Saturday, October 11, 2008


Last weekend Chris and I took a trip to Taxco. We had a wonderful time.

Taxco is a small town 90 minutes south of Cuernavaca, most famous for its silver. In the anthologies of Mexican travelogues I have been reading Taxco is always written about as part of ¨the tourist route,¨ part of the highway that leads from Mexico City through Cuernavaca that goes straight on to Acapulco on the Pacific coast.

You would think this would make Taxco obnoxiously touristy, something like Niagra Falls, a natural wonder gone McDonaldized. But Taxco, somehow, is not like that at all. Sure, there are plenty of sops to tourists: There are clearly tourist-oriented markets selling all manner of traditional Mexican arts and crafts; there are lots of hotels and restaurants (including an extraordinary number of pizza places) in Taxco, most with English (i.e. tourist) signs and menus available. Yet Taxco retains an incredibly tranquil aura. How can I say this without hyperbole? I can´t. Taxco is an otherworldly place, one of the most beautiful and most peaceful places in all of God´s creation that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. (Hey, I warned you about the hyperbole. With Taxco, you just can´t avoid it!)

We stayed in a hotel called Los Arcos (the Arches), a place that in centuries past was a monastery, but now just gets by as an amazingly gorgeous but impossibly simple place to spend the night. To picture Los Arcos you have to drop all images of chain hotels and picture a rustic brick structure with courtyards open to the sky, arches (of course), fountains (including my favorite, a fountain of a stone monkey peeing - hee hee) and staircases like something out of an M.C. Escher painting. Our room was up a little staircase in a private corner; when we looked out the window we looked out first over a foreground of the town´s red roofs and white buildings and then a backdrop of the deep green mountains of the state of Guerrero. On the roof of the hotel was a terrace that offered an even better, 360-degree view of the picturesque town and its mountains. The terrace was complete with - get this - hammocks. For all of this we paid about what we would pay at a Motel 6 in the States.

The town of Taxco is not just in the mountains, it is on a mountain, its white buildings and red roofs (by public ordinance, I believe) clinging to the side of a mountain like barnacles on a ship. Most of the streets in Taxco - cobblestone all (did I mention the place is picturesque?) - slope sharply; we got our relaxation at Los Arcos and our exercise climbing the streets. From a distance, as the bus winds arounds the preceding mountains on its way to Taxco, you can see the whole town on the mountain (of course at this point your jaw drops to the floor) and right smack dab in the middle of the town is a church the color of reddish dirt, rising above everything else, the tallest building in the town.

When you get up close to the church, you can see that despite its reddish dirt color it is impossibly detailed in a churrigueresque style. Its building was funded almost entirely by Jose de la Borda, the first to discover silver in Taxco and the first to become wealthy beyond his dreams through silver. But Borda poured his wealth into the building of this church, so that a famous saying developed in Taxco: ¨God gives to Borda, and Borda gives to God.¨ The church was built in the 1750s, filling me with amazement once again that these churches were built before the United States was born. Of course, we have colonial churches in the United States, too, but because nearly all -ok, all - of these old Mexican cathedrals and basilicas and parroquias are Roman Catholic, they have a completely different feel to them, much more European but with the decided indigenous and independent influence of the American continents. The town of Taxco is old, too. We have colonial towns in the United States, to be sure, but the town of Taxco is even older than these. It was founded by the Aztecs, though of course it looked much different then. The Spaniards incorporated it in 1539 - nearly 70 years before the founding of Jamestown. At times like this it always becomes clear to me that despite being so close to the United States, Mexico really is a very different reality. (Just to be clear, all of you multinational chain stores and restaurants coming to invade: That difference is a good thing. Viva la differencia!)

This church, the Parroquia of Santa Prisca, sits on one side of the zocalo (city center). Like the zocalo in Cuernavaca, in the center there is a garden with a gazebo in the middle of it. Most of the rest of the buildings surrounding the zocalo are either small restaurants and cafes or silver shops. Nearly every restaurant features second-floor balconies that look out over the town and the mountains. At one of these places we were waited on by a dude who within seconds recognized my Cubs hat - apparently he was originally from Chicago, but moved to Taxco when the rents got too high. Good call.

Being famous for silver, there is, of course, lots and lots and lots of silver jewelry for sale in fancy shops and - thank goodness - in hundreds more bargain stands in hidden and not-so-hidden markets. But there are other markets, too, with small stands selling painted wooden jaguar masks complete with gleaming white teeth (yikes!) and brightly painted ceramic jars and colorful hanging mobiles with shapes of pajaritos (birds), pesces (fish), and sandias (watermelons, the fruit that features all three national colors of Mexico). Sometimes they paint these right next to the stand, so you can see the work in progress. All of the crafts sell for a fraction of the price they go for at the craft market in our ritzy neighborhood of San Angel in Mexico City. You could probably bargain them down even lower - sometimes, if you deliberate over something long enough, the seller with start the bargaining for you - but the handcrafts already cost so little and so many of the people selling them are so obviously poor that in most places we haven´t used our fledgling bargaining skills much. (Shopping report: Chris bought a wall decoration of a sun made out of a coconut after the woman selling it brought down the price by 20 pesos before Chris could say a word, I bought a wooden mask of a midnight blue wolf that haunted me from the minute I saw it.)

At night we wandered out to the zocalo, within easy walking distance from our hotel. I was intent on having a margarita at Berta´s, the Taxco bar where the margarita was (supposedly) invented. But we arrived to find Berta´s closed - apparently there were to be elections on Sunday, which meant alcohol sales stopped after 8pm Saturday night. Sigh. So we got ice cream instead, and people-watched in the always people-full zocalo. Little kids ran and played tag with each other, teenage couples sat awkwardly on first dates, old men sat and talked politics. After awhile we wandered back to our room and laid out on the rooftop hammocks for awhile.

Ah, Taxco. Did I mention we had a wonderful time?

1 comment:

From Michigan with Love said...

But did they leave the light on for you!? :-)