When a half-day is three days long

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Given that I am not a long-duration traveller, I usually read about the places I want to visit and plan ahead so that I know exactly how long to stay there. But sometimes these calculations, based on other people’s opinions (guidebooks or blogs), are way off – obviously because different things appeal to us. Take Taxco, Guerrero for example: Originally intended to be a half-day stopover, I was caught unprepared as this little town charmed me into staying there for three days.

↑ Narrow cobblestone streets and noisy beetle taxis that zoom up and down the steep slopes.

It all started when I impulsively got off the bus in the middle of the beautiful Sierra Norte mountain ranges before Taxco. The view of the mountains as they were being lit up by the rising sun plunged me into an introspective, albeit blissful mode. Eventually, a combi (mini van) stopped to pick me up and as it snaked through winding roads to the outskirts of the town, the smile on my face widened.

Scattered across a number of hills in the middle of a long chain of mountains, Taxco was a silver mining town in the 16th century that reached its zenith under the Spanish colonialists. The silver from here reached as far as the Philippines. Now the silver is gone but one can find endless rows of stores selling expensive silver jewelery and weekend markets bustling with cheaper bargains but impressive work nevertheless. With the exception of one main (noisy and dusty) road in the corner of the town, the rest of the place has small cobblestone streets with medium to steep slopes. The town has somewhat of a touristic feel to it, yet it thankfully maintains a delicate balance lest it convert to a tourist trap.

I enjoy small towns like this – their uneven terrain and irregular street layout evokes a fuzzy sense of being free from flat grid-lined cities. Be it a skyscraper in a small Himalayan town or the absence of electricity in an Andean village or an old structure I see someday on my future Crete holidays, I can’t remember ever being let down. Every time I hiked up a street and turned around a corner, I found something new and unexpected, like a little chapel or a girl selling handicrafts or a lane full of fruit vendors.

↑ Taxco and its neighbourhood alleys. Most lanes are one way streets.

By the time I hiked to the highest point in Taxco, I realised that it was almost the end of the day. Predictably, statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the entire valley. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to reach up there but then the route was very pretty and very confusing (good luck asking for directions). The whole city is neatly preserved 17th or 18th century colonial Spanish town with a plaza here and a fountain there. From the top, the soaring twin belfries of Templo de Santa Prisca appear to overwhelm the otherwise little buildings and houses around the town. The walls of most buildings are whitewashed while the roofs are dark reddish brown. From the highest point, the town looks like an artist’s canvass – reddish white with deep blue sky and brown-green mountains around.

↑ Pinkish-red Cathedral of St. Prisca with decorated bell towers and facade where the Fiesta de San Sebastian was held the next day

Meanwhile the planner in me had already been efficient. Thanks to couchsurfing, and by the time I got back to town, I had a place to crash and an invitation for a party.

My couchsurfing host was one of the sweetest persons I had met. The next morning he gave me a tour of the town on his scooter. It was kinda scary but fun to sit at the back, grabbing the seat, tensing my legs and hoping I wouldn’t fall while the scooter sped through the steep slopes. I indulged in a lavish huevos rancheros breakfast, ate pork tacos at a stall operated by a big transsexual lady, followed by a large serving of panqué (pound cake). On the last day I took an excursion to the Cacahuamilpa caves to checkout the wonders inside the earth.

Over drinks, with some newly made acquaintances, my host spoke wisely about his life philosophy:
“If I were to die today, I want to die as a happy man.”

Cheeziee! Nothing that I hadn’t heard before but as we sat on a rooftop patio, overlooking the town which was turning bright orange at sunset on that crisp evening, drinking our palomas, never did the words make more sense. It’s funny what alcohol does to you, eh?

Pozole

↑ Rojo (red) Pozole stew and Tostadas

Pozole, meaning ‘foamy’, is a ritually significant traditional stew that has been around since the Aztecs. It has corn, pork or chicken and gravy made from chili peppers and garnish – lots of it. In Taxco, its customary to have Pozole on Thursdays. My host took me to a restaurant and after eating posole for the first time, my love for Mexican food doubled.

Taxco didn’t have an a-list tourist sight such as a grand museum or a Mexican pyramid or a colonial clock tower, but more often than not, it’s more pleasurable to “feel” a place than to “see” it… isn’t it?

Have you found yourself in such situations before? And how long did you end up staying in that place?

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery