May 15th, 2009

Rarely do I come upon a place that stops me in my tracks with its simple beauty, however, the courtyard of the Camino Real Hotel in Puebla does just that. If it weren’t for the man speaking on his cell phone next to me, I could easily play time traveler. This spectacular 16th century structure, originally a prominent colonial convent, encompasses a whole city block. In the first centuries of the Spanish empire, it housed the daughters of Puebla’s élite, noblewoman who chose the church and an education over marriage.

As I enter the building from the bustling, traffic jammed street, the patio’s vast, space and serenity surround me. It seems impossible that something so tranquil could be just steps away from chaos, but that may well be the secret of Mexico–contrast. Crossing the threshold of the ancient, 15-foot high wooden doors, I’m transported back in time. A few steps past the lobby beckons the largest colonial patio I’ve ever seen. In the center stands an immense fountain, the base covered with centuries-old talavera. It bubbles cool water as the intense mountain sun beats down upon it. The patio is surrounded with arches, supported by massive stone pillars. Yellow paint brightens the walls, bringing warmth to the cold, grey stones that cover the floor.

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