Mexico City is a great base for doing field work (and also for not getting any work done), but is very much its own bubble. I had to take at least a peek beyond the bubble, during my weeks here.
Tecozautla, in Hidalgo state, is a pueblo magico. Back when I first lived in Mexico, I vaguely remember there being a bit more than one pueblo magico per state – which in some cases seemed to mean that the Secretariat of Tourism had to really dig to find some magic worth advertising, especially in less romanticised states like Hidalgo. More and more magic must have been found, however, because now there are over 100 pueblos magicos scattered across the country.
In the case of Tecozautla, all of the advertised magic seems to take place outside of the pueblo itself. The town is a jumping-off point for the many hot springs scattered among the valleys and crags of the region. The magic of the hot springs – the curative properties of the waters are frequently touted – tends to locked away behind fences and ticket booths, and to be channelled through pipes, down waterslides, and among cement pools.
El Geiser is probably the premiere attraction in the region, and correspondingly, is part of the largest waterpark complex, which features a hotel, a bunch of cabins, a whole series of pools and spas, a zipline, as well as the geyser itself. Unlike other geysers, however, Geiser does not erupt sporadically, in a fountain of water and steam. Rather, Geiser has been tapped, and sends forth a constant billow of scalding vapour, into which brave bathers can plunge, and from which this researcher had to scamper.
The tapped, constantly-flowing magic of Geiser is barely accessible to the people of Tecozautla. Talking to people in the town, it is clear that most had been to the site once at the most, and even then, in much earlier days, before the water park was quite so developed. A strange kind of magic, then, attributed, but unavailable, to the town. A magic that flows at the turn of a crank, but never flows very far. That never overruns the fences and ticket booths and signs warning of the dangers of cholera (yep).
And while this particular regularised, privatised magic is available for the price of admission, there is other magic about Tecozautla, which costs nothing, and yet is barely noticed. Magic in the cobblestone streets and in the crooked windows, in the distinctive curve of the mysterious bovedas that occupy street corners throughout the town. Magic, too, in the pomegranate bushes that overrun fences and drop clusters of gems on the side of the road. Magic in the women presiding over mounds of figs and avocados at the market stalls in the town centre. Magic in the searing blue sky, the furious storms, and the hillsides covered in incongruous thickets of organ pipe cacti, eucalyptus, and cypress trees. Magic that can’t be tapped, or contained behind fences and ticket booths.