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Mexico Travel - Taxco and Cuernavaca
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THIS IS BY FAR THE MOST POPULAR ONE- OR TWO-DAY EXcursion out of Mexico City. If you have the time, don't try to do it in less than two days. People ask me why they cannot go just to Cuernavaca, or just to Taxco if they have only one day and the trip to both is likely to be hurried. The answer is, of course, that either one is too good to miss, and a hurried view of both is preferable to one alone.
There are busses running to both Cuernavaca and Taxco. To Cuernavaca there is a railroad as well, but none to Taxco.
For the hurried traveler, and unfortunately most of us fall into that category, I unhesitatingly recommend that for this trip you avail yourself of one of the organized excursions operated by one of the better travel agencies. If your party consists of four or more people, you may not find this a cheaper method, but it can be done less expensively with a party of less than four. You will save yourself an immense amount of trouble by the organized excursion, and even though you may spend a little more on this trip, the services of the guide who goes along on the trip are well worth the additional expense.
I would advise that on the first day you leave Mexico City fairly early, say around nine o'clock, and drive straight through to Taxco for lunch. Then visit Taxco in the afternoon and spend the night there. Return to Cuernavaca in the morning, lunch there, do your sightseeing, and return comfortably to Mexico City in the afternoon. By scheduling your trip this way, you will have a comfortable drive at a reasonable rate of speed, and sufficient time to absorb as much as the average person can without making a long stay and to arrive back in Mexico City without being completely tired out.
The road from Mexico City to Taxco is a very lovely one, passing through some exquisite mountain scenery. At about kilometer 43 you pass the highest point. Between Cuernavaca and Taxco, the landscape settles into waves of rice fields, and just before you arrive at Taxco, the mountain scenery reaches its peak of loveliness.
Taxco is an old mining town, and one of its great sights is the home of Humboldt, the great scientist who came there about two hundred years ago to do some research on the mineral deposits. The house in which he lived is interesting, not only because of its associations, but because it is a real work of art.
As a matter of fact, the whole town is a work of art. Taxco has been declared a national monument, and no structure may be erected in the town without the permission of the Art Commission, and no building may be put up which does not fit into the landscape, or which might spoil the beauty of the town.
Taxco is seen to best advantage on foot. If you are stopping at the Hotel de la Borda, which is a short distance out of town, you should take your automobile as far as the beginning of the built-up section. And whether or not you are stopping at the Borda, you should visit the shrine on the hill behind this hotel for a view of the old silver mines.
You will find a walk through town fascinating, particularly if you are a camera enthusiast. No matter in which direction you turn your lens in Taxco, there will be a perfect picture in your finder, but in walking, remember to move slowly. You are still 5,600 feet up in the air, and, besides, if you hurry, you run the risk of missing something interesting.
For instance, if you are in a hurry, you might pass up the little church of Veracruz. It is not an especially important church, but it has a fascinating little crucifix which is always kept most properly swathed in a sort of apron of gold cloth.
All along the streets there are stands selling little souvenirs. Sometimes the vendors do not even make an attempt to sell their merchandise, apparently maintaining the business solely for their own diversion. The story is told of a man who asked an Indian vendor what the total stock of his stand was worth, and when he learned that it was $3.50, offered him $10 for the whole thing, just to see what he would do. What the Indian did was to refuse to sell, because if he sold out his stock today, he would have nothing to do tomorrow!
As you stroll along, look over the walls down into the courtyards. You may see workmen making adobe bricks in wooden frames and setting them out into the sun to dry. You may have the luck to see, as I did, a family pig placidly walk through the drying bricks, leaving a footprint in each one, and then the workman throw a baked brick into the pig's ribs with a practiced aim that proved it was a common occurrence. Neither the pig nor the workman seemed to bear one another any malice. The pig just wandered off somewhere, and the workman returned to his work.
The pavements of Taxco are made of small cobblestones, laid in attractive little designs, and almost all the time you will see people sitting around on the sidewalks.
The children of the town have a new racket. On your way into town they will ask you to buy a postcard. If you say "No," they will ask, "Maybe later?" Woe betide you if you say "Yes," for the chances are that on your way out of town the youthful vendors will stop you again to remind you of your promise to buy the cards.
There are also the usual number of shoeshiners. I have never seen a finer piece of work than a boy in Taxco did on a pair of my white shoes. And it cost only 40 centavos, or at the present rate of exchange less than 10 cents.
