Claudia heard about this place from co-workers that had previously visited. So we took a long weekend to see what this quaint town of Bernal, recently designated as one of Mexico’s “Magical Cities”, was all about. While we intended to drive up, do the hike to the top of the mountain and return home, we ended up finding a great hotel with a fantastic view and stayed an extra day to soak up the magic.
Las Peñas de Bernal – the mountain – is an extruded monolith. Basically, the incredible dome of rock was, scientist say, literally pushed up whole from below through the earth’s crust. According to the sign at the base of the trail, only three of these exist in the world – the other two being the Rock of Gibralter and Pao de Acucar in Rio de Janiero. Though I think there are a few more around the world that weren’t mentioned on the sign, the Peñas of Bernal were no doubt very impressive.
We were in the company of Mexicans by the hundreds that made their way to the highest point climbable without ropes. A small chapel sits at the top of the trail and remembers the passed family members of those that built it. While I sat near the entrance, a man arrived huffing from the ascent, opened the steel grate door, left flowers inside the shrine and left as quickly as he arrived. It was not locked and was neat and well cared for. Many offerings were arranged neatly inside and it was obvious that the community cared for this spot with a lot of zeal and the utmost respect.
After checking out the chapel, I decided to make the final climb to the summit. Almost vertical, locals had drilled and set steel loops into the rock to help free climbers make it up the rock. About half way up, I decided it would be smart to come back another day with a harness and a rope – like the sign advised. Some friendly Mexican climbers arrived and offered to rope me up. After a nice chat, I wished them well and thanked them, deciding that without a harness I’d do it another day. We headed down for a nice stroll around town.
Storms were arriving from the southeast by afternoon with not too distant thunder promising a nice, rainy evening. I managed to get a few shots just before the rain slammed into the central town square. Rain is almost always welcome in this part of the world and the lightning provided an incredible light show until the wee hours of the evening. The shaky timed exposure you see here was taken from our hotel room around 9 p.m. in complete darkness – without a tripod unfortunately. At night, a floodlight bathes the “town” side of the mountain in artificial light and provides a dramatic look. That, combined with the clouds and the lightning this night, produced some pretty interesting camera effects.
Did Peñas de Bernal live up to it’s magical city expectations? Well, we had a nice trip, saw some beautiful country, talked to some interesting folks, found a room with a view and had some good food too. I guess that’s about as magical as I need a place to be.