(Above): Xochicalco Ruins, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Conquistadors, compassion, contras and chicken soup, this was a holiday not soon to be topped, writes our travel editor Al Auger.
As we headed back to Mexico City in our rented car, we could only reminisce on a holiday not soon to be topped. My wife, Louise, and I had been immersed in the beauty of Cuernavaca and the life and times of Hernan Cortés and Emiliano Zapata, a personal hero only shared by the legendary Robert the Bruce, the last king of Scotland. This along with the kindness of a group of trabajadoras de cocina.
Our first stop on our way to Cuernavaca was the fantasy-like Hacienda Vista Hermosa, the reincarnation of the 16th century Hacienda San Jose de Vista Hermosa, the summer retreat for the Conquistador Hernan Cortés. A “hide-away” built like a sprawling fort with thick walls. Sold to Fray Juan de Dios Guerrera in 1621 and then passed through numerous different owners until the Mexican Revolution in 1910.
During that remarkable insurgency, Zapata destroyed and burned the Hacienda to the ground and dispersed the land to local farmers. It remained farm country until 1945 when the ruins were purchased and restored to its original splendor. The doors were opened to the public in 1947 by the purchaser Don Fernando Martinez Canales.
Parking the car, Louise and I sat drinking in the splendiferous view of the super-size swimming pool, the lush gardens of aroma-laden, bright colors and dense vegetation. The main building houses 105 rooms and suites, some with a private pool. Behind the hotel proper is a bullring where guests could, until a few years ago, play bullfighter with baby bulls. Today there is a large menu of activities such as riding, tennis, volleyball, basketball or mini golf and a children’s playground. On a slightly darker edge, one can visit the restored dungeon. We found the most enjoyable time was strolling the beautiful grounds or sitting by the pond lazily watching the swans drift gracefully by.
(Above): Hacienda Vista Hermosa, Cuernavaca, Mexico
After four days of sybaritic pleasures, food fit for the likes of Hernan Cortés and unspoken wishes it would continue unending, we headed for our rendezvous with the great Conquistador. We found a quiet, lovely motel just a few blocks from the zocalo in Cuernavaca. The row of spacious rooms wrapped around a huge swimming pool and set of tennis courts. “Welcome to El Papagayo,” the charming host smiled as we entered her office. After signing in, we were shown to a quiet suite at the end of the building.
Even though the city today, with a population of over 300,000, the newer district represents what some, consider a modern “mire” of fast food joints, freeways and the like, the ghosts of the past are never far away. Beginning in the 12th century, tribal wars overran the region, now know as the Mexican state of Morelos, until the Aztec takeover in 1396. But, the old town still retains the charm and warmth of this historic community dating back to the Olmec. Today Cuernavaca is the capital of the state of Morelos and known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its ever-present tropical climate.
Morelos is a time warp reaching back over 3,200 years, founded by the shadowy people known as the Olmec or the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica. Since that time, the region has seen a parade of famous and infamous names such as Cortés, Emperor Maxmilian I and Carlotta, Porfirio Diaz, Benito Juarez, Emiliano and Jorge Zapata. Stay away from the newer portion of the city and find the many historical buildings that are still standing. The most prominent is the overpowering Palacio de Cortés.
(Above): Walkway at the Hacienda Vista Hermosa, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Completed by 1535, it is a huge series of battlements, towers, thick walls in the style of European castles. A residence for Cortés and his descendants for many centuries, the building fell into disuse for years until being fully restored in 1973 and turned into the Museo Regional Cuauhnahuác (the original Nahuatl name for Cuernavaca). Its’ ten halls portray the history and culture of the Morelos State from its first human environment to the present.
One of the loveliest and singularly historic sites is the Borda Garden near the Cuernavaca Cathedral. Purchased in the mid-eighteenth century by a Taxco mining mogul, in 1865 the Garden became the summer home of Maximilian I and Carlotta. In the late 18th century the son, Manuel de Borda y Verdugo, filled it with a rainbow of colorful flowers, fountains and an artificial lake. Zapata and his to-be arch enemy, Diaz, held political gatherings. Today the Borda Garden contains lodgings, offices, a restaurant and a nightclub. The main building houses a museum and the outer buildings have exhibits detailing the 18th and 19th century customs of the area. Now the garden is a public park where visitors can take a short boat ride on the lake.
(Above): Waterfalls at Hacienda Vista Hermosa, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Next door is the Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, built in 1784 by Manuel de la Borda. It was also used as the royal chapel of Emperor Maximilian I. The Baroque facade features what is considered the best cupola in the city.
A sidelight to the pairing of Zapata and Diaz can be found at the revolution museum, housed in Carlotta’s Mexico City palace.
As I mentioned, Zapata was a hero of mine, one of the greatest figures in the revolution of 1910. Naturally, a visit to the museum was must stop while in the city. Laid out in an easy to follow chronological order were massive numbers of photos, papers, historical tomes and the like. What was missing were any memento or mention of Zapata, or his brother, Jorge. Zapata’s fame and idolization among the people was his courageous and selfless return to the revolutionary battlements whenever the sitting executive government turned its back on its core populist values.
(Above): The Robert Brady Museum or Casa Torre located on Nezahualcoyotl Street in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico.
When I queried a museum docent on the total lack of Zapata in the exhibitions, his one-word response said it all: “Politics.” Zapata was also a mistizo, a mix of Nahua (Indian) and Spanish. His birthplace in nearby Anenecuilo is open and museum.
One of its best-known signature crafts of Cuernavaca is the art of designing jewelry from soft gold mined in nearby Taxco. The most popular are the massive rings with their remarkable twists and curves inlaid freehand. The artisans turned the gold into circuitous swirls sometimes embedding jewels or valuable stones.
Although Cuernevaca is a tourist’s delight of historical and entertaining venues, nothing can top the experience of simply walking the old town and enjoying the city‘s signature as the “City of Eternal Spring.” The neighborhoods are redolent and filled with gardens, cool pools, waterfalls, fruit trees and warm days. Aztec emperors were so entranced by Cuernavaca, they claimed it as their summer residence. However, even paradise can have its opposite side.
(Above): Cortes Palace in Cuernavaca, Mexico
All of a sudden, I came down with virulent system of flu. Quick to bed at El Papagayo and absolutely no thoughts of food. By the next mid-afternoon, it began to subside and some nourishment seemed in order. Unfortunately, we had just missed the restaurant’s 2 p.m. closing.
Louise decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a try, so she went to the office and asked the manager if the restaurant could not find something like soup or something light, they could send to our room. After a phone call to the kitchen, the manager said, “si, they have some chicken soup and would ring it to your husband.”
Delighted, we waited…and waited and waited with no soup in sight. About an hour later, the manager appeared at our door with a large tureen of chicken soup. We asked her what the delay was all about and she explained. “When they knew the senor was ill they said no old soup would do, so the killed a chicken and made a fresh tureen to enrich the ill guest.”
It was simply delicious and bracing giving me a new life. A few days later when we checked out, we noticed the line on our bill: chicken soup – 50 cents. Cuernavaca, city of eternal spring and chicken soup.
(Above): Altar at a church in Cuernavaca, Mexico
When You Go
Room rates are not available online
For Information contact the hotel directly.
01 800 090 9040 – TOLL FREE
01 (734) 342 9040
Km 7 Highway, Alpuyeca-Tequesquitengo
San Jose Vista Hermosa
Ixtla Bridge, Mor.
Alejandro Dumas # 71 Col. Polanco
Miguel Hidalgo Mex. DF. CP 11560
20 minutes from Cuernavaca.