Monday, November 28, 2016

Taxco Part 6- Walking the old colonial streets

Parroquia Santa Prisca from the entance of Calle Cuauhtemoc. Above, one of the ubiquitous white VW taxis enters Calle Cuauhtemoc from Plaza Borda. As a pleasant change of pace, I decided to take you on a stroll through the narrow, winding, colonial-era streets. Even in the face of the intense pressures of modernity, Taxco has managed to maintain its ancient ambiance. The streets were originally designed for pedestrians, horses and the occasional carriage. Automobiles were unimagined when these narrow passages were mapped out. The calles (streets) twist and turn in unexpected ways as they follow the contours of the terrain. In this posting, we'll proceed along Calle Cuautemoc to Plazuela de San Juan and then turn downhill on Calle Hidalgo, finally ending at Parque Vicente Guerrero, dedicated to a hero of the War of Independence.

Calle Cuauhtemoc

The cobbles in the streets were laid out in abstract designs. Notice the lack of sidewalks. None can be found anywhere except along the carretera (highway) that passes through the lower part of town. Calle Cuauhtemoc is named after the last Aztec Emperor who surrendered to Hernán Cortéz. He was tortured in an attempt to uncover the sources of Aztec gold and later executed by Cortéz on trumped up charges. Today, Cuauhtemoc is considered an heroic figure. The street is one-way, but walking can be tricky. Sometimes, pedestrians must step into doorways to get out of the way. As with most of Taxco, the structures along this street are primarily two-story, although some have roof terraces.

Beautiful hand-made jewelry was laid out on a simple cloth placed on the cobbles. Street vendors are everywhere in Mexico, usually selling the same sort of mass-produced nicknacks. Sometimes, however, the vendors are talented artists selling unique items.

Another vendor set up her wares on a local fountain. The natural world of Mexico is full of vivid colors. These are often reflected in the handicrafts and artwork you encounter here. In another cultural context, the color schemes might seem garish and clashing. In Mexico, with its wild profusion of plants whose multi-colored flowers blossom year-round, the hues of the handicrafts seem completely natural.

I have no idea what this was about. The VW above passed by as we waited to cross the street. My first thought was a wedding, but there was no procession in front or behind. The famous Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali once visited Mexico, intending to do some painting here. After a relatively short time, he left the country in disgust. Dali said it was impossible to do Surrealist art here because Mexico was completely Surreal already. I tend to agree.

Plazuela de San Juan

Plazuela de San Juan is centered on a fountain from which a star radiates. A plazuela is a small plaza. In the background are various restaurants and small tiendas (stores). Most of these structures, as well as those surrounding the rest of the plazuela, were built during colonial times. The construction is of adobe covered with white plaster and roofed with red clay tiles.

Restaurante El Adobe sits above a shop selling t-shirts and handicrafts. Many of Taxco's restaurants and bars are on the 2nd floor and have balconies in their windows. These are great places to have a leisurely meal while casually watching the activities in the plazuela below. While we never ate at El Adobe ourselves, our Fodor guidebook listed it as a good restaurant.

A little mariachi music, anyone? My eye was caught by this full-size statue of a mariachi guitarist. It stands outside the entrance of a small t-shirt shop. Mariachi music originated in the pueblo of Cocula in the state of Jalisco, where I live. The music became popular throughout the country and is one of the most recognized symbols of Mexico.

Restaurante La Hamburguesa was our favorite breakfast spot during our visit. The restaurant is upstairs and serves not only hamburgers but a variety of other dishes. The owners had to get special permission to build the little terrace into the sloping roof because local rules restrict any changes to historic structures. The friendly woman who owns and operates the restaurant told us that the building has belonged to her family for 200 years.

View of Plazuela de San Juan from La Hamburguesa's roof terrace. In the upper right, the steeples of Parroquia Santa Prisco rise to the heavens. The plazuela is a traffic circle, or glorieta as the Mexicans would call it. Nearly all the other vehicles in the photo are either VW taxis or colectivos (a sort of miniature bus). There is no lack of public transportation in Taxco, if you don't care to walk.

Another view from our favorite breakfast spot. I was intrigued by the building in the background. It appears to be a hotel. It may have always been that, or perhaps it was someone's mansion back in the old silver mining days.

