Friday, May 16, 2008

Roadtrip to Querétaro

It was a hot and cloudy Wednesday afternoon. Lokesh, Mallesh, Liyan and myself hurried home for a quick bite of egg burji with tortillas and some spaghetti. We loaded the car with bags and gas, 4 of us by 4 in the evening were cruising on Monterrey - Saltillo highway.

Landscape kept wavering from raw and rocky mountains to cactus clad desert plains. The day sang into evening as we crossed Matahuala, the parting crimson glory of the ripening summer sun turned the desert bushes into an artistic silhouettes. These ones were shot from the moving car, it was moving at 160Kmph and it was indeed difficult to shoot these with the gush of wind pushing the camera.

Within no time, all we could see see was the shoulder of the highway painted yellow with blinking cat eye reflectors, the darkness had invaded the sky. At the outskirts of San Luis Potosi, we refilled the car, grabbed a sandwich and continued driving.

We had a couple more hours of journey remaining. Querétaro started showing up as a carpet of scattered lights from the far. It didn't take much time for us to locate the hostel, Hostal El Pozo.

The city of Querétaro is a shortened name for Santiago de Querétaro and it's the capital of the state Querétaro. Located almost in the center of the country, it's bordered by the states of San Luis Potosi in the north, Guanajuato in the west, Mexico in the south and Hidalgo to the east. The legend has that the Spaniards were about to lose the battle with the local Indians, out of the blue the sky darkened and Saint James and the fiery Holy cross incarnated. Indians accepted the defeat and Santiago (Saint James in Spanish) de Querétaro was formed in 1531.

After making the payments, the señora of the hostel recommended us to have the tacos from Oaxaca at the junction of Calle Constituyentes and Manuel Tolsa. The tacos were indeed, as she said, riquísimos.

Wrong alarm screwed our early morning plans the next morning. We exited the hostel by 9 and drove straight to Peña de Bernal. It's a tiny village, about 60Km from Querétaro, located off the Querétaro-Mexico autopista. Known for it's second largest and fourth highest monolithic rock on this planet this town reminded me of San Miguel de Allende, with it's colourful colonial architecture and narrow alleys.

There are numerous artists selling artworks and sundries. The gigantic rock overlooks the village providing a sort of magnificent backdrop. We rambled around discovering the village and photographing.

A red and yellow painted cathedral adds pride to the central square, buildings are painted with saturated colours ranging from violet to red of the spectrum.

Parking space is extremely sparse and it's highly recommended to pay 25 pesos for the parking lots at the entrance of the village.

Calle Ignacio Allende in Querétaro was our choice for lunch for there are countless tiny fast food outlets. We had four tacos each of different body parts of cow topped with chopped onions, spicy salsa and Guacamole.

After a tiny siesta at the hostel, we set out for exploring the Querétaro downtown, with camera and colourful guide maps (dispensed for free at most hostels and tourist centers).

Querétaro centro is the home for countless colonial cathedrals and cafes attracting millions of artists and tourists every year.

Encircled by streets Zaragoza, Corregidora, Universidad and 5 de Febrero, the centro (a world heritage site) is an aesthetic place with unique architecture and magniloquent churches of colonial grandeur and majesty, brilliantly maintained parks with central fountains, elegant retro styled houses and art and historical museums.

Guided by the maps, we were "church hopping" and photographing around centro for nearly 4 hours with small breaks for coffee and snacks.

Some of the must see sites of the centro are Plaza de Armas (known for it's unique fountain with water jets coming out of dog's mouth in four courner of the fountain), Templo y ex Convento de San Franciso (the most attractive church painted orange-red colour), Plaza de la Corregidora (has the statue of Corregidora and lots of cheap eat-outs and art peddlers), Templo de Santa Clara (the grandest and the loftiest cathedral I've ever seen), Catedral de Querétaro, Templo y ex Convento de San Agustin (very grandly constructed) and Jardin Zenea (the central garden).

Querétaro has so many churches that the title "City of Churches" would be very apt. At twilight, the street artists appearing like clowns perform in the square bringing smiles on the faces of lookers-on.

Like Morelia, Querétaro has aqueduct on calle "De Los Arcos". While the aqueduct of Morelia is shorter, the one of Querétaro is tall and gigantic and poorly lit. Till 1970 the aqueduct was used for suppling water to Querétaro.

As I mounted my tripod and started shooting the aqueduct, my eyes fell on a pub located on the other side of the road. I was pleasantly surprised to have found a pub that plays Jazz music, "Encrucijada Jazz". Without much contemplation, we entered the pub.

The live music had not yet started and B.B. King's Live at NYC DVD was being played on TV screens. We ordered a couple of beers and waited till 10:30 for the live music to start and truly it was an experience for which I was longing for about an year. If you're a jazz fan, Mexico is definitely not the right place. The trio Gabrial Hernandez from Cuba (on Piano), Serguei Sckalov from Russia (on Drums) and Tyler Mitches from USA (on Bass) gave an extraordinary performance. I highly recommend this place to all the jazz lovers visiting Querétaro. The address is Avenida de los Arcos, 21, Querétaro

During our previous roadtrip, we had just passed Querétaro without really knowing that it was this wonderful. A pretty village, a magnificent colonial town, melliflous jazz music...all in less than 24 hours!!! Roadtrip to Querétaro would surely be a memorable one.

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