Cordoba to Puebla, Mexico: Soaring Mountains and Lots of Gastronomy

Jet Metier on the sidewalk on downtown Puebla,MexicoWe were looking forward to visiting Puebla again, so as one of our few extravagances while returning to Lake Chapala as quickly as possible, we booked two nights at the hotel in Puebla we had enjoyed so much.  Staying there an extra night would also make it possible for us to see a bit of the city.

Starting in Cordoba, Puebla is less than three hours by car, but what a breathtakingly scenic three hours it is! Even before leaving Cordoba, we could see towering snowcapped volcanoes, previewing what our trip would be like the next several hours.

Pointing the van northwest, the environs of Cordoba passed behind us, our van gaining elevation as we went, the flatlands of the Gulf of Mexico on our drive prior to Cordoba the previous day becoming more and more a distant memory. Within an hour, we were driving mountain passes, on a typical mountain road.  The air became a little drier and steadily cooler, as the surroundings changed from typical urban inhabitants doing typical urban things in Cordoba to shepherds with their herds of sheep on the side of the road, amongst mountainsides graced with lush foliage and stately pines.

We were traveling amongst huge trucks with drivers that evidently had been on this road before and who were late, because they were traveling fast on narrow, winding roads.  We, however, had plenty of time, as we enjoyed the drama and the splendor of our surroundings.  To the right, the road hugged the mountain, while to the left we saw drop-offs on an almost lunar scale.  Below, there were little valleys with towns nestled within.
Cordoba to Puebla, Mexico, map – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingUp we continued to climb, ensconced in the grandeur of these magnificent mountains. Then, at about 8,400 feet elevation, the road leveled out to reveal an enormous, slightly tilted but flat plane, as the air became less humid still.  Within just a few moments, we were in an area of brown hills and plants more suited to a drier climate and swaths of agricultural plots.

Coming into Puebla, we took a different route than the last time, but not on purpose.  Missing our turnoff, we wound up on what seemed like several miles of elevated highway with a great view of the city but with nary a single off-ramp.  Eventually, we were deposited next to a huge Volkswagen factory large enough to be a small city of its own.

After our unplanned tour of the industrial side of Puebla, we made the same right into the little oasis that contained our hotel and Leaving Cordoba towards Puebla road with snowcapped volcanoes – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingthe surrounding neighborhood. Like returning to the accepting home of a kindly relative, everything was pleasant and familiar.  The air was fresh and cool, with the slight scent of pines, and it was quiet.  The old VW camping van that was parked nearby with the leaves on it was still there, as was the pretty and stylish fraccionamiento (housing development), just as we remembered them.  This time, we had to try a few different rooms at the hotel before we found the one we liked best. Being that we knew better, we avoided the mistake we made last time, and got a room overlooking the courtyard as opposed to the parking lot.

There were the familiar pine and oak trees, with richly green grass carpeting the ground.  As before, we enjoyed our morning walks, but with the added comfort of knowing the neighborhood.  We tried to see if there were homes to rent, but couldn’t find any short term. 

We were very happy to have booked Puebla for two days instead of one, because it gave us the added time to do many of the things we weren’t able to on our first visit but would be able to on this one.  This time, however, we would benefit from the greater Chuck Bolotin walking dogs near MM Hotel, Puebla, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingknowledge and confidence that comes from visiting a second time, repeating what was good while seeking out new adventures.

Looking to replicate the breakfast buffet experience we had on our first visit, we ate again at the restaurant across from the hotel, on the same terrace with our two dogs, with the same waitress, Elizabeth, who remembered us and brought us delectable masa dishes that were the pride of the region but not on the buffet, prepared just then, just for us. In addition, my wife Jet discovered a tasty grain-like wheat germ called amaranth that we were told is a common breakfast food in Puebla with marvelous digestive properties.   (Several months later, while visiting California, Jet shared her discovery with her parents, who, after a suitable trial, agreed.)

Our hotel was in the more modern part of town, so we had to drive a bit to do our self-guided tour of centro Puebla, which had very nice shopping and beautiful architecture. For the hours we were there, we saw not a single expat, although there were a sprinkling of stores from our American past, including Woolworths, evidently unaware of its fate in the US and still thriving in Puebla, Mexico.  There was a street band playing what resembled klezmer music, so after our car tour, we spent some time walking near the plaza, where, never passing up a chance to dance to klezmer music, Jet gave it a try.

But back to the shopping.  Jet found some miniatures of Mexican leather purses that she had to have and did, along with native Jet Metier outside store Christmas shopping in Puebla, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Livingblouses that she wanted but couldn’t have, because they did not have sizes large enough for her.  We visited a store where Jet purchased an exuberantly embroidered floral native dress that was perfect for her mother to wear at her vacation beach home in the Philippines.  In a testament to how all of humanity is intertwined in one way or another, the legend goes that, centuries earlier, a Spaniard bought a Filipino girl to Mexico, whose native Filipino dress and embroideries were so admired by the native Mexican women that they adopted the style and technique for their own clothing.  Fast forward to the present, now each Mexican village has its own signature designs in this style for which they can be identified. Completing the circle, Jet purchased the dress for her mom, both of whcih will be traveling westward in a few months.

Jet also bought herself a native dress with fringe at the hem, a design rarely found in the crafts markets.  While there, the owners of the store outfitted Jet in a beautiful embroidered native skirt that had only one seam and needed careful wrapping and a cloth belt to keep it up.

Jet Metier and Chuck Bolotin at restaurant in Puebla, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International LivingOne of our dinners was at the restaurant just up the street from the hotel less than a 10-minute walk away.  We knew that our dogs were safe (and probably asleep) in the hotel room, so we could enjoy ourselves worry-free. To get to the entrance, we had to walk over a gully that had a Plexiglas bridge. Other than two well-dressed Mexican men a few tables over, we were the only customers in this beautiful, chic restaurant with the murals of bulls on interior walls that were adorned for Christmas.  In stark contrast to the temperatures we were in just a few days earlier in the Yucatan Peninsula, Jet was now dressed in full on winter gear with a below the knee coat, and still asked to be near the heater.

As we waited for our authentic Puebla food, we saw that the waiter and his assistant were engaged in a rather elaborate ceremony to the side of the table of the two other patrons.  There was a push cart, lots of different types of alcohol, and what looked like jars of spices and other items we couldn’t identify.  The evidently discerning and worldly men watched approvingly, but not too much so.

Interrupting the show two tables over was the arrival of our food. It was sophisticated and different than we had experienced just a few days before and certainly nothing like you would expect in a typical Mexican restaurant in the US.  We had guisados, which we learned is delicious, subtle, savory and stew-like, with black beans on the side.
Jet Metier outside Korean restaurant in Puebla, Mexico – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
Unable to shake the vision of the alcohol-centered ritual we had witnessed before dinner and feeling good about pretty much everything, I decided to try it.  Out came the cart with the mezcal and spices, and the show began.  With the confidence and professionalism evidently gained from training and practice, after several minutes of pouring, mixing, rubbing, adding and stirring (I don’t remember any shaking), the waiter passed me the finished product… which, honestly, I didn’t like at all.  But hey, you never know until you try.  Perhaps it’s an “acquired taste.”
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Our third culinary triumph was diner the next night at a Korean restaurant within a half hour walk from the hotel.  It was our first Korean food in more than eight months and Jet’s first conversation with a real-life Korean in Mexico about the Korean dramas she has been steaming from the Internet all during our road trip.  (There’s no place like home.)
Breakfast with amaranth at restaurant at MM Hotel, Puebla – Best Places In The World To Retire – International Living
Flush from our Korean food experience of bulgogi, kimchi, seasoned soybean sprouts, seasoned spinach, spicy cucumber salad and lots of other side dishes, and after having a sufficient quantity of amaranth the next morning, we bid goodbye to our sanctuary in the little offset of modern Puebla and embarked for the final leg of our journey, to Lake Chapala, about 420 miles west-northwest.  We had a long way to go and not much time to get there.
Next, we sprint the last leg of our journey, from Puebla to the Lake Chapala area while constructing mind experiments and visiting a very unexpected rest stop.

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