Away we go… to Mexico
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  Posted December 2nd, 2012 by Zdenko  in Travel | 12 comments

Mexico City to Puebla

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Rental car tour of Mexico – Hola Amigos!
Well after several months of preparation, three weeks on the road in Mexico and bumping ourselves over way too many “topes” – I’m happy to report we’ve made it back home safe and sound.

What an amazing journey Vera and I had. We saw so many beautiful things, had a ton of fun and met lots of great people. I drove over 2,200 km through five Mexican states (Mexico DF, Puebla, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Morales). I will try to describe our journey here stage by stage. So thanks to everyone who will read my blogs in the next little while. We had fun and hope our experience will inspire some of you to take a trip like ours in the near future. Life is short – enjoy it!

Although Vera and I certainly would have enjoyed staying in any of the “All inclusive” hotels in Mexico, we didn’t travel to hang out with people like ourselves. We were more interested in getting tastes of local cultures and learn about country’s history. 

We were well and when we didn’t post anything for a few days because we had no internet access for a while. There was no need to worry, thankfully we never ran into any of the problems everyone was fretfully warning us about. Thus, not to say that everything went smoothly…

So long kids… Hasta la vista, Edmonton.
We left Edmonton for Mexico City on board one of the US Airways jets. The flight left on time and was nice and smooth. When the plane landed in Phoenix, we only had 20 minutes for transfer  but we made it. When we walked out of the airport in Mexico City, it was like being on a different planet. It was very warm and hazy, with smog hanging above the big city. We passed by all the time share people, ignored the taxi drivers trying to get our attention, and went strait to a Thrifty’s shuttle, that would take us to this Rent a Car agency. I had to fight to get a car I wanted (reserved online), but I got it: nice silver 2009 model Volkswagen Passat, though it’s model name in Mexico is “Bora”.

Mexico City – Puebla highway on the map

So, we dived in Mexico traffic head first, leaving the nation’s capital, along a thoroughfare known as Zaragoza. After thinking about it before hand, we decided to get straight out of another MAJOR city and go to a little, quieter town, like Puebla de Zaragoza.

But first, how do I describe Mexico City traffic. It is hectic… crazy… unbelievable, are words that come to my mind. The name of the game is patience, plain and simple. And if you’re picking up a rental car at the airport, ask your attendant to draw a map, and regardless of its quality, at every opportunity ask other motorists and pedestrians how and when to turn onto Zaragoza. There is always congestion on this road, so much that vendors offer soft drinks and water, snacks, freezes, and an array of other foodstuffs. They are walking ever so slowly, meandering through the lines of stopped traffic, plying their products.

Traffic in Mexico City was much worse than this…

Only three km away from the airport, at the intersection with Zaragoza Boulevard I was pooled over by policeman, but I didn’t do anything wrong. He just recognized one “gringo” behind the wheel and needed some money… or bribe. He showed me that fine would be 3,600 pesos (for what?), and I offered money on the spot in exchange for no hassle. He asked for 2,000, I offered 200, he asked for 1,000, I offered 300. Than he looked at my hands how much I had (I was showing him how much I had) and he asked for 500 (since I didn’t have much more). I gave him the money and off we went back into hectic traffic, moving very slowly out of the city. This was already bad start for our journey, but I was ready for it, so that made it easier. I guess this must be part of the journey when you travel on your own in Mexico, which has corrupt police officers. Besides it was only about $45 Canadian dollars.

People are everywhere in Puebla

Leaving Mexico City we passed through a number of stretches of comedors (places where they sell food) along each side of the highway. The road gradually ascended, through a number of easy curves, and we left the smog of the valley behind. The scenery is nothing special, but the ease with which we were able to negotiate the curves at a reasonable speed was more than making up for the non-descript landscapes. The curves and valleys were becoming more dramatic, to the extent that there was a red line on the pavement demarcating how vehicles with failing brakes should proceed, leading them off the pavement and onto a roadway ending at a soft embankment of straw.

The further we went out of the city, the easier was to drive thru traffic and soon we were driving on auto-pista, which was a toll highway (quota) MEX150D, going towards Puebla de Zaragoza City. It is only 128 km between these two cities and we made it in about two hours. We stopped two times to pay for the road (total of 120 pesos), before we arrived in Puebla.

The road from Mexico City to Puebla runs through beautiful pine-forested mountains and near the twin volcanoes Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, which incidentally, we had earlier seen from the air as we flew into Mexico City.

Popocatepetl volcano

Popocatepetl (or Popo) and Iztaccihuatl (or Itza) are Mexico’s second and third highest mountains and loom large on the horizon on this stretch of road. Popocatepetl, Nahuatl for Smoking Mountain, has been spouting plumes of gas and ash off and on in recent years and has forced the evacuation of the population in the surrounding areas. Though it is over a thousand years since Popo delivered a really big blast, Mexican authorities are not allowing anyone on the mountain except scientists monitoring its activity.

There are at least a couple of exits to downtown Puebla, marked as “Puebla Centro.” Puebla makes for a great stopover for a day or two, if you’re in no great rush to get to Oaxaca like us. We planned to stay here two nights and explore the city.

Puebla is large and sprawling, but the downtown core is quaint, small and full of interesting shops, crafts, restaurants and clean, inexpensive hotels. Within a couple of blocks of the zócalo are good hotels, an extensive pedestrian walkway with many shops, and Los Sapos, a few streets filled with crafts, antiques and collectibles. On the weekends there’s an open air marketplace. On Sunday there’s an even larger series of temporary stalls selling crafts, plants, etc, two blocks down. Of course there are nearby ruins and other sites, but for a brief stopover it’s the downtown that’s the “must see”.

NH Hotel in Puebla

The only hotel reservation we made for this trip was at NH Hotel in Puebla. The grid pattern of Puebla City streets is based on a very quirky scheme that is totally bewildering to an outsider and we had difficulties finding our hotel. The city center is divided into 4 quadrants with Reforma-Don Juan de Palafox Y Mendoza forming the East-West axis and the 5 de Mayo-16 de Septiembre forming the North-South axis.

I happened to find NH Puebla hotel on their website and booked it for 90 CAD! This was an incredible deal for the beautiful four star hotel. Maybe it was just our timing. For the rest of our trip we were planning on finding accommodation once we get there.

NH Puebla is a classy business hotel popular with Mexican tourists, although it’s located in a soulless blue building. The NH Puebla is located close to the magnificent historical center of the city of Puebla, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s just two hours from the Benito Juárez Airport in Mexico City.

Hotel pool is on the top floor

Vera and Zdenko by the hotel pool

Inside, though, there are all the mod-cons expected from international standard hotels, including parking ($3 per day), free WiFi, gym, outdoor swimming pool, room service, a bar and up market restaurant with breakfast and lunch buffets ($12-$14) and a la carte menu. The staff is gracious and speaks English.

The best thing about this hotel was its location very near the zócalo. NH Puebla provides an excellent base to explore downtown Puebla while at the same time offering the best of modern amenities. The room we were in was large with a king size bed, nice size bathroom. Our room was also quite modern, with comfortable beds and everything working perfectly. The mattress and pillows were really hard, but that seemed to be the case for most hotels in Mexico. Pool on the top floor, wasn’t open at the times we went up there to check it out, and the roof top bar and pool were tiny.

The only complain I had was they charge extra for coffee (40 pesos a bag) and water (20 pesos) in the rooms, but buffet style breakfast was included in the room price. We did hear walking in the rooms above us as the floors are not carpeted (they have another type of floor covering). All in all – very good buffet breakfast and restaurant, very nice staff that went out of their way to help us.

Typical street in Puebla

Restaurants on Puebla’s zocalo

Then we went out and experienced our first night in Mexico… so many things going on in the local square, Zocalo… people everywhere… we had dinner in the restaurant from the picture above.

By 10 pm we were in our room and we call it a day, as we were both tired of everything that happened to us that day. We left exploring of the city for next day.

NH Hotel at night

Is it safe in Mexico?
Since this was our first day in Mexico, I’d like to answer this common question. Is it safe? I have been all over Mexico, often just the two of us on our own. We always use the same caution in Mexico that we would use anywhere traveling alone. I have never felt threatened, unsafe, or in danger. Common sense can be your best safe guard. I feel completely comfortable traveling alone (with my wife) in Mexico and will probably continue to do so. Mexico, the people and the culture are wonderful things to be experienced and should not be missed.

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12 comments to “Away we go… to Mexico”

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