Chinelos in Tepoztlan

Mexico has many ways of celebrating Carnival, the revelry occurring the week prior to Ash Wednesday, in large cities, such as Veracruz, and in smaller towns, such as Mazatlan and Merida.  Recently, we witnessed such a celebration in Tepoztlán, which is near Cuernavaca.  It is one of the 36 Pueblos Mágicos throughout Mexico (towns designated by the Mexican tourism agency as having retained their unique culture and beauty).  The town is surrounded by sandstone monoliths that throw off a russet glow at sunset and has the typical main square, or “zocalo”, church with ex-convent, and a pyramid on top of one of the nearby peaks.  It attracts practitioners of meditation, yoga and other New Age pursuits.

However, during Carnival the town also has “los chinelos”.  What, you may ask, are “chinelos”?  They are townspeople dressed in colorful tunics made of red or black velvet, wearing unique masks (made from wire fabric with large eyes, a moustache and a pointed beard) and large conical-shaped hats decorated with various designs.  They gather at the zocalo, joined by local bands and do the “chinelo” dance.  The dance steps are fairly simple and consist of moving the hips and shoulders to the traditional music played by the brass band.  Each group of “chinelos” is accompanied by a person waving the flag of their neighborhood.  It is quite a sight to see!!  Take a look at the pictures above to get a feel for this unique event.  Go to Julie’s Facebook page to see a video of the chinelos in action.

Besides the “chinelos”, Tepoztlán celebrates Carnival with amusement park rides and booths selling breads, all kinds of tasty foods and alcoholic drinks, especially “micheladas”, which is a combination of beer, lime juice, salt, tomato juice and chili pepper.  The main streets were crowded with people enjoying the foods and atmosphere; however, just blocks from this craziness, the streets were quiet, except for the sporadic noise of firecrackers going off to celebrate Carnival.

Year round, you can climb up to a pyramid perched on a nearby mountaintop.  We tackled that climb, which is an arduous 3 kilometer hike.  This is no rambling trail through the forest, but steps at a very steep incline leading to the top of the mountain.  However, the view from the top was exhilarating, even though there is not much left of the original pyramid, which was dedicated to Ome Tochtli, the god of the fermented drink pulque.

Tepoztlán is a town worth visiting, especially during Carnival!

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