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Tepoztlan: chakras, crystals and Carnavale

sunny 23 °C

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Oh yes, Tepoztlan is a Pueblo Magico - how could it not be? Tepoztlan is reputed to have mystical powers; drawing deep from its origins 1200 years ago as the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent god. Although it is just 80 km. from Mexico City, this small town exudes an other-worldliness. Climbing up steep hills and surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, Tepoztlan possesses a physical autonomy that has allowed it to retain its strong Nahuatl culture. That energy and mysticism has also attracted a New Age crowd that has brought with it vegetarian restaurants and health food stores, crystals, tarot and yoga. The combination of the two creates an intriguing mix.

Some of our first impressions of that magic:

Many doors (and even a few car grilles) have these crosses - remnants of their September 28th ritual. Small flowers called perote are fashioned into crosses to ward off death and bad luck. On the night of the 28th, the devil is thought to be free to roam, looking for victims. Crosses are hung to protect inhabitants from an unwelcome visit; by midnight September 29th, the threat is over, but the flowers remain ... just in case.

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Temazcal is traditionally a sweat lodge, or steam bath - this main-street spa is one of many in town offering various massages and treatments. It would be tempting, but for the Zamfir-ish pan flute music wafting from most of them. Also, rather comically, in a country where cash prevails, these temples of serenity are happy to accept Visa and MasterCard.

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Welcome to your new addiction! So says the Psychedelic Art Studio, where you can add an Aztec serpent to your tattoo collection.

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Om Sweet Om - zen bread and pastries

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We checked into the sweet Posada Sarita - a welcoming small inn with spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the pool and gardens. It is located on the edge of town, which provides us with several blocks of cardio-blasting hills to walk up into the centre, and blessed relief from the noise of the Carnavale (more on that later).

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One of the dominant features of Tepoztlan is the Piramide Tepzteco - a 10-metre pyramid that is completely unremarkable, but for the fact that is it perched high above the town, at the very top of a sheer cliff about 400 metres above the town. As is the case with so many other archaeological sites in Mexico, the wonder lies in the fact that it was built at all. By the time we climbed up, we were tuckered out. The idea that as pyramid-builders, we would then have to spend the rest of the day hauling boulders, and piling rocks was unfathomable. How did they do it?

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To access this pyramid, you must climb a very steep path, some of it stairs, but much of it rock, and most of it mercifully in shade. It is a 2.5 km. climb, which the sign warned would be "strenuous". It started off easily enough - the two of us pointing out various things to one another and stopping for water and bird-watching. The path then turned vertical, and our shared adventure turned into individual struggles of aching legs, bursting lungs and sheer will-power to get to the top. Not to make this sound like the Ironman, but it felt like an achievement and I was very gratified to see young people gasping for breath as well. Still, we were passed on the way up by a trim and energetic woman in her 50s who assured us we were just 10 minutes from the top (we weren't - it was another half-hour). We still hadn't reached the summit as she waved on her way down.

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This was the view we climbed up for - just stunning. It still took us an hour to climb down again, but it was a much easier go.

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Tepoztlan is divided into eight barrios, each one signified by their chapel or church. Our barrio, San Jose, has a modest white chapel, and a marker at the main intersection. This was our touchstone each night to let us know we were almost home.

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Two more Tepoztlan churches

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La Parroquia de la Navidad - the main cathedral off the zocalo, with an ex-convent and museum attached. Unfortunately,
because of Carnevale, they were closed for the weekend.

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The entranceway gate to this cathedral is quite magnificent - complex designs of significant symbols - each one a mosaic done in seeds and beans.

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I got a huge kick watching this little girl administer the holy water. At first she dabbed a little on her forehead, and then once her father had his back turned to help her grandmother, she started splashing great gobs of water on her face.

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Just outside the cathedral a bizarre scene was taking place. A couple of tables had been set up, with gross banners showing the insides of people's ears, and all the ugliness that goes on in there. Participants were invited to rest their heads on pillows, and have a tin tray with a burning candle arranged over their ear - for free! I'm not sure how it works, but I guess a tiny drop of melted wax would drip into the ear canal. I wasn't comfortable taking a photo, so I'll leave it to you to imagine that scene.

As we walked back out, Stephen spied this crew having a good gab safely outside the church gates.

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People-watching and blink-and-you-miss-them moments are such a big part of Mexico. Sunday is a day of rest for many and
friends and families have time to visit.

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Just outside our lunch table window, this little boy was having a grand time killing off the enemy, incognito.

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A big part of opening up businesses in the morning involves sweeping and washing the sidewalk and pavement, in a valiant effort to banish
dust, garbage, and bio deposits.

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Feeding the tortilla habit. There are grills in every market where fresh tortilla dough is pounded, shaped and cooked, but I had never seen such an impressive pile of dough before and asked these shy young women for permission to take a photo.

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TripAdvisor is usually a reliable source for recommending sites to visit, but they missed by a mile with this one. The Centro Cultural Pedro Lopez Elias
was listed as #4 of 11 Things to Do - the photos looked beautiful and the time required for a visit was 2-3 hours. I could not find this listed anywhere else, and it was not on our little guidebook, but off we went, in search of more cultura. It was supposed to be a half hour walk on the outskirts of town, but we gave up after 20 minutes and grabbed a taxi. The Centro Cultural Pedro Lopez Elias is an outstanding building on beautiful grounds, but it's main function is a library and event centre, so unless we sat down to read, our visit time wouldn't last more than 15 minutes.

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Still, it gave us the chance to walk back to town through countryside and past some of Tepoztlan's finer homes. We think they were finer because they had gorgeous doorways,luscious landscaping and tantalizing little peeks into what might lie behind their 10-foot walls.

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Once we saw the narrow streets, adobe construction and colourful banners, we knew we were close.

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Carnavale! We had no idea we would be arriving during Mexico's version of Mardi Gras; an event that is huge in Veracruz, Mazatlan and...Tepoztlan! For the five days leading up to Fat Tuesday the zocalo and surrounding main streets are taken over with tents, carnival rides, music, parades, fireworks, and vendors selling every imaginable thing from hair clips to hot dogs wrapped in bacon to pony rides. It is absolute madness for the first three days and then Monday and Tuesday becomes a little more sedate - featuring native dances - which we will unfortunately miss.

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Help us out - is this an ox, a steer? We're not sure, but he was positioned in front of the church for photo ops. Obviously he could not ride safely through the throngs, but for a price, you could have your photo taken sitting astride this beast, which was way more exciting for this father than it was for his little toddler.

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It would appear that many locals are giving up alcohol for Lent, given the amount consumed the past few days - stores piled to the rafters with beer boxes, bars offering 2x1 mojitos, and the streets packed with celebrants carrying portable beverages. We were touched by a display on the side of a municipal building - several drawings by kids voicing their desire for an alcohol-free Carnavale.

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No visit to Tepoztlan is complete without a visit to Tepoznieves - an ice cream emporium with over 200 flavours - including such esoteric flavours as carrot with chile, rose water, and tamarind. The ice cream was pure heaven - and the decor was half the fun.

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Finalmente! We will leave you with a memorable image of Carnavale and of Tepoztlan - a performance by Batala - Tepoz' own percussion/dance band. We were having our lunch in a restaurant, when the group around us began applying makeup, hauling out their drums and readying themselves for their performance.

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Perfect timing - we finished our lunch just as they began their show.

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Thanks for working your way through this looong post - I worked on this while Stephen watched the Super Bowl and I just kept going. Tepoztlan is a place we could have stayed much longer. Must be something in the air.

We're off to Mexico City tomorrow for at least a week, maybe longer - so much to see and do there. Talk to you soon!

Posted by millerburr 16:46 Archived in Mexico

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Comments

So good to learn about Tepoztlan. I've wanted to go there since I learned about it from some friends in Canada.
You've been all over the place while we've been on the beach in lovely Mazunte and are now back in Oaxaca.

by Nicola Ross

We want to thank you Gin. Your posts are like a visit through the most amazing on line National Geographic expose, but even better because it is more personal.

by Virginia

I was there, but many years ago...I know we did not climb up to the pyramid! Certainly I'd remember that. You've whetted my appetite again to return to this lovely pueblo. Gracias! :)

by Marilyn Horn

That's a must go there! I think we'd all love Tepoztlan. Love your posts! Carol

by Carol Martin

Reading your post was much more interesting than watching the Super Bowl, in my opinion - especially since you happened to be there during Carnavale! How memorable! Looking forward to hearing about you adventures in Mexico City!

by Heather Scott

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