The view is from an upstairs bedroom at Betty's hideaway. Tepoztlán's jagged cliffs and crags are said to hide the secret birthplace of Quetzalcóatl, the omnipotent plumed serpent god of ancient Mexico. Tepoztlán, just 90 kilometers south of Mexico City, is a popular weekend getaway for harried capitalinos hungry for respite from the big city.
A little while ago, Mexico Cooks!' friend Betty Fussell emailed: "I'll be in Tepoztlán for a few weeks this summer, can you come to visit? Rondi's coming..." Never one to pass up a visit with these marvelous women, I answered instantly: of course! Not only was I eager to spend time with Betty and our mutual friend Rondi Frankel (highly respected wine connoiseur, sommelier, and former public relations director for Monte Xanic winery), I had never been to Tepoztlán. I couldn't imagine better company for my initiation into the mysteries of this enormously popular destination.
We had no sooner arrived and gotten our luggage into the house than we were out the door and up the cobblestone streets to the renowned Tepoztlán Sunday market. Rondi parked the car, we all hopped out--and Tlaloc, the rain god, immediately made his presence felt. What a downpour! We sloshed our way to the market, laughing all the way.
We took temporary refuge from the storm under the lonas (tarps) that almost-but-not-quite cover the outdoor sections of the Tepoztlán Sunday market. While we waited for the downpour to slow, we all devoured delicious esquites--fresh, tender corn (either on or off the cob) simmered in water seasoned with epazote and chile de árbol, then slathered with Tepoztlán's famous crema (thick table cream, very similar to France's creme fraiche), finely grated cheese, and more chile muy picante, this time powdered.
After picking our way down the crowded aisles of the market, we stopped for another bite. It was too late in the day for tlacoyos (a delicious corn dough-based snack)--all of the market fondas were out of the special masa (corn dough) used to prepare them--so we each ordered a quesadilla. Betty and Rondi had theirs with flor de calabaza (squash flower) and I had mine with papas y rajas (potatoes and strips of roasted chile poblano). After finishing our second tidbit of the afternoon, we gave up our near-swim through the market and headed for dry clothes and the warmth of home.
From the 1530s Codice Borboni: a drawing of Tepoztécatl, god of pulque. A whitewashed pyramid built to honor him sits atop the mountain called Tepozteco.
Tepotzlán is legendary home not only to Quetzalcóatl but also to Tepoztécatl, one of the several gods of pulque (Mexico's prehistoric alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of maguey cactus). The town is a land of both mystical and historical significance. Set in rugged mountains nearly 6000 feet above sea level, the area around Tepoztlán is believed to hold deep spiritual powers, concentrated in an energy vortex similar to that said to exist at Taos, New Mexico. Near the town, archeologists have found pottery and other artifacts dating to as early as 1500 BCE.
Today, Tepoztlán is partly a traditional Mexican town and partly a foreign artists' colony. Population is approximately 33,000, swelling enormously as hordes of primarily Mexican tourists arrive for weekends and holidays. Homes ranging from the most humble and tumble-down to the sort featured occasionally in Architectural Digest line the cobblestone streets twisting up and down its hills. Green-leaved sub-tropical trees and glorious flowers create bowers of beauty at every turn.
Local tradition at the Ex-Convento includes a mural on the church's arched entry wall, freshly re-created each year in September by local artists. The mural, made entirely of seeds, depicts symbols of pre-Hispanic history and tradition.
Broken 18th Century bells, removed from the towers at the Ex-Convento de la Natividad. The weight of the bell on the far right is indicated in arobas [sic], a unit of measure equivalent to approximately 15 kilos. Click on any photo for an enlarged view.
We three spent part of a hot, sunny Monday browsing through the street stands and shops in Tepoztlán's central market. Clothing from the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero as well as neighboring Guatemala included Oaxacan and Guatemalan huipiles, regionally-made huaraches, hats, and fine linen or cotton guayaberas from Guatemala for men. As in most of Mexico's tianguis (street markets), merchandise at the market in Tepoztlán ranges from produce and meats to CDs, DVDs, and toys, and from flowers to fondas (food booths serving regional specialties).
The local meat specialty is delicious and hugely popular cecina de Yecapixtla, a type of thinly-sliced beef. The fresh beef is cut from the legs of steers into long, wide, thin strips. The men who train to cut cecina apprentice for as long as two years to learn the correct method. A single beef strip, properly cut, can measure up to 20 meters long. After cutting, the meat is seasoned with salt, allowed to dry slightly in the sun, and rubbed with pork lard. Cooked over a charcoal fire or briefly sautéed in a frying pan, cecina is tender and extremely flavorful. It's commonly served with black beans and crema.
Other local food specialties are tlacoyos and itacates, both of which we left for our next trip to Tepoztlán. There was only so much time and so much room in our stomachs!
Next week: Lunch at El Ciruelo in Tepoztlán, and a relaxing afternoon with the peacocks at Las Mañanitas in Cuernavaca.
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