Trekking in Toluca: Breathtaking Biodiversity

Jungles. Beaches. Deserts. Mountains. Cities. Pueblos.

Mexico has such a complex variety of plants and animals, climates and terrain, you can easily experience a variety of ecosystems within one short visit.

I had the pleasure of enjoying such a venture this past weekend.

Thursday and Friday I experienced the city life of Querétaro.

Thursday was the 78th anniversary of the regional museum of Querétaro. The museum was open from 5-10pm for guided tours and live regional music. They offered complimentary wine and visitors could walk around and admire the artwork, and the historical building. Absolutely stunning!museum at nightimg_6202A few of my students had entered an art contest at the museum and they were able to display their art in the temporary exposition. I loved seeing their colorful Day of the Dead drawings. These kids are so talented and creative. I am a very proud teacher. 🙂

I went along with my co-workers nephew, who is my age and very nice. He likes to race cars and sells cars for Chevrolet. My co-worker thought he would be a good new friend to have in the city.toluca1Anyway, after a nice cultural experience, he wanted to introduce me to his friends in the area. We went driving around the city and surprisingly ended up in the Walmart/Sam’s Club parking lot. Haha. It was full of racing cars. It appeared to me as a comical imitation of Fast and Furious. I did all I could to contain my laughter as I pictured Vin Diesel saying, “Let’s rumble man.” And after being asked where, Diesel responds, “Walmart man, Walmart.” Haha. Overall, another eye-opening experience. 😛vin-diesel-fast-furious-7Anyway, after a night with the racing dudes, I needed ladies night. 🙂 I met a few co-workers at Boliche bowling alley for a few rounds. We aimed for a combined 300. Not very competitive, but the whole point was to relax with a few beers.

We have a three-day weekend coming up, so we were discussing our plans. My friend Doris is going back to her home in Acapulco to enjoy the beautiful beach. Lucky girl. I wonder where I will end up. 🙂

After Thursday and Friday in the city, and after hitting the snooze button multiple times Saturday morning, I headed to Toluca.

Toluca is located in the state of Mexico and has one of the highest altitudes in all of the country. It is also home to one of the largest stratovolcanoes in Central America, which is over 4,500 m above sea level. Toluca’s ecosystem is in stark contrast to that of Querétaro. Vast deserts full of cacti and the dry heat is exchanged for cool climates and lush green forests full of trees.

I found accommodation at Hostal Tonalli and the owner miraculously offered to drive me to the national park one hour from town and hike with me up the volcano. 🙂 He only asked that I pay for gas. At $15, that seemed like a fantastic adventure.
Nevado de Toluca is set within in the National Park and is not accessible by bus. Once you near the volcano, you must disembark and hike the rest of the way.
I met Tonalli, the hostel owner, and we were on our way. He had only one request. He was really hungover and he needed tacos. hah. DONE. 🙂

We stopped in the small shanty town of Raizas for chorizo tacos.img_6245img_6244Toluca specializes in green chorizo, which is delicious combination of fatty pork sausage, green tomatillos, cilantro and chili powder.img_6249Nothing better than eating tacos freshly prepared on the grill, on the side of the road in the middle of a small pueblo overlooking a volcano. Priceless. On our way out, Tonalli grabbed cane sugar. It is a naturally sweet treat. It is too tough and fibrous to swallow, but has a nice sweet flavor when chewed.cut_sugarcaneWhen we entered the national park, I was absolutely speechless. img_6306The vibrant trees, mountain landscape and crisp air was incredibly refreshing.img_6255img_6253img_6251As we drove toward the summit, he asked me if I wanted to take the easy way or the hard way to the top. He said the hard way offered the best view, so I was obviously up for the challenge.img_6254img_6258I’m one tough cookie. 😀 Hah.img_6262We began hiking up the mountainside toward the top of the volcano.img_6312 There was sparse vegetation, but the remaining plant life was strikingly beautiful.
img_6268img_6266The moss growing on the rock was such a vibrant neon green.img_6275The hike up the volcano was very steep and the rocks were pretty unsteady.img_6272When we did get a chance to find sturdy ground, we stopped for a chance to savor the view.img_6270After 3 hours of hiking we reached the top. Absolutely speechless.img_6291img_6283img_6287As we gazed over the lagoon, the clouds began to roll in. They were thick and filled the crater with a chill and ominous feeling.img_6276With that, we began our descent into the crater.img_6273Our tactic was to slowly slide down the crater like we were snowboarding on sand and rocks. It worked surprisingly well.img_6299That was, until it started hailing.img_6298img_6300Oh well, I made it all the way to the bottom without falling ONCE. Woo hoo! 😀
img_6301As we began to make our way around the lagoon, Tonalli told me about the history of this area. The last major volcanic eruption occurred over 10,000 years ago, so no worries there. These two ponds in the center of the crater are called the lagoon of the moon and the sun. It used to be a meeting site for indigenous tribes to predict the future agricultural season. They have excavated many artifacts from these ponds and from the surrounding area. More recently, this area used to be the hideout for Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, prior to fleeing for Cuba.
img_6302Just as we began our walk around the crater, the freezing rain began. That’s when I saw a shocking sight. A group of guys taking of their warm layers to jump into the lake. Crazy!

