A little over six weeks ago I found myself far away from home in Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico.
The journey was fairly straightforward: a direct flight from San Francisco to Mexico City, followed by a comfortable Estrella Roja charter bus to my final destination.
In fact, I didn’t even have to leave the airport in Mexico City. I merely walked to the baggage claim, tightened the straps of my backpack, and wandered down a few escalators towards a sign that read “autobuses.”
Thirty minutes into the bus ride was when the sun decided to disappear beneath the hills of Mexican earth.
I harbored an abundance of fears about doing a trip to Mexico alone, but at the same time, I knew it was something that I wanted to prove to myself.
A wave of doubt about my decision to come here swelled immediately upon exiting the Estrella Roja bus at 11pm.
I’d need to find Hostal Leonara, and since I only had a random address scribbled onto a piece of paper and no available WIFI I was a little nervous. I didn’t know where in the city this bus station was situated, nor how far away I’d need to travel in order to check-in to the hostal.
Exiting the bus I was guided to a taxi ticket kiosk, and from there all my worries started to alleviate.
Behind the glass, a station employee casually asked me where I needed to go. Exhaling, I read off the address that I had written on the piece of paper. He quoted from his computer a price for a taxi, I accepted without knowing if I had just ripped myself off, and minutes later a white sedan pulled up with the guy in the window telling me to hop in.
With no idea about navigating through this new city and new country, I put my faith in this person to get me to Hostal Leonora.
Inside something told me that this wasn’t a wrong choice, and in the end, my intuition was right.
Jesus, my driver, was really friendly and gave me some rough ideas of things to see in Puebla. Before midnight I was already settled and ready to see what this city had to offer.
My trip in total was going to last eight days. The original plan in my mind was to see Puebla for three or four nights, then return to the capital and explore Mexico City before flying back to the US.
In the end, the only site in Mexico City that I visited was its airport.
Puebla surprised me in many ways, partly in thanks to my lack of researching, but also because of many other reasons. I ended up staying the entire length of my vacation in Puebla and in some of its neighboring towns. Despite wanting to also see Mexico City, my intuition was again telling me that it was the right decision.
I feel really happy with the experience there and the list you’re about to read is why I think you should add Puebla to your list of future travel destinations.
The Cities’ History:
The very first thing that struck me as interesting about the city of Puebla was its origins. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1531, a bishop named Julián Garcés claimed to have visions of angels coming from the heavens, pointing to a piece of fertile land to lay the foundation to a city that would be considered at the time to be “Utopia.” Built on an expansive network of gridded cobblestone streets, Puebla for this reason originally donned the name “Puebla de Los Angéles.” Fast forward to 1816, after Mexico’s eventual independence from Spain, Puebla would be the setting for one of the most important events in the countries’ history. An outnumbered Mexican army defeated a powerful invading French force, halting an attempt by Napoleon III to expand his empire. The French were considered the most powerful empire on Earth at the time, and this defeat not only led to their retreat from Mexico, but it led to their empire’s eventual decline. The celebration of this historic victory is held on the 5th of May each year (Cinco de Mayo).
I came to Puebla to eat as much as humanly possible, and one item that danced with my taste buds was Mole Poblano. This is a sauce that has multiple variations throughout Mexico. In Puebla, there are twenty ingredients used, most notably chocolate. I tried a plate of oven roasted chicken topped with a dense, rich Mole and needless to say I was smitten. If you add some other typical Puebla dishes into the mix such as chilaquiles, tacos árabes, pozoles, and cemitas and you’ll find yourself in dietary zen.
The agave plant is famous for being fermented to create delicious tequila and mezcal. However, by fermenting the sap of this plant that’s native to Mexico, a milk-colored beverage called Pulque can be created. Its flavor is slightly sour, but many places where you can try this alcoholic beverage (pulquerías) offer assortments that come blended with different kinds of fruit to alter the flavor. The Aztecs considered this to be the “drink of the gods” and even though it didn’t originate in Puebla, I got to try it for the first time in a town that’s a short bus ride away from the city center: Cholula.
I didn’t know what a “Pueblo Magíco” was until taking a bus ride to nearby Cholula. A “Pueblo Magíco” is a Mexican town that has managed to preserve its unique culture, or at the very least maintains a strong fixture of its lengthy past. In total the country offers 111 options for travelers to embrace the vibrant history of Mexico, and Cholula happened to me my first. The claims to fame for Cholula are its 365 churches, fun nightlife, bohemian vibes, and great pyramid that sits in the town’s epicenter. Even though in modern times this pyramid now shares the appearance of a massive grassy hill with a yellow-painted Spanish church constructed upon its summit, it used to be a mythical center before the arrival of the Spanish. I spent a rain drizzled afternoon drinking Pulque here and then returned for a night of dancing with some great people who offered to show me around.
Los Murales de Xanenetla
There’s a neighborhood in Puebla that has an embattled past. Built in 1551, it’s famous for three things: It was one of Puebla’s original neighborhoods, it also was for decades one of the cities’ most dangerous to live (in the 1990’s) , and nowadays people say that Xanenetla is in its own way an open-air gallery of art. After years of crime, gangs, and delinquency, Xanenetla slowly found itself as the staging ground of a monumental citywide rescue to prevent this historic neighborhood from falling into irresolvable insecurity. A nationwide project entitled “Mural City” was created by an organization called Colectivo Tomate (Tomato Collective) as an effort to use the act of painting murals on faded walls of buildings of troubled neighborhoods in Mexico as a medium to create bonds between artists and communities. Xanetetla was included in this effort, and since then there has been a growing sense of community in the neighborhood, making it the most unique, vibrant, and visually stimulating in the city of Puebla. 75 murals can be found in Xanenetla; each paint the history of Puebla, its struggles, social issues, and elements of pride. The neighborhood slowly became a destination for tourists and has over time erased the dangerous reputation that is once carried on its shoulders.
There’s a lot more I could say about Puebla, however I feel that this post is starting to get too long. There are more interesting buildings, corners, and sites to discover in this wonderful city so if you ever want to know more then feel free to ask me! I also feel that only the surfaced was scratched here, so hopefully one day a second visit will be able to happen in the not so distant future. This experience wouldn’t have been complete without the generous help of some very special people who took time to help me out, show me around, and give me a truly great tour of their home city. I feel grateful for all the help that Fred, Caro, Alberto, Sol, Edison, Aldo, Jasmine, and Nayeli offered me. I wouldn’t have met these people without the help of Couchsurfing.
Have you been to Mexico? Where are some places you’d recommend? I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading my blog, have a great day!