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Find your own path to tranquility in the Mexican town of Tepoztlan

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Travel locator map of Tepoztlan, Mexico.
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By Ruth Samuelson
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, December 10, 2010; 11:51 AM

It takes a lot of energy to "cargar energia."

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The devotional journey up to Mexico's Tepozteco pyramid requires lots of water and snacks, as well as muchas pausas (breaks). And then, when you reach the top of the mountain where the pyramid perches, something amazing happens: A wrinkled old woman with a cane plods by.

How'd she get up here? And what about the lady in heels? And that family with four children under 5?

It's troubling, really, to be proud of a hike that the wheezing elderly can conquer. But what impels people here is faith, not just a steep hour-or-so nature walk. I visited last spring, a time when Mexicans load up on energy - that's what cargar energia means - by ascending various ancient pyramids, like this one in Tepoztlan, a town of about 33,000 an hour and a half south of Mexico City.

At the top, believers and nonbelievers alike share the same gorgeous view overlooking the town. And the truth is, they've all probably come to Tepoztlan for roughly the same thing: A little tranquillity. The town is unofficially dedicated to soothing and centering its guests, regardless of how the job's accomplished.

I visited Tepoztlan numerous times while studying at a language school in nearby Cuernavaca earlier this year. It's at once cute (the cobblestone streets) and beautiful (the mountains and abundant purple flowers) and cheesily modern (the flier promoting a man with knowledge of "the mysteries of life and death").

Here, therapy is a choose-your-own-adventure experience. In at least two places, you can get your aura photographed. A local tour guide advertises an obesity therapy. Tagline: "Lose weight with magnets, without dieting."

"Whatever word you want to add to 'therapy,' " says Larry Prater, he's heard it. Prater moved to Tepoztlan after retiring from his medical practice in Oklahoma a few years ago and now owns a day spa called TepozSpa that caters to gay men.

"I just got an e-mail about 'hielo,' or ice therapy," he says. "As a psychiatrist, I've never heard of 'hielo therapy.' Until, I guess, yesterday in the e-mail."

Of course, Tepoztlan also offers more traditional therapies: Plenty of local hotel spas, some quite high-end, advertise a range of massages, yoga classes and various skin therapies.

One day on the streets of Mexico City, I met a businessman who also happened to be an enthusiastic yogi. When I mentioned that I was heading to Cuernavaca, he immediately fumbled through his cellphone for the number of his favorite Tepoztlan instructor.

For whatever reason, I accepted the unsolicited advice of this adamant stranger and headed to his recommendation: La Buena Vibra Retreat and Spa. I didn't need shelter, but a yoga class sounded good.


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