The Hidden Treasure of Bernal
The small town of Bernal manages to hide a very, very big secret. A two hour drive from Mexico City along carretera 120 will take you past old ranchos and haciendas dotting a peaceful countryside. It is not until you are almost in the outskirts of the town that the massive Bernal rock can be seen jutting 2,000 feet above the gently rolling hills and scrub brush.
Second only in mass to Ayers rock in Australia, this natural phenomenon has been impressing spectators throughout history; and so legends of treasure, mysteries, and supernatural energy almost as grand as the monument itself abound.
Many locals enjoy recounting the story of the Treasure of the Peña. In just the right circumstances, in the right season, and at the right time of day, the sun hits the treacherous north side of the rock. A shadow is cast that forms an arrow pointing to a cave where a giant snake sleeps. The adventurer who can get past the snake and into its secret lair will not only find rich treasures, but will discover the origin and destiny of the human race.
A more recent legend tells of a different treasure buried in the heart of the rock. New-age visitors claim the peña contains a giant crystal that can impart positive energy to those with open minds. At the vernal equinox on March 21st, believers gather, dressed in white, to absorb the healing energy emanating from the rock.
Geologists choose a more pragmatic explanation for the rock's existence, claiming that it was formed when an ancient volcano was eroded by wind and rain, leaving only a core of hardened lava jutting into the sky.
Whichever account you choose to accept, the rock itself remains an impressive sight -- so the small town spread at its base is used to hosting visitors. From rock-climbing to shopping, Bernal offers a range of activities while preserving its own traditions and distinctly Mexican atmosphere.
On the narrow cobble-stone streets, ironwork fences and balconies look like black embroidery on the patchwork of brightly painted shops. Against this picturesque backdrop, with the rock looming against the sky, artisans display wares that range from the practical to the spiritual.
Bernal is known for its hand-woven wool rugs, sweaters, rebozos and tablecloths. Many of the larger shops, like the Mercado de Artesanos, display old wooden looms as well as furniture sets, cushions, pottery, and expertly hand-woven textiles dyed with vibrant local dyes. In other shops, photographs and paintings of the Bernal rock are surrounded by stones and minerals believed to have healing spiritual energy.
On the Calle Cinco de Mayo off the colorful main square, toucans and canaries sing among bougainvillea vines in shaded court yards. Visitors can find restaurants offering spectacular views of the Bernal rock and local specialties like gorditas made with blue corn flour, or the chicharrones de res -- roast beef fried with peppers, onions, and nopales cactus cooked in a large stone bowl.
The more adventurous visitors can attempt to climb the rock and see for themselves if they feel its healing energy. Getting to the half-way point is a challenging hour and a half hike, but visitors are rewarded with a spectacular view of the rolling countryside dotted with farms and colorful towns. At the point where the hiking ends and the serious rock climbing begins, a small cappilla, or chapel, is filled with flowers and flickering candles brought by devout climbers.
Prayers may come in handy for the more experienced rock climbers who choose to continue the ascent, piton by piton. In fact, the treacherous north side is used as a "baptism of fire" for would-be rock climbers trying to prove themselves. Guides can also be hired to take you along one of the seven established climbing routes, which vary in difficulty. I
In May, the residents of Bernal gather to celebrate the festival of the Santa Cruz. At the culmination of a five day festival, townspeople join in a parade of music and dancing up to the capilla. From there, six carefully chosen escaladores carry a cross, weighing over 100 pounds, and mount it on top of the rock.
While visitors may never discover what actually lies at the heart of the Bernal rock, discovering Bernal, buried in the heart of Querétaro, is sure to be a pleasure.
By Joceyln Kelly
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