On Monday the 13th of February we met with Natalia and Andrea to begin our journey to Cuetzalan. It is a gorgeous indigenous town situated in the highlands of Puebla. It is known for many different this but mainly their weekly street handcraft markets and beautiful architecture. I had been looking forward to this week the entire trip. As we were driving we were able to witness a gorgeous sunrise which is usually concealed by the mass buildings around our hostel. Our first stop on the journey was at a textile class ran by Pedro. He was often compared to the spiritual nature of a deer. He began his textile business as a way to demonstrate that men could partake in this trade as well as women. He first showed us how they pick cotton and begin the process of weaving it into usable thread. This included colouring it with natural dyes. He then showed us the different ways he threads cotton using a waist loom to make his textiles. It was then our turn. Maria and Reina were with me and we were all cracking up the entire time. I really found waist looming quite therapeutic so it came a bit naturally to me. We all had a lot of fun at this workshop. Pedro later made us some coffee from their land that was such a gorgeous coffee; I could even drink black. It was naturally sweet which I really enjoyed. Then it was time for us to hit the road again.
After another little drive we finally arrived to ‘Tosepan’ where we would be staying for the next week. We had these sweet little bamboo cabins to stay in, I shared with Maria. As soon as we arrived here we had to walk through bush to explore the hotel. I felt so incredibly grounded and just at home. I think being in this kind of environment so similar to New Zealand triggered some home sickness I did not really feel on the rest of the trip. It was in a good sense though, I felt protected and knew I was in the right place. There was a curious little doggy called Max who followed us around too. After settling in Octavio, our guide for the week and grandson of the founder of Tosepan, took us to the dinning hall to give us a presentation of the goals and ambitions of Tosepan as a project. He told us about the local indigenous communities and also how they are let down severely by the government. This lead to the development of Tosepan to create its own systems and structures that supports their culture and language. This includes sustainable resources, sustainable production and adequate education. It was very insightful for me to hear his passion and drive to continue such an empowering project.
For our first proper day in Tosepan we had a tour of the whole hotel which was just lovely to be outside amongst the trees. We visited their school and got some cute Valentines Day lollies they had handmade. We also saw one of their new developments which was a completely sustainably built only out of bamboo and clay. It was mind-blowing. Then we hoped on our little truck and went to the botanical gardens which had over 150 kinds of orchids and a medical nursery. It was such a beautifully laid out garden. We also went to another producers garden which was a nursery for coffee, cinnamon and pepper. Their purpose was to organically produce high quality baby plants for locals to buy and produce for themselves. This removes a reliability on foreign export and influence. Following on from this place, we also explored Magdas home. She had a massive backyard which had every fruit tree under the sun. She was also a massive honey producer. The native honey bee in Mexico actually does not sting. Her honey was so citrusy it was delicious. She then cooked us a chicken broth soup with fresh tortilla she taught us how to make. Later on this evening we had a coffee workshop where we learnt about taking the coffee bean fruit and turning it into the roasted coffee we all love. It was super interesting. We also got to roast our own coffee beans too. Like Pedros, this coffee was so naturally balanced with sweetness I loved it.
The second morning we woke up ready to explore the famous Cuetzalan Waterfalls. Despite being a sweltering 28 degrees this day the water was freezing. It luckily was very refreshing for us. All the locals looked at us like we were crazy. But we just had the best time, this was definitely one of my highlights. We even convinced Natalia to hop in too. After cooling off, we drove to a sugar cane farm where they produce raw sugar. We walked right into the farm finding ripe sugar cane. Once we got one we were able to taste some of the sugar in its most natural form by literally chewing on the branches. It was surprisingly delicious. We then collected their donkey and walked him up to the see saw looking extractor. They use the donkey to crank this machine which squeezes all the liquid sugar from the canes. This family also cooked us a yummy lunch with a spicy chicken soup and fresh tortillas of course. This day we spent the whole afternoon relaxing and resting. I think all the stress and tiredness from the past few weeks was catching up with us. It is important to recognise these kinds of days.
I was very nervous for this next day because our first activity was going caving. This entailed climbing 500m down into the ground, in sometimes very small access ways. I can get claustrophobic sometimes so I was a little worried. I am so glad i did this activity because it was absolutely breathtaking. Our guide was super supportive and patient with all of us. He made it so fun too by creating little characters out of the rocks. We were all laughing the whole time. After this activity we went to an archeological site of pyramids. It was a ceremonial plaza which was used during significant phases of change and celebration. After this we had some local ice cream which came in these adorable little pots that you could keep. At this point of the day it was so hot I could barely keep my eyes open. Luckily the next producer we were going to had a house made completely out of stone for this very reason. The house was so cool and I final felt alright. We were at this house to learn about cinnamon production which I was so unfamiliar with. After exploring their farmland and gardens we sourced cinnamon trunks and began scrapping back the first layer. Once you have done this then you peal back the first layer as a thick piece of cinnamon. this curls into the cinnamon sticks we are familiar with once dried for three days in the sun. We had our final hosted lunch here which was lovely to reflect on.
On our final day we said goodbye to Tosepan and drove to Puebla City. Here we got to see the magical colours of Mexico. We met with another Ibero staff member and she showed us around the downtown plaza. This had a grand cathedral, like most Mexican towns have. Firstly we grabbed some lunch at one of her favourite spots. Laura and I had tacos which were super yummy. I think everyone else was a bit sick of tortillas at this point. Following lunch we were lucky enough to be invited on a tour around the city hall. This was very special because the city hall is not actually open to the public. We saw the decision chambers and incredible architecture, it was an awesome opportunity. After this we were all so excited to go to Calle de los Dulces, the street of candy. This has to be one of my favourite places, I have such a sweet tooth. We tried so many classic Mexican candies like Santa Clara cookies, Rompope and tajin covered tamarindo. I was addicted, I spent a lot of money here. Then we went Tallavera shopping which was so gorgeous as well. Also very special. After such a long week we were ready to get home and start getting ready for the journey back to New Zealand. It took us a solid three and a half hours to get back, I will definitely not miss the Mexico traffic.