Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ciudad en la colina. Taxco.


Taxco lies just a short distance away from Cuernavaca and it was not long until Rudolfo pointed out all the buildings clinging on the hillside. We were on the outskirts of Taxco. Soon, we were widing our way to the center of town, driving up narrow cobblestone streets.

My first impression of Taxco was that it was a charming little hillside town that would be packed with tourists and I was right!

The narrow streets were packed with cars, pedestrians everywhere and as I had expected, every other store was selling something to do with silver!


Food with a view. By now, it was lunchtime and our driver deposited us outside the small courtyard of a church. We walked a short distance to the restaurant. I was bracing myself for the typical tourist lunch fare. When we arrived, we were the only patrons at the restaurant. They had reserved a table for us inside but it was such a picture perfect day, we asked to be seated on the balcony instead. From there, we had a bird's eye view of white stucco buildings capped with terracotta roofs - reminded me a bit of the buildings I had seen in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I could also see another pink and white church (what is it about this color combo that the Mexicans like?) and last but not least, the town's cathedral with its uniquely painted dome. Of course, we had to do the photo op. Not the best shot - with the palm frond obscuring the view of the church but better than nothing, I guess.

As the cathedral bells started to peal, we headed inside to get our buffet lunch. Nothing memorable except for the glass of agua de limon (lemonade) that I had with my lunch. Unlike the US where getting freshly squeezed fruit juice of any sort is not common, here it's available pretty much everywhere and comparatively speaking, it's dirt cheap and very flavorful as well since they don't add much water to dilute the juice.

To the zócalo! After lunch, we headed towards Taxco's zócalo (town square) to visit the cathedral. The two women from Colombia were not certain they were going to be able to handle walking up the steep (and some were quite steep) streets so Rodolfo hailed a cab for them. The rest of us followed Rodolfo. It was good to walk off lunch and although there were souvenir peddlers popping every few feet, they were respective when told "no" so all in all, it was short walk, but a very pleasant one.



Silver?  No thank you.  Not surprisingly, since Taxco was founded as a silver mining town, it continues to live up to that heritage today. Store after store after store sold silver. Of course, most were claiming they were selling 925 (sterling silver) but most were likely to be either complete fakes or at best, silver plated. I already own a couple of pieces of real sterling silver from Mexico (stamped with the government stamp + initials of the silversmith) that I bought on my first trip back to Mexico decades ago. I've now reached the stage of my life that I'm no longer interested in accumulating jewelry and so as pretty as some of the Taxco made jewelry was that I saw, it was easy to pass them by.

Of course, no tour would be a tour without the obligatory stop at a factory. When in Taxco, that factory would be a silver store.

We followed Rodolfo into the store and were greeted by a store worker who led us to a room at the very back of the store. There we were greeted with small plastic cups holding shots of pulque which is an alcoholic drink made from fermented agave nectar.


A gentleman beckoned us out onto a rooftop patio where we had another vantage point of the hillsides of Taxco and with my zoom lens, I could get a phenomenal close up shot of the cathedral's dome and bell towers.

He gave us a few minutes to admire the view before leading us back inside where he proceeded to show us 3 different silver goblets. He tapped the sides of each of the goblets to produce a sound. He then asked us to tell him which goblet was the one made of real sterling silver. Of course, several folks ventured guesses only to find out they were all wrong; that you cannot tell the purity of silver from sound. Sorry to disappoint him but I already knew that so I stayed quiet. After he did his spiel, I meandered my way out of the store as I had no interest whatsoever in buying any silver. My brother was a half step behind me and as soon as we could step foot outside the door, we did.

Catedral de Santa Prisca. Rodolfo was standing outside and my brother asked him if it would be okay for us to head inside the cathedral and meet up with the group there. Rodolfo insisted on giving us some information about the cathedral - doing his guide-ly duties. He also insisted on walking us to the cathedral which was literally no more than 50 feet away from the store. Once there, he decided to just give us time by when we needed to be back in the zocalo to meet up with the rest of the group. I have to admit, I was ready to head out on our own for a bit.

WOW!  We stepped inside the church. Even though there was plastic sheeting, draped from ceiling to floor, on the entire right wall of the church, the interior was so, so magnificent, that did not at detract me from focusing on the stunning altar at the end of the aisle.  One glance at the altar and I gasped in utter awe. OH....MY....GOD!  It was entirely gold from floor to ceiling, completely adorned with gold carvings and statues. I had thought the altar in the little chapel in Cuernavaca was something to behold but this altar was far more amazing.



According to Rodolfo, Taxco was a very wealthy town at the time the church was built so they could afford to build the altar out of real gold, not gold leaf or gold paint. If that is indeed true, it makes the altar even that much more amazing. As stunningly beautiful as the altar is, it was overwhelming to try and take it all in. The most you can do is take a long glance at a small section or two and that's all. Luckily I have video as well to remind me of what I saw as it was so difficult to try and capture everything in pictures.





