As you zoom in on a map, from country to region to state to city to neighborhood, somehow more, rather than less, appears. Dimensions and edges and corners reveal themselves, and the expanse of what you’ll never quite grasp makes itself clear yet again. Planning for a trip is an exercise in this realization that there is too much space, too many layers, never enough time: one article leads to another, one destination to another, and then you realize you have a month rather than a few days on your hands. At least. But still, these research endeavors do reveal things, and that is how we came to drive from Mexico City, up over and through Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl National Park, to Puebla.
As time would have it, we had one day in Puebla. And dammit, this is another place where I found myself wanting to stay.
Puebla is Mexico’s fourth largest city, and the capital of the Mexican state with the same name. It sits in a valley in the shadows of volcanoes. Over three million people situate themselves in the metro area but, perhaps because we just were in Mexico City, it doesn’t quite feel it – we drive into villages, then towns, which blend into Puebla itself, its high-rises interspersed with cathedral towers and interrupted by public squares. Its size comes softly.
Given our limited time, we mostly contained ourselves to the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage site dominated by the high-reaching Catedral de Puebla, the second largest in the country. I struggled to frame it with my camera. This cathedral is one of many, some of which were still roped off and surrounded by scattered rubble due to the recent earthquake. Grandiose buildings, impressive indeed, but what I was really drawn to were the typical buildings of the center, lining the streets, showing off different colors, different tile work, and different states of upkeep. Each turn might reveal a new favorite, but we couldn’t wander the streets forever.
The downtown is lively with shopping and people sitting in the numerous parks, big and small. The tourist market stretches down a pedestrian street and I weave my way through, stopping to get a trenza that brings back a flood of memories of the last time I got one, five years prior in Sucre, Bolivia. We walk up and down a street called Los Sapos, apparently after the frogs that used to come out when the river that had run through town flooded. Lights are strung overhead. As night falls we sit in the main square, the Zócalo, and people watch. If I catch someone’s eye, they smile.
We wander a bit more in the morning before we have to leave. I have my favorite breakfast of the whole trip, a build your own chilaquiles deal, at Xilaquitlán (go there). The waitress is patient with my Spanish and the chef comes out to say hi and ask us about our trip. The sun shines into the room and hits our table, warming us up. I don’t want to leave, but I do want to see our next destinations. I should say I want to stretch time.
I visit a place and learn what there is more to learn, and see only a fraction of what I know can be seen. And I often want to go back even though the whole world beckons. But really, Puebla would make a fine stop to go and study Spanish for a while. The plans spin in my head. I don’t want this day to have been my only time. Add it to the list. I go, I see, I want to return. The grandiose and the ordinary, the well kept and the crumbling, the near perfect and the chipped – I want to see it all. I want to burrow ever deeper into the map and absorb it, tunneling my way through the infinite everywhere.