The Secret of Tepoztlán
By Gabriel Alvarez
There’s a Mexican legend that exists about the Tepoztécatl. The story tells that the love between a princess and a little bird resulted in a pregnancy. A little boy was born, and his name was Tepoztécatl— a name given to him by his mother. Although the princess was elated about her newborn child, her parents, on the other hand, were very angry when they found out about the baby. Since she was not married, they forced her to abandon the child far from home.
When she abandoned her son, the princess left him near an anthill and ants crawled out to feed him drops of honey they obtained from some bees. After feeding the child, the ants left the baby near a maguey plant. The parental duties were then transferred over to this plant. The maguey protected it and provided it with the mead it carried inside. Later, the maguey plant placed the child in a box and left him floating on the Aongo River. After some time, an elderly couple found him and raised him as their own.
Little Tepoztécatl grew up to become a strong and skilled warrior. One day an evil serpent named Mazacóatl appeared in a close village called, Xochicalco, threatening the villagers. The person in position to kill this dreadful creature was Tepoztecatl’s adopted father; however, he was growing old and tired, so Tepoztécatl decided to take his place and combat the serpent himself. His tactic was to take many pieces of obsidian and use them as a weapon. While fighting against the creature, Tepoztecatl used the crystals to cut deeply into the beast, rupturing its entrails, thus ending its life.
When he returned to his village, Tepoztécatl became a hero. Everyone celebrated his victory. The town even named him Lord of Tepoztlán and priest of the god Ometochtli. Years later, Tepoztécatl disappeared, and some say that he went to live forever in the pyramid on top of the Tepozteco hill.
View of Cerro del
Tepozteco – TJJ
Tepoztlán, recognized as a magical place in Mexico, is a small pueblo, located about 80 km south of Mexico City. Every year it attracts thousands of visitors who come to enjoy its charm, the Tepozteco pyramid, and the taste of its local products. After spending several days in the hustle and bustle of the Mexican capital, the idea of visiting this quiet town, surrounded by nature and mountains, excited us intensely.
A few hours after taking the bus from Mexico City, we arrived at the Tepoztlán station. As we unloaded from the bus, we could breathe in the pure, clean air, far better than the air quality in Mexico City. As we moved from the bus station to our lodging, our first guide appeared– a stray dog. He looked as though he was expecting us, knowing where we would stay and guiding us to our destination.
From the first moment we arrived, we felt that this place had something special. The peace of the town and the familiarity of its inhabitants were very evident. Shortly after arriving, we met our neighbor, Marta, a middle-aged woman who brightened our day with her tireless smile and her delicious freshly made corn tortillas.
Marta, a corn tortilla
maker – TJJ
The next day we explored some more of the town. After a long day of visiting the market, the parish church, and walking through the old cobblestone streets of Tepotzlan, we noticed a small shop. Written on the outside was the word “Pulquería”. Sheer curiosity brought us inside and right away, we were attended to by Don Alejandro, producer and seller of Pulque. Later he would become a good friend, and almost like having a family member in town, we would continue to visit him day after day during our stay in Tepoztlán.
D. Alejandro comes from a family line of pulque producers. Pulque is a traditional Mexican beverage of pre-Hispanic origin. It is a fermented drink from the aguamiel (sap) of the maguey plant, also called agave, the same plant from which tequila or mezcal is produced.
According to a Nahuatl legend (Nahuatl is the native language of the Aztecs), it was the goddess Mayáhuel (deity of the maguey) who taught humans how to make Pulque.
The word Pulque derives from the Náhuatl “poliúhqui,” which translates to “fermented drink.” After the Spanish conquistadors’ arrival, the fermented drink took on another name; because of the difficulty the Spanish had in pronouncing the original word, it was simplified to the form it has today— Pulque.
Pulque on a plant of maguey – Guajillo studio
Talking with Don Alex we also learned about the medicinal and nutritional properties of this drink. Alex emphasized Pulque’s historical use since it has been used for centuries as medicine. It can cure gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers or gastritis, and it is highly recommended for people suffering from anemia. Additionally, Alex noted that it increases the production of breast milk for new mothers.
In order to produce Pulque, mature maguey plants are taken, and the center of the plant, where the flower develops, is cut. Subsequently, every day for five months, small cuts are made in the central hole that has been made in the plant so that the mead can accumulate. The “tlachiquero” is in charge of making the cuts and collecting the sap, and once collected, it will be stored for 15 to 20 days fermenting until it becomes “pulque madre.” This initial Pulque can be cured and mixed with different fruit flavors and spices for consumption.
After we tasted that sacred drink and learned about its history, we took D. Alejandro’s recommendation and hiked to the Tepozteco hill. There we visited its pyramid, which was built to worship the god Ometochtli, the Pulque deity.
The hike up to Tepozteco hill is about a two-hour walk through hundreds of steps in the middle of a dense forest. Along the trail, you encounter large rocks, steep slopes, and fresh springs everywhere. You’ll most likely be accompanied by small animals such as hummingbirds and coaties (cousins of the racoon).
Once at the top, we sat on the pyramid’s stones, burned some copal, and made our small ceremony of gratitude for that memorable experience. It was inevitable not to think about all the legends surrounding that place.
Feeling the ancient temple’s energy and basking in the views from the mountaintop confirmed the magic of this special town. The feeling was that the land, the people, and their deities welcomed us better than guests but as friends.
See you soon Tepoztlán!
View from the Cerro del Tepozteco of Tepoztlán – TJJ