The plaza at Taxco is tiny, but one of the friendliest places in the world. Although the real market there is held on Sundays, there is a daily market around the plaza, with a great number of stands for souvenirs.
Facing the plaza is the great sight of Taxco, the superb churrigueresque CHURCH constructed by Borda, the founder of the town, and inaccurately called the Cathedral. As a matter of fact, it has never been a cathedral, but it is still a magnificent church. The interior is a mass of solid gold, but succeeds in being beautiful, instead of just ornate, and there are some splendid paintings by Miguel Cabrera. Don't miss this one!
What to Buy in Taxco
There is much to buy in and around Taxco. All around the plaza there are little stores selling SOUVENIRS, such as baskets, little bracelets, and so on.
ZAPATOS, incorrectly called sandals, of excellent make are sold by a little shoemaker on the corner of Cuartel de Alanda. He prides himself on the fact that his merchandise is priced one peso higher per pair than anywhere else in town, and as far as I know, he will not bargain.
Around the corner there is an excellent store for SILVERWARE arid SOUVENIRS, Tlaquepaque, and at El Arte Azteca you will also find a fine stock of them. Silver is sold in several stores, many being good, and Spratling's being famous. The full name of the Spratling store is Taller de las Delicias. Whether or not you wish to buy, the store is interesting, for here under one roof you can see people working at most of the old Mexican handicrafts, in TEXTILES, LEATHER, and WOODWORK. It is an excellent place for HAND-MADE WOOLENS arid SARAPES. And the articles of HAND-WROUGHT SILVER and HANDWROUGHT TIN are exceptional.TINWARE can be found, not only at Spratling's, but in stores extending for a block or more up the street leading from the Borda church past Spratling's.
What to Do in Taxco
Taxco has several excellent hotels. The largest and the newest is the Hotel de la Borda, which is just outside town. There is a silver mine right behind the hotel, but although it operates at night, it did not interfere with my sleep. All in all, I think it is quieter than most hotels in the town proper, where you are generally lulled to sleep by a symphony of barking dogs and braying donkeys.
Equally good is the Rancho Telva, operated by the Wells Fargo Express Company, about which I have heard most enthusiastic reports. The Taxqueno is also under American management, and the little Hotel Los Arcos is charming, home-like, and has an excellent reputation.
The Victoria, which has a commanding position in town, is not considered as good as the others, but it seemed quite all right to me. Several new hotels are being constructed around Taxco, but since they had not been completed at the time I was last there, I naturally have no way of knowing how good they will be.
There are not many things to do in Taxco, except to wander around town-which is plenty. There are pleasant rides back over the hills and, of course, pleasant walks. The Borda Hotel has a swimming pool. There is a small moving picture theater on the plaza, a roof garden at the Taxqueno, and a terrace at the Borda, giving a wonderful view of the town, particularly at night. There are good bars in the better hotels. However, if you are making a short stay, and have had a full day of sightseeing and mountain air, you probably won't be much interested in the evening high life. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you were perfectly content just to go to bed and get the best night's sleep you ever had.
On your way back to Cuernavaca, detour through the little town of PUENTE DE IXTLA. Strictly speaking, there isn't a thing to see here, but it gives you a perfect picture of a Mexican village. Stop at the old bridge for photographs and watch the women washing their clothes in the stream and the little boys swimming a hundred yards upstream along one side of the bridge, while the little girls modestly swim a hundred yards or so downstream along the other side of the bridge.
The RUINS OF XOCHICALCO are reached by a road leaving the main highway at kilometer loo. Only one building has been completely excavated, but it is well worth seeing (if time permits), although it is not so large and perhaps not so interesting as the Pyramids at Teotihuacan. The visit entails a good bit of climbing and walking in the sun. However, if you are an archaeological enthusiast, you will enjoy it. If you aren't, pass it up, and go straight on through to Cuernavaca.
From kilometer 100, if the day is very clear, it is possible to get a view of the peak of Toluca. It is a beautiful mountain, 14,900 feet high, and very rarely covered with snow.
CUERNAVACA, the popular nearby resort for the smart set of Mexico City, is generally crowded on week ends. It can be reached, of course, by bus or train. It is a beautiful city about 5,000 feet up in the air, and while this is not low enough to make it hot, it does make it possible to grow tropical trees and fruit which will not grow at higher altitudes.
