 pesos yelling, “Why do you want my 6000 pesos? What did I do?!?” Then there’s the one where I tell him my uncle’s nephew’s brother is the president of Mexico City, and that he would be very interested in knowing about this.
Since we told almost everyone we met about this incident, we were given various bits of advice. Most interesting is that the Mexicans were not at all surprised despite their commiseration. We heard numerous times, Welcome to Mexico! One suggestion is that we carry the telephone number to the local tourism office (for instance, the number for the town we’re visiting next) and if we’re pulled over tell the cops (if they are threatening a fine for something) that first we need to check with the tourism office. We were told to not be intimidated by them. Easier said than done.
Tepoztlán y Amatlan
Amatlan de Quetzalcóatl
Human Population 983
Dog Population 984
Horse Population 489
We arrived at El Hostal Ventana del Cielo weary and happy to get our feet back on the ground. Our dinner at the Hostal was only 90 pesos (just under $7.00). I figured if, while we’re on the road, all the dinners we eat out only cost 90 pesos, then we will have absorbed the costs of our highway robbery in 33 days.
One of the unforeseen downsides of traveling with a dog is not finding lodging in convenient places, because many of the dog-friendly places are out of the way. While this can be a hassle, we have discovered a major benefit: we land in lesser known and unique places. Take Amatlan de Quetzalcóatl, for example, folks from all over come to visit Tepoztlán to see the UFO’s that supposedly fly the friendly skies here. But in the meantime, they’re missing out on Amatlan. It’s gorgeous and quiet and luscious.
AND there is a vegetarian cafe (La Casa de la Abuela) in Amatlan. Unfortunately it was closed during our visit.
The Amate trees, sinuous and part of Mexican cultural tradition, their bark used for paper, art, and rituals are also a draw. Amatl, from which the name Amate comes, is the Nahuatl word for paper. Vibrant, red, birds soar in the sky. There are white morphos here. But the most fascinating thing here, putting aside the wild horses that walk freely in the streets and the totem honoring Quetzalcóatl (who supposedly was born here and not in Tepotzlan) in the otherwise barren plaza, is the Ventanna del Cielo, the window to heaven that reigns above the town. And this is the name of our lodging, Ventanna del Cielo.
We set out to explore this tiny town with Stella and returned within minutes as every dog on the street was coming out to see the new girl on the block but not exactly in a friendly manner. Our new friend and fellow guest, Citlalli offered to watch her while we explored.
Located in the state of Morelos, Tepoztlán is a city surrounded by seven smaller pueblos, Amatlan being one of them. It’s a good 20-30 minutes on a rough road from Amatlan to Topoztlán. Lonely Planet claims the population in Topoztlán is 14,000 people. Tepoztlán seemed much bigger to me, but not in a busy way. It has a quiet disorganization to it. I asked the nice guy (who had been sitting there looking bored and was eager to answer questions) in the archaeological museum inside the parroquia, and he informed us there are 40-42,000 people in Tepoztlán. Lonely Planet also claims Tepoztlán is the birthplace of Quetzalcóatl. But again, we were told Amatlan is the birthplace of Quetzalcóatl, a Mesoamerican feathered serpent deity, known (according to the Aztecs) as the god of intelligence and self-reflection and associated with the morning star. Another pueblo magico, this area is considered to have a special, creative energy. It’s Pirámide de Tepozteco… and indigenous people who maintain their Náhuatl traditions.
Teploztlán is charming. We found our way to the Plaza Grande off of Calle Cinco de Mayo. There we stumbled upon a Mercado de Artesenias y comida that spanned several blocks. We explored the two churches in town, the big one complete with a monastery and ground occupied by organized events for children. Here are some interesting tidbits about the monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl (the volcano in Central Mexico). But our favorite part of the town was walking toward the pyramid (again, because of time and also because we’re lazy, we opted out of the 2.5 km climb). But the road leading to the road that leads up to the Pirámide de Tepozteco was so charming. One can clearly see that this is a weekend getaway for folks from Mexico City. It’s not one bit hard to pick those wealthy city folks out of the crowds.
Pirámide de Tepozteco way up there – can you see it? Dedicated to Tepoztecatl, the Aztec god of pulque (A Mexican alcoholic drink made by fermenting sap from the maguey or agave), drunkenness and fertility, this pyramid was built between 1452 and 1502. We opted out of climbing the steep 1300 feet given we had only one day in Teplozlán and many things to explore.
Hostal Ventana de Cielo is the kind of place where I felt right at home. Besides the clean and quiet accommodations, the folks who work there, particularly Patricia y Raul were incredibly welcoming – to us and to Stella. We met other guests and hung out chatting and enjoying one another’s company. It really is, in my opinion, the perfect venue for chilling out. Citlalli and her family (other guests) fell in love with Stella and vice versa. I’d stay here again.
Onward to Oaxaca!
20 Interesting facts about the Aztecs from Bukisa.com:
Read more at Bukisa.com:
*Photos and stuff* Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.
To see Mexico Post #19, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Colonia Condesa, Colonia Coyoacán, y La Casa Azul, click here.
To see Mexico Post #20, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Chapultapec y Centro Historico, click here.
To see Mexico Post #21, Ciudad de Mexico/Mexico City: Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Templo Mayor, click here.
To see Mexico Post #22, Living the Dream in San Miguel de Allende, click here.
To see Mexico Post #23, Viva la Independencia! click here.
To see Mexico Post #24, Adios San Miguel, click here.
To see Mexico Post #25, Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26, Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
To see Mexico Post #27, 50 Shades of Green: On the road from Oaxaca to Chiapas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #28, San Cristóbal de las Casas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #29, The Almost Halloween Edition: Dark Mountains, Foggy Cliffs, Witches, Jungles and Shamans, click here.