Cholula... Hot and Saucy
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
I was up early, sorting through stuff for my morning ritual. I gathered the bike from the secure parking lot and as I was loading up, a young man coming down the street spotted the moto, running over to me and speaking excitedly. We miscommunicated a bit, but he was very excited to see a motorcycle traveler. He was all smiles and happily pointed me the way to Tula's Toltec archaeological pyramid site.
When I arrived at the pyramids, the parking lot was empty. Four or five tour guides ran down the steps towards me, but I waved and said “No, gracias!”. As I locked my helmet and jacket to the bike, a very old man showed up out of nowhere. He appeared to be mute, and pointed at the bike as if to say he would watch over it for me. I nodded "yes" and watched him as he shuffled away, barely able to walk, much less stand. He was so old and teetering that I’m not sure he could do much more than fall over if someone tried to mess with my motorcycle, but at least he could tell me that it had been stolen. Well, actually, since he couldn't speak I guess he couldn't really tell me either.
It was early enough in the morning that the ubiquitous souvenir vendors who lined sections of the official walkway were still setting up. I'd caught them off guard and they weren’t quite up to speed yet, so I made it through with little harassment. Sometimes by the time you've made it through, it feels as if you'd run the gauntlet of a frat boy hazing.
The walk led through dry, dusty paths and thorn bushes until the ruins could be seen. Working my way through some exhibits, I passed between pyramids until the vista of the current city of Tula lay before me from the high place of the temples. The pyramid site was small in comparison to say, Teotihuacan, but was quite impressive.
The ruins on the hilltop above Tula really give a sense of the past and the highly developed culture that was there. Though the site is smaller and much less crowded than Teotihuacan, in many ways I felt it offered a more accessible experience than larger sites and gave time to imagine the past. I recommend it if you are near the area.
The tall, carved stone columns of Toltec warriors that remained from the temple atop the pyramid were impressive, as were the views of the countryside.
The early morning temperature had been 45º Farenheit, but by the time I got into the site it was getting toasty and I was looking for shade as the temperatures soared. The walk back to the main entrance was dry and hot and I was sweating as I trundled past flowering trees and thorn bushes on the paths. Upon returning to the bike, the old man had evidently spotted me coming and made his way over. He stood proudly by the motorcycle and my 10 peso tip made him smile from ear-to-ear. One never knows what is an appropriate tip in Mexico, and often what seems very small to me is too much - or so I've been told by other travelers.
My destination for the evening was the town of Cholula, engulfed by the swell of the larger city of Puebla. It was roughly 3 hours south on the high speed tollway, the "Arco Norte", that bypasses Mexico City to Puebla. It was a nice ride in the cool temperatures of high elevations and the scenery was good, especially for a tollway. I was warned to be sure and keep the ticket spit from the machine as you enter the tollway, as that ticket determines what you will pay upon exit. One gets so many receipts from the tollways that you typically stuff them anywhere until you find a trash can, but in this case if you lose this ticket it's expensive.
The ride was high speed and enjoyable, listening to Glass Animals through my Etymotics ear buds and dodging the occasional pothole on the otherwise pristine tollway, threading the needle between the crawling semi-trucks filling both lanes on the hills and watching the rearview mirrors for the autobahn-fast drivers on the inside lane.
AirBnb had led me to a relatively inexpensive room in the downtown section of Cholula. The address deposited me in front of a small restaurant and I was concerned I'd come to the wrong place. Noise from the street faded slowly as I made my way through the narrow hallway, stepping into a peaceful and pretty courtyard of a cafe. A young man named Edgar welcomed me with a big smile and in English told me to sit while he finished something in the kitchen. They were preparing the evening meal for the restaurant and I could hear voices and commotion through the little window of the kitchen area.
As I soon learned, the family restaurant had fresh food cooked by his mother, and in the front portion of the building they also rented simple rooms. I'd gone without food that day and arriving at 4 pm I was very hungry. His mother was still in the kitchen and she sensed my hunger I guess, sending out an early evening meal to my table. It came in courses, fresh baked bread with a smokey hot sauce, then homemade cream vegetable soup with shredded chicken, followed by pasta with cream sauce and cheese, followed by the main course of stewed chicken and vegetables with buttered mashed potatoes! It was by far the largest meal I'd ever had in Mexico, and by the time it was over I was miserable but happy! They then brought dessert, which was fresh cantaloupe slices in a rich cream with assorted chopped nuts. I dutifully finished it... in order not to offend... of course. The bill for the entire meal was 50 pesos. That’s only $2.80 in US dollars! Crazy.
After the delicious meal and some relaxation in the tiny room, I decided to explore a little though the skies were threatening rain. Cholula was busy as I rode around in afternoon traffic. The heavy overcast killed any chance of decent photography and parking in the city was very difficult. I'd hoped to walk around shooting pics but it didn't happen.
Cholula is an interesting town, replete with a huge, ancient pyramid in the center of town, partially uncovered and supposedly with miles of underground tunnels. The Spanish had built a huge church on the top of a high hill, not realizing there was an ancient pyramid buried beneath.
As I tried to find my way back through the one-way streets to my room for the night, I ended up on a desolate industrial street only to see two photographers on the sidewalk photographing a girl.
They waved for me to pass, but I couldn't resist pulling over to watch. Their subject was a teenage girl and the main shooter was having her repeatedly jump and pose in front of a mural and some graffiti.
When they finished they wandered over to speak with me. The girl spoke a little bit of English and we had fun talking. She had just turned 15 and for her quinceañera her uncle had given her a photo shoot. He also happened to be the main photographer. They were intrigued about the bike and my trip, and excited to hear my feelings about Mexico. They wanted pictures by the bike and afterward we exchanged information. It was a fun and unexpected moment!
I arrived back at the restaurant/room to find mama and the girls watering all the plants and cleaning the floors extensively. They are a very happy family with lots of laughter. As I finish writing this, I have heard them laughing and talking and singing songs together for hours. And I think that is what I enjoy about Mexico the most… the joy of life that I find sprinkled across the land.