Time for some moon magic! Teotihuacan was one of the places in Mexico that I didn't want to miss. “The Birthplace of the Gods,” with its impressive Sun and Moon Pyramids connected by the Avenue of the Dead. The Leo full moon was coming and with it, a lunar eclipse. I was looking forward to being in a high-vibrational site, filled with so much ancient history, mythology, and mystery, for this cosmic event. Eclipses usher in powerfully transformative energy and I had been wanting to use this time to set new personal intentions.
The sheer size of these pyramids is hard to convey in text, but to say that they are massive is an understatement- with few trees in the vast, dry valley, you can see the two Sun and Moon pyramids from miles and miles away- yet they resemble the landscape enough that one might mistake them for mountains. The climb to the top of the Sun pyramid was a daunting task! Our energetic little Leo was eager to see the view!
The steps were steep and many! In some places, there was a rope to hold for extra assurance, but often, we were relying mostly on our balance and good faith! As we got higher and higher, I began wrestle with visions of one of us falling to our death! It was a longgg way down and I am slightly afraid of heights. And so, in the end, the little prince was the recipient of a very regal piggy-back ride to the top of the Temple. We all rested there catch our breath and take in the majestic views, imagining what this immense complex must have looked like thousands of years ago, in the height of its bustling empire.
Pyramids the world over have been said to align with certain constellations at the time of major cosmic events and planetary shifts. That afternoon, as we sat on the top of the Sun pyramid, on the eve of the Leo full moon, hours from the lunar eclipse- I sat and meditated for a few minutes. I thanked the sun, the most radiant star in our sky, for giving us warmth and light. I asked for guidance and protection. And I prayed that our journey would take us to the soil where our wildest desires could take root and eventually blossom. From the top of this pyramid, I envisioned my intentions being carried up in a precise and focused energetic beam of light pointed straight to the heavens.
And so it shall be, and even better! Full moon blessings to all this Lunar Eclipse!
While looking for cool things to do on our way to Teotihuacan, we somehow stumbled upon the majestic Tolantongo, a mountain oasis offering both commercially-enhanced hot spring pools, and La Gloria, a natural springs, a thermal waterfall, a steam cave and a unique tunnel. This place was amazing. Nothing at all like what we were picturing in our heads, having found reviews using iOverlander (a wireless phone app for overland travel) but no pictures. We imagined a modest hike-in, hike-out hot spring on mostly undeveloped land (we happen to love little places like that) and when we arrived, we realized that it was actually more like a full-scale adventure resort. And one of really fantastic design, I have to admit. It even had a zipline overhead that looked like a lot of fun!
Our journey through the incredibly steep and rugged Sierra Gorda mountains led us to this jaw-dropping canyon. As we descended down the switchbacks, we began to make out what was Tolantongo: the entire side of one jagged rocky cliff planted firmly at the base of a magnificent river valley of warm, minty water.
When we arrived at the gate, we still didn't quite know what to expect. We were allowed to camp overnight in a designated parking area. The reviews for this place were all really good, so we decided to buy a two-day pass, figuring we would enjoy a couple of relaxing days unwinding after such a long day in the truck. We were given a map of the premises and directions to two different areas: the upper thermal pools, and the lower river that led to a natural cascade, grotto, and a tunnel. Since it was after sunset, we opted for the thermal pools, looking forward to soaking our tight muscles. Plus, the temperature at this high elevation was pretty chilly. Nothing sounded better than a hot tub and a cold beer!
We spent that night and the following morning hopping from pool to pool in this cliff-side paradise. There were over 30 individual mineral pools, all of different sizes and temperatures, fed from several sources of volcanically-heated hot mineral springs, all cascading down the edge of this wonderous mountain.
Next, we descended below the pools to what was a massive rope bridge connecting one end of the land to the other, and more thermal pools on the adjacent side. Indiana Jones style. It was a long way down! But what stunning panoramic views! The tops of the mountains were enveloped in mist, and below, various cacti and wild pointsettas were alive with color.
