Quickly through Queretaro and Bernal
Driving into Queretaro I scanned the view through a weathered window seat on our bus and was awoken out of the dream I had of the city. The romantic vision of this old mining supply hub quickly disappeared like sunlight burning off the morning fog revealing the truth. The view coming out of the mountains and into the valley was sprawling outskirts of complex infrastructures and buildings. The bus station was gigantic and probably a hub for traveling all over the country. After becoming thoroughly confused finding local buses we wandered amongst a sea of taxi cabs waiting their turn and found what looked like an abandoned bus station of yesteryear. We took a stab at where the dozens of buses were going and wound up getting dropped off near the lushly landscaped Alemeda Park. Green grass, giant palm trees, and perfectly groomed hedges led us through the park and into a bustling intersection packed with vehicles and a sea of people. My first impression of this town was that the pulse of urban expansion was drowning out the heartbeat of it’s history. Downtown was covered in people, transportation, and shops with the echoes of capitalism bouncing off the historic churches and plazas that were sprinkled throughout. Don’t get me wrong and think that this place isn’t worth a visit because it definitely is. This is just a personal lesson I’d like to share about presumptions and expectations of a destination without any prior knowledge. It is almost a 100% certainty in life that if you go into a situation with expectations you will ultimately be disappointed. I’ve learned this before but for some reason it slipped past the guards and walked right into the corridors of my thoughts. The layout consisted of old, windy narrow roads intertwined with a grid-like system which probably came from Spanish influence. The churches and plazas visibly show Spanish influences as well but monuments of Indian legacy give the impression that cultures blended here.
Armed with our heavy backpacks we walked a healthy 15 blocks or so through the urban growth that swallowed this town until we came across Itza Hostel. Itza Hostel has a cute name, but it was run by some dude in his early 20’s and was sub-par for a hostel. After settling there we walked down through the historic streets and markets of Queretaro desperately keeping our eyes open for a different sleeping situation. We treated ourselves to our first authentic Gordita experience made fresh from a woman who had looked as if she had been cooking in that same 15×20 foot store front forever. She made us each a Gordita filled with cheese, pork (I think), salsa, and guacamole. We then ventured off for some beef tacos and capped off the meal with eating our first Mexican paletas (fresh ice cream and /or fruit bars). We have been seeing these things everywhere and had to try a fresh strawberry bar and an oreo cookie ice cream bar. Both were fantastic and I have been craving them ever since.
The layout consisted of old, windy narrow roads intertwined with a grid-like system which probably came from Spanish influence. The churches and plazas visibly show Spanish influences as well but monuments of Indian legacy give the impression that cultures blended here. There seems to be more of a city-backed market business here with designated metal pop-up vendor stations instead of the do-it-yourself tents seen almost everywhere else.
A slight mishap at the Templo de Santa Cruz had us on the bad side of the elder man that leads visitors to the gardens in the middle of the nunnery. We had been walking around for hours and just bought some desperately needed drinks with pocket change. One of the main attractions at this church are the trees growing in the gardens that the legend states a monk placed his walking stick in the soil and thorn trees bearing the sign of the cross. The entry was donation only and all I had were $3.50 pesos (roughly 30 cents) or a 50 peso bill (roughly dinner for the night). I placed the $3.50 money in the donation basket and was questioned as to why I didn’t give more money, in Spanish. After attempting to explain that’s all I could give (donations don’t feel like donations if they are forced or there is guilt involved) he eventually led us begrudgingly to the trees and led us straight out the side door 30 seconds later. We got to see the thorns more up close and personal in the plaza outside when a woman knocked over a whole box of the crosses and gave Elissa one for aiding the clean up. We then retired at the Itza and immediately located a much better hostel in the morning before leaving for Bernal.
Another confusing bus station scene later and we are off to Bernal on a cheap, low fare bus. These buses tend to make many stops along the way at little roadside corners that would have any outsider baffled as to how one would know it is a bus stop. When Bernal came into view I had one of those amazing and all too rare moments where I gasped involuntarily. Between two curtains on the bus I could see the entire monolith (Pena de Bernal) illuminated by the sun with a dark cloudy backdrop. Until that came into view I had felt awful about being so pushy to go hours out of the way to see a big rock. Elissa was being a trooper for supporting the geologist in me but it was worthwhile in the end. The small and dusty town of Bernal had one main street on the outer perimeter and dropped us off accordingly at an abandoned looking building. We immediately wandered into the heart of the town and headed towards the giant rock that brought us here. We hiked up hills, stumbled into a field trip, and saw some breathtaking views. We then wandered about looking at some churches, artisanal shops, and storefronts getting ready for the big weekend rush. On the equinox this tiny town gets inundated with pilgrims who believe the rock has special energy and powers. Thousands would climb up Bernal to get close to the rock just a few days after we visited.
After a long day we got back to the bus station and on another crazy local bus that got pulled over on the way to the city by a cop. After boarding another bus we had our first Mexican Chinese Food experience (not bad, not good) and settled into the hostel for a low-key movie night. It was Friday night and I took a small stroll around to get some drinks and took in the scene as youngsters were out and about dressed to impress for a night of clubs and bars. A theatre show just got out and I was in the middle of very well dressed Mexicans and felt at peace with the city and our decision to stay here. Next stop, Mexico City.