As you see yourself, I once saw myself; as you see me now, you will be seen.
      Mexican Proverb


México is the most populous Spanish-
speaking country in the world. According to the latest statistics, México's total population is over 99 million. Mestizos, of Indian and Spanish blood), make up 60% of the population, followed by indigenous peoples  (30%), whites (9%), and other ethnic minorities  (1%).

Carnaval in Mazatlan

Visitors and locals scream, sing, shout and dance amid confetti and ribbons. Bands of all kinds play the infectious rhythms of the State of Sinaloa. And the food–oh, the food–camarones (shrimp) prepared in every way possible, washed down with ice cold Pacifico beer, for it’s Carnaval Time, Mazatlán’s biggest pachanga (fiesta). 
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March 12, 2006

by Bob Brooke

Long before Cancun, long before the luxurious resorts of the Caribbean, long before spas like the Golden Door, Cuernavaca has been catering to glitzy people.

Ninety years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, the conquistadores, led by Hernan Cortes, were building a cathedral in Cuernavaca. It still stands and at sunset, you can see brilliant shafts of sunlight streaming through its stained-glass windows to bathe the interior in golden light. Outside, Norfolk pines and palms stretch to the heavens, nurtured by the gentle spring-like climate of this sanctuary city an hour's drive from Mexico City.

For over 400 years, it has been a favorite retreat of Aztec kings, conquistadores, and hundreds of American and European expatriates. It is also a weekend hejira(escape) for middle-class residents of Mexico City, who bring with them their families and, of course, their cars, which are polluting the sweet-smelling air.

City Awarded to Cortes
The Aztecs named it Cuauhnahuac, which the Spanish found unpronounceable when they arrived in 1521. To their ears, it sounded like "cow's horn," and so it became Cuerna de Vaca, later shortened to Cuernavaca. The city was one of 30 awarded to Cortes by the Spanish king, and he chose it as his retirement home, though he unfortunately died in Spain in 1547 before he could return to it.

Like many Mexican "towns," Cuernavaca sounds as if it is a small romantic village in the mountains. Though this may have been so when it was discovered by Americans in the 1950's, today it is a bustling city whose population swells to three times its size on weekends.

This is no small wonder, for at 5,000 feet, the city has springlike weather all year long. When it's cold and rainy in Mexico City at 7,200 feet, the swimming pools of Cuernavaca glitter in the sun. Here, you'll find thermal hot springs and mineral waters, traditionally soothing for rheumatism and other ailments of the joints and incredibly relaxing and restorative to the spirit, even if your joints are in perfect condition. These springs are what drew the Aztecs to Cuernavaca in the first place.

Cuernavaca has seen the famous and infamous. From Ferdinand Maxmillian, ordained by the French as emperor of Mexico, and his wife Carlotta of Belgium, who spent week- ends here, to Charles Lindbergh, who married the daughter of the American ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, the city has played host to many.

The famous last scene in the film, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," where the outlaws were gunned downed by the Bolivian Army, was shot here, as were several other classic Hollywood movies.

Splendid Resorts Await Visitors
You'll find no grand hotels soaring out of the hilly city, but splendid resorts tucked away in gentle green corners. Often they are set on former haciendas, as there were many large sugar plantations in the area, or in private parks secluded from the traffic and noise of the city center.

One of the most luxurious in town is the Cuernavaca Racquet Club, an exclusive tennis resort. Nine tennis courts(four lighted for night play) are laid out among the flame trees, sea grape, and hibiscus. The Peter Burwash system of tennis instruction is used and facilities are kept in top condition. The club also functions as a hotel, with 80 suites laid out on three landscsaped levels. All are hung with terraces facing the southern sun andare equipped with fireplaces to warm the hint of mountainous chill. Rates are $150 per day, including tennis.

Posada Jacarandas offers a variety of accommodations, including a tree house "lovenest" for honeymooners, 65 rooms, and suites in separate cottages. Of the 2,000 plus pools in Cuernavaca, this resort has two, one of them deep in a green grotto, as well as a small six-hole 3-par golf course and badminton courts. Rooms are about $50 a day.

The Palace of Cortes
Just east of the Palace of Cortes downtown is the Hosteria Las Qunitas. Its spacious lawns, set with huge trees, are rimmed by 45 colonial-style rooms with purple bougainvillea spilling from the red-tiled roofs; suites are in attractive pink casitas(small cottages). Rates here are also about $50 per night.

But you won't come to Cuernavaca to sit by the pool all day. Cuernavaca has it share of interesting sites. Perhaps the most impressive is the Museo Cuauhnahuac, or Cortes' Palace on the main square, the Jardin Los Hereos.

Intended by Cortes to be a fortress, this rather forbidding structure was used for many years to house the state government offices. Today is serves as a state museum showing the history of the State of Morelos, as well as Diego Rivera murals depicting the conquest of Mexico. You'll also get good views of the city from third floor terrace and the roof. As was customary during the sixteenth century, the Spaniards chose to build their most important structures on top of existing Aztec buildings. The remains of the Tlauican pyramid are visible in the front of the palace.

Strolling the Borda Gardens
From here it's a short walk to the Avenida Morelos and the Borda Gardens, famous as the summer home of Maxmillian and Carlotta. Opposite this enclosed garden complex is the Cathedral de San Francisco, founded by Cortes in 1529 and one of the oldest churches in Mexico. Originally part of a Franciscan monastery housing missionaries enroute to the Far East via Acapulco. A massive mural, uncovered in 1983, depicts the crucifixion of St. Felipe and his fellow missionaries in Nagaski, Japan in 1597. The Mariachi Mass at 11 a.m. on Sundays is famous all over Mexico; be sure to get there early if you want a seat.

But when you visit Cuernavaca, you will undoubtedly be impressed by its flowers before you get any sense of its history. Geraniums reach to rooftops; fushia and red and coral bougainvillea grwo wild. The bluish-lavendar jacaranda and flaming poinciana tint the air with color. Beyond the city are groves of banana trees, mangoes, guavas. limes and oranges. If you don't fall in love with Cuernavaca, you'll at least understand why so many people throughout hisotry have been so attached to this place.


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