Valle de Bravo y Tepoztlán

Valle de Bravo
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. 

Thank you state of Guanajuato. We’ll miss ya.

Fields of yellow and pink wildflowers.

The Green Angels! I’ve heard about these guys, but this is the first time I’ve seen them. Unlike the Policia, they’re out there trying to actually help people.

Oy.

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.

Avándaro

Avándaro is a cute town just a few kilometers outside of Valle de Bravo – not much to see except this cool red VW bug.

There is also a food cart here should someone find themselves craving a hootdog.

The taxi union building was cool. I like the taxis here in town. They are brightly painted showing the lake and buildings in town.

Most captivating were the waterfalls (cascadas) which were raging given the recent rains.

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.

Valle de Bravo Pueblo Magico

Templo de Santa Maria

My babies.

This was the least ornate church in Mexico I’ve ever seen. I liked the minimalist feeling in stark comparison to many of the other churches I’ve seen.

The murals were dramatic and simple.

Confessional in the side chapel

A wooden cage? I didn’t ask.

We walked down to the harbor along El lago Avándaro (Lake Avandaro).

Upon closer inspection I question whether it’s a good idea to fish here.

Cool building

Man and his dog walking over a pedestrian bridge by the harbor.

Parts of this town remind me of different places; here it reminds me of Sausalito.

El Lago Avándaro

There is Swiss influence particular evident in some of the construction.

Parroquia San Francisco

Towers of Parroquia San Francisco

We gathered that someone was running for an elected position…

and the candidate had two truckloads of groceries to give to the citizens.

People were lined up all along the Jardin waiting for their packages. I have an intuitive sense that this candidate will get the votes from Valle de Bravo.

Day 1 – late lunch early dinner at Ciento Once. I had a great salad here and tapas.

Charming.

We went in search of La Peña. I think this is it, but am not certain. It seemed like the highest peak in town and certainly was quite a nail-biter of a drive. Thank Dios for 4-wheel drive.

We had an awesome view when we were able to see through the fortress walls that most people built around their homes. These homeowners were generous with sharing their space with us common folk.

Mercado de Artesanias – I bought myself a new wallet here (handmade and very colorful) for 30 pesos.

Eye taco!

The saddest part of my day was walking by a feed supply store and seeing cages of birds – not looking healthy and certainly not happy.

Lovely view from every corner…

Friday, October 4th is St. Francis of Asisi day. The Parroquia San Francisco is being decorated in preparation for the big celebrations! Of COURSE there is a big festival! How could we come to a Mexican town and not experience a party!

The Parroquia all decked out. Tonight there were fireworks, specifically Castillo Fireworks like what we saw in San Miguel. But because it was pouring (like in San Miguel) we opted out of the fun.

El Restaurante Paraíso – we were the only people here. Our server, Eduardo, was a gem. He brought some water for Stella, shared stories with us about the old photographs on the wall, and was an all-around sweetheart. And what a view!

View from Restaurante Paraíso

Fray Gregorio Jimenez de la Cuenca (La Costera)

The walls at the Paraíso restaurant are lined with orchid planters.

This peaceful vieja allowed me to take her photo.

El Jardin, the centro plaza transformed into a large market place with food vendors, fruit and veggie vendors, and stuff vendors.

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….

Our terrace at Cabañas del Canada.

A HUGE yard that Stella very much enjoyed at Cabañas del Canada.

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.

Toluca will forever be remembered as the place where we got pinched by the coppers.

That gray dust is pollution as seen through a dirty windshield.

Such a heartbreaker to see bags of litter at the National Park.

Safety is our motto

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.

Hostal Ventana del Cielo with a gorgeous backdrop, the window to heaven.

Ventana del Cielo – the Window to Heaven

A beautiful yard offers a place of peace and rest at Hostal Ventana del Cielo.

They gave us an upstairs room at el Hostal Ventana del Cielo. An upgrade!

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.

What a delight to see White Morphos ambling about!

A small, charming town with…

adorable children flying around on brooms,

and giant dogs peering up and around from every ledge, wall, and bush,

Plaza Cívica de Amatlan – it’s much more barren then most town plazas but quiet in a peaceful way.

We saw ladies doing wash here when we first walked by. Less than 1 kilometer away there’s a river, and we saw people doing wash there as well.

Legendario Quetzalcoatl en la Plaza Cívica de Amatlan

Beautiful albeit thin horses were walking freely in town.

I like this hip little town.

The small church – rockets set off at 5:30 AM Sunday to wake people up and get their butts to church. If enough people don’t show for church, a person walks through the streets ringing a bell.

Unfortunately this vegetarian restaurant (La Casa de la Abuela) that serves vegan food was closed during the weekend.

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.

Mercado de Artesenias y comida

Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, a 16 century Dominican church- our new friends and fellow guests at Hostal Ventana del Cielo were at the wedding inside this church.

