A Long Weekend in Mexico City and Puebla: Part II
Updated: Dec 21, 2019
Day Two: Arriving to Cholula
After finding our way out of the CAPU bus station, we walked through several vendors selling delicious sweets, breads, clothing, souvenirs, music...you name it. It wasn’t exactly clear where to go to catch an Uber, so we walked across the street to a pharmacy to call one instead. It was there within minutes.
During the drive, my friend conversed with the driver in Spanish about what it was like working for Uber, and asking several questions about the surrounding area. I sat back and enjoyed the scenery around me as we left the city and entered the suburbs. We arrived to San Andrés Cholula in about 20 minutes or so, made obvious by the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de los Remedios on top of Tlachihualtepetl (also known as the Great Pyramid of Cholula), with the Popocatépetl volcano and other mountains as the backdrop.
My friend and I both looked around with smiles on our faces as we noticed just how pleasantly clean, colorful, and beautiful Cholula was. He was quite surprised at the difference between Cholula and other areas of Mexico that he was used to and kept saying, “Everything just looks so clean and new…” The traffic was minimal, and several people were out and about, walking and riding their bikes. The air was fresh and the sun was shining.
Shortly after checking into our Airbnb (which was also on beautiful, enclosed grounds with greenery and flowers everywhere), we set out to explore. Our first stop was at a small park with a playground and children playing everywhere. We stopped at a stand to buy ice cream and to take pictures of a beautiful church just across the street. Not long after, we stopped at a small restaurant to eat, and where my friend insisted that I should try a delicious drink that resembled a banana milkshake. The waitress returned with a HUGE cup of the best milkshake that I have ever had. My stomach certainly paid for it later, but that’s another story!
As we waited for the rest of our food, I looked around and realized that we were actually in the garage of a home, and that after our order was taken they were actually going through a door to their backyard to grill the food. The cook, host, and hostess were actually the father, son, and daughter. My friend then told me that in Mexico, it was very easy to set up your own business as a part of your home and that unlike the US, they didn’t have to go through the hassle of registering everything with the government and paying all kinds of fees and taxes for permits, licenses, etc. He said that running the business was probably their way of making the money to support having such a beautiful home in what was considered an expensive part of Cholula.
After paying less than $8 USD for the milkshake and 15 delicious wings, we continued toward the bright orange church at the top of the grass-covered pyramid. Just below the pyramid was an even larger playground that my son probably would have considered paradise. Immediately next to it was an area full of exercise equipment that I considered paradise. The entire park was enclosed by a running/walking trail, and also had a track and soccer field nearby. I have never seen so many children out running in playing in one place in my life. The playground was full of children of all ages, and everywhere I looked there were people rollerblading, riding bikes, or walking hand and hand. I had the biggest smile on my face as I said out loud, “Everyone just looks so happy!” And they were. Happy, friendly, laughing, and enjoying life together.
We continued on, following several groups of locals and tourists up the hill to the church. Much to my surprise, most of its operations had returned back to normal been repaired following September’s earthquake. Instead of being restricted to tours of the underground tunnels, visitors could once again climb the steep stairs to the top of the pyramid where the church stood. Some remaining debris had caused some areas to be blocked off here and there, but the damaged domes at the top had been completely repaired. The inside of the church which had previously been closed was now reopened. However, the church bells (which apparently would ring throughout the day), were still inoperable.
Although it took quite a bit of physical work to get the top, the views made it all worth it. From the top we could see all of Cholula, the zocalos below, Puebla in the distance, and a clear view of the surrounding volcanos. It was absolutely beautiful. The inside of the church was breathtaking and lined everywhere with gold. Unfortuantely, we were forbidden from taking any photos. We remained silent as we entered to respect those who were seated in prayer.
After taking in the views from above, we descended down the steep stairs to the San Pedro zocalo, which was full of people everywhere. Families, children, tourists, and locals walked around, buying a variety of goods from the vendors that lined the sidewalks. The smell of sweets and the delicious foods being cooked filled the air. Several musical and dance performances took place, capturing the attention of everyone walking by. Kites filled the air as children competed to see whose could fly the highest.
We continued walking to find colorful buildings and holiday decorations hanging from the tangled mess of electrical wires between the buildings. It looked a bit chaotic during the day, but the decorations would later light up the streets, adding to the charm of the neighborhood streets. We walked by a train station that went straight from Cholula to Puebla City, an easy alternative to getting around. The station looked brand new. I also took note at how tourists were charged twice as much as locals were.
It was getting noticeably cooler out as the sun set, so we went back to the room hoping to warm up for a bit before heading out for dinner...but boy, was I fooled. I had forgotten that there was no heating system in the room, and as one would expect, it was FREEZING cold when we walked in. I literally shivered as I turned on the small space heater, changed into socks and boots, and put on my heavy winter coat. I thought to myself, “There is no way I can do this every single night!” and seriously thought for a moment that the lack of heat at night would be the only thing stopping me from moving to Cholula. Despite growing up in Northern Virginia where we get a taste of all seasons including some VERY cold winters, I’m not much of a cold weather person. My friend laughed and reminded me of how much I complained about being “too hot” without AC in Cancun during one of my previous trips, and at that point I had to check myself and ask if I were just being too closed-minded and a little too comfortable with all of the luxuries I had in the U.S. Maybe it would just take some adjusting. Obviously the locals and the expats were surviving through it, so my son and I would too...but I wouldn’t be happy about it in the beginning.
We eventually headed back out to find a late dinner and noticed just how quiet it had gotten. All of the main shops had closed early, and all of the people who once filled the streets were gone. Every now and then we’d see people walking by, headed home from wherever they had come from, but other than that, it was dead. We eventually headed back to the main plaza which had a few street vendors and a couple of hole-in-the-wall restaurants open. My friend asked if I wanted to try something new and stopped to buy an elote, the Mexican version of corn on the cob, but with mayonnaise and cheese instead of butter. Let’s just say that after the first bite, it didn’t take long for me to inhale the entire thing. I don’t think I’ll ever want a plain corn on the cob ever again. After stopping at one of the small restaurants to share a delicious alambre (a popular Mexican dish with meat, pork, cheese, onions, peppers, and served with corn tortillas), we headed back the room, warm and with full bellies.
As I curled up under the warm fleece and wool blanket, the room suddenly felt toasty. Maybe the cold nights wouldn’t be so bad after all, as long as I had on long sleeves, long pants, socks and a warm blanket. It didn’t take long before I drifted off to sleep, looking forward to another exciting day in Puebla.
Stay tuned for the next blog post to find out what happens on Day Three: A Trip to Puebla City!
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