, JANUARY 23, 2007 (STAR) RENDEZVOUs By Christine S. Dayrit - Like its native plantain bananas and agave tequila, Mexico is a magnificent country that offers big city sophistication and small-town intimacy; a haven of pristine beaches, endless seashores, miles of deserts, highlands, lush forests and endless opportunities to pursue.

Mexico ranks first in the Americas and eighth worldwide in number of World Heritage Sites, with 23 in all. These sites are described as living archeology, considered by UNESCO to be "of outstanding universal value," and include the historic downtown areas of the colonial cities such as Zacatecas, Puebla, Campeche, Tepotzlan, Oaxaca and the floating gardens of Mexico City.

Blessed with rich natural resources, strong family ties and a hardworking populace typical of the entire country, splendid Mexico City boasts pulsating vital energy between lush valleys and mountains. Myths, legends and traditions will certainly entice the discriminating traveler who can perhaps hear the chant of an Aztec war song in the shadows of antiquated churches. According to Octavio Paz, the nation’s Nobel Prize-winning author, "Daily life is a celebration of contrasts although the Roman Catholic Church certainly dominates spiritual life. With its ancestral mysteries, however, it can seduce the explorer simply with the image of its Independence Angel Monument, the city’s emblem or the monumental three-colored flag that waves in the city’s Constitution Square."

Just walking through the streets of Mexico City’s historic center is enough to impress upon you the majesty of its pink quarry stone and volcanic rock. These were the silent witnesses of three centuries of colonial life, as they are today of modernity’s subjugating presence.

Historians tell us that ties between the Philippines and Mexico date back to the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade, which began when Father Andres de Urdaneta, sailing in convoy with Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, discovered a return route from Cebu to Mexico via Manila in 1565.

A trip to Mexico conjures visions of the pioneering and courageous spirit of entrepreneurs, traders, historians, plain travelers and adventurers. Any sojourn from Manila to Mexico and vice versa should be considered, in a sense, a continuation of the derring-do displayed by the trade partners.

Traveling from Mexico City to Cuernavaca via the Mexico-Acapulco or M-95 expressway rekindles those memories. Cuernavaca, which literally means "horn of the cow," is the capital city of the state of Morelos in Mexico. We are told that the city’s name comes from Cuauhnáhuac, meaning "at the edge of the forest." In recent times however, Cuernavaca, which is south of Mexico City, is known as the city of eternal spring because of its consistent 27 degrees Centigrade (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit) year-round weather.

Yet even in the choking sprawl of Mexico City, the timeless support of family, faith, music and, yes, laughter creates a resilience that fears about the future cannot erode.

Traveling by land from Mexico City to Cuernavaca, a distance of about 85 kilometers, takes about 45 minutes to as much as a little more than an hour depending on where one is coming from in Mexico City. Like Manila traffic, Mexico City traffic can be the most serious challenge a traveler is confronted with. One can also take a short plane ride, about 30 minutes, from Mexico City and land in Cuernavaca’s quaint airport, which is probably half the size of Kalibo Airport. It’s self-service all the way at the airport, which, rather than bother the traveler, should serve to highlight the uncomplicated and unhurried pace of this resort area.

Traffic or not, the 45-minute drive to Cuernavaca is well worth it. An added bonus to any trip to Cuernavaca is the accessibility of equally historical and interesting places like Toluca, Puebla, Tepotzlan, Taxco, and Acapulco.

Over the years, Cuernavaca has acquired the reputation of not just being the favorite leisure areas of personalities like Erich Fromm and Helen Hayes and the playground of the rich and famous like Barbara Hutton, but also host to a number of research institutes and industrial parks, 17 universities including La Salle University in Cuernavaca (which has a conference center in Tetala, on the outskirts of Cuernavaca), Marymount College and the Universal Center for Language and Social Communication. The area has therefore become a university town.

A visit to Cuernavaca is not complete without visiting the Mision del Sol Spa. The 52-room Mision del Sol sits on about three hectares of gardens and ponds and is distinctive for its Moorish architecture.

Getting off Gral. Diego Gonzalez Road, one is met by a huge wooden gate and high walls that simply spell privacy. Even if one has reserved in advance, one is politely asked to cool one’s heels as the spa security calls the front desk to verify your reservation. Once your reservation is confirmed, a golf cart arrives to pick you up and brings you to the front desk. No cars or any form of vehicles are allowed inside Mision del Sol.

Mision del Sol is equipped with sports facilities like tennis and volleyball courts, a swimming pool, a fully equipped gym, outdoor sports court and jogging area surrounded by gardens. Nearby are three golf courses.

The management of Mision del Sol says that they combined their knowledge about the nutritious properties of food that contribute to good health with the pleasure of a good meal. They have also designed specific nutrition programs to control body weight and prevent the reduction of vital energy.

Mision del Sol proudly claims that its spa features an up-to-date holistic center that features Kirlian camera diagnosis, Aztec steam baths, hydrotherapy, mud and seaweed wraps, shiatsu, Reiki, exfoliating body treatments, lymphatic drainage, acupuncture, classes in aerobics, tai chi, aqua aerobics, yoga meditation and chi kung. Mision del Sol has a seven-night (Monday to Sunday) reductive package and a short-stay package such as the one-night (Friday and Saturday) harmony package.

Another must-see in the center of Cuernavaca is the Cortes Palace (Cuauhnáhuac Museum), which was built in the 16th century and used by the conqueror Hernan Cortes as his residence. The museum charges a minimal entrance fee. The cathedrals of Cuernavaca, each with a history of its own, should be seen by every visitor.

Traveling back by car to Mexico City around noon, it is only but proper to have lunch at Tepotzlan, which is known for its ice cream. Like the Philippines’ own dirty ice cream, Tepotzlan ice cream can come in avocado, rice pudding, corn, eggnog and mango flavors. Other foods for which Tepotzlan is known are the green mole (made from ground pumpkin seeds) and the red mole with turkey and the cecina, paper-thin sliced salt-cured meat.

The town is known for its tianguis (either on Wednesday or Sunday) or the legendary pre-Hispanic mixture of market and fair where you can find almost anything you want.

Tepotzlan, which is about 18 kilometers or 30 minutes south of Cuernavaca, was founded around 450 A.D. It is a small town south of Mexico City, about 1,700 meters above sea level. While there, do not fail to try their Tepotzlan’s version of Pampanga’s camaru (fried locusts). Protected by huge mountains, Tepotzlan is translated as "the place of the copper axe." The Aztecs ruled over Tepotzlan from 1438 until 1521 when the Spaniard Cortes drove them away.

Restaurants, museums, galleries, bookstores, libraries, historic buildings – all extend at every step an invitation to passersby. Large old buildings with breathtaking patios and inner gardens open their doors to the curious gazes of those who stroll unhurriedly along the sidewalks. Beneath tropical palms, trios of string musicians play a medley of songs (Besame Mucho, Amor and Paloma) as we sip frozen strawberry margaritas and toast to the good life as if there’s no tomorrow.

In Cuernavaca, life, indeed, is great if you will it to be; each day is one more than we deserve.

Vive Mexico! Que le vaya bien! May all things go well with you!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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