|The Tercera Orden Chapel - part of the Cuernavaca cathedral complex|
What do tired and weary residents of Mexico City do on weekends? Many of them head off down into Cuernavaca, often called the "land of eternal spring". Just 102 kilometers away from the capital, the roads get clogged with cars and buses, surely not as inviting for a short rejuvenation if all one experiences is the congestion one is escaping away from? Thankfully for us, we went there on a Monday on our way to the mining town of Taxco, on a van trip arranged by our hostel for just under $40 per person.
|Catedral de Cuernavaca|
What surprised me is that the town sits actually lower than Mexico City at 1,533 meters above sea level (Mexico City is at a loftier 2,239 meters). The climate is so agreeable that rulers and conquerors built retreat houses - from the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II to Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés. These days, those who can afford them splurge at the numerous spas around town. As for us, we're only getting a taste of its spiritual side on a quick visit to the Catedral de Cuernavaca (or Catedral de la Asunción de María).
|Murals can be seen depicting missionaries martyred in Japan|
|Monastery adjacent to Cuernavaca Cathedral|
The church was built in 1552 looking like a huge fortress. While renovations to the interior has been made over the centuries, what caught our attention were the 18th-century frescoes uncovered during refurbishing work. On the walls depict the martyrdom of Mexico's first saint San Felipe de Jesús and his companions in Japan in 1597. We almost thought San Lorenzo Ruiz was part of this! San Felipe and his group were sailing from Manila on their way to Mexico when a storm sent their ship to the shores of Japan instead. What a fate.
|Taxco de Alarcon and a traffic jam of Beetle taxis|
From Cuernavaca, it's 76 kilometers further south to Taxco de Alarcón or simply Taxco. On approach to town, one can't help but be awed by its picturesque location. Houses cling to the hillsides along with a slew of old churches. The view reminded me in a way of La Paz, Bolivia. But what really made this town alluring to foreigners was what's once plentiful underneath its belly - silver. There's hardly any left these days but silversmiths and jewelry shops are all over town, begging for tourists to take even just a peek at reasonably-priced and well-designed pieces.
|Santa Prisca Church|
In 1751, silver mining made one French guy named José de la Borda so rich that he had a church built as a way of thanksgiving.The imposing facade of Santa Prisca Church is already eye-catching until one goes inside and gets assaulted by the carved retablo made of resplendent gold. Gawking at the altar felt like already seeing God in the flesh. We craned our necks up and down and threw praises in hushed abandon. It's undoubtedly one of the prettiest churches I've visited.
|The view from the restaurant|
We had buffet lunch at El Atrio Restaurant where their outdoor seating provided fantastic views of the town. Food was plentiful but nothing was memorable. Like any other visitor, we also stopped by one of the silver shops where someone explained the intricacies involved in designing. Despite all those beautiful silver pieces, we found ourselves merely contented with window-shopping. Jewelry isn't really my thing.
|Up and down Taxco|
What got me more driven for the afternoon was walking up the steep and narrow streets above Plaza Borda just in front of the church. We huffed and puffed, dodging VW Beetles commonly used as taxis. Our Spanish wasn't too good but we managed ourselves well enough to get directions easily. The walk, if taken on a daily basis like most locals do, is serious calorie-burning really. Anyone who wants to lose weight might want to try living for a few months in Taxco. Perhaps a Mexican version of the Biggest Loser?