Hello from Taxco – The city that silver built
My friends Alberto and Elisabeth picked me up early Saturday morning and dropped me off at the Estrella de Oro bus station at 8:45. We chatted for another little bit until the bus left at 9:15 am. I was riding in a modern, air-conditioned bus on the toll highway that runs from Mexico City all the way to Acapulco on the Pacific coast.
In the next row behind me there was a nice couple from California and we talked all the way. Their daughter is currently studying Spanish in Cuernavaca and this is the first time that they are traveling by themselves in about 13 years. They were both having a great time. They had stayed in a Cuernavaca B&B called Casa Vamos which was part of a charity organization and all funds from the B&B go to charitable causes. The husband had spent some time in this area many years ago and knows the area quite well. Both of them speak Spanish and they decided to go to Taxco for the day. After their visit to Taxco they would be moving on to another beautiful destination: the city of Morelia.
The road from Cuernavaca to Taxco goes through mountainous terrain and when you turn the final corner all of a sudden you see the historic city of Taxco sprawling up against the hillsides, with the famous imposing Santa Prisca Cathedral right in the middle. It is just an amazing sight, and the 1.5 hour drive from Cuernavaca is well worth it.
The famous Santa Prisca Cathedral in Taxco
The bus arrived right at the Hotel Posada de la Mision, my accommodation for the night. The Posada de la Mision is one of Taxco’s finest hotels and its location, right opposite the downtown with a fabulous view of the historic area is truly phenomenal. The Posada’s reservation specialist Fabiola Jaimes was so kind to take me on a quick orientation walk around town. We walked on one of Taxco’s main streets past the Ex-Convento right to the Zócalo, the location of the Santa Prisca Cathedral. It’s a wonderful walk on cobble-stoned streets, past silver retailers and souvenir shops.
The beautiful view from my room at the Posada de la Mision
After a brief visit inside the Santa Prisca Church to marvel at the Churrigeresque-baroque artwork Fabiola took me past the tianguis (outdoor street market) where local merchants were selling anything from silver goods, handicrafts, pottery items to t-shirts and a variety of trinkets. Our next destination was the Casa de Humboldt, so called because Alexander von Humboldt, the famous Germany scientist, naturalist and geographer spent one night here in 1803. This house has a beautiful mudejar-style gateway and is now the Museo Virreinal, celebrating the Viceregal era when Spain still ruled Mexico and the Catholic Church was dominating people’s minds.
View from the Museo Virreinal
Having admired the various religious accessories on display, we continued our walk down the hills, past various additional street vendors and further down upon arrival on another main street of Taxco we grabbed one of the characteristic VW kombi buses that serve as the local transportation here to get back to the Posada Mision. The door is open and 3 benches are built into the back of the bus and people hop on an off as they need. At 3.50 pesos (around $0.40) the rides are extremely cheap.
Once back at the hotel I ran into the owners: Henry and Elena Berger. Henry and I sat down in the Posada’s restaurant while Elena had to take care of a number of business-related things. The Posada’s restaurant, by the way, has huge panorama windows with the perfect view overlooking down-town Taxco and looking right at the Santa Prisca Cathedral.
Another view of the Santa Prisca Cathedral
Henry is a very gregarious, outgoing individual in his 60s with a very vibrant energy level and a twinkle in his eye. He shared with me that his family is originally from East Prussia, formerly part of Germany, today part of Russia. His mother migrated westwards during the last days of the Second World War to escape from the Russians. Henry used to work for Volkswagen and has travelled the world. At 31 he left VW and became independent. His entrepreneurial knack came through and, today his family owns 3 upscale hotels in Taxco and several car dealerships throughout the area. Although Henry is a very successful man, he comes across as very down-to-earth. He struck me with his humour and his great interest in history. During our conversation we spoke German all the time.
Padre Neri, a local parish priest, joined us for lunch. Henry explained that Padre Neri had baptized all 4 of Henry’ and Elena’s sons and that he comes to the Posada every day to eat. The three of us had a delicious lunch: Henry ordered a round of Mexican appetizers: tacos, tortillas, guacamole, salsa. Then I had a sopa azteca (tortilla soup – one of my favourites), mole verde (made from pumpkin seeds, very similar to Austrian pumpkin seed oil, another delicacy). One of Henry’s son runs the hotels, while another one is in charge of the car dealerships.
Henry Berger (right), Padre Neri (middle), moi
With my appetite duly satiated, I was ready for another exploration of Taxco. I strolled downtown again on the calle principal, past the Silver Miners Monument and upon my arrival at the Zócalo, I sat down on one of the many benches and just absorbed the atmosphere. Families were going for a stroll, children were playing, the birds were singing, the sun was beaming. It doesn’t get any better than this.
