Tex-Mex

Where does one journey stop and the next begin? Is it a moment of departure, or arrival? The minute you leave one place, or the hour you enter the next? A geographical shift, a border crossing, a change in location names or physical address? Or does it begin with a change in consciousness, a refocused alignment in attitude? Does it get going the instant the thought occurs to go, or the minute the first plan of motion is followed through with? Perhaps, if one feels the need to compartmentalize, clear delineations may be by found and argued. Perhaps, there is no beginning, no true end.

 

For our current purposes, however, I will say that this trip began an hour or so after something else was finished, which was the income generating before the actual travel. The expenditure of energy involved in the shoring up of resources. The work which allows for the not-work, always an expedition, of sorts, unto itself. In this case it was San Antonio, Texas and 30 even days of attachment to a noisy parking lot full of harvested Christmas trees from North Carolina and the PNW. Our job being, as it were, to sell them to suburban families in search of status quo holiday décor. We did that, for twelve hours a day, but really more like 24 as we couldn’t leave the lot at night, having been contracted to stay with the trees at all times, for those 30 successive days without break. So, in reality, I suppose it was more like 720 total hours in the end – nothing in real life as it looks in those tiny three numbers. As I mentioned, an experience all of its own, though not the focus of the rest of these words. Suffice it to say, that when the last of the little trees left the parking lot that final afternoon, there was a significant shift in mental focus, an ease of tension, a release. Though the physical location, noisy, hectic, and unstimulating as it was, had not been altered in any way save for the disappearance of the inventory, a palpable modification of intention signified the shifting of one thing to the commencement of another.

 

We spent another couple nights there, on the lot next to the intersection with the same staccato roar of traffic piercing the air around us, but the days were far different from the ones before. There was time downtown, a day of walking in the cold and riding bikes in the rain and just feeling a sense of freedom only available to those who have been without for some time. There were different neighborhoods, and a couple of restaurants, paths by the river. There was exploration and spontaneity and a sense of relaxation even in spite of trying to see as much as possible in the time we chose to be there. There was a slow Sunday morning, the packing up, and the inevitable departure. The open road before us and no real plans and the undeniable sensation that the intense monotony of the past 30 days had never occurred at all.

 

From San Antonio we cruised the freeway the few hours to the coast, going first through Corpus Christi, then south down to Padre Island National Seashore. We arrived in the cool evening hours to the sounds of wind and gently lapping waves, a light mist, and the scent of unseen flowers blooming in the darkness. The next morning we discovered that the park allows visitors to drive and camp along the beach, which is exactly what we decided to do, traveling several miles south across the sand and finding a place to just be for a few days. And that was it. Sitting, walking, running, reading, sleeping. More than anything, decompressing I think, letting the hums of the ocean replace the remembered barrage of suburban traffic, those bullying modified mufflers trying without end to scream meaning into countless existential crises.

 

It was foggy and cool for the first couple days we were there, brilliantly sunny the last. We hopped in a van with a couple of park service volunteers that last morning before leaving, and went cruising around looking for birds. I am a longtime admirer of the avian world, and appreciate knowing the common species wherever I might be spending my time. I am not, however, a ‘birder,’ and probably never will be, the checked boxes and life lists and driving to garbage dumps and wastewater treatment ponds to complete them not seeming nearly as appealing as casual observation. But I like to hang out with those who know more than I do whenever possible, and always appreciate the opportunity to look at animals through spotter scopes worth more than some cars I’ve owned. It was an enjoyable couple of hours, though slightly foreign to my idea of outdoor activity as we never strayed more than 20’ from the van. The couple’s enthusiasm for ticking each species of the day’s list was an even blend of infectious and absurd. After driving in loops in order to scan the bay, the beach, the duck ponds, the dunes, and a sadly unfruitful radio antennae (where was that peregrine, he’s always there…), our pencil-ticked sheets showed a grand total of 35 birds, a new record for the short time they’d been there, and a joyous success.

 

That afternoon we made our way back west and down to Laredo, having decided over those past days to head into Mexico for a while. There it was a couple of nights in Casa Blanca State Park, a day of errands, a final decision to store the van and board the bus rather than drive ourselves. It was a long walk across a harsh urban landscape from the storage facility to the Turimex station. It was a three-hour ride turned to seven or so, including the hour-plus spent sitting in standstill traffic on the bridge over the Rio Grande. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and hordes of heavy laden pick-ups carried gifts and goods home for the holidays.

 

We spent that evening in Monterrey in a hotel just down the street from the central bus station, surrounded by acres of gridlocked vehicles and fruitlessly blaring horns. An almost comical cacophony of anger and futility. In the hotel bar there was a company Christmas party in progress complete with Santa hats and potentially regrettable happenings on the dancefloor. The main entertainment was a man with long gray hair and glasses seated casually on a barstool surrounded by sound equipment. He seemed to be a professional karaoke singer who took requests on cocktail napkins and kept the crowd going with some real belters. It was much too loud to hold a normal conversation, but quite fun to watch from the edges.

 

In the morning things were a bit more tranquil when we walked back to the bus station to find our local connection. We were headed west of town an hour or so to Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, and then from there to a climbing area called Potrero Chico. Some information was available on the internet as far as how to get there, complete with a photo of the appropriate window to purchase tickets. Much to our chagrin, however, when we arrived at the counter everything was exactly as shown in the photo, minus the destination placard of Hidalgo. It was quite funny to hold the screen up while viewing the real world version of the scene, as even the counter woman looked almost exactly as the one in the photo, however, that one word was missing and nothing else. It was like one of those find the differences games come to life. Once the amusement wore off, however, there was little to be done but try and figure out how we were going to get to where we wanted to be going, which provided the basis for an ever more confusing set of conversations and wanderings around the city center. In the end, and after several hours of mild frustration, we managed to find, board, and ride the bus to Hidalgo and finally arrived around noon.

 

The first mission was eating churros in the town plaza where the bus dropped us off, the next, finding lunch, which ended up being tamales at a tiny shop nearby. Afterwards, we bought a few groceries, and found a taxi to carry us up the hill towards the national park and outlying campgrounds. Finding one to our liking, we set up camp for the week, grabbed our gear, and walked up into the park for a bit of evening rock climbing.

 

And that’s about how the next few days went. Climbing for a few hours, going out for a run afterwards, cooking, eating, repeating. Potrero Chico has become, in the past several years, an internationally renowned sport climbing destination, especially popular during winter in the northern hemisphere. It boasts masses of beautiful karst limestone, and hundreds of bolted routes at all climbing levels, many of them multi-pitch. The entrance to the park, whose name means little corral, is a spectacular looking notch between vertical cliff faces on either side, a corral gate of colossal dimensions. There is a dirt road which runs through the center of the cliffs, and on up into the park. An enormous water park, empty and ominous in the winter months, sits off to the side, just past the gate, leading one to consider the very different sort of recreation popular over the summer months as local families arrive to escape the heat of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are certainly Mexican climbers around, but for the most part, the locals prefer to drive up the road a ways, crank some norteño music, and drink beer while watching groups of foreigners eke up the cliffs around them. Tuba rhythms and the occasional trumpet section reverberate off the canyon walls as you climb.

 

I am not much of a climber, and never have been, though I’ve given it my best efforts plenty of times and in multiple locations over the course of many years of knowing lots of climbers. It’s simply never excited me the way that other methods of experiencing the wilderness have, and to be quite honest I often find it rather boring as so little of the time one invests in a day of climbing involves actually working your way up some rock. I’ve also recently realized, after visiting three celebrated spots in the past months, that most popular climbing destinations offer very little in the way of solitude, as lines form for certain climbs, crag dogs bark the day away, and you’re often roping up about three feet away from others groups. Erin, however, was once an avid climber who previously planned international vacations with her sister based on climbing destinations, and it’s something she still enjoys doing, and something that seems to be rewarding to her in many ways. So, as of late, we’ve been giving it a go together with mixed success. Her somewhat rusty leading skills combined with my neophyte belaying behavior often make for some emotionally charged situations, though I suppose we’re getting better each time we go out. For the first several days we were around, we went out for several hours and managed to climb a few easier routes a few times each before finding something else to do for the rest of the afternoon. It worked well enough for us, but there were certainly times when I felt, though I tried my best not to, like some kind of fraud due to the intense focus and monotonous climbing conversations which dominated the social energy of the place.

