Living in the city of Puebla, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Mexico and the capital of the state of Puebla, we are never short of things to do. But having been here for a few months, we decided that rather than continually spending our weekends at our favourite haunts in Puebla’s downtown, we ought to explore some of the cities in the surrounding area. And so one Saturday we chose to go to Atlixco. We had heard that Atlixco is famous for the cultivation and export of ornamental plants and cut flowers, and I LOVE flowers. I had the idea that the hour drive from Puebla would be like driving through the ‘Garden of England,’ the Kentish countryside, in the journey I often took between my home town of Hastings and the city of Canterbury where I went to university. This was not so. I don’t know what we did wrong, but we didn’t see any flowers. None, despite asking vendors in the market. Maybe we just missed the season. It’s also famous for its festive lights, so maybe we’ll try another visit in the run-up to Christmas.
It was a perfectly nice city, but nothing extraordinary, and really we’re spoilt living in Puebla because there’s honestly no Zócalo I’ve seen to rival ours. Pueblans will proudly tell you that this is because Puebla was at some point supposed to be the capital city of Mexico so got the best Zócalo, but there are a lot of stories Pueblans like to tell visitors about the city..! Zócalo is the name for a central square, and each one is supposed to serve three purposes: religious (home to an important church or cathedral), civil (political/public offices), and social (normally some benches and trees). Disappointingly, the most prevalent feature of Atlixco’s Zócalo is purely commercial: an ugly and imposing branch of The Italian Coffee Company, the Mexican version of Costa. The chain-you-can’t-get-away-from has trademark ugly green and wicker décor, and horrid looking ‘cakes’ screaming “we’re not fresh!” from their cellophane wrapping. I bought a coffee there once and won’t be making that mistake again. I feel a bit harsh putting my scathing review of The Italian Coffee Company under Atlixco’s post because there’s more to the town than that, but we all rolled our eyes when we saw it dominating the Zócalo.
We began scaling the hill up to what looked like a church at the top, but there was no clear path, and after trying a few dead-end streets and passing a few too many guard dogs pacing up and down growling, barking and bearing their gnashers, we abandoned the mission and headed back down to the square. Since being bitten on the behind I prefer to keep my distance. Some dogs are strays, some are semi-owned, and some are owned but completely neglected. Another flop in Atlixco – it wasn’t really our day.
The best thing about our trip was the food. Mexicans know that the best place to eat is in the market, so we headed straight there and weren’t disappointed. There isn’t a formal menu, the cooks just give you tasters as you wander through, and if you like it you take a seat, order the meat by weight, purchase tortillas from one of the ladies selling them in the market, and enjoy. We had a tray of cecina, beef that is salted and dried before being fried; carne enchilada, chilli-dressed meat which comes in many forms, but is essentially slow-cooked in a chilli and tomatoey sauce; and a salad of nopal (cactus), pickled carrot and jalapeños (¡pica, pica!), avocado, tomato, cheese and lettuce. All washed down with Boing fruit juice and refreshing Corona.
In every town centre you needn’t look hard to find a shop selling handmade ice lollies and ice creams of every flavour imaginable. On this occasion I had a triple scoop ice cream of cherry, coconut and pistachio, yum!
So although I won’t be hurrying back to Atlixco, it was a nice enough afternoon – good to explore somewhere different, and if nothing else reaffirm my love and appreciation of Puebla!