Conifer-Hunting in Mexico
We did not sleep well. Feb 6 is the day of Amecameca's big annual fiesta, and as we arrived on the preceding Friday night, the whole town was a frenzy of activity. A carnival midway was set up in the town square in front of the hotel. Huge banging and clanging noises and the testing of sound systems occupied much of the night, the bells of the cathedral next door rang for 10 minutes at 0600, and soon after a long series of explosions opened the fiesta.
We took our breakfast at a cafe a few doors away, huevos rancheros and coffee all around, cost about 60 pesos (the peso worth about $0.10 this trip). Not much conversation after the big diesel started up outside the door. We briefly toured the market, just opening up, and bought some bananas and carne asada for lunch. We also stopped at the Parque Nacional Iztaccíhuatl Popocatépetl headquarters next to the cathedral (which we briefly toured) to get a permit allowing us to enter the park.
Navigation was much easier in daylight, and the route to the park is prominently signed as the Bosque de los Arboles Navidades (Forest of the Christmas Trees), a reference to the stands of Abies religiosa (fir trees) high on the mountain. A few kilometers from Amecameca we passed through San Pedro Nexapa and just past here the native conifers begin in earnest. One of the finest was a specimen of Abies religiosa growing right by the roadside. A Saturday market had been set up in its shade; in its branches grew a blooming bromeliad. This proud tree was 175 cm dbh and 31.7 m tall, one of the largest trees we saw in Mexico. Nearby grew fine trees of Pinus patula, Pinus leiophylla, Pinus pseudostrobus and Pinus montezumae as well, along with some wild Cupressus lusitanica, which is also one of Mexico's most common ornamental trees.
About 3 kilometers farther we passed through an army checkpoint where two children toting machine guns checked our permit and waved us on up the mountain. The road is marked with kilometer posts. Around kilometer 13 we were in dense fir forest with occasional concentrations of cypress. Near the Cortes Pass between Popo and Izta, about kilometer 22, we were in a pure forest of 3- and 4-needled Pinus hartwegii. The roads to both mountains are closed, Popo due to eruption hazard and Izta, I suppose, for the sake of symmetry. Everyone walks to Izta from here, and Popo's closure area begins here; the army is here to enforce it.
After a short forest walk, we continued down the east side of the pass on a good dirt road. All along the way we were passed by a parade of "pilgrims" on foot or in garishly decorated trucks and buses, all bound to the fiesta in Amecameca. The forest continues as a pure stand of Pinus hartwegii until 7 kilometers below the pass, at the resort of Buena Vista, where we reacquired Abies religiosa and Pinus montezumae. This is at about 3200 m elevation (alas, I lost my GPS on Day 6 and with it, all earlier waypoints). Also, about a kilometer before Buena Vista, we saw a muddy spring much visited by cattlethe only surface water seen on the whole transit of the mountain.
Past Buena Vista, the forest became more diverse, with many fine trees of Pinus pseudostrobus, Pinus leiophylla, Pinus montezumae, and Pinus strobiformis subsp. veitchii. The last two, a hard pine and a soft pine, vie for the honors as largest and tallest tree. We saw a Pinus montezumae that Bob measured as 111 cm dbh and 38.4 m tall, and comparably large trees cloaked much of the eastern flanks of Popocatepetl. Pinus strobiformis subsp. veitchii, on the other hand, was largely restricted to stream courses and relatively mesic sites. One arból gordo measured 137 cm dbh and 32.0 m tall, while another, 105 cm dbh, was one of the tallest trees we saw in Mexico at 42.1 m tall. The Pinus ayacahuite also has remarkable cones, some of the longest and heaviest in all the world. I collected one specimen 33 cm long, but Farjon and Styles say they can reach 50 cm.
By about 1500 we were off the mountain road, past the pilgrims and back on the pavement. From here it takes 2 hours to wend bumpy (topes, aka speed bumps, the commonest highway feature in Mexico) suburban roads into Puebla, and then extreme inner city traffic to our chosen hotel in the city center, turns out to be full. Two blocks away, though, we find lodging and parking at the Hotel Señorial.
After a shower, the stress of driving in Puebla (pop. 1.3 million) is shed and we take a stroll through the Zocalo, which is the city's main square, and through the gigantic cathedral adjoining it, 360 years old, one of Mexico's greatest churches. The square has disappointingly young trees and low diversity, but has its own unique appeal because we have arrived on the eve of a fiesta. This one is purely secular, a celebration of the city of Puebla "Como Nunca" as the slogan goes, and the government is putting on a show complete with riot police, a brass band, dancing clowns on stilts, gaily singing youths, and droning politicians.
As night draws on we retire to a traditional fine poblano restaurant about 2 blocks west of the Zocalo, the Fonda de Santa Clara. Here, attended by a dutiful waiter, we dine on margaritas and mole poblano. This town is the traditional home of mole, and it is surely the best I've ever had, served over chicken breast with rice on the side. The margaritas are decent, and afterwards my cafe con crema is perfect. 600 pesas for the three of us.
After dinner, we stroll back to the Zocalo and tour the palace, which is hosting a "Como Nunca" fair showing off their new street signs and computers, while a series of performers show off traditional dance, music and storytelling. The PA system is deafening in that giant stone room, though, and after a bit we retire to our hotel and a relatively peaceful night's rest, punctuated by an hour spent writing this all down.
go back to "Conifer Hunting in Mexico"
Last Modified 2013-12-28