 

And I get it, the inability to discuss anything but the common denominator of a shared lifestyle focus, having been involved in the whitewater community for years, but that doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy sitting quietly on the sidelines in shared living spaces and tiny restaurants and the one coffee shop in the area suffering through non-stop jargon and endless references to routes, crags, and all the places in the world one could go to climb and presumably talk to likeminded people about climbing ad nauseum. All of the talking was also conducted in English, in Mexico, with little interest shown regarding that particular geographical/cultural circumstance. I will respectfully say one final thing about climbers vs boaters, however, and that is that climbers seem to be a decidedly more healthy group all around, focused more on set goals and increasing physical prowess rather than getting sloppy drunk on a nightly basis. A refreshing dissimilarity. In short, there were certainly a couple days I enjoyed more than others, and we did find ourselves climbing away from the crowds once or twice, which I really appreciate, but I wasn’t altogether broken up when the weather turned nasty for a few days and we were forced to find other ways to entertain ourselves.

 

The best day I had over the course of the several days of living in the cold wet cloud which set down on top of the place was when we decided to take the bus over to the neighboring town of Mina for a visit. I suppose I appreciated this day because, like so many days we’d have for the rest of the trip, it exemplified the type of traveling I really like to do – the limited plans, see what you find, everything works itself out type of 20171228_142614exploration that calls for patience and problem solving and above all a positive attitude. The type of travel that ideally leads to interactions with remote places, kind people, and unexpected events that will not be soon forgotten. I won’t bother with all of the details, as they might not seem as serendipitous in the retelling as in the actual living of them, but some of the highlights of the day were: a small but well-done museum, a well-cooked meal (you know it’s going to be good when you hear the tortillas being pounded out in the kitchen as you wait), a long cab ride down a deserted dirt road to a closed park gate and telling the driver to go ahead and leave with no idea as to how we would get back to town, eventually finding our way into the park, wandering for a couple of hours through a desert landscape and hundreds of petroglyphs, getting a ride out that evening with the superintendent who showed us the ruins of the adobe house he was born in, being invited to share a cab back to Hidalgo with a couple of local ladies sick of waiting for the bus, and getting a ride back to the campground from another local who turned around after seeing us walking out in the cold.

 

Around that time, which happened to be a few days after Christmas and a couple days before the New Year, the place started to really fill up with climbers, mainly travelers and college students on break hoping for some sun and fun before heading back to a winter of work and study. The weather was still cold and rainy, and as things became noticeably more crowded, we decided to move on for a while.

 

From there it was back to Monterrey for a couple of days of walking around the city, visiting museums, and checking out the urban revival of a city recently plagued with cartel violence and the accompanying reputation that comes with such troubles. A serendipitous, though somewhat terrifying ride from two local women in their 20s who picked us up as we were leaving Potrero (terrifying due to the maniacal manner of driving and the casual nonstop banter from both as we careened multiple times towards oncoming traffic), landed us in the heart of the city a couple of blocks from our reserved residence. We ended up at a real dive of a hostel in the Barrio Antiguo district, but its proximity to most of the major attractions made most of the egregious shortcomings somewhat tolerable. And besides, you get what you pay for, and in this case that wasn’t much from either party. The surrounding neighborhoods and multiple plazas were full of families on holiday outings, and we walked for miles the first evening we were there submersed in a festive atmosphere and surrounded by crowds of happy people.

 

The next morning we woke up early and toured several museums, including a contemporary art museum, a historical museum, and a cultural museum where throngs of diligent Catholics leisurely swarmed through a traveling Michelangelo exhibit replete 20171231_141248with life-sized replicas of many famous statues and paintings. Most were snapping selfies in front of the pieces, rather than of the works themselves, but hey… Afterwards we strolled along the river walk, eventually ending up at Parque Fundidora, a proud metropolitan park dotted with historic artifacts now serving as industrial art showing off the city’s legacy as an iron producing powerhouse, where sprawling acres of pathways, attractions, and open space await the weary city dweller. A true gem any city would be proud to boast. While there, the weather started to turn nasty, leaving us to seek shelter, sustenance, and coffee in a cozy diner nearby. Things were no better once we were ready to leave, so we decided to try our luck on the Metro rather than walking all the way back in the rain. Success, followed by a cozy siesta in our sparse quarters as the storm settled in to stay for a while.