Or... if the bridge is too scary, there is another way to reach the other side: check out this killer tunnel of lava-hot mineral water. Joey has been seriously obsessed with bridges and tunnels ever since our stay here.
The park was quickly flling up with friendly campers and after we arrived, we learned that it was a holiday weekend in Mexico, accounting for a lot more people than usual. Tents were popping up in unlikely corners as families set up for some serious festivities: bbq, coolers, frisbees, soccer balls, acoustic instruments. We decided to go over to the other end of the park to check out the grotto and the steam tunnel before it was too crowded.
The river was a delightfully warm and clear, getting its color from the mineral salts in the limestone. Near the deepest part of this box canyon, you will find the grotto- a huge cave with warm water to about waist high. Already about 100 people were gathered inside and both the echoes of the voices and the sound of the cascade waters tumbling down the porous stone created quite an orchestra of music. Unfortunately, we didn't get any photos of the inside of the grotto. Next time, we will bring a ziplock bag for our camera!
In the picture below, you can make out the entrance to the steam tunnel; a 45 ft deep, narrow opening in the rock. And directly behind us, the opening to the cave. Our three-day stay here at Tolantongo was incredibly rejuvenating. We were so wrinkly after marinating in these powerfully purifying waters. It was like a baptism in nature. Such a special, special place on this planet, and yet again, a place we hope to return to one day.
From Guanajuato, we began to head east toward the state of San Luis Potosi. We were on our way to Las Pozas, a surrealist wonderland in the jungle built by Edward James. In order to get there, we decided to take the most "direct" route, which required traveling through the Biosphere Reserve of the Sierra-Gordas.
The landscape was transforming. As we climbed out of the central valleys, the desert was getting greener and there were more trees. The flat plateaus were coming to jagged points. The elevation was increasing, and the cloudline appeared low. Everything was getting colder and more damp, more heavy, more gray. We were about to drive into a cloud. As we entered the Biosphere, we continued up the only road stretched out before us. We curved along slowly like a serpent. Our vision was fogged past the light of the headlights and what was beyond the road looked like a shadow of gravity with no bottom.
After a few minutes, Mark checked the gps on google maps, and determined we somehow got off the road we were supposed to be on. Since we had no cell service, our gps symbol looked like a tiny blue bubble floating in a green blob of mountains. We didn't even appear to be on a road. We consulted our other atlas' and maps. "No idea," Mark said. "I didn't see any other road. We must have taken a wrong turn in that last town." We were lost in the heavy breath of cloud.
Eventually we came upon a village and saw two guys unloading a truck. We asked them for directions to Xilitla. They sort of chuckled and looked at us like we were crazy, explaining that we were a long way from there, and that we needed to circle around a few mountains to get to the other side. They advised we keep going, through to the next town and from there we could find a way to back to the main road. But the road ahead had become narrow, gravel and heavily potmarked; the last few towns we past showed few signs of the modern economy. We were truly out in the country. A little ways up the road we found a pulloff to a seemingly seldom used bull riding rink or something. We camped here for the night, parked in the cloud, wet and cold. Air temp probably in the low 40s.
We trusted that the directions we were given were correct- even though both the road we were told to take and the town we needed to go through was somehow left off every map we had. "Do these two roads connect?" I asked Mark as we set off into the unknown. "Yes... I hope so," he replied. "Hope..." I mused. "You know, " he elaborated, "Hope in one hand, shit in the other." Gotcha. We are doomed.
Lucky for us, the two roads DID connect, and we were able to find our way to our destination, even though it was not the route we set off on. When we finally made it through this long set of cloud-laced switchbacks through the Biosphere, the fog had settled, and we realized that we were now in a dense, lush rainforest. The air was much warmer here. We had made it to Huasteca! A subtropical rainforest and a land of wise ancient trees covered with twisted vines and soft mosses. Enormous jungle ferns and thick palms. We parked our truck near the entrance of Las Pozas and decided to walk around and stretch our legs. It was too late now to enter the park but we could stay here overnight.
