In this article, one WeExpats contributor explores the reality of traveling through Mexico during the covid-19 pandemic. What do you think? We want to hear from you on our Facebook page.
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The Four Amigos Go To Tolantongo:
The Perfect Place to Social Distance
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – Introduction:
For those of you who are just emerging from living in a bunker since the Cuban Missile Crisis: there’s a global pandemic that has swept across the planet and is now firmly entrenched in every nation and taxing every healthcare system.
Yep! That’s right! The covid-19 coronavirus is sticking around like that one uncle after too many drinks at your mom’s birthday party. It’s midnight and we all want to get some sleep, bro. And since it’s not leaving, we’ve all had to adjust to varying degrees of the “new normal”.
For many of us, this has meant staying at home and learning to bake bread from sourdough starters, or finally getting around to writing that 12-tone, Schoenbergesque string quartet. Some of you have successfully gotten in shape during this quarantine, and others—like myself—have gained a layer of pudge coating our bodies which rivals that of a barking walrus at San Francisco’s Pier 39. (Hey! No body-shaming.)
Eventually, however, we’ve all had to get out. I get it, believe me. I spent four months in quarantine, not leaving my house except to go to the grocery store a block away. I saw no friends outside of Zoom. I did everything I was supposed to.
My household was stocked with alcohol gel, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant spray, and we even procured a medical-grade hospital disinfectant to make sure that every light switch in our house smelled like an ICU.
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – The Four Amigos:
So, when our CEO asked me to break quarantine to write an article on Tolantongo, I was immediately apprehensive. I had been social-distancing fervently. However, secretly, I was eager to feel the light of the sun on my ghostly-pale physique.
The trip was to be our annual Four Amigos adventure. You may remember when we crisscrossed the heart of the Mexican Independence reliving the history of El Grito de Dolores—getting to know the historical figures and their role in breaking away from Spanish rule. Now we were going to the state of Hidalgo.
– The Four Amigos Consists of Four Weexpats Employees –
- Justin Barsketis – Insurance guru and expert in all things tech. Our hotshot CEO has built this company from the ground up into one of the leading insurance MGAs in Mexico.
- Chandler Hunt – Top-tier salesman and avid runner, Chandler has been traveling Mexico for the last two years, selling the policies that care for us all.
- Tim Baldwin – Expert videographer, drone technician, and stellar navigator. Sometimes it seems as though Tim has lived in Mexico since the snake landed on the cactus.
- Rafael Bracho – And yours truly, writer, jazz musician, dual citizen, digital nomad, and of course card-carrying worrywart and hypochondriac. No, seriously. I need help.
As it turns out, there was little cause for worry. Tolantongo is the perfect place to try and get out and about if you’re hoping to relax in an idyllic natural setting—while still social distancing. Don’t worry, we’ll get to this in a bit. . .
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – About Tolantongo:
Tolantongo is in the state of Hidalgo, located in a box canyon in the Mezquital Valley. The word tolantongo comes from the Nahuatl word tonaltonko, which means “home where it feels warm”. In fact, neighboring pueblos still call this place “tonaltongo”, and the current, incorrect spelling is derived from a typo in an 1975 edition of the popular tourism magazine Mexico Desconocido. (So, fellow content writers—check your spelling!)
It gets the name home where it feels warm because of the volcanically-heated thermal pools of mineral water with shades of aquamarine hues. The main attractions are two grottos at the canyon’s closed end. The larger of the two canyons is about the size of a tennis court with a ceiling that is ten meters high. Periodically throughout the grottos, you can find spots where warm water flows through crevices, in effect showering those below with warm water as if they were bathing in a massive cavern complete with stalactites. It’s truly a remarkable and mystical experience.
Surrounding the pools is what’s known as a semi-desert zone. Semi-arid vegetation like cacti and other succulents like the maguey that has been planted here for millennia in order to harvest its octli (the agave sap that secretes from agave plants once they have matured) or its fermented version: pulque. There are yucca trees and mesquite trees festooning the canyon, and at higher elevations, you can see pine trees on the mountains in the distance. The scenery is quintessentially Mexican.
There’s also a ton of wildlife to behold when you visit this oasis in the desert, including the shy white-nosed coati, roadrunners, and raccoons. Hummingbirds and dragonflies adorn the skies, seeming to welcome you personally with curiosity and openness.
Slicing through the valley is the river, which is also called Tolantongo. The minerals in the water give it an otherworldly color, like shades of white and blue that one would expect to see more in the melting glaciers of Patagonia. Waterfalls of this warm mineral water can be seen around every corner of the resorts, filling the air with the sounds of tropical life, seemingly clashing with the arid landscape surrounding it.
And if you go in the summer, then Tolantongo is also blessed with tropical rains that serve to cool down the surrounding terrain, in effect, creating a place unlike anything I have ever come across in all my travels—a true paradise on earth.
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – Is It Possible to Social Distance?
If your immediate reaction is one of worry and disdain, then you’re not alone. I was fretful when I left the sanctity of my covid-free home to venture into this forgotten paradise. However, if anything, Tolantongo is the perfect place for social distancing.
First off, the river itself has been divided into small pools that allow everyone to stay in their own pool with roughly about 15 meters until the next pool. (If not more, I’m totally estimating. They are massive pools.) People seem to keep to themselves, whether or not they decided to camp there or if they are staying in the hotel rooms.
Furthermore, if you climb the mountainside to the adjoining grotto called La Gloria, then you are sure to find completely isolated pools where you and your loved ones can relax for a time without anyone bothering you. In effect, the entire complex has been divided into isolated pools, some with views overlooking the entire mountain valley.
Obviously, some people weren’t social distancing themselves. For example, we could only experience the main cavern when it first opened at 7 in the morning before the throngs of people had arrived. However, we found Tolantongo to be heavily prepared for the covid-19 experience.
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – Safety Measures at Tolantongo:
The entire staff is prepared for and aware of the covid-19 threat, and this made me feel instantly better about having broken quarantine. When you’re getting close to the resort—still about a mile from the actual hotel—your car is stopped and you are made to exit the vehicle. Everyone’s temperature is taken and if one person has a fever, then no one from your party is allowed inside.
Everyone must then step through a disinfectant shower—where they must raise their arms and turn around halfway through. While your party is being ushered through the tunnel, staff members dressed like they’re right out of the movie Outbreak disinfect everything in your car.
On arrival, you check into the hotel and are given your rooms. The door to the room has a seal on it describing when the room was last cleaned and by whom. You are in effect breaking the seal to your own room.
My room was directly above one of the many restaurants in Tolantongo. These restaurants serve tasty food in large portions at very reasonable prices—okay, the prices are dirt cheap! And the food is delicious (if a bit carnivorous).
However, the true peace of mind comes when you see the restaurant itself. All the staff is wearing gloves, face masks, and face shields. And there are no half-mask wearers among the staff. Everyone has their mouth and nose covered. (Please folks! Cover your nose or else you might as well not be wearing a mask!)
To enter the restaurant, everyone must use hand sanitizer gel. Then every other table—which generally seats eight!—is closed off with caution tape so as to ensure that there is no one near you within at least three meters. Even the silverware comes in individually packaged and sealed plastic. They follow health and safety guidelines and then take them a step further.
There are even medical-grade sanitation washing stations located outside the camping grounds so that everyone is sure to stay hygienic. Each station is fully stocked and an employee oversees the equipment.
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – Some Tips I Found to Stay Extra Safe:
- First thing. Get your own rooms. Don’t camp. Those people camping are using their public showers, which means that they’re waiting in line outside the showers. It’s just best to just have your own facilities.
- Go to La Gloria. This is a small hike up some carved stairs and it costs an extra $100 pesos, but the majority of people won’t bother paying the extra fee so you immediately cut out 90% of the population. Then you’re sure to find an isolated pool to just hang out with your trusted friends and family.
- Leave early in the morning to grab a pool before everyone else. Bring a cooler with some drinks and some sandwiches and you can enjoy the day there if you so choose. Then you aren’t dealing with anyone. By the time you get hungry again, you’ll have the restaurant to yourself. In effect, you skip the lunch rush and you’re by yourself in the restaurants.
- Visit Tolantongo during the week if possible. Throngs of people arrive over the weekends, so why not go on a Monday or Tuesday when there’s no one there? It just makes sense to have the park practically to yourself.
Social Distancing at Tolantongo – Conclusion:
Overall, breaking quarantine was a nerve-wracking experience. However, getting out with the Four Amigos was wonderful. It was a perfect experience filled with hearty laughs while we caught up on what had happened in our lives over the last year.
It is possible to break quarantine while still social distancing if you are careful. Barring going out into the wilderness where not another soul is around for miles (which getting to these places can be dangerous in Mexico, and if a medical emergency should occur, then you could find yourself in a life-threatening situation) then Tolantongo becomes a perfect option for breaking quarantine
Get some fresh air in isolated thermal pools while still staying safe for the duration of your stay.
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