Mexican countryside

Mexican countryside

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Volcano Road

No, it isn´t always cloudy, foggy or rainy in Jalapa.  On Monday morning, when we left the city, the sun was shining.

However, clouds were already starting to form.  El Pico de Orizaba, the snow-covered volcano which is Mexico's highest peak, was already shrouded in clouds.  However, unlike our trip from Mexico City to Jalapa a couple days before, on our return we had views of the other volcanos which line the route.  As we left Jalapa and climbed through the Sierra Madre mountains, we had a good view of El Cofre de Perote.

El Cofre de Perote is an extinct volcano and is the eight highest mountain in Mexico.  The word "cofre" means coffer and refers to the box-like outcropping at the peak.

We soon reached the "altiplano", the high, semi-arid plateau of central Mexico.  This plateau is far from flat however, because it is crossed by the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt.  Even many of the smaller mountains here are obviously of volcanic origen.

When we entered the state of Tlaxcala the mountain named La Malinche came into view.

La Malinche is a inactive volcano which last erupted about 3100 years ago.  With an elevation of 14,500 feet, it is the sixth highest mountain in Mexico.

After passing La Malinche, two of the country's most famous peaks came into sight... Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, often referred to as Popo and Izta.

At just over 18,000 feet in elevation, Popo (to the left) is the second highest peak in Mexico.  For half a century the volcano had been dormant, but starting in 1991 activity has increased with eruptions of gas, ash, steam, rocks and even occasional lava.   Smoke constantly emanates from the crater.  

Izta, "the White Lady" is a dormant volcano.  With an elevation of more than 17,000 feet, it is Mexico's third highest mountain.  According to Aztec mythology Popo and Izta were star-crossed lovers... you might say the Romeo and Juliet of pre-Hispanic Mexico.  The gods turned them into mountains so that they would be side by side for all eternity.  

Just beyond the two volcanos is Mexico City.  Our journey was coming to an end. 

Not So Magical Coatepec

From Xico we traveled a short distance to another "Pueblo Mágico", the town of Coatepec, the "coffee capital of Mexico".  The town is filled with picturesque architecture and in 2008 it was named a "Magic Town" for its unique atmosphere.  Unfortunately the town is a victim of its own success.  On a Sunday afternoon, it seemed as if every family in Jalapa (just five miles away) was here on a weekend outing.  

As we approached the center of town, the traffic was bumper to bumper.  We got out of the car while Javier parked at a parking garage.  The town square was jammed with people.  It was beyond lively... it was a zoo.

We stopped at a café facing the plaza which is owned by "Bola de Oro", the best known brand of coffee from Coatepec.  

However our visit to the sidewalk café was not the relaxing experience it should have been.  There was a stage set up on the plaza, and a rock band was playing at full volume.  To add to the cacophony, a street musician decided to serenade the café, playing the guitar and singing at the top of his lungs.  His voice was less than melodic, and we wanted to give him some coins just to get rid of him.  After the would-be Caruso left, I thought that perhaps we might be able to converse, but then the street vendors came to our table one after another.  I usually take vendors in stride, but I was beginning to lose my patience.  My responses of "No, gracias," were taking on a tone of irritation.  

After we finished at the café, we left the hubbub around the plaza, and Coatepec's charms and why it had been chosen as a "Pueblo Mágico" became more apparent.  There is much lovely architecture.

San Jerónimo is the town´s principal church.

The old houses are built in Spanish style, and have wide eaves to protect passersby from the frequent rain.

  The 19th century Church of Guadalupe is fanciful inside and out.

So, my advice to any visitor, is to come to Coatepec on a weekday when the town is quieter and when you can better appreciate its atmosphere.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Magical Xico

After visiting the botanical gardens in Jalapa on Sunday morning, Irma's nephew Javier then drove us to the town of Xico about ten miles to the south of Jalapa.  In 2011 Xico was designated as a "Pueblo Mágico" (Magic Town), a designation given to towns of unique picturesqueness and cultural importance by the federal government.

Javier parked the car along one of the streets and we walked to the center of town.  Under the arcade facing the main plaza, there were vendors selling local handicrafts.

The specialty of the area seems to be carved wood.  I bought a wooden yo-yo for Alejandro's nephew from this fellow.

These wall plaques of fruits and flowers carved from wood were beautiful.  They were very tempting, but I have already bought too many handicrafts.  I did, however, buy a little wooden magnet for the refrigerator.

This gentleman was selling candies similar to marzipan made from peanuts.

The town's principal church is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

July 22nd, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene, marks Xico's main fiesta, and many of the decorations from the festival were still in place.  At the entrance to the church there was still a large decoration covering the central façade made from agave leaves.

The interior of the church is quite beautiful, but was even more fanciful with the fiesta decorations still in place.

These metal sculptures with the name of the town have became very popular throughout the country, and have become a popular spot for visitors to take photos.

(photo taken by a friendly tourist)

Women from Chiapas were selling embroidered blouses on the plaza.

From the church we headed down the town's principal street.

Many of the buildings still had decorations from last month's fiesta.

We went to a traditional restaurant called "El Mesón Xiqueño" for our afternoon dinner.  It is located in an old house with a central patio filled with lush vegetation.  

At first we thought that these beautiful flowers in the patio were orchids, but they are a vining plant called "flor de verano" (summer flower).

This macaw has been a resident of the patio for decades.

Not only was the setting lovely, but the food was delicious.  I ordered chicken in "mole xiqueño", one of the specialties of the town.  Three of our group ordered a meat plate that was advertised as serving two or three.  In fact, there was plenty for four or five, and Javier and I also got to sample it.

After dinner it was time to move on to another "magic town" located outside of Jalapa... Coatepec, the center of the coffee industry in the state of Veracruz.

The Flowers of Jalapa

On Sunday morning Irma, her nephew, and his wife came to the hotel to pick us up for a full day of sightseeing in environs of Jalapa.  Our first stop was the Francisco Javier Clavijero Botanical Garden on the edge of the city.  The botanical garden is part of a much larger park which preserves a tract of fog forest, the most biodiverse but also most threatened ecosystem in Mexico.

We did not hike the trails into the forest, but contented ourselves with walking around the botanical gardens.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Jalapa is known as the "flower garden of Mexico", and the botanical garden certainly had its share of beautiful flowers.

We were not the only ones enjoying the flowers.  There were plenty of butterflies drawn to the blossoms.