The great sight is the CATHEDRAL. This dates from 1529 and is a magnificent example of old Franciscan architecture, with interesting flying buttresses on the main building.
There is a story going the rounds about one of the side chapels of the church. It seems that the construction of the arched roof for the chapel was assigned to some Indian workmen who had not the remotest idea of how such a roof was to be supported. For some reason not explained (and probably if it were explained, it would spoil the story anyway), the good Franciscan fathers merely told the workmen what they wanted built and then went away and left them to do the job. So they built mounds of earth big enough to hold the arched roof of the whole chapel, then laid the roof on the earth, and after the arches were finished, dug the earth out and carted it away again. It's a nice story, even if I don't believe it.
In the Cathedral there is an interesting fresco of a winged Madonna, on the left wall of the great chapel on the right-hand side of the main church as you face the altar. They point this out to you with great pride, because it is one of the only three winged Madonnas in the world. More interesting perhaps is the carving on the door, the work of some Indian artisans who had been rather hurriedly, but perhaps none too thoroughly, converted, for all over the door between the carvings of the saints are carved the signs of the old Aztec Sun God. Apparently, even though converted from the old religion, they still felt that there might be something in it. At any rate, they preferred not to take any chances.
In the same cathedral atrium is an impressive CHAPEL built by the order of Cortes. The churrigueresque altars built in the eighteenth century are splendid works.
The CLOISTER of the Cathedral is that of the first priests' seminary in America, now used as a secular elementary school. The patio behind the seminary is still that of the priests' home.
If you are there on a Sunday, be sure to stay for mass, for it is a most impressive ceremony.
Once you have seen the Cathedral and the chapel, I think you will have fully done your duty by the churches of Cuernavaca. There are more, of course, among others another church built by the great Borda, across the street from the Cathedral, but I really don't think it is worth your while to go inside. On a hill behind the town, excellently seen from the terrace of the Marik Hotel, is perhaps the most photographed church in Mexico, chiefly on account of the placing of two beautiful cypresses in front of the door.
There is an interesting sight opposite the Cathedral which tourists really see. A boarding house, the LA CASONA occupies the building reputed to be the original home of Cortes in Cuernavaca. Whether it is or not, it is an extremely elaborate old house well worth seeing, and the proprietors are kind enough to permit visitors to wander through the patio. The owners are art lovers and have collected many interesting things. On the left, inside the entrance, there is a good bust of Pedro de Gante, who, somewhere between 1523 and 1525, founded the first art school in the Americas. Around the patio are modern black-and-white frescoes with a unique, though uncompleted, crucifixion in the roof. Be sure to see the dining room at the opposite side of the patio. The fountain, so typical of Mexican colonial houses, is a beautiful specimen of carving and tile, and the parapet of the fountain has ingeniously been made into a long dining table!
You will, of course, have to go to CORTES PALACE, not so much to see the palace as to see the view from it and the superb fresco by Rivera which decorates the great staircase. This palace is now the seat of the State Legislature and of the local government offices. It faces the plaza, which is planted with the Indian laurel trees introduced into Mexico by Maximilian. The black-and-white pavement and edging around the flower beds is extremely attractive.
The palace itself was begun at Cortes' order in 1530. From the balcony at the back of the palace, in the opposite direction from the plaza, is one of the loveliest views to be seen in Mexico. The country is very irregular, and consequently the. view is variegated and interesting. You will be able to see, stretching over the hills, the old road to Mexico City, built at Cortes' order. Evidently he knew that a straight line was the shortest distance between two points, for few roads have ever followed a straighter path over a hill than this one does.
Back in the hills, which you see from the balcony, is TEPOZTLAN, made famous by Stuart Chase. It is a lovely little village, but the road leading to it is in poor condition, and while it may have been an ideal place for the study of Mexican economics, I can't conscientiously recommend it to you as an important point in Mexican sightseeing. There is an interesting pyramid there, but it is reached by a difficult climb. There is also a massive sixteenth-century Dominican church and convent, but except for its massiveness, it is of no particular interest. If you have plenty of time, the charm of Tepoztlan will make it worth a day's excursion, but take a lunch along, as at present there is no hotel or restaurant there.