We continued walking the path and hiked out of the crater at a much faster pace. After reaching level ground, we still had around 2 more miles to walk to the car. At this point we had been walking for 5 hours. Our clothes were soaked and we were exhausted, yet we were celebrating our GLORIOUS VICTORY! 😀

After about 10 more minutes of walking, a car pulled along aside. This nice Mexican woman and her British husband asked if we wanted a ride. After a small chat, I found out the bilingual wife was here in Mexico for a business conference. The British man was fascinated by my decision to teach here and they asked to add me on the LinkedIn. Hah.
Once we got to our car and began our drive home, we picked up four young hitchhikers. We had been offered a ride by the couple, so we wanted to pay it forward. They were travelers from Belgium, France and Spain. They had gotten lost on the way to the volcano due to the thick fog and dense forest. Nice guys.10698660_403182286498264_1129809644561888656_n1They told me about their last trip walking across the vineyards and valleys of France to Spain. Tonalli also told us about a Japanese man who stayed at his hostal recently that had purchased a bicycle in Alaska and rode it all the way down to Mexico. He had been traveling over a year and a half. Insane! I love all the unique and like-minded people I meet when traveling.

After a long day, I was prepared for a hot shower and good nights rest. Tonalli had been more than hospitable with me. He has owned this hostel for 1 1/2 years. The bedroom was spacious and the comforter was made of a plush thick fur.TOLUCA5For around $14/night, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I was also the only guest, so I had the place all to myself. 😀 The only other permanent resident was his adorable puppy, Pixto. 😀wpid-img_20141108_111648_820-e1415665220711After returning home, Tonalli sent me some of his candid pictures of our journey.
img_6288TOLUCA2TOLUCA4TOLUCA3The next day I woke up around 6 AM to journey to Malinalco. Tonalli dropped me off at the bus station and I was on my way. Much like the volcano, transportation is limited, if non-existent. There were no bus times. I was told that a bus would leave when there were enough people interested. Hah. I arrived at 7 AM and the bus left at 8 AM. There was also no return time. When I got off the bus, the driver told me he would be heading down this road again somewhere between 2-4 PM. Great! Hahaha.

Malinalco is an adorable sleepy village town set high in the mountains. It was named a Pueblo Magico due to it’s preservation of culture and history.TOLUCA13I began walking through the streets to get a feeling of the town.img_6316img_6333I noticed many crosses hanging over the doors and windows for religious reasons.TOLUCA12I also said hello to many of these cuties along the way. 🙂img_6466With my map, I saw that Malinalco had six historic churches. This one was by far my favorite. The outside was also decorated with colored beans. So colorful!TOLUCA11TOLUCA10The town is famous for their 16th century Augustinian monastery decorated with a thought-provoking and somewhat dark mural depicting the interaction of animals in nature.TOLUCA8img_6448After a short walk, I came across the bustling center. Today was Sunday and they had a marvelous flea market that wove it’s way through the city streets.img_6436img_6319The smell of sweet pastries and fresh corn gorditas permeated the air. Yum!

After a quick snack and a coffee, I headed towards the archaeological site of Malinalco. It is an Aztec ruin that represents the only monolithic archeological carving in all of North America. This pre-Columbian historic site was carved directly into the boulder of the mountainside. Absolutely impressive considering their limited resources.

Entrance to the ruins was around $4, but I got in FREE since I am officially a Mexican resident. Woo hoo. 🙂

I did have to pay for the bathroom though. 😦img_6317It was another steep climb to the top of the mountains, but at least they offered the essentials prior to making the trip. 😛img_6432 img_6335The climate in Malinalco is hot and humid. The vegetation is tropical and the animal life is exotic.TOLUCA6After walking around 30 minutes, I made it to the top.img_6389img_6384img_6425No more winter coat. This was shorts and sandals weather. Yay! 😀img_6359img_6381img_6370Visitors are able to climb on the ruins to look at the various sculptures of jaguar and tortoise, which guard the site. It was thought that this building was the meeting place of the highest military officials of the Aztec army.TOLUCA7I was fortunate enough to arrive just as a native of the area offered a historical explanation of the site.TOLUCA9Here is a video clip I took while standing on the top of the ruin. The native was playing a conch shell that echoed deep into the mountains.

After another long day, I headed back to the street to wait for my bus.

I found a nice stump and took a seat. :/img_6471I really can’t complain, because the view was incredible!img_6469After almost two hours, I was SAVED! Yay!img_6475Another wonderful adventure in the books. Mexico, you never cease to amaze me. Goodnight all! Until next time. 🙂

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One thought on “Trekking in Toluca: Breathtaking Biodiversity

  1. Spectacular photos and write up! Such a great story too. One of my favorite parts of traveling is always the people I meet. Very cool that you met so many great people in a short period of time.

    Like

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