Have you tried the famous “Pastes” of Pachuca?
↑ Pachuca city at night, viewed from “El mirador,” the lookout point. The clock tower is brightly lit in purple.
Pachuca, the capital of Hidalgo province, is a small city about 1.5 hours north east of Mexico city. The clock tower at the city centre (reloj monumental) is very pretty at night. Lonely planet says the following about Pachuca:
“The charming, brightly painted town center is visible for miles around, although growth in recent years has sadly led to far-from-lovely urban sprawl developing beyond the candy-box houses of the old town.”
My stay in Pachuca was surprising and comfortable since my basic needs (food, clothing and shelter) were met in an unexpectedly wonderful way – my couchsurfing hosts cooked for me, I bought a shirt from a market stall and then I was introduced to ‘Pastes’, the local specialty.
↑ Pastes for breakfast
Pastes are semi-circular turnovers made with pastry crust and are very similar to the Indian baked samosa. These were adapted from the Cornish Pasty, introduced by mining workers from UK. Pastes come with various fillings – sweet or savory. I tried pastes with several fillings: mole verde (green sauce), mole roja (red sauce), pineapple, apple, potatoes and refried beans; my favorite being mole verde and pineapple. I ate as many Pastes (पास्तेस्) in Pachuca as I could…
I thought this was funny: While Pachuca’s markets were full of places selling Pastes, once I got out of this city I found it impossible to find them. In fact, a couple of people I met in Yucatan had never tasted them!
↑ Main market on ave Miguel Hidalgo
Hanging out with CS hosts
I reached Pachuca in the evening, straight from Teotihuacan. It was an unplanned trip and I had nothing with me – no change of clothes, no toiletries, nothing but a camera, bottle of water and a book. I was supposed to arrive the next morning but I thought of taking my chances and calling my couchsurfer host from the bus station. He was surprised to hear me, but fine with the idea of letting me crash the night before.
It was an obviously gay house! I liked how thoughtfully decorated and kept it was, but I felt very embarrassed to walk in covered in a layer of sweat and dust. My hosts pampered me with hospitality though and even cooked dinner for me. After that, we jumped into a car to checkout the places around Pachuca. The first stop was at the lookout point (El Mirador) which carried a glorious description in the guidebook but was quite disappointing in reality. From the mirador, Pachuca looked sprawling, but not flattering at all…, not even when I went there the next afternoon. Ah well, sometimes the places in the guidebooks are hit and miss.
Exploring more of Pachuca city
Most of the attractions of the town are located in the historic center and can be covered on foot. My favorite part was walking in the Mercado Juarez and along the main drag east of the central plaza. I bought things like a shaving razor, soap, a tshirt etc. and ate more Pastes. I also found some beautiful handmade clay mugs – a young lady was sitting at the corner with a number of ceramics spread out on the rug in front of her. The story of the mugs was nothing new – the price of similar items in a souvenir shop at the central plaza was about 200% higher. I felt very satisfied and proud of my accomplishments. Never before had I experienced so much joy for 3.5 dollars.
↑ Central plaza with the clock tower (Reloj monumental de Pachuca).
Streets in the central zone are crowded, especially during rush hour when the mini vans compete with each other on a one lane road. Occasionally there is a dog or two, a beggar or kids who will stare at your camera, but without all that the place would have felt fake. A store was broadcasting English audio lessons on the street, and it was quite funny because before going to Mexico I listened to Spanish audio lesson of a similar format. The first time I walked around there, the tape was teaching how to say numbers in English. When I came back after a while, it was playing this lesson on the speaker:
lección 5: frutas
mango = mango
apple = manzana
orange = naranja
pineapple = piña
…super! That’s how I learnt how to properly ask for a pineapple pastes. 🙂 Earlier, I wanted an apple filling and I had to draw a picture of an apple to illustrate that – much to the amusement of the lady working there!!
So, if yo have time on your hands to spare when you visit Mexico city, do pay a visit to Pachuca. There are a couple of museums and cathedrals in the historic centre, a nice plaza with a clock tower, but nothing extraordinary. The neighbouring El Chico national park is an excellent place to hike and camp. Pachuca is one of those places where you’d go just to ‘feel’ a small Mexican city, relax, walk around and do nothing. 🙂
And if you haven’t already, you should definitely try some Pastes.