At roughly 10 in the morning I walked through beautiful residential streets in the north end of Cuernavaca to the so-called Glorieta de Zapata, a traffic circle featuring a statue of one of Mexico’s freedom fighters on a horse. Right next to the traffic circle I waited for a local bus to take me to the small town of Tepoztlán, around 17 km from Cuernavaca. It only cost 9.50 pesos (around $1) and took about half an hour through quaint local villages and countryside in the shade of the local mountains.
The name Tepoztlán is a Nahuatl word and means “place of abundant copper”. The population is roughly 33,000 people. Tepoztlán has a long history and some of the archeological finds from around the area date back to 1500 B.C. By the 10th century a.d. the Toltec culture was predominant in this region. The Tepozteco mountain has been a ceremonial centre for many centuries and it features a white-washed pyramid at the top. Most recently Tepoztlán has become a centre of the New Age movement and has attracted many artists to live here. There have apparently even been some unverified UFO sightings in the area. Tepoztlán is a very charming city and a great destination from either Mexico City or Cuernavaca, particularly on Wednesdays or Sundays when the town hosts a very colourful tianguis or street market on the main square in town.
The cobble-stoned street leading to the Tepozteco Mountain
Once arrived I strolled the cobble-stone streets of downtown Tepoztlán and discovered the local church and the ex-convento (former convent) which features many wall paintings. I was really lucky that I had come into town on a Wednesday since the tianguis was going on right in front of the church and hundreds of merchants were displaying their wares, from fruits, vegetables, clothing, to CDs, toys and various knick-knacks.
I was going to make the ascent to the sacred mountain Tepozteco shortly but I thought I’d strengthen myself first, so I sat down to eat a Sopa Azteca and 3 sopes (small tortillas with refried beans, sour cream and salsa) as a late breakfast in a little restaurant on the main street. Then I went on a long walk down this cobble-stoned street, while shops and stalls were just setting up the displays for their merchandise. One of the tempting offers was a reasonably priced promotion for a massage, but I figured there wasn’t enough time for a relaxing massage. I had a mountain to climb first.
Hallways in the ex convento
At the end of the cobble-stoned road, the ascent up to the sacred Tepozteco mountain begins. At the beginning I walked on a stoney path through a moderately steep forest section. But not long after that the walk turned into a climb on a very steep path. Rocks have been put down as rudimentary steps. Intermittently I caught a view out into the valley through the trees. The walk was indeed so steep that I had to stop many times and just catch my breath. Towards the top it gets even steeper, you go through a very deep incision between two mountain spires and then at the end you have to climb up a very metal staircase where you have to use your hands to steady yourself. The whole climb took me about an hour and boy, was I glad to arrive at the top.
The pyramid on top of the Tepozteco mountain
On top of the mountain there is a flat area, to your left when you arrive a little shack is selling refreshments, straight ahead is the taquilla (the ticket booth where they charge you 30 pesos or $3 for the experience). On the right side there is the famous pyramid, dating back many hundreds of years. I walked over to the pyramid from where I had the most amazing view over the village. People say that this is a sacred place radiant with energy. In early September every year there is a special event, a race to climb the Tepozteco mountain (The Challenge to the Tepozteco) where some people even climb up in high heeled shoes. Even more dangerous are the climbers who ascend the mountain after drinking pulque, a local alcoholic drink.
Looking out over the town of Tepoztlán
I stayed about 10 minutes at the top of the mountain and then decided to climb down. I thought the descent would be much faster, but it still took me about 40 minutes to get down. The stones are very worn and slippery and you really have to be careful where you step. Finally I arrived back in the village and was ready to meet my acquaintance Annabella who I had met at the opening of the South African photo exhibition in Cuernavaca. She asked me to meet her in the Luna Mextli restaurant just to the west side of the Zócalo. I arrived there early and by the time Annabella came, I had already finished a late lunch which consisted of delicious crepes with peach sauce. Annabella picked me up and we went on a brief walk through town.
But since I mentioned that I was a little tired after climbing the Tepozteco we took her car and went to her house after stopping in at a local cafe, also run by expatriates, called the Café Literario which holds all sorts of cultural get-togethers for the local expatriate community.
View of the mountains from the Café Literario
Annabella herself has an interesting background: she was born in South Africa, grew up in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), at 18 she went to live in London, England, and 36 years ago she came to Mexico. Annabella has mostly lived in D.F. (Mexico City) and used to work as an arts teacher. Last year she finally decided that she wanted to dedicate herself fully to her art, so she retired and in a spontaneous decision she moved to the magial town of Tepoztlán.
Annabella lives in a wonderful house with a beautiful garden and a gorgeous view of these enchanted mountains. Her studio is also located there. We sat down for a nice little chat on her patio after she had made fresh lemonade from a few lemons that she just picked off one of her trees. Shortly after Stuart Cox, an actor, director and performer who used to live in London and Bristol, joined us. He has lived here in Mexico for 7.5 years now and is a local celebrity because of the one-man shows he does on historic themes.
Juli Lin Charlotte, a local celebrity
After our little chat, Annabella and I drove at 10 km / h on cobble-stoned roads to a friend of Annabella’s, Juli Lin Charlot, another well known local celebrity. Juli , now in her mid 80s, describes herself as bi-coastal, having been born in New York and having grown up in Hollywood. Her father was in the movie business, she herself was Miss Hollywood at age 16. Juli showed me her photos which proved that she was a stunningly beautiful woman, in the style of the film stars of the 1950s. Even today Juli still has a certain diva-esque, graceful air about her. Juli indicated that she used to work with Groucho and Harpo Marx and that she also spent some time in the movie business.
In her thirties she became a clothing designer and opened up a studio on 5th Avenue in New York City and became very well-known and popular among an upscale clientele. One day she came to Mexico and visited Tepoztlán and had a vision: it was as if her mother opened her arms (as represented by the visual image of the mountains) and said, this is the place for you, stay here. Juli says she did and that this town is her Shangri-La.
Relaxing in the garden: Annabella, Juli and her friend David
Now Juli lives in a beautiful house in Tepoztlán where we sat down to enjoy a delicous punch and a perfect ambience in Juli’s subtropical paradise. Her gardener does an amazing job with the garden which is a gorgeous sanctuary full of beautiful tropical plants and the sweet smells of honeysuckle and jasmine permeate the air. Now I undestand why this is Juli’s paradise.
Juli also told us story about a curandero (a healer) who advised her on purchasing her house in Tepoztlán, as a matter he strongly cautioned her against buying the first property that she was considering and told her to hold out for another property. She followed his advice and has lived happily in her current house ever since.
Juli has also written her memoirs and local prominent people invite her to read from her memoirs. She said she has several signed books with autographs from famous people, including Diana Kennedy who said “You make the best margueritas in the world…” (Juli Lin is indeed renowned for her delicious margueritas…)
Local cemetery at sunset in Tepoztlán
Then shortly before 8 pm Annabella and I said goodbye to Juli since we wanted to catch the sunset, highlighting the magical mountains of Tepoztlán. I was able to catch a few pictures of the mountains with a colourful cemetery in front. Then we grabbed a bite to eat at Pascal’s (El Punto), the restaurant of a local French immigrant, where I had a mixed salad and for dessert, a crepa de cajeta (a crepe with a thick sweet sauce made from goat’s milk) – an absolutely delicious Mexican specialty and a perfect ending to an eventful day.
Tepoztlán was a wonderful one-day outing from Cuernavaca, easy to get to, with lots of things to see and do, especially if you allow yourself to be charmed by its magical atmosphere.