So after five weeks in one place we finally finished up in Mexico City and moved on. Not far mind you, Puebla was a short two hour bus trip and we arrived without fuss. Getting to our accommodation (again airbnb) was another issue entirely. A nice gentleman helpfully informed us that we could take a local bus then the new Metrobus line to get where we needed to go. Being brand new the Metrobus was even free the entire time we stayed in Puebla which was great. The only problem was that it was rush hour and the buses were packed full like sardine cans. Boarding with our packs was a mission and we finally squished on one. The weight of the pack plus the other people crammed shoulder to shoulder around us was quite unpleasant to say the least. We finally made it to our stop and popped out from the press of bodies in the bus into fresh air.
After meeting our host and recovering from our packs and the bus we decided on a late dinner. Little was open in the area we were staying except taco places on a main road nearby. So tacos it was, 2×1 tacos Pastor to be exact.
It took us days until we would reach the zocalo area which is a bit of a different routine for us. Our first full day ended up being a bit of a boys day. Tom really enjoyed himself and I didn’t think the places we visited were too bad either. We started by taking the Metrobus, which was pretty crowded again, to the Museo del Ferrocarril. This is an outdoor museum dedicated to trains. They were huge, old and varied; it was like a train cemetery. We spent the morning wandering through row after row of old trains. Some we could board and see inside the different classes of carriages. Travelling by train didn’t seem too uncomfortable back in the day, a far cry from the Metro we had become so accustomed to in Mexico City. There were old steam engines as well as newer diesel ones. Also some which used to be used for construction with rusty cranes and drills attached. Surprisingly the time flew past with only a sense of getting sunburnt to show the passing of time before we got hungry and lunch time beckoned.
We knew there was a market in the area as the Metrobus stop prior to the one we used that morning was called ‘Mercado de Sabores’. A market of flavours sounded like a good place to get lunch, don’t you think? The market was kinda like a food court and we didn’t make it far inside before seeing something which took our fancy. The sight of some large delicious looking torta style bread buns looked great and made our lunch decision easy. Turns out Puebla has a different style of torta called cemitas which we have seen everywhere as well as our old friends tortas. The difference as far as I can tell is only the bread bun and the addition of what seems like a whole avocado (which is awesome) . We ate a few of these in our week here.
Next we walked (rolled) to the Parque Bravo where we found the Museo del Ejército y Fuerza (Museum of the Army and War) which seemed brand new. As it was turning into a boy themed day the museum was full of guns with a few armoured vehicles and an interwar era plane. I had a good time asking Tom stupid ignorant girl questions about the different guns and other items in the museum.
Behind the museum was an old prison building which looked interesting so we set of to find an entrance for it. Not having any luck we found a small doorway to some government offices with a security guard. In our experience government buildings in Mexico, especially those that are in historic buildings, can be accessed by visitors most of the time. So we were nodded in by the guard and investigated the inside courtyard of the old prison. Saying your work is like a prison for most people is a bit of an exaggeration but the offices of the staff who work here used to be actual cells.
The next day we decided to tick off one of the major things to see in the Puebla area and visit Cholula. This town is very close and I think the two cities have actually merged over the years so we only travelled through built up areas on our way there. Having jumped on a non direct local bus to get there we were unsure of when to get off. This caused us to end up travelling into more and more rural type areas hoping it would do a return journey. It didn’t, whoops. So we jumped off the bus and waited in the dust for a return one which luckily was only a 10 minute wait.
Finally making it to Cholula centro we headed to the pyramid, which is the main tourism site there. After locating a façade of a smaller pyramid and the exit (the security guard helpfully pointed us in the direction of the entrance) Tom had the realisation that he knew about this pyramid. This was one of the largest pyramid bases in the world and the “hill” in front of us was actually the pyramid itself. Sneaky camouflage pyramid. So we got to the entrance and paid the site museum a visit first to find out about the area. The signs were in English and had a thorough amount of information as well as a great scale model. After wasting time that morning unnecessarily cruising around in the bus we didn’t spend too much time looking at the museum. We had exceeded our tolerance of Pre-Hispanic pottery by this point anyway.
The pyramid tunnels were next. These had been made by archaeologists to explore the pyramid and cover a whopping 8km. We have seen a number of archaeological sites here in Mexico but being able to walk inside a pyramid through tunnels was a new experience and very interesting. From the inside we could see the different layers of pyramid walls which had been added over the formative years. Reaching the end of the tunnels we emerged into the sunlight blinking. The weather was stunning our whole time in Puebla and we got mildly sunburnt a few times. The remainder of the site was some ruins around the base of the hill/pyramid with a well restored façade on one. We also walked up to the church at the summit of the pyramid. For some reason this church didn’t allow photography so I was unable to add to my growing collection of Mexican church interiors. The outlook from the church was stunning as the pyramid is easily the highest point in the area. In its prime it would have stood out from a huge distance.
Exiting the site we walked down a street lined with touristy shops towards the plaza for our lunch. We were ravenous and decided on the menu del dia. This is generally what we eat when we are hungry or if the meal had turned into lunch and dinner combined because of the time. It’s basically a three course (cheap) meal consisting of a soup, rice or pasta and a “main” with tortillas. The main part, which I think is called the guisado, can be anything from enchiladas, meat and salad, mole, stew and other things which we haven’t been adventurous enough to try because we don’t recognise the name. The meal usually comes with tortillas and sometimes agua fresca (juice) and/or a token dessert. I really enjoy this meal as is more of a sit down and enjoy your food feeling as opposed to an “I’m so hungry I’ll shovel down the food” street food option.
Before leaving Cholula we went on what ended up almost being a wild goose chase. A friend of a friend owns a Pulqueria which we wanted to visit. The address was on a street which for some weird reason is located in two places which are not an un-significant walk apart. We eventually realised what was happening after consulting Google maps and doing an internet search and made our way to the correct street. The remainder of the afternoon and evening we spent chatting and drinking tasty pulque. Pulque in case you don’t know is an alcoholic drink made from fermented maguey plant which is a type of agave. It’s been made and drunk for thousands of years here in Mexico and has the alcohol content of between beer and wine. I like it because it can have all sorts of flavours added and has a slight fizzy sweetness. The flavours we tried were plain/unflavoured (Tom’s favourite), strawberry (my favourite), cookies and cream, mint, chocolate, mamay and oat. It was quite an enjoyable end to the day and we reluctantly dragged ourselves away to get a bus back to Puebla at about 10pm.
The remainder of our days in Puebla we spent in centro checking out the various museums, gorgeous colonial streets and drinking beer in cute plazas. The main museum in the area is Museo Amparo. This is in an old building which has been renovated to have a big glass atrium, a cool roof terrace bar, modern gallery spaces as well as preserving some of the old rooms for exhibiting the colonial furniture.
Over the weekend was World Circus Day, celebrated in Puebla by circus acts throughout the afternoons and evenings from Thursday until Sunday. The few that we saw were an interesting mix of pole, hoop, silk and rings acts by flexible and strong performers. I’m sure the commentary in between the acts would have been entertaining as well had we understood more of it.
We also visited the cathedral a total of three times; the first two had services in progress so we couldn’t see all areas. It’s a beautiful old cathedral lacking the wonkiness of the one in Mexico City. Surprisingly there were signs up all over the interior banning photography which other visitors were either too ignorant to see or saw and promptly ignored. I must admit that I did join this second group and take a few sneaky snaps.
In the zocalo there was always people just passing the time, people watching, eating or walking with their families. Tom commented that wherever we go this is always the case. People in Mexico enjoy getting out and about in their cities if only for reason of seeing the world go by which I think is lovely. Over the weekend we saw a few smaller museums as well as the Fuerte de Loreto. The Fuerte is one of the old churches turned forts in the area which was used to defend against the French invasion many years ago. The small museum was interesting and actually had English signs as well. We learnt a lot about this period of history in Puebla and Veracruz states that we hadn’t yet seen reference to in other museums. Even Tom (who knows far far more about history than I do) didn’t know the French had an attempt at invading Mexico.
