Time for a slightly bigger city!
We journeyed the short distance from San Miguel de Allende to Queretaro by yet another bus. The trip itself only took a short time, even though it was our first experience via a second class bus, and a lot of that was travelling through the outskirts of Queretaro. Seeing a large city of almost two million was a little shocking, we hadn’t been somewhere this busy since our arrival in Guadalajara. But the same theory applied to our arrival in this city as every other; first goal (after groaning about our packs) was to locate the bus to centro. The easy thing about Mexico we have found is that all cities have a “centre”. Yes you are probably thinking well that applies to most cities around the world, maybe it’s the language barrier but it is so comforting to know that if we hail a bus and ask “Centro?” then we can return to somewhere near where we are staying without stress.
But anyway, back in Queretaro we made it to our hostel, which turned out to be more of a hotel, but nice anyway. Our only disappointment was that there were no kitchen facilities and if you have been reading our other blog posts you will know that we love to cook! So it would be buying breakfast, lunch and dinner for the days we spent here.
First stop as always was an exploratory walk of the centro, and in Queretaro it is HUGE! We walked until it got dark and Tom accused me of getting “hangry” (so hungry you are angry and cannot and will not see reason, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term). So we got tortas to eat…. yes more, this will become a trend.
The next morning was an admin style morning, including a visit to the bank to top up on Peso and off to the supermarket to find some breakfast food and restock our shampoo, toothpaste etc. Breakfast food ended up being muesli bars, bananas, a yogurt drink and some sweet bread from the bakery section… so naughty!
Being a larger centro we needed to approach the city with a little more tact than our usual wanderings and so we set off with the aim to work our way from one side to the other. I am officially dubbing Queretaro the city of churches, there were so many! Our hotel was right beside a beautiful plaza with the Iglesia de Santa Rosa, this church had the most bling interior we had seen yet.
So in that afternoon and the next day we managed to tick off all the places we wanted to see on the map walking from one side to the other. On the way we found a cool modern gallery with work from an artist specialising in cityscape and street scape style paintings. The aquduct on the opposite side of the centro was very impressive, travelling for 7 kilometres and reaching a height of approximately 28 metres it was an obvious landmark of the city. Having walked all over the city by now we knew where our next stops would be; the Museo Regional and the Museo Casa de la Zacatecana. The former was probably the best regional museum we have seen so far (and that’s including all the places we have seen after Queretaro as well). The building is a stunning old monastery next to one of the (many) churches here and inside you see everything from old paintings, historic local artefacts, city history, giant old furniture and more. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you are in Queretaro. The Museo Casa de la Zacatecana was a touch on the more morbid side, an old house where both the husband and wife had been killed in differing circumstances. I’m sure if our spanish was better we would have understood more of the accompanying ghost story as well but the house and the old furniture were interesting.
We had time left in the afternoon to continue exploring, but first we required sustenance. That came in the form of japanese noodles and iced tea, a nice change from the meat, carb and fat heavy Mexican street foods. After this we walked for ages to get to a the Hill of the Bells, a local history park where the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian, was executed. There is a chapel and a museum in the park as well as a large statue to Benito Juarez overlooking the city. We payed our fee and visited the museum, it had a lot of written information all over the walls and interactive game style displays. By this point in the day I was tired from all the walking and couldn’t concentrate on the Spanish enough to decipher it, but Tom had more patience and worked his way through most of it. It was beer-o-clock so we headed back to our plaza where we had seen 2×1 beers advertised.
The next day we had a tour booked to the Peña de Bernal with a visit to a cheese factory and winery. The whole tour was in Spanish so we struggled a little trying to absorb as much as we could but we missed out on a LOT of information, especially when the guides talked fast. The cheese factory was interesting as they talked about the health of the cows, sheep and goats which produced the milk but compared to New Zealand standards with their fresh green grass and large paddocks the small walled enclosures and hay just didn’t stack up. The cheeses were quite different to what we were used to eating back home as well, a lot lighter in taste (no aged cheddars here) but nice enough. The winery was where we struggled the most, in a big group of tourists we wandered through the factory listening hard to the guide but not really comprehending. Being from Otago and Nelson/Marlborough and having lived in Perth we have been to many a winery but this was the first we had been into a factory where the wine is bottled and aged in huge underground cellars. The tour ended with a sample of their sparkling wine which was quite good but odd for us as we were used to being able to sample a whole range for nothing or a few dollars. We purchased a glass each (red for Tom and white for me) and returned to the minivan.
Time for lunch; but first a quick look into a cactus nursery where we saw thousands of tiny cacti. We had the option of adopting our own cacti (it was free) but decided that we couldn’t give it the love and care it deserved while backpacking, and even if we could there was no way Biosecurity would let it into New Zealand. Lunch was a buffet of Mexican food, no signs labelled anything so we just piled our plates and hoped for the best. Everything turned out to be pretty tasty and we finished it with café de la olla, a coffee with cinnamon drink which was quite tasty and my first cup of coffee in months.
The remainder of the afternoon was to be spend in Bernal, a town famous for it’s large rock formation called the Peña. The Peña de Bernal is one of the three largest monoliths in the world, the other two being the rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf in Brazil. It’s impossible to reach the top without climbing experience and gear but about 2/3 is walkable. As the region is already at an altitude of about 3000 metres walking up the rock is a mission, we had a time limit before meeting the minivan down the hill so we tried to get as far up as we could and it was hard going. The views were spectacular though and worth the huffing and puffing. If we had more time and some water we would have tried to climb a bit higher but we had to rush back down as it was.
After this we sleepily drove back to Queretaro for our last night in the city. The place where we had purchased our tortas for dinner the first night was open and we had them again for dinner, we justify this because the owner was so lovely and friendly that we needed to visit again. All in all Mexicans have been so friendly and generous, always helpful and curious about where we are from, once we tell them New Zealand we always get the same reply “Muy lejos!” (very far).