Exploring Taxco. Back outside, we strolled down a narrow street flanked by souvenir vendors. WIth neither interest in looking or buying any souvenirs, I was dying to hit the streets to explore more of this charming little town.  But with our limited time, we know we didn't have the luxury to "get lost" so we decided that we should arm ourselves with a map and some information.

We walked a short distance and then turned around and headed back to the zócalo.









There, my brother found a tiny little information booth where the kind gentleman behind the counter gave him a map of the historic town center and some advice on where to go and what to see.



While he was chatting with the man at the information booth, I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of Santa Prisca from the outside.  It's a small church but beautiful things sure do come in small packages!


The clouds had started to shift and skies had turned sunny.   Taxco is high up in the Sierra Madre mountains so the temperature was somewhere in the mid-70's.  It was beautiful day!

The zócalo was filled with both locals and tourists.  It was the perfect place to just people watch and that's exactly what I did while I waited for my brother.  His Spanish is good enough that he can carry on a conversation with a local and his social side is coming on this trip.  Soon, there no longer be such a thing as a "quick chat" with anyone and that's perfectly fine with me!  As long as he's enjoying himself, that's all that matters!

By the time I met back up with my brother, he had a map in hand.  The information guy had marked the map - dividing it into two sections. One section was were all the *good* (i.e., they won't cheat you) silver stores were and the other section was for *general points of interest*. We decided on the latter.

Dinner? We followed the map and found ourselves back on the street where the gold store was that Rodolfo took us to. We had barely walked past the store when my brother spotted a girl carrying a large wicker basket covered with cloth. That can only mean one thing. Something to eat that needs to be kept warm. He stopped the girl and asked her what was in the basket. She pulled back the cloth and we could see pastries. These were savory pastries filled with salchicha (sausage), atun (tuna fish) and hawaiiano (sp?). We got a bit lost in translation with the hawaiiano one until we figured it out - ham and pineapple! Of course, we had to ask her how much she was charging and when she said two for $10 pesos, less than 50 cents each, we couldn't resist. I reminded my brother that we were going to the ballet that night and that we would likely not get dinner. That was enough to convince him to buy one each of the salchicha and atun.

BFFs. While he and I were contemplating whether or not to buy the pastries, two girls were giggling near by. As my brother finished paying, one of them asked if I would take a photo. I said yes and reached for the phone. I thought she was asking me to take a photo of her and her friend but what she wanted was a photo of her and I. I'm guessing it was because there aren't many Asians wandering through her neck of the woods. After Girl #1 had her photo taken, she swapped places with Girl #2. I gladly posed for a second shot. Then it was their turn and they posed for me.  I have so much fun interacting with local folk - one of my favorite things to on my travels.



Better to just get lost. With our pastries in hand, we continued to follow the map and lo and behold ended back up on the same narrow street that we had been on just moments before - the street flanked with souvenir vendors. At that point, we decided to *toss out* the map and just wander the streets to wherever something caught our attention. It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Taxco and wherever we went, we could see people going about their daily lives. The sweet smells wafting up from a neigborhood pasteleria drew us inside. There’s something so intoxicating about the smell of warm sugar. Fortunately, both of us were still stuffed from lunch so nothing in the bakery tempted us to buy.

We walked up and down the winding narrow cobblestone streets, taking breaks along the way to just sit and people watch.


 





 
White Volkswagon beetles are the vehicle of choice for taxis in Taxco. Watching the cute little cars make their way up and down the streets was oddly entertaining.






 










One last view.  At one point, we ended up on a street that had a wonderful vista of the cathedral and the zócalo.  Photo op!















Just before we had to meet up with the group, my brother decided he needed to head to the boys’ room as it would be at least a two hour drive back to Mexico City. Being that public restrooms are rare, the only option is to use one in a public establishment. Since I was thirsty, we decided to head in to a tiny neighborhood shop where I ordered an agua de ‘ (fresh strawberry juice mixed with water) and my brother could use the rest room. It was also a good opportunity to rest our feet.

As we sat, my brother noticed a Kirkland box – plastic wrap for the kitchen. We couldn’t believe that it was possible that there could be a Costco in Taxco!!

After I took my last sip, we said our thank-yous and goodbyes and made our way back to the zocalo where the rest of the group as well as Rodolfo had already congregated. We waited a few minutes for the driver and our van to arrive. I had told Alfredo, when he picked us up from the airport, that we were going to see the 8:30pm performance Ballet Folklorico tonight and so we had to be back in town before then. Normally, the tour from Taxco doesn’t get back til 9pm or so so the tour actually ended a couple hours early to accommodate for us. I don’t think the others in our group knew that and by the looks on their faces, I think they were ready to call it a day anyways.

We all piled in for the two hour drive back to the city. I was tired. I leaned back and closed my eyes. Next thing I know, we’re on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Cuernavaca in the morning, Taxco in the afternoon.  It's been a great day already but it's not yet over!