mad in pursuit travel notes: mexico

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Sunday, 5.2.04: Puebla, Mexico

Meson de la Sacristia, Puebla, MexicoThis is the vacation I was supposed to take in January -- my big transition between being an institutional serf and being an artiste. But my new independent life has been too busy, too much fun to do the planning. Mexico was definitely going to be the destination -- exotic yet familiar. But we had a hard time deciding whether we would enter through Cancún (tropical, water fun) or Mexico City (mountainous, cultural). Jim had an "anything you want, dear" attitude about it. Maybe my energy level was high the day I made the reservations because I opted for the slightly more demanding prospects of the Central Valley, via the Mexico City airport.

The temptation then was to revisit some wonderful old territory -- Mexico City itself (historic and cultural wonderland), Oaxaca city (the perfect artsy hideaway), or the old silver mining towns north of Mexico City (more perfect artsy hideaways). We talked to friends. We studied the guidebooks. We gazed into our crystal goblets.

We finally decided to push ourselves to tackle some new territory.

ItineraryOur itinerary: Puebla (old city of about a million people southeast of Mexico City); Xalapa (university town to the east in the state of Veracruz - a.k.a. Jalapa); then to the ancient ruins of Tajín near the Caribbean coast; and back to Puebla.

Our flights today (through Charlotte NC) were uneventful. Our only hang-up was at Immigration when we arrived. Hundreds of us non-Mexicans had to stand in line, while only 4 of the 12 checkpoints were open. Welcome to a Sunday afternoon in Mexico City.

Jim has been reviewing his Spanish lessons for weeks. I tackled a book of short stories in Spanish on the flight. Thus, we were confident enough in our traveler's Spanish to find the buses and buy our tickets to Puebla. Two hours later, at Puebla's Cuatro Poniente bus station, we grabbed a taxi. Jim assumed his traditional role of following on the map and double-checking the driver's route. There are no meters in taxis here. You agree on the price in advance, so it wasn't like we were afraid of being cheated. But we've found through hard experience that being a taxi driver doesn't guarantee someone knows where he is going or that we have expressed ourselves clearly. Also, while I'm the grand strategist in deciding the shape of our trips, Jim is always the tactician -- the one who gets oriented fast to new territory and can plan the day's route.

About 5:30 P.M. we arrived here at the Mesón de la Sacristía. It is a 250-year-old building, restored with antique fittings and furniture and lots of old artwork. It only has 8 units, on the second story around a courtyard, which contains the restaurant. (Picture above is the view from the doorway of our room.)

Romantic welcome to MexicoSunday night is not a good time to start looking for someplace to eat. Nearly everything closes at 6 P.M. But we were starving and sick of airplane pretzels. We ventured around the block and got caught in a torrential rainstorm. Standing in the doorway of a closing restaurant and art emporium, we spied Celia's Café across the street. It looked open and we made a dash for it.

Celia's was a tiny, family-run place and we were the only customers. Actually, I think it was about to close, but they stayed open for the starving gringos. We plunged into the culture, ordering the local classic of mole poblano. It is chicken with an incredibly intense sauce -- sort of a barbeque sauce with chocolate. We chowed down.

When we got back to the hotel and opened the ancient door to our room, we were amazed. It was lit with dozens of candles. Rose petals had been strewn everywhere, including a heart shape on the bed. There was a bouquet of calla lilies and a basket of fresh fruit.

We are not normally candle people. Fear of fire in our crowded townhouse trumps our sense of romance. However, tonight, in our airy room with stone floors we will sleep to the flicker of candlelight and the fragrance of fresh flowers.




Mesón de la Sacristía Reservations can be made through Expedia.


5.2.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.3.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.4.04 Puebla, Mexico

5.5.04 Xalapa, Mexico

5.6.04 Xalapa, Mexico

5.7.04 Papantla, Mexico

5.8.04 Papantla, Mexico

5.9.04 Papantla to Puebla, Mexico