Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thoughts from Mountains and Towers

"When I am tired or sad, I look to the hills that surround us. I speak to them and they answer me and in this way we pass the day together, the mountains and I. I climb to the summit and I cry for the hills to help us or defend us, and that they don't leave us all alone. And finally they answer me." - Tepozteco testimonial

Tepoztlán was the nurturing, relaxing, and fulfilling break I needed. With such delicious new foods to try, a knee-cramping hike, a quaint yet vibrant atmosphere, and breathtaking natural landscapes, Tepoztlán is everything that I love about Mexico.

Despite being a popular tourist destination to nationals and foreigners alike, Tepoztlán still exudes a small-town charm that I can’t help but attribute to the people. Everyone we met was so nice! And not just in that superficial “if you buy something from my souvenir shop I’ll be nice to you” way, but rather the way where “if you ask me any question I will go out of my way to help you even if you are not giving me anything in return.”
 Good Friday procession in Tepoztlán 

 Tourists in the market-filled streets of Tepoztlán 

 Some uplifting graffiti (Smile, it's free)

 Tasting itacates (corn flour shaped into triangles and fried with nopales (cactus) and a rainbow of spicy salsas

The juxtaposition of pre-hispanic and post-hispanic culture in Tepoztlán especially fascinated me. Somber Good Friday processions filled the streets upon our arrival while old men in shops no larger than closets sold pulque (a fermented pre-hispanic drink), made from the same recipe their grandfathers had used before them.

 Light plays on the archways of the ex-monastery in Tepoztlán 

 The view from a window of the monastery. This monastery was home to only those in the order who were ill because the fresh air and serene landscape was good for the healing process.

But the mountains and sharp cliffs surrounding Tepoztlán stole the scene. From every street corner, window, and store, the view of these majestic cliffs never failed to take my breath away. At the top of one of the highest peaks sits the Tepozteco pyramid built to honor the god of pulque (that fermented drink I mentioned earlier). The climb to the top seemed like a simple enough task: at the start of the trail my friend and I looked like some of the most prepared people setting out for the hike. Among us were elderly grandmas wearing slip-on shoes, stylish couples in sandals, toddlers and puppies. But the mountain soon weeded out the ill-prepared and wary, and took its toll on the rest of us.

 Beautiful scenery along the start of the hike. Seemingly innocent and inviting.

 Happy nature selfie at what we thought was halfway but turned out to be just 1/4 of the way up.

 Sitting in the roots of one of the most amazing trees.

Single file climbing. Up a gorge. Casual.

When we reached the top about 2.5 hours later, it was certainly an accomplishment. At first I looked at all of the people sitting on top of the pyramid under the scorching sun like they were crazy. It was only until I sat down on the stone ledge of the pyramid and saw the incredible view  stretched out endlessly in front of me that I realized why people sat there getting sunburnt for so long. The cliffs shot up from the hills like great stone giants, the tiny roofs of the town nestled between them. Black vultures gracefully circled above the scene, seemingly admiring it as we were. 

 Floating on top of the world while sitting on the pyramid ledge.

Sitting atop that pyramid I couldn’t help but want to talk to the mountains, just like the locals have done for centuries, to thank them for giving me this precious moment of peace and awe after such a tiring climb.

 The view from the top of Tepozteco.

The next morning, my friend and I woke up to roosters crowing and decided to watch the sunrise from our hotel’s roof. I was enchanted by the simultaneous glow of pink peering over the mountains in the distance and the chorus of birds that welcomed the sun back into the sky. When I got back to my apartment in the city later that day, the first thing I did was sit on the roof of my building to admire the sunset before I began to unpack everything. And I realized something. There was a chorus of chirping birds wishing the sun farewell here in the city just like they had serenaded it hello in Tepoztlán.  I have always found nature to be a very healing presence for me, and had been feeling suffocated in such a large, cement-laden city. Yet there is so much nature right here. I went to Parque Bicentenario this week as well, just a thirty minute metro ride away from my apartment, and immediately fell in love with its grassy fields, replicas of various ecosystems, reflection pools, and winding pathways. 

The sunrise over Tepoztlán 
The sunset from my roof in Mexico City

 Enjoying grass in Parque Bicentenario

 Medusa-like maguey and agave plants in Parque Bicentenario

Despite its hectic urban nature, Mexico City has stolen my heart. I recently realized this while admiring it from the “mirador” atop the Torre Latinoamericana in the city center. The sprawling, concrete jungle of chaos looked so peaceful and inviting from so high up. I could see my street and my neighborhood that I have come to call home. The beautifully illuminated Alameda Park, with paths so white they seemed to glow, lay next to the ornate Palacio de Bellas Artes, where I had led a Meetup group through a public art display a few months ago. The Zocalo city center (closed currently due to the filming of the newest Bond movie) was merely a dark square outlined by stately government buildings off in the distance: it was where I visited when I first came to this city as a tourist, not knowing I would call it my home two years later. Insurgentes, one of the largest roads in the city, appeared a giant artery of red break lights, where I take the Metrobus to visit family to the north and south. Chapultepec Park was a sea of dark greens and blues, where I have gone for walks and bike rides with new friends. The skyline of shiny silvery skyscrapers north of the park was Polanco, where I first learned my way around the city, traveling from meeting to meeting on my own. The lights along the mountains at the far edge of the skyline were from offices in Santa Fe, where I have worked with a variety of entrepreneurs. And beyond the shadowy mountains that rim the bowl of the valley, was the rest of Mexico, some places known but others yet to be explored. I was overcome by a wave of love and appreciation for a city and country that have shown me so much and that still have so much more to teach me.

 The view of the Torre Latinoamericana from the entrance of the MUNAL museum

 Mexico City from above (La Alameda and el Palacio de Bellas Artes)

Relaxed and rejuvenated after my Holy Week vacation, I am eager to dive back into work at Endeavor:  to meet new entrepreneurs, continue developing friendships, and see what my last three months in Mexico have in store.

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