Change in Cholula
It is interesting how quickly we get used to new situations. Only about six weeks ago, I was sitting in my living room in Los Angeles, panicking about our crazy decision to depart on this trip. THE TRIP. Erdem and I had planned and talked about it since the very beginning of our relationship about two years ago. One warm night in May 2012, during the super moon so big it was illuminating the night, he timidly took my hand and admitted he dreams of going to South America with me. That was certainly the most effective pick up line I’ve ever been subjected to, and so a friendship turned into a romance, and two years later, here we are: two happy campers half way through Mexico on our way South to see the penguins (or whatever else we may or may not encounter in Patagonia).
I remember though, when the time had come to leave our friends, our jobs, and most of our belongings behind, my whole system went into panic mode. This act of un-settling, was unsettling to say the least. But now, after a few weeks, I can barely remember anything else. Of course we miss our friends and family, but the road has given us a great sense of satisfaction for the small things in life. Being able to cook a delicious meal in our small pressure cooker turns into a celebration. Receiving a tiny travel hair dryer made me brake out into a dance of joy. We’re slowly learning how to find familiarity in the unfamiliar. How to feel at home in places we don’t know.
In the beginning we were looking for familiar things to soothe us, but even the roads, the cows, and the trees look so different in Mexico it’s a lost battle. I cringed at the sight of people sitting in the back of cars, or men walking along the highway, military driving around with guys standing up in the back, and even cars with tinted windows. Unfamiliar sights made me very nervous. And now, half way through Mexico, it slowly starts to feel familiar. While at the same time, it feels like we’re about to get out of North America. There are noticeably fewer mega super markets, more indigenous people, the food has changed, there are constant town celebrations, and people are so friendly, it’s a joy.
A few things although have admittetly become a bit too familiar during this time, like the Mexican cuisine. After six weeks of traveling in Mexico, Oaxaca (wəˈhɑːkə) has come as a pleasant surprise on the culinary front. Being a little “tacoed-out” (we know Mexican food doesn’t only consist of tacos, but, no offense, even the variations start to taste awfully similar when you’re spoiled by Los Angeles standards where you can eat Korean, Ethiopian, and Thai food all in the same day), we escaped to pizza orgies and home cooked meals for a while. In this state of mild culinary despair, even a grasshopper in chili and lime becomes a pleasant change to the palette. But more about that later…
The first indication that things are changing as we are moving South towards Oaxaca, came about in Cholula/Puebla, a town believed to be home to 365 churches, although we went to visit only two of them, so those are the only ones we know exist for sure.
The town has interesting outskirts and a colourful little center.
One of the two churches we visited, was San Francisco de Acatepec, a colourful piece of Baroque architecture covered with Talavera tiles. This unusually playful facade had haunted me since my Mexican art history class a few years ago and I was looking forward to visit. Strangely this was one of the only buildings I remembered from that class.
The inside of the church is similarly playful and plastered with countless angels, the Guadalupe of course, and definitely too much gold. We were smiling at the over-abundance of angel faces, and later discovered an endearing similarity to the people we saw in the streets.
The outside is decorated with nice illustrations and ornamented tiles. (Puebla is home to this specific form of Talavera pottery.)
These kids were playing outside and made it a game to ask us to take their picture so their could then watch the display and see themselves. People have been extremely friendly everywhere in Mexico and despite the fact that the girl almost strangled her brother to get a picture taken, the kids were really nice as well.
The second church we visited was built on what used to be a pyramid. This Great Pyramid, also called Tlachihualtepetl (to give you an idea of what a native language like Nahuatl may sound like), is/was one of the largest pyramids in the world, now mostly covered by a hill, with the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on top.
We walked around, through, and on top of the pyramid. A girl who was touring the pyramid with her father gave us a little talk about the history of it.
Feeding ourselves with amaranth candy to make it up the stairs, we found an interesting view over the city, once on top.
We particularly enjoyed the view over a junk yard.
And as a reward for making it all the way back down we treated ourselves to a handful of delicious grasshoppers.
As delicious as they may be, the grasshoppers were not quite nutritious enough so we proceeded to try Mole Poblano, a specialty of Puebla, which includes a sauce made of all kinds of spices and chocolate.
We also tried this chocolate drink at the local town square, which the women make in these ceramic pots. It seems to be cacao, and sugar whisked in cold water and tastes funny when you only know hot chocolate.
Our desert was our favourite. I think it’s a sweet potato cooked in sugar water with condensed milk on top. But as we’ve learned from our little guy in the Archeology Museum in Mexico City: WHAT DO I KNOW?
We had a fun night at the campground with Jen and Sam who were on their way back home from a big Mexico round trip, and we continued South towards Oaxaca the next morning.
We enjoyed the ever changing landscape as we were driving through the mountains, and passed our time taking pictures of semi-amusing but certainly dangerous driving manoeuvres. Some Mexicans drive like they have no worry in the world. This truck seriously took a chance overtaking uphill as the road is curving to the left.
We are currently in Oaxaca doing more culinary research and becoming a bit too cosy and familiar with this inspiring place. More about our travels will follow when we get our asses back up to hit the road…