Puebla, Mexico - April 2008

Actual conversation: (repeated several times, with multiple people)

Where are you going next?

Where's that?

Are you going Scuba diving?
No, Puebla is in Central Mexico. It is nowhere near the ocean.

Oh... Then why would you go there?
This is where we have to explain that Mexico is more than beaches and it is blessed with a deep history and culture. Our plan is to visit archaeological sites, eat in the markets, walk around and enjoy one of the oldest cities in North America.

We really are not surprised that most people don't know anything about the country that borders our own. Not that we blame them. Mexico is marketed as a beach resort to Americans and that is what people are familiar with.

We actually had a very loose idea of what we would see and do during our three days there. We had read that Puebla is one of Mexico's culinary hubs so we were very excited to see what they had to offer, but first we had to get there.

The 5 hour flight was a breeze after our 20,000 mile trip back in February. Elliot spent the time playing with toys, watching DVD's and flirting with flight attendants.

Puebla is located about 70 miles from Mexico City, so the easiest way to get there is to fly to Mexico City and take the Estrella Roja bus directly from the airport direct to downtown Puebla.

We checked into the hotel, dumped our bags and headed out for some lunch. Usually you have to tip the hotel bellman, but he actually gave us a tip by sending us to Tacos Tony for lunch. We knew as soon as we saw the three rotating towers of lamb that we were in the right spot.

We know our way around a taco stand, but there were several unfamiliar items on the menu like Tacos Arabes and Tacos Oriental. The Tacos Oriental seemed to be traditional tacos filled with lamb served in a corn tortilla. The Tacos Arabes were amazing … tacos filled with lamb wrapped in a very thin pita bread that was the size of a small tortilla. You could also get them with “Gine” Sauce… which we later learned was “Tahini”. This region had a large Lebanese immigration during the early 1900's and it clearly left a strong influence.

Lunch was great but it was time for a treat. Before lunch we spotted this vendor selling frozen treats (both Nieves and Helados) outside the church next to our hotel. We really don't know if these were homemade but they were delicious and the flavors are not your usual Baskin Robbins flavors. Beso de Angel and Tequila were our favorites.

Elliot digs into the Mango!!!

In almost all of the cities and towns in Mexico are set up around a center square called the Zocalo. The Zocalo is surrounded by the town hall, cathedral, restaurants and shops.

Puebla is a beautiful colonial city that is very charming. The streets are safe and people are very friendly.

The weather was great so we ended our first day by taking a city tour around Puebla. We recommend this for any city because it really helps get a perspective of where things are in the city as well as pointing out the highlights.

On Sunday, our plan was to visit Cholula to see the pyramid, and but we had to start our day off right with the Mexican breakfast of champions - tamales from the first vendor we saw. We didn't think Elliot would really enjoy a spicy tamal so we ordered him a tamal dulce en torta (sweet tamal on a roll). It was red, fluffy and delicious so Elliot called it a cake sandwich.

Next we stopped for a "super sized" orange juice from the corner shopping cart before continuing on to the bus station for our trip to Cholula.

Cholula (no relation to the hot sauce) is a small city outside of Puebla. It s famous for its pyramid which is actually one third larger than the great pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Construction started about 200 BC and it took centuries to complete. Unfortunately most of the pyramid has not been excavated or restored.

At the top sits the Inglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios which was built in 1594 on the site of a pre-Columbian temple. It was explained to us that the church prevents restoration and exploration of the original pyramid complex.
Inside the pyramid there are over 5 miles of tunnels that have been uncovered by archaeologists.

The size is a perfect fit for a 6' 200lb post-Columbian tourist.

We were all quite hungry after climbing the pyramid so we headed out to the mercado. Just like the Zocalo, most towns & cities have at least one central market that is the hub for everything from food to electronics. Even before we even knew what these women were making we knew that it would be good because people were lined up 3 deep around them. These women have been doing this for years and could very well be the inventors of the breakfast burrito.

