Transport Dilemmas

21st Sept 2016

Would you trust this driver?So, Janet got another transfer day yesterday, and I get another daytrip to cover today. How is that fair? Worse still, we’re running out of clean underwear and so are going to need to find another lavandaria – I can’t believe another week has gone by. Bing & Google have differing opinions as to where the nearest laundrette is but at least they agree that they do exist. In the end, Google wins this round (about 50:50 so far) and, better still, it is on the way to our collectivo / bus depot which is where we really want to head to.

Zapata - For once a statue not related to IndependenceToday we are off to the nearby town of Cholula on the recommendation (once again) of Lonely Planet. It turns out that we have a choice of collectivo or (local) bus and so, as much out of habit as anything, we jump on the collectivo for a massive fare of MXN$5. This may not have been such a good idea as the collectivo was packed and took a distinctly meandering route into Cholula. Still, we are used to following our progress using the map on our phones and with a bit of patience we jump out close to where we want to be.

Statutory Pretty ChurchAt first, Cholula looks much the same as many of the other Mexican towns we have visited – a central Zocalo dotted with statues and a pretty church. The square is also ringed with food stalls and marquees that are either being constructed or dismantled – we can’t quite work out which.

Capila RealThe first clue that Cholula is different comes when we read the sign by the church that was formerly a convent to learn that that not only is this believed to be the oldest ‘living’ town in the Americas (dating back to 500BC) but also that this was one of the first churches in Mexico. The next door, Capila Real is in an Arabic style and supposedly has 49 domes. We can’t see that many but we do note that the domes not just on this church but others we have seen are covered in mosaic – different colours to those we saw in the Silk Road cities last year, but similar enough to bring back memories and smiles.

Church on top of the hill over the pyramidThe prime reason for coming here, though, is to see the Pyrámide Tepanapa which dates back to around 0AD. It is also thought to be the largest pyramid by base area in the world (this last to be read in a Jeremy Clarkson voice). Perched on the top of the pyramid, the Spanish have done what they tend to do in places that they have conquered – build a blooming great big church. Lonely Planet is inclined to give the Spanish the benefit of the doubt and suggests that they may not have known that it was a temple and thought that it was just a hill – which is exactly what it looks like.

Tunnels through the pyramidAround 8km of tunnels into the interior of the pyramid have been excavated by archaeologists of which c. 800m have been opened to the public. It is strictly single-file, one-way traffic with no overtaking through the tunnels and so we can only go at the pace of the tour group in front of us. The tunnels and side passages – some with stairways leading up or down – are well lit though and are just tall enough for me to walk without having to stoop.

Patio de AltaresOnce through the tunnels, the path around the hill leads to a series of excavated ruins culminating in the Patio de los Altares – a plaza ringed with buildings and staircases. This is a great reminder of some of the temples we saw in Chichen Itza and elsewhere in the Yucatan (down to the guides clapping at the foot of the stairs to demonstrate the bird-sound echo that returns). We are looking forward to seeing more temples when we get to Guatemala and Belize.

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Of course we then had to climb the hill to see the Sanatario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. There was a service underway inside and so we were only able to peep in and there were also signs posted saying no photos of the interior – so, you’ll have to take our word when we say that even by the standards of Mexican churches, this was incredibly ornate. The exterior was pretty good too and well worth the effort of the climb up the hill.

Not the luxury bus!By now, the morning sunshine was gone, so it was time to grab a quick bit of lunch (Sopa Azteca in my case) and then hustle back in to Puebla to beat the forecast rain. On the way back, we decided to splash out on a bus at MXN$7 each – this is not a glamorous option (even compared to the collectivo) but it was somewhat quicker and more direct. Even better, the rain held off until we were on the bus and then the heavens opened. At one point we could see the water sluicing down the road.

Railway museums are always good!Trains of different ages & eras

Ever since our great experience in Bulawayo (see here), we have had a bit of a soft spot for railway museums. So, when we discover there is one near where the bus has dropped us off, then it just has to be done. As is the usual for these museums, the exhibits comprise old (and not so old) engines and carriages, sitting on unused lines and gently rusting. We are able to climb in a fair few and have a nose around and we greatly regret not having Olly with us as he would have loved it here. The more modern of the carriages date back to the 1970s and 80s around which time the train service went into decline. You’d have thought that with all the congestion on the roads, there’d be more demand for train services.

Afternoon tea, don't you know!Our pedometer is now saying that once again we have exceeded 20,000 steps and we are definitely feeling it as we make our way back to the hotel. Fortunately we pass a LP recommended coffee shop and so are able to stop in for a cup of tea (passably well made) and a share of a square of apple crumble caked (cruijero de manzana if you must know).

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