Every so often, I really feel the need to escape the city and visit one of the fetching small towns scattered across central Mexico. Having been living in Mexico for over a year and a half, we’ve settled into a routine that needs to be interrupted occasionally to see some of the sights. With increasing risks to security in so many parts of Mexico, I am getting selective about where I choose to travel. Mexico is facing increasing difficulties as a result of the ongoing battle between the government and the various drug cartels, which makes travel to certain states a dangerous proposition. Thankfully, the state of Querétaro continues to be one of the safer locations in Mexico, so I feel quite confident in travelling around the region.
Peña de Bernal is an excellent example of a quiet little town that features colonial architecture, amazing vistas, and the kind of charm that can only be found in this type of setting. Recently, we decided that a visit was long overdue, so we made the sixty-minute drive to spend the day wandering the streets in Bernal and checking many of the little artisan shops the area has to offer. There at the foot of what I believe is the largest free-standing rock monolith in Mexico is a quiet little village that just begs to be explored.
Surprisingly, Bernal was very quiet and empty during our mid-December visit. Normally, tourists fill the streets as they check out the shops or sample the wonderful blue corn gorditas that are on offer in may restaurants along the main streets. With the holiday so close, I suppose most people had other priorities, so it made for a nice relaxed visit to a town we’ve explored a few times since arriving in Mexico.
There are some interesting diversions in the town that are worth mentioning. For about $50 pesos you can get a lift in a three wheeled motorcycle that will take you up the mountain as far as the base where you can start a climb to the top. At that rest point there are other little shops and food stands, as well as a lookout point to enjoy the wonderful view of the town of Bernal itself. The walk back down from the viewpoint is not too strenuous, but paying for the ride up the mountain is definitely worth the price of admission.
Bernal (actually the state of Querétaro in general) is known for its opals. There is a particular variety know as ‘fire opal’ that is very common to the region. In fact, there are mines all around the area, so predictably there are several gemstone outlets in town that offer the local product. One such shop has a lapidary upstairs, which allows customers to select a particular unfinished stone, choose a setting (silver or gold rings, bracelets, necklaces, etc.) and have your selected stone finished and mounted. The process takes about 30 minutes for such a customized piece. The prices are surprisingly reasonable, given that this is mainly a tourist destination. Many rings set in silver are available for under $1,000 pesos (about $68 CAD). Although we didn’t buy anything, the owner was kind enough to give us two tiny turtles carved from the opals.
Bernal is also known for producing many fine traditional textiles. Some of the detail we saw in embroidered wool was remarkable. The local shops have on offer all types of clothing ranging from the very typical rough Mexican poncho to the most delicate and ornately decorated sweaters. At one shop that specializes in such handicraft, we were invited to go into the workshop area in the back to look around as a bit of a self-tour.
There, through winding passageways from the street-front store, we found where the materials arrived in huge bales of rough-spun wool reminiscent of a komondor dog. There are several large concrete baths where the wool is washed and dyed in preparation for use in the weaving process.
Further back in the shop we found bundles of dyed wool ready for use in production, and close by were the rather aged looms used in the weaving process. A lone worker in the deep recesses of the workshop was vigorously brushing a newly-woven blanket to remove the extraneous long wool threads to leave a smooth, soft surface to the blanket.
Although we don’t get away from the city often, I am glad there are places like Bernal close by for a quick visit. Now, with 2020 already arrived, I really want to take the opportunity to explore some of the other nearby places that we haven’t seen yet. Life has a funny way of getting busy, and with having spent so much of the last part of 2019 developing my business I just didn’t take the opportunity to get away much. This year, I must do better! Be assured that when I visit some of the fascinating places around central Mexico that my camera will be at the ready, and I will be sure to share my experiences with you!
Thanks for reading!