Coming back to the balcony where you have been standing, I hope, while I went to Tepoztlan, if you will turn your back on the view, you will see the famous MURAL BY DIEGO RIVERA depicting "The Conquest of Mexico," and presented to the town by Mr. Dwight Morrow when he was the American ambassador in Mexico. The frescoes begin with the Conquest, continue through the colonial period (where due emphasis is paid to the fairly well-proved fact that the peons were in virtual slavery), depict the revolution of 1 g 1 o, and end with Zapata on his white horse. I hope you noticed the Indian laurel trees in the plaza outside the palace, for Rivera has made an amusing mistake in his mural. In the scene representing "The Capture of Cuernavaca," he shows the conquerors crossing the ravine on the trunk of a felled tree, and the tree happens to be an Indian laurel which was not introduced into Mexico until over three hundred years later. However, the mural alone makes the trip to Cuernavaca worth while, even from New York, and the artist can be forgiven for this minor error.
SAN ANTON, across the ravine in back of the Borda gardens, is only a short walk. There is a lovely waterfall to see there and an ancient lizard carved in stone.
The GROTTOES OF CACAHUAMILPA, the largest in Mexico, are a splendid sight. Before you plan to visit them, however, find out when they will be open. The grottoes are partially lighted by electricity.
On your way back to Mexico City, keep your eyes open along the road for the fine VIEW OF CUERNAVACA VALLEY from the curve at kilometer 62 and for the VIEW OF THE VALLEY OF MEXICO from kilometer 27.
What to Do in Cuernavaca
The best hotel in Cuernavaca is probably the Chula Vista. It is equipped with a swimming pool, a dance orchestra, and a casino, although the gambling has now been stopped by the government.
I should say that the second best was the Hotel de la Selva, although there is little choice between the two. The Nlarik, near Cortes' palace, is excellent; so is the Borda, better known as the Borda Gardens. The Marik is a good place for lunch, but lunch in the Borda Gardens is almost an event. The food is good, and the surroundings are more than splendid. The Borda Gardens and the old Borda palace, now converted into the hotel, were constructed by this same Borda who made his fortune in Taxco and built the church there. They are magnificent, and one of the sights of town. Maximilian and Carlotta used them as a summer residence, and whether or not you have lunch there, you must go in and wander about. If you have lunch there, it will probably be to the strains of a very good marimba band, to which someone has, unfortunately, conceived the brilliant idea of adding a man with a cornet.
I have also heard the Cuernavaca Inn, the Astoria, and the Bella Vista well spoken of.
Golf and tennis are available, as well as SWIMMING 111 the various hotel pools. The country is very suitable for excursions on horseback or on foot.
What to Buy in Cuernavaca
In Cuernavaca, of course, you can buy the usual souVENIRS. There are shops all around the plaza and near the principal hotels. At the shop in the Marik Hotel, I found unusually good simple POTTERY and a good stock of other Mexican products.
The most typical product 1S ZAPATAS, really a shoe, but usually called a sandal. I found La Gloria an excellent shop for these and also for other souvenirs.
There are many good small shops besides the ones I have named and excellent vendors' stands in the plaza. At these stands they sell small STRAW BRACELETS, excellent for small gifts. Outside of the things I have mentioned, there is nothing particularly distinctive to buy in Cuernavaca.Other Excursions
A favorite variation of the Cuernavaca-Taxco-Acapulco drive is to go between Mexico City and Cuernavaca by way of Cuautla, in one direction or the other. The road is good, and the drive around the triangle formed by Mexico City, Cuautla, and Cuernavaca is one of the most popular ones.
On the way you will pass AMECAMECA where you must stop for the superb view of the volcanoes from the SACRO MONTE. The cave among the trees at the top was once the residence of an exceedingly holy man and is still the favorite spot for many pilgrimages.
Amecameca is also the starting point for the ascent to Popocatepetl. Arrangements for the ascent can be made through the Mexican Tourist Commission or through the tourist agencies. The tourist should be warned that this is not an easy climb, except for experienced mountain climbers.CUAUTLA is a resort on the general style of Cuernavaca, but somewhat simpler. It is lower (4,200 feet), and consequently warmer. There is grand swimming in the great outdoor pool fed by mineral water from the local springs. The grandeur of the scenery between Mexico City and Cuautla, and between Cuautla and Cuernavaca, is almost breathtaking.