May 23 2008

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A Mexico vacation in colonial Puebla

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Puebla
By Christopher Hills

My mountaineering partner, Kurt, and I headed to Mexico to attempt Pico de Orizaba, the 3rd tallest mountain in North America. We arrived in Puebla, Mexico, on Friday evening. Customs was quick and we got through everything painlessly. That night we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express where the staff spoke English. The room was quite comfortable with new furniture and appliances. There was complimentary bottled water and you could buy more for a few pesos which turned out to be pretty standard in the hotels we stayed at. Breakfast, included in the room price, consisted of a small buffet of local food.

The next day Kurt and I headed to the small town of Tlachichuca at the base of Orizaba. We stayed there a couple of nights before heading up the mountain. Once on the mountain things didn’t go as planned and we were forced to come down a day early. Such is the way of the mountaineer.

Since we were now a day ahead of schedule we decided to head back to Puebla. After eating a breakfast of local tortas with eggs and chorizo, we hopped on the bus back to the city. The day before we left I used Orbitz to book 2 nights at the Holiday Inn Historico Centro, in Puebla. The place got some good reviews and looked centrally located. Puebla turned out to be a pretty cool town with lots to do in the central district. Food is great and inexpensive. The people are friendly and patient when your Spanish is as broken as mine. The area is laid out in a grid so it’s easy to find your way around. Just remember where you started and you’ll be able to find your way around on foot. It helps to have a street map, however, which the hotel provided. The Central Square is lined with everything from Burger King and McDonald’s to local Mexican fare along with lots of shopping.

If you are into Mexican history this is the place to be. There are dozens of huge historic churches within walking distance, and lots of shopping in between. There are even a few museums scattered throughout the district. If you get a little homesick for a coffee house there is a place called Vips. It’s a modern coffee shop with a restaurant, bookstore, toystore, and drug store all in one. They even have free Wi-Fi which I used via my iPhone.

During our second day in Puebla, Kurt became convinced there was a bookstore in the area that sold books in English. We’d been unsuccessful in our quest the previous day but with a new day came new hope. I joked that we wouldn’t find anything like a Borders in town. How wrong I was. In our search Kurt said he saw references to a mall. Looking at our map we thought we knew where it would be. Luck smiled upon us and we found an actual American-style mall.

The building was some sort of old church that had been turned into a mall. The designers knocked down most of the original walls, but some still remained and were incorporated in the design. Just outside the entrance is an American-style department store. In the store there was a bookstore just like a small Borders which amazingly enough sold English language books and magazines. Everything in Mexico is less expensive than it would be in the States except these books. A paperback went for 120 pesos (about $11.50) and a magazine for 750 pesos. My friend gladly paid the cost and found 3 books to read until he got back to his house.

That evening we ate a huge Italian meal on the square. The appetizers, drinks, main course of seafood linguini, and dessert for two ended up being the most expensive meal of the trip: 330 pesos, which is about $30.

If you are someone who wants to see more of Mexico than the tourist beach towns I highly recommend Puebla. The people are friendly, the prices are low, there is so much culture to experience, and it is an area of Mexico that few tourists actually get to see.

I hope to go back around the same time next year. I’d like another shot at the mountain and I’d like to see more of what Puebla has to offer.

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Christopher Hills is an Orbitz air traffic analyst and avid adventurer who enjoys mountaineering, rock climbing, fast cars and
motorcycles.

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Posted on: May 23, 2008 | Tags: , , | Category: Mexico Vacation

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