A double flour tortilla stuffed with chorizo, egg, potato and chili. We all shared it since it was our second breakfast of the day. It was fantastic!

We wandered around exploring every aisle. The market here was the best we have ever been to because it had good balance of food vendors, it was not too crowded and it was the perfect size that Elliot could walk the entire complex and not get tired.

These stacks of meat are called cecina. It is beef that is pounded thin and salted. This vendor was able to cook up a small piece on their charcoal grill so we could try some. Much like Costco on a Saturday afternoon, the vendors are very proud of their foods and were offering samples of vegetables, meats and cheeses.

Once back in Puebla we explored the Mercado Venustiano Carranza which was across from the bus station. This housed El As Del Oro which is famous for Cemitas. It was recommended in Food and Wine magazine but more importantly, our taxi driver had a big grin when he recommended it to us.

A cemita is an overstuffed sandwich on fresh crusty sesame roll. The one above is made with roast pork, avocado, cheese, onions, red chilies and papalo which is an herb similar to cilantro.

The sandwich was too large for Elliot so we made him a mini-cemita

We had fun all day but we wanted to reward Elliot with something special that night. Keith tracked down some tickets for the Playhouse Disney tour and he got to enjoy "the real" Little Einsteins and Handy Manny. We don't think Elliot really cared that it was in Spanish. Even so, Meeska Mooska Mickey Mouse is the same in every language.

It may appear that all of our trips are well planned in advance and everything goes perfectly according to plan. The truth is that we usually have no more of a loose framework for the trip with a few "must-sees." One thing that we didn't realize is that many museums and attractions are closed on Monday so much of this day was filled with or second choice attractions. The Museo del Automóvil had about 40 cars and looked more like someone's personal collection than a museum. Our favorite was this 50's era Mexican police car.

Puebla's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the tallest in Mexico with towers that stand over 225 feet high. We only learned after returning home that we could have climbed one of them.

The cathedral took over 100 years to complete and the main altar was based on Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
We were walking around some side streets on our way to lunch when the smell of fresh baking bread led got our attention. We found a door open to this commercial bakery but it was Elliot's presence that got us an inside tour. Sadly, there were no free samples.

Lunch at La Abuelita. There is rarely anything better than "grandma" food but we didn't see any “grandmas” in the kitchen. Fresh warm bread was served with ripe avocado and queso fresco.
Mole poblano which is the dish that Puebla is most famous for and we almost left without having it. It was fantastic, and not to be missed. They say that the best moles are found in people homes, so if anyone wants to invite us back to Puebla to sample their mole, we are up for the trip!
On the return to Mexico City we got a good view of Popocatepetl which is the second highest Volcano in North America. It is currently active and you can see smoke puffing from its cone. The mountain to the right is Iztaccíhuatl.

A good time was had by all in Puebla and we definitely would go back. The people are nice, the food is great and there are tons of things to do for everyone, even without scuba diving.

Hasta Luego.

Complete expenses for our trip:

We posted this because we wanted to show that a great vacation does not need to break the bank. We did benefit from a great fare on Continental from Newark to Mexico City but that is why we chose to go here at this time. Most of our trips are opportunistic and take advantage of discounted airfares or award tickets.
Even if we paid the average rate on that route and stayed a couple of extra days we still would have been under $2000 for the entire vacation.


Katrina Woznicki said...

I love the posting of the bill at the end. You should post that next to the bill for three days in Disney! Just reading this made me crave an enchilada. I think I'll call for some takeout Mexican food now...

Anonymous said...

You missed the tour to "Africam Safari", a zoo park located 30 min driving from Puebla.

Klaus Larsen said...

Stumbled on your site doing a search for Puebla. Great Stuff, if you return i highly recommend Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, both ancient colonial towns with lots of history and local flavor. We rented an apartment in each town for a week. You can see my photos at www.klpstudio.com under the "travel" button.