We wandered into a quaint little open-air restaurant across the street where we crossed paths with an adorable little family of three. Joey immediately laid his eyes on a girl his same age and size. Within minutes, they had joined forces and set off persuing some kind of toddler mischief together by sprinkling all the salt shakers on the tables, chasing one another in circles and taking turns throwing papa's hat into the air. We all introduced ourselves and became fast friends, and I distinctly remember Rodolfo saying something super epic- like "we've been waiting for you, guys," something ironic. After a couple of beers, they extended us a very welcoming invitation to park and play on their property.
Around the corner, we found their place- Casa Caracol- a funky, dreamy, trippy little slice of heaven with concrete teepees, bungalows, a tree-house, hammocks, murals, sacred geometry, and more. What an amazing surprise! They gave us a little tour of the property and Nara showed us her room and her cool toys. Then we stayed up late (for us) exploring the sparkly mirrored trails through the gardens and telling stories. Rodolfo bought this property 12 years ago and has been slowly transforming it into this whimsical wonderland ever since. And now Paulina is in the process of completing the studio space where she will soon be hosting yoga retreats.
Such a fun environment with so much to explore. What an inspiring family. Mark and I have dreamed of having our own retreat center like this one day, and this place was so impressive- so full of enchantment and good vibes.
Nara let Jose borrow her cute little bike.
The next afternoon, we all walked over to Las Pozas together. This garden is an 80,000 acre labrynth of unbelieveable sculptures and structures designed by the Surrealist artist Edward James. The name Las Pozas means "the pools," for the gorgeous jade-colored natural waterfall you can bathe in. James spent 35 years dreaming up this totally eccentric and one-of-a-kind jungle fantasy.
Rodolfo and Paulina have been coming here for years, so they know all the secret spots! We got a personal tour to some of their favorites. There were some places that were never completed and they remain mysterious and obscure. Other areas, you CAN climb (this is Mexico- there are no saftely regulations) but I am not sure you would want to- unless you are a passively-suicidal adrenaline junkie- afterall, there are narrow stairways leading to clouds and portals giving yield to optical illusion.
The next day, we entered the small town of Xilitla (pronounced hil-leat-la) looking for a local market where we could buy good-quality organic produce that comes straight from the gardens of the indigenous folks. Somehow, Mark and I ended up separated, and we spent the next couple hours looking for one another in the same 2 block radius, both somehow just missing the other. It was like a dream. Going in circles over and over. I wondered if maybe the unusual flora was emitting some kind of mildly sedating perfume. I told Paulina about having a weird day, and she said "that's just Xilitla. It's a trippy place." And indeed. It was.
A few days of relaxing in our rainforest retreat and we were ready to set sail again. We were grateful to make this connection to our lovely hosts. We bid our new friends goodbye feeling energized and refreshed. I hope that one day we can return to see how much the kiddos have grown, to take a class at Paulina's studio, and see what new magical feature Rodo has dreamed up. I am sure the stars will align again in perfect timing.
Next stop, Tolantango!
In late January, we had made our way north into the state of Guanajuato. We were eager to see what we would find in a city called San Miguel de Allende, famous for it's Baroque and Neo-classical style architecture and popular among visual artists. It was as classy and picturesque as suggested, full of upscale boutiques and fancy restaurants.
I was really in love with all of the warm autumn colors, the mural masterpieces of Bellas Artes, the dream-scape narrow, winding streets with ornate fountains and regal doorways. Visually, I think it must be one of the most romantic cities in Mexico.
In the middle of town, the Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel, you will find the most gorgeous, pale pink neo-gothic cathedral that looks like it belongs in a fairytale.
We walked around admiring the murals at Instituto de Allende and Escuela de Bellas Artes.
Our feelings about San Miguel were conflicted. On the one hand, there is so much beauty. This city looks like a page from a book- pristine and sparkly. But on the other hand, it was a bit too perfect. It didn't have nearly the energy or the soul of other places we have traveled. It had the feeling of a place that was overrun with tourism. There is this wealth disparity that is impossible to look beyond. It is no secret that this town has been "discovered" many international ex-pats (mostly retired and seemingly wealthy) from the US and Canada, and in my opinion, that does tend to strip some of the character from this place's spirit. I much prefer the grittiness, the flavor, and the warmth of other Mexican cities. Although it did make me wonder what this place was like 40 or 50 years ago.
To the west, we headed toward the city of Guanajuato, an old mining town with a very rich history. I sensed that this place would be a bit more authentic feeling. At a point in time, it was one of the wealthiest cities in the West due to its gold and silver mines. It also has a museum to very a unique collection of naturally-made mummies from the 1800s, a city full of twisted alleyways and a labrynth of tunnels, and the birthplace of muralist, Diego Rivera. Fascinating and full of color and life. The kind of place you could explore endlessly.
We were able to camp at the top of the city- a good location with a great view and a lot of exercise climbing the steep (and very uneven) cobble-stone streets. My legs were sore everyday from our citywide strolls.
Lots and lots of dark, scary tunnels to walk and drive through. Mark said that the foundation of this city must be like swiss cheese because of all the mining they have done here. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there is never a serious earthquake!
A tour of the world-famous Valenciana silver mine. This mine is still active, and in 250 years, it has produced 30% of the world's silver. For this reason, Guanajuato is also home to many jewelers and silver artesans.
Nearby, the San Cayetano church- full of ivory, precious hardwoods and metals.
The birthplace of Diego Rivera was a fun museum to visit. This is the actual house he grew up in, filled with a lot of his work from throughout his lifetime, including the very early stuff. Interesting to see the way his style evolved over the years. These life-size paper machete replicas of Diego and Frida made me smile.
Pretty city views.
Rock shops galore. Some really beautiful mineral stones found near the mines here, including quartz, amethyst, calcite, flourite, sun stone, topaz, pyrite, and opal.
Adios, Guanajuato. An interesting region of the world, undoubtedly. We enjoyed checking out these two cities, but we are beyond ready for some nature time to recharge our batteries. Coming up next, a very long, very bumpy road through the mountains to San Luis Potosi.
Next stop, Michoacán: A very lovely state in Western Mexico with its southern border on the Pacific. Early in our travel research, I learned about Michoacán as I discovered the Mariposa Monarcha, or Monarch Butterfly Colony, which returns to this same very special place every winter- a natural phenomena high on my list of things to see. Its capital city, Morelia, was also highly reccommended to us for its well-preserved colonial architecture and unique folkart traditions, like the skeleton "sugar skull" iconography associated with Dia de los Muertos- the Day of the Dead.
Fresh berries from a roadside vendor. I dare say these were the sweetest strawberries I have ever tasted! And they came with this cute basket too.
Bliss! And beautiful views spanning the horizon!
We opted to spend a week outside of a very small and tranquil village called Cuitzeo, one of the pueblos magicos, rather than look for camping in the capital city. Here we found a remote campground overlooking a serene mineral lake, surrounded with nearby hot springs and diverse populations of long-legged water birds. The proprietor, Arturo, was an excellent host, giving us personal tours and sharing with us a lot of his personal insights about Mexico, Michoacán and the quaint village of Cuitzeo, a town where not much has changed in the past decades, where food is grown, and fish are caught, and life is simple and slow, yet rich and full of sincerity.
We (Mark) enjoyed watching the sun rise (Victoria almost never sees the sun rise) and set over the lake, sharing meals with other travelers, and here, we celebrated our wedding anniversary (woohoo, three years!) on the night of the wolf moon, in a setting very reminiscent of the day we were married- simple and sweet with new friends from the world over traveling in a distant land.
Indeed, time moves very slow here. Especially if you are driving behind the herd.
One day, we decided to take the bus into the city of Morelia to do some sight-seeing. Jojo loves public transportation. Buses, collectivos, rick shaw rides... anything with wheels and an engine, this kid goes nuts! What fun!
An amazing city indeed! The architecture is incredible. Everything made of brick and stone, all muted colors, a very old and serious, sophisticated elegance juxtaposed with the artsy, young, even a bit radical culture, which is home to many students. Everywhere you go, you see people carrying instruments and eisles, posters advertising concerts and workshops, open galleries, and weekly manifestacions (student-led protests) which interrupt street traffic.
We walked around the city in our typical fashion, hitting the main plazas, taking turns herding our toddler and, of course, tasting things along the way.
We discovered some delightful new street foods: Gazbacho. Not to be confused with the Gazpacho de Espanola. This is one of those Mexico originals: a combination of pineapple, mango, jicama, and onion, swimming in fresh squeezed mandarin juice, topped with cheese and a drizzle of hot sauce. Sounds weird and it is. But strangely delicious. And it really does taste like gazpacho.
This raw jicama wedge Marco is feasting on is another fabulous little treat, with fresh lime squeezed over the top, sea salt, hot sauce, cotija, and tejin (dried chili) sprinkles- making an interestingly crunchy, somewhat healthy, snack.
Personally, I am a huge supporter of putting hot sauce on fruit. I resisted it for as long as I could! But alas, I have succumbed. Here, all food is just a delivery system for more hot sauce. Amo Mexico!
One afternoon, we departed our cozy spot in Cuitzeo to make the drive to the chilly, high-elevation mountains of the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. I had no idea what I was in for! What a jaw-dropping surpise- these mountains are truly magical. Located in what is called the Trans-Mexican-Volcanic-Belt Pine-Oak forest (is that a mouthful or what?), these peaks are some of the highest in all of Mexico. The panoramic views from the top were awe-inspiring.
We were so excited to see the butterflies! The hike to the top is long and steep, so we decided we had better catch some dream time and turn in early. We were able to camp overnight in the parking lot so that we could wake with the sunrise for the morning trek.
The next day we awoke to the smell of the wood-fired stoves already preparing breakfast for the myriad of tour busses and collectivos arriving in the parking lot. Roosters were crowing and cows were mooing in harmony. Women in the traditional indigenous-style skirts and floral aprons were climbing the steep mountainside with jugs of water and heavy pots and pans. Young women were selling over-flowing cups of blackberries and strawberries. There were textiles with butterfly patterns on display, and hand-crocheted hats and scarves for sale. Children were handing out walking sticks to hikers on the trail.
We were a little bit concerned about the hike, having been told it was very steep, and not knowing if it would be too much for Joey, being that he is only two-and-a-half (almost). There was an option to rent a horse, but we decided against it, figuring that we could always carry him if necessary. Most of the way, there were cement steps leading to the top, with a handrail, so it looked doable, at least for Mark and me. Someone told us it was around 650 steps to the top. Hmmm... that sounds like a lot for my little one. Well, let's give it a try.
Up, up, and away. The hike was easier than anticipated and surprisingly, Joey made it the whole way up without any problems! He must have been pretty excited to see the butterflies we kept telling him about! Interestingly, there are almost no butterflies in sight during the hike. I think we counted like 3. Once at the top, we all rested for a few minutes. I could tell he was very proud of himself- he even asked me to take his picture!
What awaited us beyond was nothing short of pure magic! One of the most whimsical, pure, playful experiences to behold! As we got closer to the colony, more and more butterflies appeared.
Mark took some nice shots.
We had to be very quiet as we appraoched the colonies. As we got closer, we could make out millions, literally millions, of butterflies all fluttering on the branches of a tight circle of trees, all together, as if they were leaves shivering in the breeze. It was miraculous!
These unbelievable butterflies migrate thousands of miles every year from all over Canada and the USA to come right here. What an incredible feat for such a tiny, tiny being. And yet, in the past 15 years, along with the honey bees and many other animal species on earth, the butterfly populations are also threatened. Only about half of the colonies (there were once 12) return every winter. Life is precious. We are all connected in a delicate balance.
And yet, the butterfly spirit is all about embracing transformation, moving through the cycles of life, renewal, and re-birth. Witnessing this tremendous splendor of nature was such a profoundly memorable experience. We are all very grateful to have been able to see this in our lifetime.
We hope to return one day to spend more time in Michoacán.