Following our visit to the cheese factory, Uriel drove us to San Sebastian Bernal, popularly known as Bernal. This small colonial town is famous for the renowned monolith, Pena de Bernal, the third largest of its kind in the world. Standing at just over 1420 feet, its considered one of the 13 wonders of Mexico. It was also named a Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO.
The monolith was sacred to the native tribes that dominated this area, namely, the Chichimeca. The rock is believed to have spiritual powers and as such, worshipped with song and dance by the tribes. To this day, people converge on the town at the vernal equinox in white clothes and celebrate the monolith. In fact, the life expectancy in this area is around 90 years, according to Uriel, and is thought to be due to the power of the rock.
Today, the Pena de Bernal is famous for rock climbing, rappelling, abseiling and hiking. We did not have time to climb the monolith but definitely took the time to appreciate its beauty from various locations in Bernal as it dominates the town’s landscape.
Bernal itself is a quaint town and we had just enough time to explore its warren-like lanes and streets. After searching for a bit, we found a place to park and Uriel led us to La Aurora Centro Artesanal. Bernal is famous for its textiles, especially wool, made into rugs, rebozos, cushions etc. The beauty is that the artisans still work on old fashioned looms, using their deft hands, and are masters at creating unique and complex designs. It was amazing to watch them work with their hands while simultaneously pushing down with their feet on what appeared to be ski like pedals. And the designs just came to life, almost as if by magic. One of the artisans was gracious enough to let the children have a go at the loom and it soon became evident how difficult a task that really was.
Bernal is also famous for its foods, especially custard, taffy, breads, and gorditas. We were not hungry so we passed on this, but stopped at a local corn seller to enjoy some elotes. Next, Uriel took us to a beautifully decorated restaurant called the Centenario. While the ambiance was awesome, the terrace views of the Pena were simply amazing. Uriel arranged for a tequila/mescal tasting while here. Tequila is a distilled beverage made only from the blue agave plant in the Tequila area of Jalisco state. Mescal is also made from agave but of many varieties and is generally produced in the Oaxaca state. We tasted three different varieties with salt and lime in between. The beverages sold here are often obtained from the source as many are artisanal and hence, not usually sold in public.
Reluctantly leaving the beautiful restaurant, we spent some time on the streets enjoying the beautiful weather and the variety of colorful art displays.
Bernal has been designated a Pueblo Magico by the Mexican Department of Tourism. This designation serves to signify the importance of this area for its rich cultural heritage. I would say the vivid colors of this town, the complex patterns of its textiles, the dominant monolith as a silent sentinel, the quaintness of the town all combine to indeed form a magical town.