20th March – After 6 days in Oaxaca, we are ready to move on now towards Tehuacan and Puebla, skirting around the eastern side of Mexico City. Huge skies and a dry and rocky landscape, local farmers scratching an existence from the poor soil with barely enough grazing for their donkeys and herds of goats.
As we near Tehuacan the road passes through the Reserva de la Biosfera Tehuacan – Cuicatlan, an enormous, rugged chain of mountains covered in tall cactus plants, many just a single stem. The mountains plummet to the arid Tehuacan Valley where we decide to stay in town as they have a festival in the main square this evening. Hotel Mexico provides us with a room, excellent parking and a 2 minute walk to where everything is happening. Stalls from many South American countries are set up around the lively zocalo (square) and the colourful dancing is great fun to watch. It’s a wonderful temperature now after the heat of the day and crowds of people are still thronging the streets until quite late.
21st March – The Reserva de la Biosfera de Tehuacan – Cuicatlan lies between the two southern Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca. This reserve has one of the most diverse collections of cactus species and attracts a huge variety of birds including many hummingbirds. The Jardin Botanico in the Reserva de la Biosfera, is easily reached by road from Tehuacan, not far from the town of Zapotitlan Salinas which has a 400 year old church. It makes for a fascinating trip to another world…….to a cactus forest, created by nearby mountains blocking winds carrying moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s very hot here, with the clearest of deep blue sky. We have the camping area to ourselves where we try and find some shade, as our thermometer quickly goes over 40 degrees in the sun. In the wet season, a river carves its way through the valley but now it is completely dry. Paths lead in many directions but we don’t attempt a walk until late afternoon. I then learn a quick lesson when I accidentally brush against a flat leaf cactus and have to spend the next few minutes pulling out masses of fine spikes that have become embedded in my hand!
This is a wonderful place to visit however, with enormous numbers of endemic cactus plants which must look amazing when in flower.
It’s here that we also discover the extraordinary Pato de Elefante (Elephant’s Foot Tree), one of the largest in the world and again endemic to this semi-arid habitat of Mexico.
The nights are wonderfully peaceful here and if you enjoy nature and wildlife, then this very special reserve is one not to be missed!
23rd March – We leave the cactus forest today and make a stop at San Antonio de Padua to take a look at their wonderful old church. Crumbling around the edges and a favourite roosting place for pigeons, it resembles a decorative, iced cake with its pale pink and blue, faded paintwork.
Many artisan shops line the road and we take a look at their work, beautifully sculptured from local stone. We meet a lovely family here from further north at Leon. As usual, our Land Rover is the star attraction and they take it in turns to sit inside to have their photos taken.
From here we head toward Puebla, taking the road toward Huamantla with views of Volcan La Malinche at 4460m also called Malintzi by the local people. We enter the Parque Nacional La Malintzi where we register before continuing to the Vacacional Centro at 3100m where we can camp for the night……and it’s going to be a cold one at this altitude! Our neighbours are a French/Canadian couple from Quebec, more snow birds escaping their winter, which they tell us has been one of the worst for many years!
25th March – A bitterly cold morning…..10 degrees, so a real shock to the system after our recent hot weather. We plan to leave early. Our Canadian neighbours warn us of the area around Palenque after hearing reports that two overland vehicles travelling together were hijacked, their vehicles taken from them and later found by the army burnt out, all their identification and car papers also destroyed. We know this does happen, it is not the first dreadful story that we have heard of or seen reported. And so as always, we remain aware and hope to travel safely.
Our journey today takes us past distant views of Mexico’s 2nd and 3rd highest, snow-capped peaks…..Volcans Popocatepetl (Smoking Mountain) at 5452m and still active and Iztaccihuatl at 5220m and now dormant.
The toll roads, we have been told, are usually a safe way to travel but they are expensive and not many travellers like to keep to main roads all the time. However, today we have decided to take one, as it’s going to be a long drive to reach San Miguel de Allende.