Thursday, June 23, 2016

Yes Sir That's A Cactus

Teacher, travelers, hangovers, cactus and a bumpy Combi ride.
Freddi, Ken, Tom, Fleur, Rebecca, Pudy
Approximately 30km outside of Tehuacan is the Cactus Botanical Garden located in the Biosphere Reserve Tehuacán-Cuicatlan, I had noticed all the rolling hills covered with cactus when I came into Tehuacan a few months ago so I jumped at the chance for a guided tour knowing it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was not disappointed.

As a part of the "Culture Experience" put on by The Heslington School where I ply my trade this was a great opportunity to also spend the day with my colleagues outside of the school. Included in this trip were Tom and Rebecca whom I spent the day on the Combi 42 adventure and post McCarthy's Pub drink the day was a bit slow to get going. Others included Pudy (USA), Fleur (UK), and Freddi (Canada), our driver and guide. Slogging to wake up and be at the meeting point for 9 am I had time for an OXXO (variety store, think 7-11) breakfast, as did most. A cold days old sandwich, prepackaged cheesecake and a bag of Doritos later I was right as rain. No better way to prepare for standing in the desert sun surrounded by 20 - 25 metre tall plants.

7 metre elephant cactus flipping us the bird
The ride out to the gardens was spectacular to say the least. Rolling hills covered with cactus plants as far as you could see. Volcano Popocatepetl majestically hung in the background as the guardian of the garden. This beast of a volcano is constantly erupting and as much as I would love the challenge it is closed. That being said, Volcano Orizaba becomes, but this is a post for another day. We passed through the hillside town of San Antonia Texcala which seemed to be gearing up for some type of festival which got everyone excited. The road was winding but good and our driver was extremely safe. As I mentioned the views were mesmerizing and any photo would not do it any justice.

Some of these plants dated back to the Spanish Conquest. Yes, there are over 500 years old. They grow 3 cm a year so it is quite easy to put an age to them. Plus there are over 2000 varieties of cactus plants that grow in various shapes and sizes. These include the Blue Agave from which both tequila and mescal are made. I licked the Blue Agave Cactus hoping for some type of out of body experience but I just got a mouth full of dirt and bugs.  Additionally the word mezcal comes from Nahuatl mexcalli which means "oven-cooked agave". Despite the similar name, mezcal does not contain mescaline or other psychedelic substances, something only an idiot would have believed (nope not me, never ever).

With Rebecca
The wonderful thing about traveling is the beauty that can be found anywhere. A cactus forest, a calving glacier, windswept sand dunes or a roaring volcano. You choose but keep your eyes and mind open otherwise you might miss something while your staring into your phone searching for a picture of what is right in front of you.

With Freddie
We we guided through the park for a couple of hours, stopping to learn what we could while soaking in the surroundings. A shaky and poorly constructed observation platform allowed for quality yet harrowing photo opportunities, a few bumped heads and one big guy scared of heights who suddenly became a whimpering mess. We were all of 10 feet off the ground but I get it, even though that did not stop the abuse I hurled his way.

One the way back into town we stopped at a market just outside of  San Antonia Texcala which we learned was a mining town that dug up onyx and marble. The local artisans created some wonderful works of art including chess sets, figurines, wind chimes, and other assorted merchandise. You would have been foolish not to purchase something.

Next week as a part of the Cultural Program we are heading to the caves of the Penafiel water and bottling factory (owned by Dr. Pepper and Snapple). I walk by it every day on my way to The Discovery School. I am told it is an impressive tour so I look forward to that. Along the way we are also going to learn to weave baskets (I will probably miss that day) and learn to cook authentic Mexican including the proper process to make and bake tortillas. I will be down for that regardless of the fact that I am certainly "taco-ed out".

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