Puebla – Hidden Popo, Steep Izta, Tunnels, and San Andres Cholula

After the whirlwind of Mexico City, we decided that we were going to head east to Puebla for a little slower pace, despite the fact Puebla is the 4th largest city in Mexico. Some of the main draws to the area are the city of San Andres Cholula and the two volcanoes just outside the city, Popocatepetl & Iztaccihuatl. Reconnecting with nature is a key element to any happy life, especially when coming from a concrete jungle like Mexico City. There have been numerous studies which back this sentiment, but truly all one must do is experience nature often to know her benefits. The crisp air in your lungs, a light mist of your face, the feeling of your muscles working to carry you to your destination, and the silence. A re-connection with being part of the larger world.

Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies atop the biggest pyramid in the world

Exploring the city of San Andres Cholula (yes like the sauce, its where it is made!) was easy. Once in the city center we gravitated towards the highest point in the city, topped by a cathedral called Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies. Buried in what seems to be a hill are the ruins of the largest pyramid known to exist in the world today. Spanish conquistadors often replaced sacred native locations with their own religious symbols. Initially there was a singular cross on top of the pyramid, but this was struck by lightning after a couple of years, so they replaced it with another cross. And you know what, that one and the next one was also struck by lightning. The church was built on this site and a cross still stands today where the original cross was placed.

After checking the church out we explored the base of the “hill”/pyramid which has some parts exposed. Ancient reliefs, stone altars, some parts of the pyramid gave a sense of just how huge this pyramid if restored would be. It is thought to have been 1480 ft by 1480 ft in diameter and 217 feet tall! Beneath the pyramid is a set of underground tunnels you can walk through. Definitely not for the claustrophobic, but it was a surreal experience as you walk through the tunnel system for roughly 15-20 minutes before popping out on the other side.

As we prepared for our hike to Izta and Popo, we researched a couple different blogs and felt pretty good about our plan of attack. We would take a taxi out to La Joya, walk up on Izta for a little bit, then hike the 6 miles out to Paso de Cortes. At Paso de Cortes we had read there were taxis and collectivos (basically shared minivans) which could take us back to Puebla. No problem. We left our AirBnB around 6:45 in the morning and used Cabify to get a ride out to La Joya, the launching point for many mountaineers aiming to climb Izta, the 7th highest peak in North America at 17,159 feet. Giddy with excitement we couldn’t wait to get out to the mountains and see a different kind of environment. Life in high altitude is unique and some of the vegetation we saw there seemed to be from an alien planet.

Thirty minutes into our drive we realized our driver was not taking the direct route that would have us at La Joya in 2 hours. Instead he was heading in a giant circle that took us north, then west around Izta and Popo, then south, then back towards Puebla. Along the way there were tolls he was adamant were not included in the fare. Duh buddy, you are going a different way!

Three hours later we arrive at La Joya and as we get out the driver says we need to pay for his tolls to get back to Puebla. We argued for a bit, but when he got out of the car to argue, we just decided to pay him the extra 150 pesos to cover his tolls. Not a great start. An hour behind when we wanted to be at the mountain, we started to head up the hiking trail on the ascent of Izta.

Heading out from La Joya

First, hiking in high altitude is no joke! Having had little to no experience with it this was a bit of a shock to the system for us. We elected to walk up about 30 minutes or so until we reached a little saddle on the first piece of ascent. Here we ate lunch and absorbed as much of the beauty as we could considering the whole mountain was covered in clouds. Without the opportunity to see the volcanos, we settled for some beautiful views of rolling high altitude hillside draped in clouds (I guess we can take that!)

After hiking down the little bit of Izta, we headed back towards Paso de Cortes. As we came back into cell service, we were shocked to receive notifications that the cab driver had charged an additional 1,000 pesos through the app!! Not only had he squeezed us for his tolls, but he also was collecting in the app, a true snake. We wrote to Cabify and explained the situation. Luckily, they refunded all but the original toll we agreed to pay and apologized. Little did we know that would be the beginning of our transportation troubles that day.

We arrived at Paso de Cortes just before 2pm and asked a couple people where we should wait for a taxi or collectivo. We set up shop and waited, and waited, and waited. No taxis, despite what you might read online, your best hope is to have a car yourself or to take one of the collectivos. Now, these collectivos ran hourly to Amecameca which is on the Mexico City side, but if you want to get to the Puebla side, there was not a mode of transportation to be found. A nice old Mexican man said it will come and not to worry and that he would be taking it when it arrived. So, we waited, and waited, and waited. Then we started getting desperate asking random people as they were leaving if they were heading our way, and then waited some more until about 6pm when we were starting to wonder if we would ever get off the mountain.

A Mexican policeman on an ATV came up and asked us where we were headed (probably wondering what these crazy gringos were asking people as they drove by). We told him where and he said his friend was just about to head that way that he could give us a ride for 500 pesos. Steep cost, but at this point we said yes. So, we hopped in the back of an unmarked Bronco with a Mexican policeman and his buddy. Hindsight, should we have worried? Maybe a little, but they were some of the nicest folks we met that day.

On our way down several things became abundantly clear. The road coming up to Paso de Cortes from the east side was in disrepair and 4X4 was a must. Our original cab driver wouldn’t have made it up this way hence his detour, and that is why no collectivos were running down towards Puebla. Our policeman friend said some days the roads are just too bad, and they don’t run.  After dropping us at a collectivo that took us to Puebla for 25 pesos a person we sighed in relief, we were finally on our way back. When we pulled into our AirBnB around 9pm we immediately crashed out, exhausted by the experience.

But on Izta it was pretty fun

Puebla was yet another gem on our trail across Mexico. It boasts amazing ancient Mesoamerican sites, some of the rawest nature we have seen on our trip, the highest altitude we have ever hiked at, and even more to explore if we decided to stay longer.

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