Restaurant El Adobe sits directly across a narrow lane from La Hamburguesa. El Adobe must have just opened for breakfast, because all my other photos show the balcony tables filled with diners. The street below is very narrow and one morning some workmen dug a huge hole in one side of it. Almost immediately, traffic backed up for blocks. Drivers tried, one at a time, to negotiate the passage without plunging into the hole. Only the most minimal barriers protected the workers. As we ate our breakfast, I fully expected to see a car topple onto them. The whole episode was quite entertaining, in a macabre sort of way. It was kind of like a dinner show featuring a live a train wreck.

Calle Hidalgo

Calle Hidalgo drops down from Plazuela de San Juan in front of Hotel Santa Prisca. A pedestrian walkway heads up to the hotel's entrance while Calle Hidalgo heads down. There are several other hotels situated around Plazuela de San Juan as well. In the photo, it is mid-morning and people are just heading to work. I have noticed that most Mexican towns and villages don't really get going until after 10:00 AM. On the other hand, they stay active until fairly late in the evening. My kind of hours!

An elderly violinist played his heart out as we walked down Hidalgo. Mexico is full of street musicians, many of them quite good. They play for whatever tips that passersby are willing to offer. I nearly always give generously because they add real value to my life. Also, it's a hard way to make a living and I like to help out where I can.

Several blocks down Hidalgo, I focused my camera back up the street toward the mountains. This is a one-way street, fortunately, and the vehicles usually stayed on their side of the center line. However, it's always wise to keep a wary eye on the folks riding motor scooters. The street was so narrow that people can easily stand on the balconies on either side and converse in a normal tone of voice.

Mexican whimsy in a local pharmacy. I happened to peek in the door and spotted this prancing, mechanical hobby horse. I was particularly charmed by his sombrero. Mexicans have a wonderful sense of humor that is often expressed in unexpected ways. I also checked out the prices for some of the drugs on the purple list. Prednisone is a common drug used for inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis. In the US, 10 tablets go for $4.84 at Walmart. In this farmacia, the same number of tablets cost $22.00 pesos ($1.06 USD), a savings of 78%. And, yes, they work just the same. For prescription drugs, the cost savings can be even greater.

Young Mexicans hang out at the local fountain. They eyed us curiously as we strolled by. Although Taxco gets a lot of Mexican tourists, we saw few foreigners during our visit. From colonial times until the early 20th century, fountains like this functioned as the primary water source for pueblo neighborhoods. The fountains were fed by aqueducts, sometimes of considerable length. In addition to their basic function, such fountains have always been social gathering places, even into the 21st century.

Older Mexicans chat in the shade of Parque Vicente Guerrero. Such parks, with their shady trees and lush gardens, are popular refuges from the heat of the mid-day sun. At the end of the walkway, you can see a small fountain and behind it a statue of the Independence War hero Vicente Guerrero. 

Erect and defiant, Vicente Guerrero stands in the middle of the park that bears his name. Vicente Ramón Guerrero Saldaña (1782 - 1831) was born in the town of Tixtla in what later became the state of Guerrero. His mother was of African descent and his father was mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous). Guerrero was an ardent supporter of independence from Spain and quickly joined the forces of José Maria Morelos when the insurgency broke out in 1810. He famously told his father, a supporter of Spanish rule, that the will of a father is sacred, but the Fatherland comes first. During the war, most of the independence movement's leaders either died in battle or were captured and executed. Guerrero was the last major leader left and he kept the movement alive through guerrilla warfare. Ultimately, the Spanish royalist commander realized that the war was a stalemate and cut a deal with Guerrero to support independence. Guerrero became President in 1829 and was a liberal folk hero who supported Mexico's downtrodden classes. Among other reforms, he abolished slavery and promoted equal civil rights for all Mexicans. As a mixed race reformer, he was disliked and distrusted by the conservative elite of Mexico. They organized a coup and this set off a short civil war. In February of 1831, Guerrero was betrayed, captured, and faced a firing squad a month later. His execution was widely denounced as "judicial murder" and viewed as racially motivated. 

This completes Part 6 of my Taxco series. In the next posting we'll take a look at three small neighborhood churches along Calle Hidalgo and an adjoining street. They date back as far as the 16th century. If you enjoyed this posting and would like to ask a question or leave a comment, please either use the Comments section below or email me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Thanks Jim! Love your pictures. Only time I was in Taxco was 30-35 years ago. Don't recognize anything but looks like a lot more cars now!

  2. Interesting and amusing text with pictures to match. thanks, Jim.


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim