I've always considered Queretaro a charming place, full of a special cosmopolitan magic. I recall passing through Queretaro when my family and I traveled from Mexico City to the central and northern states. I was always amazed by the long and illuminated ancient aqueduct surrounded by the city lights that lead to the church towers and belfries. That is the first memory I have of this beautiful city.
Not until I was old enough to travel by myself, did I get to really know the city of Santiago de Queretaro (its official name). I used to go there on vacation to visit relatives, which was always a pleasure and would return with every chance I had. Now there are even wonderful tours to the city that have to be experienced. Queretaro's charm made me think of it as a school of history, very much like an enormous temple, an inspiring muse, or a fabulous stage for the arts.
I remember the first day I woke up in Queretaro, feeling excited about seeing the city and its streets full of art, color, history, and devotion, all the things that made me fall in love with the area from that day on. I recall the sweet aroma in the air, the same aroma you can still smell today. That day I went into the first church I found, called Iglesia de Cruces (Church of the Crosses), where the courtyard or ''patio de aguas'' tells the story of an old aqueduct that was used to supply water to the whole city. I was able to touch a mural of Christ painted on the wall and to put my finger inside the bullet holes left by the soldiers, who would practice shooting here during times of war. It is also one of only three places in the world that have a type of tree with large thorns shaped like crosses and smaller thorns like nails, resembling the cross where Jesus was crucified; a fact that intrigues believers and agnostics alike. This is how my journey to Queretaro started.
Since that first time, I discovered the pleasure of walking through the historic center of the city where the beautiful, clean streets are clear reminders of Queretaro's importance during colonial times. Here and there, you can see metal plates on the walls of some old houses that, if you take the time to read, you'd learn about some important event that took place there, ranging from a conspiracy to plan Mexico's independence from Spain, to the writing of the Mexican Constitution in 1917, its fundamental political principles still existing to this day.
My curiosity and eagerness to explore always made me venture inside these historic buildings, where beauty lies not only on the exterior but within as well. Even though they might nowadays be disguised as modern school supply stores, ice cream parlors, offices and other kinds of shops, their architectural features, including the walls, the ceilings, and other decorative details, speak of their rich historic past. I still keep as mementos some of the things I bought there and every time I look at them they seem to take me back in time to the places where I found them.
I discovered that inside the awe-inspiring mansions, you can experience extraordinary things that stimulate all the senses. On another occasion, I wanted a dessert and someone asked me if I would like an ''helado de mantecado'', which literally means a ''cream ice-cream''. The name sounded a little redundant, but later I discovered it was a delicious ice cream, flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest, an original creation by one of Queretaro's most traditional coffee shops. Then I tried the ''jericayas'', consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hard caramel, created by burning sugar in the oven or with a blowtorch. I also got to sample ''bunuelos'', fried pastries bathed in a thick syrup of molasses, all very traditional Mexican desserts, but made carefully by the hands of the locals, which makes them taste even better.
You can also find a lot of vendors selling typical food at street stalls or carts. In September, the month of the Mexican Independence, they decorate their stalls in the colors of the flag that together with all the street decorations and lights, creates a very festive sight. I decided to visit Queretaro during that month to enjoy the colonial Mexican atmosphere of the city and to my surprise I found many musical performances and fireworks shows at the public squares and parks. You can feel the festive and patriotic spirit throughout the whole of Queretaro. Witnessing this special celebration was an exceptional experience, the sound of the bugle calls, the swaying flags, the fireworks, the music, the food, and the colorful outfits of the performers were all incredible. On Independence Day I decided to dress up for the festivities in the colors of the Mexican flag and I was glad to see that most other people were dressed like that too.
I was really surprised to see all the locals so involved and taking part in the public events. It was just the same on the day of the ''Silent Procession'', celebrated during the run up to Easter Sunday, which I knew about but had never seen before. I saw many men and women walking barefoot, covered from head to toe in robes, some were even flagellating themselves in public. Others were carrying images and figures of religious idols, all passing by in silent procession. You couldn't hear a single footstep on the paving stones, except for the sound of a few horses pulling wagons full of flowers and more idols; a truly solemn experience, which I took part in with my own silence. Witnessing this event amidst these old buildings was like traveling back in time to the dark ages during the Inquisition.
For many years I have kept returning to this city, time and again, and feel about it very much like the way that Jaime Sabines feels about the moon in his writings, ''there is no better stimulant than the moon in small and controlled doses''. I know that there is still a lot more waiting for me to discover in Queretaro, but I am saving it for the next time that I go, knowing that now it is more easy to travel due to the great hotel promotions in Queretaro that can make my dose of this magical city more constant. For now, I just remember its sweet aroma in the air and its soft pinkish skies that make me want to return and, once again, feel captured by the magic of Santiago de Queretaro.
By Luiser de la Garza