Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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Mellowing out in Morelos

This laid-back Mexican state has rustic charm, New Age spas -- and not a resort in sight

Mexico's all-inclusive resorts aren't for me. I don't want to wear a plastic bracelet entitling me to unlimited watered-down margaritas and I don't need pre-arranged activities from dawn to disco. Last spring when my friend Wendy -- a Canadian who makes the little village of Tepoztlán her second home -- invited me to visit "the real Mexico" I jumped at the chance.

My holiday did not get off to a flying start. One of the world's largest and most populous cities, you'd think Mexico City might have an airport with more than one operating runway. Not so last March, when one of the (count 'em) two runways was under construction. This I discovered after circling between Mexico's capital and Acapulco for about four hours. When I finally collected my baggage after midnight, the driver Wendy had arranged to pick me up at 7PM was about as exhausted as I was.

After driving the 80 kilometres south to Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos, I arrived at the Posada del Tepozteco (Paraíso No. 3, Barrio de San Miguel, Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico, CP 62520; tel: 011-52-739-500-10; fax: 011-52-739-503-23) and flopped into bed. But there was no chance of dozing the next morning. Before the crack of dawn, I was awakened by the local morning symphony: a soprano section of twittering birds, joined by roosters, barking dogs and the ringing church bells from eight barrios in the village.

Tepoztlán (pronounced Tehposlan) is a feast for the senses. Out on the balcony I found myself in a valley surrounded by russet sandstone cliffs. Below was the tiny village nestled into the hills with a grand cathedral at its centre.

Out on the patio, under a loggia sagging with brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea, I found Wendy. We breakfasted on spicy huevos rancheros, stuffed squash blossoms and rib-sticking refritos. We decided to go exploring after breakfast and I changed into sturdy walking shoes. Paved with chunky cobblestones, Tepoztlán's steep streets are not the place for flimsy sandals. We descended into the centre of town accompanied by a number of dogs, some cowboys on horses and the occasional family tugging a mule. It was Sunday, market day, and many of the locals were setting up stalls around the central zócalo (market square). The shops and restaurants in town are painted vivid pink and turquoise, blinding yellow and lime green. We stopped at Buenos Tiempos (Good Times), an outdoor coffee shop selling dynamite Yin and Yang cappuccinos -- the latter includes a generous shot of coffee liqueur.

Good vibrations
Tepoztlán, as I was discovering, is a curious mix of local villagers and artists, writers, herbal healers, yoga masters and others drawn to the magic of these hills. The town is surrounded by several vortices -- electromagnetic energy fields emitted upward from the earth -- said to energize and inspire visitors. Legends about the power of this place date back to Aztec times. It was the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, their powerful serpent god. Montezuma weekended here. Zapata and his revolutionaries hid in these hills.

People I met (who seemed quite down to earth) admitted seeing strange lights. Some even claimed to have seen UFOs. Many of the locals and newcomers honestly believe that Tepoztlán brings out a positive energy in visitors. Whether it's the electromagnetic fields or the laid-back pace, this rea definitely has restorative properties. Fortunately, franchises like McDonald's and Holiday Inn or all-inclusive resorts have yet to discover it.

The Sunday market was a riot of colours, smells, hustle and bustle: Indian women in serape blankets balanced baskets on their heads amid glistening fruits and vegetables, pots of simmering concoctions, fresh tortillas, incense, crystals, herbs for everything from slimness to brain power, plumbing supplies, Barbie dolls, flowers and handicrafts. Wendy's digestive system has become impervious to Montezuma's revenge so she devoured a plate of fried tripe in a pungent sauce. I enjoyed a juicy mango cut to look like a flower, sprinkled with lime juice, salt and red chili pepper and served on a stick.

We visited the town's landmark, the buttressed Templo y Ex-Convento de la Natividad de la Virgen María, its panelled doors adorned with Indian motifs. Upstairs, the historical museum shows traditional crafts and costumes. J.K. Rowling will be happy to know that her Harry Potter books are selling well at the convent's gift shop. Graffiti on the walls of the City Hall are a reminder of the 1995 uprising: townspeople stormed the building and ousted the mayor to protest a proposed mega golf resort on their revered terrain. With luck, the locals' deep respect for the land will prevent Tepoztlán from becoming another "all-inclusive" Cancún.

 

The golf set may not have invaded Tepoztlán but the moviemakers have. When Wendy and I returned to the Posada for a swim later in the afternoon we encountered a crew of obnoxious Hollywood loudmouths trying to outdo one another on their cell phones. They were staying at the Posada while shooting a film on the outskirts of town. Wendy chuckled when they complained that their cell phones weren't working. "It's the magnetic forces at work," she whispered to me.

Lush luxury
We decided to escape the movie moguls the next morning by boarding a bus for Cuernavaca, about half an hour south. The balmy semi-tropical climate in this "land of eternal spring" has long attracted the rich and famous, beginning with Hernán Cortés who built his summer palace here in the 16th century. Now a museum, it's worth a visit for the Diego Rivera murals depicting the history of the state of Morelos. It also is home to Zapata's famous sombrero.

In the main square, Plaza de la Constitución, we bartered with sidewalk vendors for some silver trinkets, then took a leisurely stroll through the Jardín Borda. Designed in the 18th century for the wealthy Borda family, these gardens -- though they've seen better days -- are an oasis of shade and fountains in the middle of bustling Cuernavaca. It's a favourite spot for young lovers to rent a rowboat and drift along the man-made waterways.

At Las Mañanitas (Ricardo Linares 107, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, CP 62000; tel: 011-52-73-1414-66; fax: 011-52-73-1836-72), the poshest hotel in town, we were serenaded by a handsome mariachi band as we sipped margaritas. The open-air gardens and terraces complete with strutting peacocks, flamingos and glamorous Mexican families reminded me of a lavish movie set. Wendy confirmed that this was the place to dine and be seen.

Next morning, roused at dawn by the Tepoztlán symphony, we set out to tackle the town's major attraction, the Tepozteco pyramid, perched high on one of the sandstone hills. Eduardo, one of Wendy's "healer" friends, guides people on a spiritual path to the top of the pyramid, helping them tune into their senses along the way. We didn't go with Eduardo but I found just reaching the top had all my senses tingling.

After the considerable hike, we stopped at the Arbol de Vida (Tree of Life) spa and beauty centre in town to be revived by more of Wendy's friends, Randy Barker and his wife, Doris Stallforth. He proved to be a masterful masseur and Doris gives fantastic facials using her own line of natural Ayurvedic skin and body potions. We bought some rejuvenating goodies and headed back to the Posada for our last evening's dinner together. The movie guys and gals were still there but I perceived a distinct change of attitude. The director was treating some locals to dinner and he wasn't bitching about the food and service. The sound guy actually came over and started up a conversation. He wanted to know where I got the cool cotton blouse. They had mellowed. Maybe there really is magic in these hills.

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