It’s been awhile – two months, more-or-less, since I last posted about my life in Mexico. I returned to Mexico from the U.S. three weeks ago, determined to make 2014 a great year. I was also determined to take better advantage than I did in 2013 of living in Mexico City to visit places of interest surrounding the metropolis.
I’ve held true to my word so far, and took a day trip two Saturdays ago to Tequisquiapan, a “Pueblo Mágico” (magical town) two hours north of el DF. I enjoyed the company of Monroy, a good friend and enthusiastic Chilanga who, as it happens, has a car. I met her at 8 a.m. near where she lived in the Polanco district of Mexico City, and we were on our way.
Tequisquiapan, or Tequis for short, is a 500-year-old colonial town in southeast Querétaro state. It began as a quiet Otomi village but gained prominence – and size – after Mexico started cultivating the grapes that grow in the region. Today it thrives almost solely as a tourist town, with its pink parroquia (parish church), adjacent Plaza Principal, multi-block artisans’ market, and annual National Wine and Cheese Fair being among its chief drawcards.
Central Mexico is rich with colonial cities big and small, and Tequis is one such place. Shutterbug that I am, I was in my glory from almost the moment we pulled into town, snapping pic after pic of the aforementioned sites as well as various street scenes, balconies, painted doorways, and the requisite bougainvillea. If ever Monroy was annoyed by all this, she never batted an eye.
It was chilly when we arrived Tequis at a little past 10 a.m., but breakfast was the order of the day. We guessed – correctly – that the temperature would increase by the time we finished eating. Two giant tamales and five cups of coffee later, we hit the streets. Although I first thought Monroy wanted to go to Tequis simply to bask in my presense (ha!), it turns out that she was re-decorating her apartment and was looking for just the right craftwork to accentuate her new furniture. Off we went to the market, which (for me) was a photographer’s delight and (for her) a bargain hunter’s paradise.
Monroy purchased a few tchotchkes from the market, and I bought something as well – a rain stick, carved out of dried cactus and painted with an “Atlante de Tula” warrior figure. If you’ve spent any time in Latin America, you’ve almost certainly seen these rain sticks – they’re filled with beads or beans which, when the stick is shaken, mimic the sound of rain. A perfect stress reliever!
We made our way to one of the main streets at the touristic center of Tequis. Otomi women sat on blankets – always in the shade, children by their sides – selling colorful dolls, wooden mushrooms, and other lovingly-made handicrafts. The street was lined with high-end furniture and craft stores – think Pier One Imports, with everything hecho en México. I was reminded of Tlaquepaque, that wonderful outskirt of Guadalajara where I bought my first guitar in 2011.
After depositing our purchases (and coats, which we no longer needed) in Monroy’s car, we continued our exploration of Tequis. The population today exceeds 25,000, which I suppose stretches the definition of “small town.” That said, the streets are charmingly narrow and the center is perfectly compact. We stepped into the pink sandstone church, but didn’t linger long, as a bautismo (baptism) was being performed in one of the side chapels. A children’s train ran a circuit around Plaza Principal. The square, which fronts the church, is in turn fronted by a leafy park; however the park was fenced off for renovations. As such, the train’s circuit was essentially cut in half. This shortened route didn’t seem to stop the children from enjoying it, however.
By now it was mid-afternoon and Monroy suggested a respite from the hot sun at a favorite local spot: Cilantro y Perejil (Cilantro and Parsley). The restaurant was perched above a series of colonnades that led towards the main plaza, so the view was great. Even greater were the sopes – thick fried flour tortillas topped with refried beans, cheese, and lettuce. I ordered one but ended up having two (same with the beer.) The restaurant hired a three-person band to play for its patrons, but the band’s mellow sound was drowned out by a marimba player on street level below. He played for tips. Monroy tossed him a few coins from above, and, satisfied, he moved on. I hope this act of propina wasn’t dispiriting to the band hired by the restaurant; they were good sports and never stopped smiling.
I’ve read that Tequis once attracted Mexicans from miles around to bathe their weary bones in any number of balnearios (hot springs). However, overpopulation and other factors have caused many of these springs to dry up. Today, most balnearios are closer to San Miguel de Allende, 117 kilometers away. Closer to Tequis is Peña de Bernal, a vaguely-pyramidal rock formation that is said to give off a sort of spiritual energy. Peña de Bernal is featured prominently on postcards and tourist maps for Quéretaro State, though I have yet to see it firsthand. Hopefully soon.
Above pic: pedestrian street in the compact town center.
Below pic: Otomi woman, half-in and half-out of the shadows, knitting. The wool sarapes and hats that she presumably knitted herself are usually a staple of colder climes, such as Cuzco, Peru.
Above pic: How’d you like to live here?
Below pic: Typical façade of colonial architecture – brightly-colored door and window frames stand out from neutral-colored walls.
Above pic: Monroy and the Gringo in front of the parish church of Tequisquiapan.
Below pic: One example of the fine stained glass of the church.