I’m told the Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I hear that many people think this is Mexico’s independence day. How shameful!
In fact, Mexico’s independence day is September 16, and celebrated throughout the country. Cinco de Mayo, on the other hand, is only really celebrated where the Battle of Puebla was fought… in Puebla!
Unfortunately I won’t be in Puebla on May 5th… but I was there last week!
It’s a beautiful city. The colonial buildings are alive with color, the streets are tastefully decorated with Christmas lights, and the Zocalo (main square) is filled with Christmas-themed activities, booths, and decorations. The Christmas tree (NOT sponsored by Coca-Cola, like the one in Mexico City is) in the main square is beautifully lit at night, amidst a cathedral background, ice skating, and snow tubing. The regular booths (and extra seasonal booths) are done up as gingerbread houses, and there was even a concert my first night here (Jimmy Cruz – ooooh la la). I spent a good hour or two simply wandering the streets and taking in the sights and sounds of the Zocalo that night (and I was sick, too!).
I spent my first full day here wandering the streets with a French gal and a Chilean guy. Spanish was our main language of interaction, which was absolutely fantastic practice (though they probably think I’m a lot quieter than I actually am – being sick didn’t help that). We browsed the local markets, marvelled at a couple cathedrals, and wandered the streets (oh, and we stopped for some cheap beer… por supuesto!). I was happy to find a game-playing German/English couple in the hostel that evening, because all I wanted to do was chill and sleep. We played Wizard and went to bed early. Lovely!
The next day was quite chill – I wandered a bit, went to the bus station, and relaxed in a coffee shop. In the evening, I ventured out with an American girl from the hostel. We tried pulque, a traditional Mexican drink made by fermenting agave plants. After chatting for a bit, we took our pulque and wandered the streets, discovering a lovely restaurant where we ate tacos arabes. Then we stumbled upon where the local Christmas parade was about the begin. Unsure of what the crowd was for, we asked a lady, and she responded by telling us that it’s the “Coca-Cola parade”. Coke really does have a hold on the Mexicans. They drink the stuff like it’s water, and call the seasonal parade by its sponsors’ name. Eek.
Continued wanders led me to the seasonal fruit punch, ponche. This is a delicious seasonal drink, served with a piece of sugar cane and fresh fruits inside. It was a pretty chilly night, so this drink was a lovely way to feel warm. Mmmm.
Today, a short bus ride out of the city landed me and another hostel friend in Cholula, a town with archaeological ruins, including caves and the biggest (in terms of volume) pyramid in Mexico! From the top of the pyramid, we were overlooking Mexico’s two main volcanos – very cool! One of these volcanos I know very well… it’s the volcano that erupted the day I was to fly out of Mexico City for my summer travels. It threw my whole day for a loop and I had a lot of fun finding another way out of the country. It’s nice to finally see the volcano that caused so much trouble!
I could also see (as if it could be missed) the ugliest Christmas tree I have ever seen in my life. I suppose Comex didn’t have much to invest in this sponsorship, but I wonder how much positive advertising they really get by putting their name on this conical piece of paper with paint circles. Lower budget than Puebla, that’s for sure.
After walking back down from the pyramid, I had a craving for some jicama, something I used to eat a fair bit when I lived in Mexico. When the lady asked me if I wanted it spicy, I said “yeah, sure”….. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!?! My usual response is “a little” and that’s always more than enough spice for this Canadian. So after 30 minutes of slowly trying to nibble away on the jicama, as it slowly burned my mouth to ashes, I gave up. I threw it in the garbage and bought some cold horchata (rice milk) to soothe the burn. How so very gringo of me.
I took my horchata on the bus, and we were on our way back to Puebla. It was a quick in-and-out as I showered, packed my bag, made some eggs, and rushed out the door to catch my bus to Cancun (a 24 hour ride!).
Even though the city of Puebla was a little too busy for me, I really enjoyed it. Next time, I think I’ll find a hostel that’s away from the noise, and spend more time outside of the main city centre, where music is constantly blaring, store employees are screaming through loudspeakers, and people are standing, walking, or running everywhere I go. (That could be a post all its own!)
Thanks for reading, folks! Enjoy this time of year, whether you celebrate Christmas, or something else, or nothing at all. And remember, Cinco de Mayo is neither independence day nor a big deal in Mexico.