The Best Travel Experiences Surprise You

Disappointment And Inspiration In The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve

The best travel experiences usually surprise you.

Tehuacán’s beautifully-manicured botanical gardens were closed for the pandemic

I almost wore a dress for this trip to the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve.

I was expecting something like the photo you see, a botanical garden with an easy-to-walk path. I would see beautifully-manicured desert landscapes and come home with spectacular photos.

It turns out I had to purchase a Pond5.com stock photo for this post!

A disappointing arrival at the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve

We met Mary Carmen just outside the town of Tehuacán. Mary Carmen has a non-profit foundation that provides tours of the biosphere.

We arrived at the spot below. It’s one of the salt mining areas, and not the place you want to be hiking in a dress.

The Helia Bravo Hollis Botanical Gardens were closed for the pandemic.

Helia Bravo Hollis was Mexico’s first female certified biologist, graduated in 1927.

The locals have been mining salt here for over 1,000 years.

You can only visit the reserve accompanied by a licensed guide. Ours was Juan Diego.

You’re looking at a pool of salt water. This is fossil salt.The miners use the same process that’s been used for over 1,000 years.

This water is so salty that nothing lives in it for very long.

Strangely, there are a few fish. They live just long enough to reproduce.

I’m pointing at one of the 85 species of cactus at the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere is a UNESCO forest of 85 species of cactus.

To own land here, you have to be a resident of the region. They don’t want investors. There’s salt mining happening here, but it’s all sold locally, and at cost.

Passionate People Change How You Feel About Things

We hike the rocky and narrow trail to the top

Our guide Juan Diego lead us up to the top. The path to the top was rocky and narrow. It was full of cactus, from tiny to huge.

One slip and you could find yourself full of cactus needles.

Helia Bravo Hollis poses with a cactus in this Wikimedia Creative Commons photo

My dress would have been appropriate, historically speaking. Helia wore dresses and heels when she went into the field to study cactus.

Here’s Helia in a Wikimedia Creative Commons photo.

She studied the cactus here for her graduate thesis. Today, the botanical gardens are named after her. She was a cactologist.

The trip was starting to get interesting.

I found quartz and onyx along the trail

I found chunks of quartz and onyx, scattered everywhere. I love stones!

The local shops are full of artisan pieces made from onyx. I recommend a lot of time at the local shops. I’ll explain why else below.

Mary Carmen showed us fossils in the rocks. This used to be part of a shallow ocean

65 million of years ago, a shallow ocean spanned from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.

In this photo, Mary Carmen is showing me a fossil of a seahorse. She said there are even dinosaur fossils.

Our guide Juan Diego analyzes dry animal excrement

We found dry animal excrement along the trail. Juan Diego could tell it came from a coyote.

The right tour guide can make all the difference, and this tour was more interesting with every careful step. Sometimes, we’re forced to stretch ourselves.

Here I am with 10-year-old Valeria.

Valeria maneuvered the trail like a little butterfly, with no trouble at all. Meanwhile, her family was always catching up to us.

Valeria didn’t want to miss Diego’s explanations. She listened to every word he said.

Survival Skills And Alternate Medicines

Meet Diego and Mary Carmen.

Juan Diego survived three treks through the desert, illegally crossing from Mexico to the United States. He knows his stuff.

At one point, I notice I had a lot of small cactus needles in my pants. I’m not sure how. Diego picked them out with his bare hands!

Before a maguey plant dies, it’s flower bloom

Behind me, you see a dead maguey plant. Its flowers sprout just before it dies.

Mary Carmen brings the flowers home. They last for years.

Along the path, Diego showed us herbal plants that people use locally. We chewed on one leaf to measure our glucose level. If the leaf tasted bitter, our levels were fine.

Standing in the gorge with Valeria in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve

The locals prepare different leaves in tea. That’s why you really need time for the local shops.

Valeria is from the local town of Tehuacán, but all this was new for her.

I told her to pursue this interest and maybe, some day, she’ll work for National Geographic.

She already had Helia as a role model. Helia became interested in plants as a child, too.

Fencepost cactus protecting the former Diego and Frida Home Studio

I want to show you a species of cactus called the Mexican fencepost cactus.

I took this photo at the Diego & Frida Home Studio in Mexico City.

You can see they used these cactus as a fence for their property.

They grow just millimeters each year, and they can be thousands of years old. The biosphere is full of these.

Accepting New And Unexpected Situations

The best travel experiences are never the ones you expect. Travel is more about the people you meet than the photos you take. Sometimes, you have to leave your comfort zone.


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Aixa

Trying to stay healthy and sane in these crazy times.

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