Ex-Convento Domínico de la Natividad

Children having a blast on the church grounds

Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y Ex-Convento Domínico de la Natividad (adjacent monastery) facade

I don’t know this bride and groom which probably makes this photo seem odd and maybe even a little creepy. I like weddings. Can’t contain myself.

The wedding party. The bride is a relative of our new friends Citlalli y Francisco from our hostal.

The monastery is a monstrosity

A restful place…

Heading back to the street…this viejo was resting on the stairs.

Mexico overflows with mercados

Children playing at el Plaza Grande

La Nieve de los Dioses – super fun place. I had a waffle cone with Coconut sorbet. Yum. There are Tepoznieves on almost every corner in town.

View of Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y Ex-Convento Domínico de la Natividad from a distance

Another charming and even more simplistic church (name unknown) on the road to Pirámide de Tepozteco.

Pirámide de Tepozteco

Pirámide de Tepozteco

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.

The road leading to the base of the mountain leading to Pirámide de Tepozteco

Vendors lined the road – it was lively with laughter, and the scents of good homemade cuisine wafted in the light breeze.

We saw this smart dog earning his keep patiently waiting in that position until diners offered him some of their food.

Hanging out at the Parada waiting for our collectivo back to Amatlan – the bus back was packed. I sat on Scott’s lap for part of the way and we chatted with a few of the passengers.

Our room at Hostal Ventana del Cielo was called India Bonita

Patricia and her sweet co-worker – such awesome staff at Hostal Ventana del Cielo!

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.

They walked us out – good-bye hope to see you again!

Onward to Oaxaca!

 

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20 Interesting facts about the Aztecs from Bukisa.com:

Read more at Bukisa.com:

1.) The city-capital of the Aztec people was Tenochtitlan, the site of present-day Mexico City.
2.) Aztec people called themselves Tenochas or Mexica.
3.) The Aztecs were short, sturdy people with almond-shaped eyes, dark, coarse hair and brown skin.
4.) Aztecs spoke Nahuatl, a language that is still spoken today.
5.) Aztecs had an accurate calendar. They used 2 calendars for worship.
6.) Daily worship was determined by a calendar consisted of 260 days, divided into 20 weeks of 13 days. Each hour, day and week was ruled by a certain god.
7.) The great religious ceremonies and festivals were regulated by a calendar of 365 days composed of 18 months of 20 days and an additional 5-day period. Each month was dedicated to a major god.
8.) The paper they used was made from fig tree bark. They used a system of hieroglyphics or picture writing.
9.) Aztec people designed and built aqueducts, dikes and huge stone pyramids topped by temples.
10.) Boys attended school and studied history, religion, crafts and military training. Selected boys and girls attended special religious schools to become priests and priestess.
11.) Their only domesticated animals were dogs, ducks, geese, quails and turkeys. Aztec people never used beasts of burden. Agricultural works and land transportation depended mainly on human power.
12.) Tools and weapons were not made of metal but were made of stone and wood. Most weapons were made of obsidian.
13.) Gold, silver, copper and other precious stones like emerald, jade, turquoise and even shells were mainly for ornaments.
14.) The estimated population of the Aztecs at the height of the civilization ranged from 5 million to 11 million.
15.) Tenochtitlan was built on an island in Lake Texcoco.
16.) Well-to-do Aztecs homes were made of adobe and members of the royalty wore expensive clothes and headdress.
17.) Their method of gardening is called chinampas or floating gardens. Chinampas were artificial islands built by piling earth on woven rafts. Aztecs grew corn, beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes.
18.) Their principal food is called ‘tortillas’. These are flatcakes of unleavened bread made from ground corn.
19.) Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird-on-the-Left) is their war god and sun god. Tlaloc was their rain god.
20.) The Aztec empire was invaded by Hernando Cortez in 1519. In 1521, Spaniards tore down the buildings and filled in the canals, completely destroying the city of Tenochtitlan.

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*Photos and stuff*  Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use.

This is Mexico Post #25
 
To see Mexico Post #1, Me and My Trimalleolar go to Mexico with my Husband and our Pooch, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #2, Dos Americanos y Su Perro en Mexico, click this here.
To see Mexico Post #3, Feliz Ano Nuevo 2013, click here.
To see Mexico Post #4, Ballenas, Ballenas Hermosas, click here.
To see Mexico Post #5, Una Visita Morelia, click here.
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To see Mexico Post #7, Los Pueblos de Patzcuaro, Paracho, y Tzintzuntzan, click here.
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To see Mexico Post #11, Semana Santa y Semana Pasqua, click here.
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To see Mexico Post #25,  Valle de Bravo y Teploztlán, click here.
To see Mexico Post #26,  Ciudad de Oaxaca, click here.
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