Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Just south of Mexico City, overlooked by a sacred mountain is the beautiful mystical retreat of Tepoztlan. The town is situated on the side of a steep hill and going from the bottom to the top can be quite a puff. In the centre of the town is the zocolo complete with ubiquitous bandstand and next door a covered market which is augmented at the weekend by hundreds of street stalls selling clothing and crafts as well as incense and all sorts of street food. (Check out my video here).
We were staying on the west side of the town (uphill) at our wonderful host, Angeles’ country pad. She is in the process of building a home there and so far has built a small adobe guest room and a ‘baño seco’ (composting toilet) This is a real common sense solution to the increasing problem of water shortage, this system dispenses with the need for water and you get great compost, and no it doesn’t smell! The land has about 2000m2 and there are some beautiful mature fruit trees and she has planted a ‘milpa’ (maize plantation) at the top end of the property. The land is very steep and she has terraced out the bottom end where the guest house and baño is and there is a wooden deck with a hammock where we lazed away the days. Wily looking feral cats wandered around the property like ghosts sometimes picking fights with the big grey squirrels that scampered around the trees, there were also visiting humming birds to the everlasting delight of Fran.
Our two weeks went by quickly as we relaxed at the house and spent our days in the market and at the local cafes and bars, I also had an album to transcribe – Kasabian’s latest offering. On our first day there Angeles’ friend Daniel came down with his brother and sister-in-law from Panama. We had a bbq and then headed down to the “Tantra” bar where there was some live music happening. Over the next few days we got to know Gerardo and Miguel who played and sang there. Daniel had put me on the spot and I played a tune which seemed to go down well and a few days later both Fran and I played a few songs too. Gerardo even asked me for a lesson as he wanted to play Recuerdos de Alhambra by Tarrega, which I had played for him that night.
We both suffered from colds and me a bout of Moctezuma’s Revenge, but it was a good place to recuperate. We made friends with Alan at a local bar who was helpful and a very good English speaker and we spent mucho tiempo at his restaurant checking our emails and drinking the fresh orange juice on the balcony gazing out to the mountain, which beckoned to us from it’s misty heights. This street runs pretty much south to north and at the north end it peters out into the mountain that towers over the town.
Perched almost at the top of this mountain is an ancient pyramid reached by a strenuous 2.5km rocky staircase with a final metal gantry taking you to the last bit. It is a wonderful tree lined path with plenty of sun dappled shade. We decided to take the challenge and set off one morning at about 10am, reaching the top an hour and a half later. Near to the top there were some workmen who were shoring up the stone steps with cement. Watching them virtually run up the very steep uneven steps with heavy bags of cement on their backs was a sight to behold as we wheezed up to the summit.
The pyramid itself is not huge but its location is incredible, a great sweeping panoramic view over the town below and the huge plain beyond. It is reputably the birthplace of the great feathered serpent God Quetzalcoatl who did all us humans a wonderful favour by bringing chocolate down to earth. We were lucky as there was hardly anyone there except some archeology students working on the pyramid and a man meditating by himself at the foot of it. So we spent a good 45 minutes up there enjoying the sheer magic of the place and being free. We also met a Coati, a strange mammal which looked like a cross between a dog, badger cat and bear, with a piggy nose! He was very tame and interested in some chocolate raisins I had in my pocket and followed us around for a while, we christened him William. (See video below) As we left, the place was overrun with young people who had made the climb, so we paid our respects and left them to it.
Just before we left Mexico City for Tepoztlan Fran was invited to join “The World’s Biggest Summit”, which was a month long creative event run by one of the internet forums she is part of. The idea was to submit a short video or audio ‘workshop’ which would then be posted up along with other forum members’ works including some very well known and respected people in the spiritual/creative world, an opportunity not to be missed!
The thing was we only had 48 hours to get the workshop created and uploaded to YouTube… We rose to the challenge and spent our first full day in Tepoztlan shooting and editing the fifteen minute video. Fran had decided to do the workshop on making a table top shrine for the Day of the Dead featuring her fave artist Frida Kahlo. It all went well with the help of our new digital camera and the wonderful video editing skills of my MacBook Pro. Pretty incredible to think that one can create a good little film with just a laptop these days. Anyway, we finished the film and went into town to the internet cafe, only to find that it was going to take over 8 hours to upload at the snail’s pace broadband speed in the cafe… had we fallen at the last hurdle?! It was already 7pm on Sunday night and with time running out we had a frantic flap around town, eventually ending up back at the small restaurant that Fran had suggested in the first place (doh!) and there the speed was good, (phew). Still it took 2 hours and we munched on hamburguesas watching loud mexican TV. The restaurant probably wanted to close, but they were hosting a private party upstairs and very graciously kept it open for us until the deed was done. At 11pm we trudged back up the hill back home, a good days work done. You can see the video here.
The following weekend Angeles came back from DF with her sister Diana and we ate comida at the almost impossibly brightly coloured restaurant in town called Los Colorines. We ate traditional mexican dishes in the large pink veranda along with many other Mexican diners – Tepoztlan is a very popular weekend destination for people from the city. Afterwards Angeles took us up into the hills in her bright yellow 4×4 to meet her friends Debora and Martha. Debora is a fellow architect and has just finished building a small house for Martha a mile or two out of the town. We drove up and up and then off on to a bumpy track eventually coming up to a big metal gate, a hoot and then Debora and Martha appeared to greet us, all smiles and welcoming, “Bienvenidos, bienvenidos!” We were led through the yard past a watchful dog with her brood of new puppies to a small house perched on the edge of the hill. Excitedly smiling, Martha led us through the little hallway into the living room and the most amazing view we’d ever seen. Taking our breath away and bringing tears to our eyes, the vista opened out past the terrace to a vast sweeping green plain surrounded by verdant craggy mountains. The quality of silence was incredible and as we sat on the terrace sipping our wine, the conversation slowed to stillness as we gave in to the quiet, bathing in the almost supernatural peace of the place.
Debora showed us around the lot next door where she is going to build another house and we talked of eco-building and rain-water collection and the sheer beauty of the site. They were obviously very happy to be there and very proud of their hilltop home, and we were very jealous! Reluctantly we said our goodbyes and drove back to the town dreaming of owning a place like that.
We had another week in which we sampled various delights including Fran being pummeled by a 6 foot mexican masseur, some very good German sausage at The Mango, a German run bar where we saw some good jazz and an acrobatic show to boot, and a look around the convent next to the church, all cool cloisters and colonial charm. Angeles (our guardian angel) came and brought us back to Mexico City for a final night in her apartment before we set of for the TAPO bus station and the next leg – Oaxaca…
See you there!