Have you ever heard of a city called “Cow horns” or something like that? There is a beautiful city only about 80 km from Mexico City, on the way to the Pacific Ocean, called Cuernavaca.
Who thought of calling it that way? Are there many cows around? No, no cows. It was the way the Spaniards in the 16th century understood the name of the Aztec town which was called “Cuauhnáhuac”. This means “by the woods” in náhuatl, the language mostly spoken in the central part of Mexico and that had extended to the South of the country reaching even Central America.
Cuernavaca is known for its fabulous weather, never cold, never too hot, because of its privileged situation. It lies at about 1510 m above sea level. That’s why in the 19th Century Alexander von Humboldt called it the “city of eternal Spring”.
Last week we went on a short trip to stay there for a long weekend. The highway to Cuernavaca is usually very crowded on the weekends so we decided to leave in the early Friday afternoon making a stop at “Three Marys ” or the real name “Tres Marías” at about 3500 m above sea level. This stop is almost a must for everyone traveling that highway. There are hundreds of small booths, or mini-restaurants offering all kinds of Mexican delicacies served in tortillas or in other specialties made of corn flour. We ordered delicious quesadillas filled with cheese, the classical version and that’s why they are called that way. You may also order others filled with potatoes, beans, chicharrón that is “roasted pig skin”, a very hot sauce and fresh avocado. I promise, if you don’t know what “chicharrón” is, try it, you’ll love it.
After our break we continued on the highway to Cuernavaca. The highway is one of the best in the area and, without consideration of some of the not so experienced drivers, you’ll feel quite safe. Mexicans are very brave, proud and family loving. They won’t hesitate taking their whole family, including the parrot and the dog, to spend a warm and sunny weekend in Cuernavaca. They also have a deep faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron virgin of Mexico, and counting on her help, they will drive their old cars with almost no brakes… Don’t be afraid, there are emergency lanes in the highways surrounding Mexico city especially marked as “Emergency route for cars with no breaks” =:-O
On the other hand you’ll find some of the Mexicans on the other side of the wealth scale driving their powerful German cars or motorcycles. I always think that the Virgin always has to be very busy…
An hour or so later we arrived with no problem to our destination, a nice neighborhood South of Cuernavaca and we spent the afternoon by the pool with a perfect view of the valley.
On the next morning after an excellent breakfast at home we drove downtown. My brother was a little bit afraid of our sightseeing tour because there have been some violent incidents in the city in the past year. However, we decided to go anyway as it was during the day, not by night.
Our first stop was at the “Palacio de Cortés” that is now the Museum of the State of Morelos. This magnificent palace was built by Hernán Cortés as one of the official residences of the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, himself, in 1535 and is one of the oldest residencial buildings in colonial Mexico.
The building itself reminded me of the medieval castles in Spain with some characteristics of the Arab architecture. It displays an array of objects from the prehistory to the contemporary rural state of Morelos. The most interesting work to me was the mural painting of Diego Rivera, showing the different stages of the “Conquista” starting from the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors to the Mexican Revolutions with its heroes Emiliano Zapata and José María Morelos. This Mexican state is named after him.
We left the museum with a mixed feeling of proudness and shame, and maybe only my Mexican readers will know what I mean…
We continued walking one of the main streets and entered a recent opened museum for modern Mexican Indian folk art, (Mmmmh, how do I translate this: Museo de arte Indígena Contemporáneo?) It was too new and only the shop and the library were open. What a pity!
We walked to the Cathedral of Cuernavaca, dedicated to the assumption of Mary (la Asunción de María) that was built as a convent in 1537. We were quite shocked with the masses of young people and the food booths in the yard, but what shocked us the most was the pop music that was being played with very loud bass tones.
We walked through the gardens and entered the main building. What a surprise! There are very old wall paintings depicting the missionaries on their ships and boats cruising the ocean to the Americas. We could also appreciate the first “Mexican” cherubs in the walls. The indians had to learn the sculpting techniques used in Europe at that time, 16th century, and decorated the monuments, created in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España), that way. Some of the oldest ones are found here.
However, it is a shame that the Catholic church abuses its power and organizes such big events in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that they are destroying our historical patrimony with their parties. They had extremely loud music with the loudest speakers and sound mixing machines under the arches of the main building making everything vibrate and reverberate, not only our stomachs. Besides that, they also took down a wooden sculpture of a saint with no care, damaging the fragile wooden hands. It is valid to try to engage the youngsters and to give strength to their faith, but aren’t there any other safer places in town?
Worried and fascinated we left the Cathedral to walk to the “Jardínes de la Borda”, a nice house with a magnificent garden with all kinds of flowers and plants of the region. They were originally built by a rich miner José de la Borda of Taxco, the Silver City. This big house with its gardens were used later on as the weekend house of Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium, later of Mexico. Though they couldn’t enjoy their residence for a long time…
It was quite hot and sunny so we decided to take a break and have lunch at a nice restaurant, called Hidalgo, just in front of the museum. I was a little skeptical because very often the eating places close to main attractions are not the best ones. However, I trusted my brother and we went there. It was the best choice we could have made! The food was excellent and we sat outside with a nice view of the Palacio de Cortés and to the small plaza next door. We had the best “sopes” ever! Sopes are made of corn flour, but they are smaller and thicker than tortillas. Some were mixed with black beans and other were mixed with baked banana, simply delicious! We also had some tacos with salmon “pastor style” and as a main course white fish in a mango sauce cooked in a big banana leaf and some tender grilled beef with guacamole. All this with a light rosé Mexican wine. Excellent!
Afterwards we decided not to walk very far, we couldn’t have done it after our meal 😉 We stayed for a while in the plaza with huge trees enjoying the live music, the dancing people, the smells of corn and sweets and the fair that took place there that weekend.
We got home very happy with our tour and continued talking about what we had seen by the pool…