Leaving Mexico City behind, we journeyed south toward Puebla, Mexico’s City of Angels.
On the way, we drove along mountainous roads and were able to see the star-crossed volcanos of Popocatépetl (Smoking Mountain in the Nauhuatl language) and Iztaccihuatl. Our guide told us that usually there is too much haze or smog to make them out, so we felt very lucky. The legend goes that Popocatépetl was a brave young warrior who went off to battle to win the beautiful princess Iztaccihuatl’s hand in marriage, but she was hoodwinked by a rival into thinking her lover had been slain, and she died from a broken heart. Upon his victorious return he discovered the tragic news and carried her body up to the hills to lay her down; he crouched by her side, inconsolable, and has stayed for eternity. Mexico’s version of Romeo and Juliet.
Leaving the volcanoes in our smoke we continued on to the outskirts of Puebla. Our initial impression was of an industrial town that is dominated by the massive Volkswagen factory on its outskirts (perhaps explaining the prevalence of vintage VW Beetles throughout Mexico), but in sharp contrast the old town of Puebla was far from industrial and a delightful change of pace from the bustle of CDMX. The town is very laid back and artisanal, with craft and food markets, artists’ quarters, beautiful colonial piazzas, colourful tiled facades and awe inspiring ancient public buildings. We were taken by the vivid colours of the buildings along the streets and by the ornate tiles that adorn many walls, floors and counters.
For our welcome meal in Puebla we tried the local speciality of Mole Poblano, which is a dark sauce containing several ingredients including chocolate. It is a unique flavour said to have originated in old times when the bishop visited the local convent and the nuns decided to create a dish in his honour by throwing all the ingredients they had into one sauce.
There is noticeable damage from the earthquake of 19th September 2017 with many old colonial buildings propped up by wooden scaffolds awaiting repairs. The epicentre of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake was just 34 miles south of the town. While walking by one such building we had a chance conversation with a German professor who explained that it was his school and sadly some pupils and staff lost their lives inside when the earthquake struck. Modern structures in Mexico are now built to withstand these shocks, but many failed in the latest disaster and there are many lawsuits in progress against corrupt developers. Due to Mexico’s location within the ring of fire, earthquakes are frequent, mostly minor but sometimes major, and so the Mexican responders are now some of the best trained in the world to cope with locating and recovering victims amongst collapsed buildings; we learnt that the Mexican government sends these specialist teams to help disaster zones around the world.
As the weather was fair we decided to take an open-top bus tour of the city from where we saw just some of the incredible street art and murals.
Winding though pretty neighbourhoods we arrived at the hilltop Fort Loreto which has panoramic views of the city and took a walk around it’s ramparts (admiring the nearby modern cable car system) before taking a glimpse at the museum inside which details some of the events around the famous Battle of Puebla, on ‘Cinco de Mayo’ 1862.
After returning to town we determined to try another recommended local cuisine – the cemita – essentially the biggest and best chicken and avocado roll you’ll ever have. We loved them so much we returned the next day to get a couple more para llevar.
After refuelling, we had the energy to explore the colourful local market where we bought a little tiled mirror which we’re now carrying around Central America and aiming to get back to England in one piece (against all odds!).
We meandered down ‘artists’ row’, gazing into the doorways of all the studios and determined that it was a perfect spot to pause for a glass of red.
Flush with a successful vino tinto selection we went in search of further wine spots for the evening and, via an ancient library and spectacular cathedral, we wound up at a rooftop restaurant with a great view of the nearby zocalo and the distant sleeping warrior and princess.