Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wanderings: The Hills of Querétaro

A horse grazes along the edge of a cornfield, Tenasdá, Querétaro

San Ildefonso Tultepec, Querétaro -- Every summer I spend a few weeks here in rugged high country of the Municipality of Amealco, along the southern border of Mexico's Querétaro state. I come to the area to teach, but always have free time to explore and enjoy the countryside.

The weather is changeable and the air a bit thin in this place more than 2600 meters (8500 feet) above sea level. The earth is red, and during the summer rainy season the land is green. The verdant hills and mountains, fields and forests loudly call an observer's attention. However I also find myself lowering my view. Everywhere there are wonderful things at my feet.

At this time of year, dozens of species of flowers are visible along roads and trails.  Sometimes one solitary bloom is all I ever see of a particular variety.

Other types of flowers grow in vast colonies that carpet the ground with yellow, pink, red, purple and blue. The blooms may last a few days, or as long as a week or two. Later-flowering varieties replace those past their prime, so the color patterns are constantly changing.

Other flowers grow in small clusters. This is interesting country because although during this season the land can be waterlogged and muddy, the area also experiences a cool, desert-dry winter when grays and browns are the dominant colors. Cactus and other plants common to arid climates are common.

The nopal, or prickly pear cactus grows well here, and this is the season when the tunas (fruit) ripen, offering a sweet treat to passers-by willing to deal with the large nail-like spines on the leaves and tiny hairlike needles found on the tunas themselves.

I was tempted by this cluster of perfectly-ripe tunas, and picked a couple for myself and my companion. I enjoyed the delicacy, but paid for it afterward, spending about ten minutes pulling the tiny spikes from my fingers.

Tender young leaves of nopal also are good eating. With spines carefully shaved off and the leaves diced or cut into strips, nopal makes a nice addition to salads and cooked dishes, with a flavor and texture slightly reminiscent of asparagus.

Several varieties of champiñones (mushrooms) pop up around here during the dampest days. I saw these growing under a fallen log. Not being an expert on mushrooms, last week when I spotted them I took nothing more than this photo.

However, when I came into the city of Querétaro Friday for a weekend off, I found myself dining on tacos of champiñones a la mexicana (local mushrooms fried with tomato, onion and green peppers) and sauteed nopal at a local restaurant.  

I have been trying to improve my diet by eating more natural and vegetarian foods. I'd had flor de calabaza (squash flower) tacos a few days ago. Perhaps the unfinished business of wild nopal and champiñones had stayed unconsciously on my mind all week.


  1. I am going to be in San Miguel in mid-August. Maybe we could get together for our annual lunch.

    1. Well, I am going to try to get over to see Babs in SMA, but I won't be in this neck of the woods when you get here in August. We'll have to keep trying. You ought to come again to visit Yucatan.

    2. Well, we you stop by to see Babs, give us a call and we'll try to get together for lunch or something.

      al lanier

  2. Well that was a breath of fresh air. How lovely to know that there actually are still places with reasonable climate on the planet. It is so hot here in the center of the US, in the lowlands, and dry. Having pulled those near invisible sharp filaments of cacti from my fingers, I'd think twice about the tunas, but they look quite inviting. The flowers are beautiful. The food, except for squash blossoms (eating flowers, eeeeew) sounds delicious. I am glad you're having a fine time and sharing it with the rest of us trapped in less appealing climes. When next I go to my little Mexican grocery, I think I'll finally buy some nopal and see what happens. A very fine post, this one. Thank you Marc.

    1. Lynette, I think that the secret with tunas is to plan well. I got spiny fingers because I just decided to eat tunas on the spur of the moment. With a heavy leather glove you can pick them, the then split them with a knife to scoop out the pulp. In theory at least, this works well.

      I DO enjoy the climate here in the central highlands. Often it's warm, but dry and cool in the shade. Perfect.

      Good luck with nopal. It's an acquired taste, but I have come to enjoy it.

  3. Always love your writing, Marc. It takes us there.
    I'm reminded of my first experience with nopales, at a favorite restaurant in Mexico City, La Esperanza. Their staff were very kind to us and our extranjero friends. They insisted on serving me nopal - apparently they're considered a fertility aid. I guess they thought Tom and I needed some help, as a mid-20s couple with no children yet.

    1. Hmmm. I have heard lots of things about nopal, but hadn't heard that one yet.

      The first time I had nopal it was very slimy and I did not like it. However when properly prepared it is delicate and delicious. I have some in the back yard, and take only the tiniest fresh shoots. Delicious.

  4. You're in our neck of the woods now. I guess it's quite a change in the fora and fauna from the Yucatan. You must get types of wild flowers all year long there though, don't you?

  5. Yes, the flowers in Yucatán are beautiful, and somewhat different from most of the ones I see here, at much higher altitude.

    I like your neck of the woods. The climate suits of the reasons that I've taken a summer break here every year now for eleven or twelve years. It's a great break from the heat and humidity.

  6. Glad to see you are enjoying the change of scenery and climate, Marc. When you get back to Merida, let's skype and catch up.

    1. Yes, the change of climate for a couple of weeks is invigorating.

      We can talk this week...

  7. Hi Marc,

    Nice post. I tried to comment earlier this week, but blogspot refused my digits again. (Google and I are not getting along.)

    The bright red flower looks like a house plant we have NoB commonly called "lipstick." Those little red buds emerge almost like a twistable stick of rouge.

    If you're inclined, you could restore my blog to your sidebar, now that it has been regrooved with WordPress. The address is

    Thanks for considering it. ~eric.

    1. Eric, I'll have to look up that flower and see if it could be the same plant.

      Glad to add your renovated blog to the blogroll.

  8. beautiful pix but there is something special about the one with the horse. love it!

    wish we could have some of the weather from the higlands. it's very hot and muggy here in nagoya, in the 90s most days for a while now. it's as bad as fl. or i guess, mexico.

    take care,


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