After my little rest I decided to walk up the hills into an area where there were no further tourists to be seen. The walk was very steep and I had to stop several times in between climbing stairs to catch my breath. Sometimes I felt a little unsure whether it was a smart thing to walk here by myself, but overall it seemed okay. I safely got to the top of the city were the VW kombis buses with the destination “Panorama” have their final stop. A young man in a truck delivering water offered me a ride, but I declined politely. Instead I started to walk with a young local woman, who was actually wearing high heels in extremely unsteady terrain. When I commented on her footwear she said that the women here are used to wearing high-heeled shoes to walk on the steep cobble-stoned streets. She went on to tell me that her husband is currently in North Carolina working and that she is finding the separation quite difficult.
View over Taxco from up high
Well, the asphalted street became a dirt path, stray dogs were laying around, and the populated area seemed to come to an end, so to be on the safe side I decided to catch a taxi for the last few hundred meters to one of Taxco’s most well-known symbols: the Christ statue on top of the mountain.
A typical VW beetle (all the private taxis here are bugs) picked me up, the driver took me up a forest road, completely unpaved, with holes, roots, sticks, stones, anything that would make you think that only a sturdy 4×4 could get up here. But sure enough, the trusty little beetle made it all the way up and right at the end, we went over a rock and I could actually feel the floor plate lift as we scraped over the rock!
The beetle that took me up to the Christ statue
We had finally arrived at the Cristo – a giant statue of Christ that was erected about 4 or 5 years ago. The view from the platform surrounding the statue is phenomenal. You can see the entire city of Taxco, with the imposing cathedral in the middle, surrounded by a panorama of mountains. After absorbing this wonderful vista, I bought a popsicle and hopped back into the taxi.
I was already dreading the descent back on the rutty forest road, but my driver drove off in the other direction and to my surprise there was a nicely paved road on the south side of the monument. But my anxiety wasn’t over yet. The descent into town on extremely steep, cobble-stoned streets was pretty nerve-wrecking. My driver Javier explained that the beetles have special tires for better grip, and that it can get indeed a bit hairy here when it rains.
The streets of Taxco, narrow and steep
At one point we encountered a delivery truck which had to reverse because the roads are so narrow while we had to duck into a side street so the delivery truck could pass. The roads were so steep that a few times I thought we’d just slide down the mountain into one of the houses beside the road.
Javier let me off at the Zócalo where I strolled around and looked at the artwork and handicrafts for sale. An old man selling antique photos started a conversation with me. He told me he has been to Canada and that he loved it. He said that even though he wasn’t going to sell me anything he still enjoyed talking to me.
I strolled down the hill past the Santa Prisca Cathedral, past another craft market to a smaller church where I sat down to relax. A grandmother was reading to her grandson from a schoolbook in a very animated way. The boy seemed about 6 or 7 years old and looked like he was thoroughly enjoying his grandmother’s enthusiasm.
Another one of Taxco’s churches
Then I walked down some steep walkways, and caught a VW bus back to the Posada Mision. From about 5 to 8 pm I started my well-deserved rest and read a local newspaper. As always I read the job advertisements and it seemed that most jobs were located in Acapulco and were paying between 2000 and 4500 pesos a month (between C$240 and $500 / month). As the sun was starting to set I enjoyed the absolutely phenomenal view of Taxco and its stunning Cathedral. The mood was almost romantic as the street lights came on and the city started to twinkle with little lights.
8:30 pm rolled around: dinner time at the Posada’s restaurant. I opted for a fish fillet with garlic sauce – very tasty. Padre Neri joined me a half hour later. We had a fascinating conversation about the priesthood, the Catholic church and the dicey issue of celibacy. Padre Neri gave me some examples of what he deals with in terms of counselling issues in his community. He alluded to the case of a young couple where the young man had decided he wanted to become a priest but had fallen in love with a young woman. A situation like this would be a predicament for anyone. Padre Neri displayed some very progressive views and I really enjoyed talking to him.
Street scene in Taxco
Just as we finished our dinner, the Mayor of Taxco and the Head of the Cultural Department were leaving the restaurant. They said hello to Padre Neri and introduced themselves to me as well. It seemed like I had met all the important people in town.
After a nice goodbye with Padre Neri I retreated to my room where I relaxed and watched some TV. I did not pull the curtains because the view outside my hotel balcony was probably one of the most stunning views I have ever seen in my life. Taxco has definitely enchanted me.
Taxco at nightfall