Fitting in a quick visit before it’s closing time we checked out the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, which is first equal with the coolest libraries we have seen, though the polar opposite of Biblioteca Vasconcelos. The three tiers of shelving are made of carved woodwork which is polished until it glows. Some of the books housed there date back to the 1400’s and although they are hidden away out of reach or behind mesh they are still interesting to see. This is definitely a highlight in Puebla even though it is small.
That afternoon we found a nice peaceful plaza to sit and drink some beers in, travelling is hard we know. The plaza is located in the Barrio del Artista which is a pedestrian street that has a lot of artists who showcase their work for sale as well as complete other paintings on site. In this area we also found the Calle del Dulces (street of sweets… it smelt so good) and a lot of fascinating looking antique shops.
Sunday is the day of free museum entry so we ticked off four around the Centro. Casa de Alfenique and Museo Jose Luis Bello y Zetina were my favourites. In the first we had a guide take us through the rooms telling us about the items of interest and the family. The second was more like a museum which exhibited the vast collection the owner had accumulated. Both were in beautiful houses interesting to look at on their own.
The Capilla de Rosario (rosary chapel) is another lovely site in the Centro, it took us two attempts at visiting as the first time there was a wedding in progress. Yes we (along with many others) were nosy and had a peak at the wedding. I have to admit it’s a stunning place to get married, if you were inclined to get married in a church AND gold was your favourite colour. The only problem would be that the decoration of the chapel would take the attention away from the bride, and she is supposed to be the star of the day right? We returned later that day to take some photos without a bridal party in them. The chapel is probably on par with a few others for the most bling church interior we have seen.
For our final day in Puebla we went on what can only be called a day of buses to see two local archaeological sites. In total we took nine buses! That includes the Metrobus, a local bus, a nice bus, a crappy local rural bus, a colectivo and another local rural bus to see both sites. Then a crappy local bus (two as the bus was swapped mid way for some reason) and the metrobus to return. We had it figured out better on the return journey which is why we used a lot less buses. On top of this we also covered nearly ten kilometres by foot to get to the site entrances from main roads. All in all the day was a mission but we saw two cool, peaceful and unfrequented places.
The first we went to was Cacaxtla. Our first sight of it was the enormous roof covering the entire place, it looked like an airport hangar or stadium. The reason for this is so the precious murals are protected from weather damage. These murals which are on top of a not unsubstantial pyramid are over a thousand years old and still showcase vivid colour.
Walking down to the main road we stopped to ask an old guy selling ice cream about getting a bus to the next site in the area. Then of course we had to buy an ice cream because ice cream is awesome. Happily slurping a banana and cookies and cream ice cream I didn’t complain about walking up the hill to the next site in the sun once.
Xochitecatl was the second archaeological site we visited that day. From Cacaxtla it is only about one kilometre away but the man in the ticket booth recommended not walking directly between the two as we could get robbed. A little strange but we heeded his cautious words and took the bus, which resulted in the ice cream and walk up the hill as mentioned before. This site was quite small with only a few structures.The main pyramid gave us a stunning 360° outlook of the area, including hazy outlines of three volcanoes, Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl and Matlalcueitl, as it wasn’t a clear day. Although there was not much to see here the most interesting and different pyramid was a spiral one. It was made not in tiers like all the others we have seen but instead has a spiral path winding all the way to the top.
So our Monday ended up being quite busy and productive even though we probably spent over five hours in a bus. Much better than trying to find places which are open in the city because as I think I have mentioned before most places are closed on Mondays in this country.
Overall Puebla was a lovely city to visit; very clean, beautiful architecture, lots of places to visit and quite chilled out. It definitely doesn’t have the feel of a large city but maybe that’s because we had previously been in a city of 20 million people so anything smaller would feel like that?
We squished back on the Metrobus with our packs and returned to the central de autobuses on our way to Xalapa.
Wow this post ended up being huge, if you have made it to this point THANK YOU for reading. I hope you are enjoying our adventures!