Posted by Leo Schwartz – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU
Mexico City epitomizes the urban sprawl: endless avenues more traffic than pavement, Russian doll neighborhoods boomeranging between high-end condos and lower-class housing, waves of smog rolling through the dry lake bed. In other words, every clichéd piece of language one could use to describe a mega-city. Having been here for five weeks (just kidding…I’m doing this blog post on time, two weeks after I arrived), I needed an escape from the city. Luckily, a couple friends were headed for a trip to Tepoztlán, one of the towns with the coveted “pueblo mágico” designation in the bordering state of Morelos, and for the sake of my sanity and my respiratory system, I eagerly tagged along. As my thesis is still being reported out—and of course includes some top-secret bombshells that I’m keeping closely under wraps—I’m writing a travelogue (I apologize).
To avoid the crowds, we met at the southern transportation hub of Tasqueña bright and early: 7 am. Mexico City—CDMX, DF, whatever you want to call it these days—is as worthy of the distinction “the city that never sleeps” as New York, with a much more robust informal economy of street stands hawking pretty much anything you could want at any hour. We hopped on a bus and headed out of the city, steadily climbing in altitude as early-morning fog shaded the surrounding mountain ranges and volcanos (which I was assured were not active) with an ethereal glow.
We were dropped at a terminal in Tepoztlán on the outer reaches of town, and slowly made our way in through the cobble stone streets as shops (tortillerías and temazcales) shuddered awake, getting ready to serve the wave of tourists of which we were the heralds. After a breakfast of huevos divorciados (one egg with salsa verde, one with salsa roja, over a bed of tortillas), we made our way up the local attraction—a trail snaking up the mountain range abutting the pueblo, up an endless string of rock stairs and scrambles through the high altitude that my lungs had still not fully accustomed to (or maybe I’m just eating too many huaraches). Eventually, we ended up at a pyramid at the top, dedicated to Tepoztēcatl, the Aztec god of pulque, with a stunning view of the surrounding valley.
We made our way down, a more treacherous route because of the early-morning dampness and stream of pilgrims (tourists?), but eventually landed back in Tepoztlán. As the well-trained anthropologist/historian that I am thanks to CLACS, I had to fully understand the significance of the archeological site we had just digested. So, as was our academic duty, we headed to the first pulque spot we could.
Pulque, an alcoholic concoction made from the fermented sap of maguey, could generously be described as an intoxicating smoothie, and could pejoratively be described as a mucus-y slime. I’d err more toward the former, especially when flavored with mango or passionfruit. It’s a drink best enjoyed communally at an egalitarian pulquería, which is what we did, seated on low stools at 11 am, passing around a clay jug filled with beverage worthy of schlepping countless tons of stone up a mountain face to build a pyramid. At least the Aztec architects weren’t dealing with tourists.