June 25, 2016
Today I had an incredible time exploring the adorable pueblo of Bernal. Bernal has been officially nicknamed the Magical Town and I surely could feel the magic. I believe that it all started with the view from atop Peña de Bernal.
We began our day trip by leaving Querétaro at 9am. I only ended up getting four and a half hours of sleep after my night out partying with Zusel and her friends, but thankfully, it was an active day so there was no time to be sleepy. After a 45 minute ride on a private bus, we arrived in Bernal.
Our first event was climbing Peña de Bernal, the third tallest monolith in the world. It is 1,400 feet tall; however, to make it all the way to the top you need serious rock climbing gear so we only went as high as the foot path lead. This was challenging enough for our first time up. I could really feel the altitude (8,250-ish feet above sea level), or at least I am going to claim it was the altitude and not that fact that it has been a while since I have gone any strenuous exercise like that.
The footing on the trail was very challenging at times. I love to hike and rock climb. But, when I do, I often like to have four points of contact when going uphill. I used my hands a lot and by the time I scrambled up lose rock, smooth stone, and sections labeled “Peligroso”(dangerous) by signs, it was as if I had chalked my hands for the climb.
The view of Bernal the entire way up was incredible, but surely the view where we stood at the top was most impressive. We could see all around for miles and miles. We were lucky to have a thin cloud cover to prevent us all from turning into crispy Americans. But, at times, the clouds opened in just the right spaces and seemed to cast light down below illuminating the magical pueblo. We spent quite a while taking photos and taking in the view with our own eyes.
Tucked off towards the rock face that is the rest of the mountain where climbing requires heavy gear, sits a small chapel. Inside the chapel there are several photos, crosses, figures, locks of hair, ultrasound images, and notes left behind. Candles are also lit in memorial. There is also a small knee rest for a place to pray. I do not know how those candles stay lit for they were mostly only small tea lights and I saw no matches. But, it think this is where the magic of Bernal begins.
It was very obvious how special of a place Le Peña de Bernal is. I could not help but reflect on how incredible this study abroad experience is. I am very blessed by so many people and opportunities in my life. I want to thank you all for your hand in helping grow up and be the person I am, a combination of all of you who have influenced me. I also want to thank you all for supporting me as I grow into a young adult and fly around to see the world. Today, while standing above Bernal, I felt my heart growing. Growing to be able to have more room to love more people and fall in love with more places around the world.
In my opinion, our descent down the mountain was easier than the accent. Here, five points of contact was at times necessary over the very smooth and steep sections. One of my classmates decided to just slide down these sections and I attempted a modified crab walk. No matter how we descended, I believe we all came down the mountain slightly changed on the inside.
After climbing, we were all thirsty and hungry. Bernal is famous for Gorditas and we were on a mad dash to get to our lunch restaurant. However, on the way, we stopped to talk to the lady pictured below. She is from Jacisco and part of a tribe of people who are the Huicholes. She was creating beautiful bead work out to sell on the street. She used brightly colored seed beads and bees wax to make them stick on the piece she was working on There were also intricately made bracelets and necklaces made out of thread and beads.
As we continued down the street, there was a lady standing at the corner of an intersection selling chapulines (crickets) out of two large metal buckets. She gave any of us who wanted to try a free sample. Of course I was in! I have wanted to try chapulines since last week when I learned that they are used in tacos. It was obviously crunchy, having been prepared by being fried in oil. But, the flavor is something that I do not know how to describe because I have not tasted anything similar before. I am curious to try them in a taco.
After a bit more walking, we arrived at our lunch spot. Gorditas are kind of like thick corn meal pockets that are stuffed with any variety of fillings. I ordered two Gorditas, one with cactus and shrimp and the other with chicken and potatoes. When I bit into both, I thought I had received the wrong plate because in neither I did see and bright pink tiny shrimp like I expected. But the order was not wrong, of course. The shrimp one actually looked like finely ground beef seasoned almost to the color of being black. It hard a charred taste that I did not find to be a flavor I favor. I preferred the chicken and potato one. After filling our bellies with famous Gorditas, we explored the streets of Bernal.
Bernal is home to only about 2,000 people. Compared to the one and a half million that live in Querétaro, Bernal is much more my style. I loved the beautiful church in the center of town situated by a small plaza, gazeebo, and fountain.
One of the shops that we explored was a tapestry shop. We walked through the winding path to the back of the shop. Outside the back, there was a giant weaving loom set up with three men working on preparing the base strands on the loom to then be woven with cross sections of beautiful yarns. This is where some more of Bernal’s magic happens. The loom was at least 12 feet wide. I went back to the front of the shop and was admiring the sarapes while thinking about how much luggage space one would take up. One of the shop’s artisans encouraged me to try on multiple sarapes. It was a great time.
After the textile shop, I continued to explore the streets. In a jewelry shop, I purchased two rings made out of silver mined in Mexico. I love them. I also bought a beautifully handmade and painted mug that was made in the state west of Querétaro, Michoacán.
Oh! And I cannot conclude my story of Bernal without writing about two other new food experiences. One of my classmates and I were craving ice cream as we wandered. We ended up passing a sign that peaked both of our interests. The sign read ice cream made out of cactus! There were four different types of cactus flavored ice cream. I tried two and chose the one made out of the Guamish cactus (also spelled Guamixi). It was both sweet and sour and very refreshing. I also tried Lychee fruit. It has a roughly textured, but thin, red skin. When pulled apart, underneath the skin is a whiteish-clear fruit that looks just like a peeled grape. There is a very large pit in the center of the fruit that is not good to eat (I did not know this the first time and ate the whole thing), but the fruit itself is sweet and very juicy.
As we walked down one of Bernal’s magical streets towards our bus, I could not help my smile. My last 24 hours in Mexico had been filled with so many amazing experiences from new friends, to new dancing and new food, to new sights and new perspectives, and new knowledge of other cultures and people. All of these things are much more valuable than any purchase I could make.
As we returned on the bus to Querétaro, I could feel the magic of Bernal still swirling in my soul. There is something different about Bernal that must be experienced individually and personally. I do believe that it starts with the view, the view as you see it through your own eyes and extends to the flavors and people. I cannot wait to return to Bernal someday. I hope that you all may have the opportunity experience Bernal, or similar places, where you too can feel our heart growing with happiness and love for other cultures and new experiences.