Packing it in once again, this third day in Puebla began with breakfast once again at Hotel Royalty (yes, we like it) and then a stroll around the Zocalo toward the Museo Amparo. I had arranged with our taxi driver earlier this morning to pick us up at the Zocalo at 1 p.m. and take us to Cholula where there is an archeological site and some remarkable churches. The Museo Amparo has an outstanding pre-Hispanic art collection, stone carvings, Mayan stele, ceramics, jewelry, funerary objects, and traditional European 17th and 18th century home furnishings fitting the Spanish nobility that settled the city. A lovely gift shop of Mexican handcrafts, a coffee shop/cafe, and a retail shop for Talavera de la Reyna that makes produces some of the highest quality pottery in town can also be found. A Diego Rivera portrait of Sra. Amparo graces the lobby space of what was once her majestic home. An exhibit of the work of contemporary Mexican artist Betsabee Romero captured our attention, especially the tires carved in Aztec patterns and then used to print designs on cloth. We spent about two hours browsing through the galleries. At noon, Sam and Tom decided to stroll around the Zocalo while I caught a taxi to the Uriarte Talavera gallery and factory at 4 Poniente 911 at Calle 11 Norte. I promised to be back at the Zocalo by 1 p.m. for our taxi trip to Cholula and I was!
I wanted to see for myself if there was indeed a distinction in quality between the work we saw yesterday strolling the Parian district and this pottery house that has been touted as one of the best in Puebla. Indeed, Uriarte Talavera is of exceptional quality and also carries the mark DO4. And, the prices reflect this. Pieces of equivalent size were double the cost of what we saw previously. But, I discovered the two rooms with the “seconds” which were marked down 50 percent from the original price. Okay, there were flaws. The glazes weren’t even or ran and blurred or skipped. Maybe the foot was imperfect or a piece had a missing lid. In hunting through the piles of plates, soup bowls, sinks, serving pieces, demitasse cups and mugs, I managed to find some treasures where the flaws were barely noticeable if at all. I found one lovely large globe handsomely painted in varying shades of deep and light blue, the glazes thick and juicy that distinguish fine Talavera, and made the purchase. Original price, 650 pesos, sold to me for 325 pesos. Now, it was 12:45 p.m. and I stepped out in front of the shop, hopped in a taxi seconds later, and easily made it to the Zocalo for the 1 p.m. reunion with minutes to spare.
We had negotiated a 90 pesos taxi fare to Cholula and it took a good 30 minutes to get there. We are finding that taxi fares in Puebla are more reasonable than in Oaxaca, but we have seen very few European visitors during this trip, also unlike Oaxaca, where there is a mix of travelers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Cholula’s main attraction is the Mixteca archeological site that was once a pyramid like those we see in Oaxaca however, without the fine detail. However, this one is unique in that there are tunnels running up, down and sideways throughout the interior of this structure. Walking through the tunnel after paying the 35 pesos admission fee made me wonder what would happen if there was an earthquake (Puebla has frequent quakes). The walls are narrow and the ceilings are low, shaped like a pointed vault. We twisted and snaked through the underground passageways for at least 30-40 minutes before seeing daylight.
The other attraction is the extraordinary church built over this pyramid, something the Spanish did repeatedly to lure indigenous people to the new religion. To get there is like taking a stairmaster to the sky. I must have stopped 10 times to catch my breath as I climbed nearly vertical stairs to the top. But the effort was well worth it. The gilded sanctuary is remarkable and behind it lies another smaller sanctuary (don’t miss it, it’s a gem) totally covered in gold leaf with stained glass windows of cherubs. The 360 degree views of Puebla and the valley are spectacular from this vantage point far above the town, and I could see the curl of steam coming out from the Popo volcano in the not too far distance. I spent a good 45 minutes at the top before going down. Otherwise, Cholula is a small market town, as much as I could see, with vendors selling candies, Guatemalan textiles, knock-off Talavera, and cheap jewelry. Worth a half a day if you have the time.
Our taxi driver returned to pick us up exactly at 5:30 p.m. as arranged, and by 6:00 p.m. we were sitting under the arcade of the Hotel Royalty. Corona for Tom, margarita for Sam, and a mojito for me. We each had our own huge bowl of guacamole and chips for dinner, and now adequately zonked, we headed back to the hotel for R&R.
The commotion, hubbub, honking, cacaphony of music, noise, traffic and rush of people is beginning to overwhelm me, and I’m now ready to get back to Teotitlan del Valle for a shiatsu massage with Annie, the comfort of the Zapotec countryside and village life. Four days in Puebla is definitely enough for me.