 

Later that night, New Year’s Eve, we spent the celebrated observance of the changing of calendar years without much fanfare. It wasn’t for lack of trying on our part, as we went back out in a steady downpour and walked around for over an hour trying to find someplace to eat and perhaps listen to some music until midnight, but almost everything was closed down completely, or else dinner was by reservation only. New Year’s in Latin America is commonly celebrated with family rather than out partying. We were happy to finally get some dinner, and probably the best veggie meal of the trip in the form of some tasty portabella tacos, and a couple of beers, and ended up calling it an evening sometime around 10.

 

The first day of 2018 in Monterrey was far colder than anything we had yet experienced, with temperatures near freezing and a steady drizzle coming down from the dark skies nestled low across the city skyline. We eventually motivated ourselves to go on a run, however, and were rewarded with empty streets and open sidewalks. The cold air was harsh on the lungs, the breeze frigid against bare legs, and the needley rain a bit rough on the face, but we eventually got used to it and made our way back to Fundidora, seeing a few paintings and places along the way that we’d missed the day before. Later that morning, we packed up, braved the artic wind tunneling through the streets while searching for breakfast, and headed for the airport for the afternoon hop down to Tampico, Tamaulipas on the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Things in Tampico weren’t much warmer, nor the hotel room that much nicer, but it was more stopping point than destination. A few days earlier, we’d decided on somewhat of a whim to do a fly-down/bus back option that began as close as possible to Ciudad Valles in San Luis Potosi, a few hours by bus away from Tampico, as it turns out. Having finalized those nonspecific travel plans, by which I mean we bought two plane tickets and didn’t bother to plan much further, we mostly forgot about them until a couple hours before the plane took off. As far as spending any time in Tampico, which didn’t seem to be a highly recommended tourist destination, my general attitude holds that if you’re probably only going to be somewhere once in your life, you might as well make an effort to at least see a few things while you’re there. As such, we ended up booking two nights in town while at the Monterrey airport, and spent the next day checking out a good portion of Tampico.

 

The morning started with a huge breakfast buffet at a little restaurant next to the hotel. Most of the food was prepared on site, and the offerings were numerous, delicious, and hard to resist. Needless to say, we left, as will happen after one pays for an ‘all you can eat’ experience, overly sated. Erin, bloated more from multiple glasses of fresh juice than anything else, swore off of buffets for an indeterminate future. We held our bellies on the way over to a nearby bus stop and boarded the first one that came by after an affirmation from the driver that he was headed to the beach, only to be promptly dropped off several minutes later and nowhere close to the coast, for reasons I could not clearly understand. Vague directions were given as to which way we should go to board the correct bus, but we decided to start walking instead, eventually arriving at the beach an hour or so later. (Turns out a large road construction project was happening near the entrance, which was the cause for all of the initial confusion as all bus traffic had been suspended from the thoroughfare.)

 

Wind off the ocean amplified the pervasive chill as we walked for a couple of hours along the edge of a tumultuous sea, down a beach recently hammered by a tropical storm, now strewn with hundreds of empty palapas and battered wooden chairs. At the end of the beach was a jetty extending from the mouth of the Panuco River. The boardwalk along the top of which was the only populated area around. Aggressive gulls dashed and dove, fighting for food scraps, while vendors sold puffed corn snacks to tourists who then fed them to vacant eyed raccoons ensconced in the rocks along the pier.

 

From there we ended up on another town bus, and received a thorough crisscross tour of the streets of Tampico from a local’s perspective. It was not a city I would love to live in, dirty, noisy, and monotonous. I wondered at the lives of those who did, but am sure I found myself no closer to imagining their realities than they mine, if the effort was reciprocated to any degree. After almost an hour to traverse what would have taken us about three minutes in a cab, we were dropped off in front of Laguna Carpintero, a sizeable lake in the center of the city. After a salty snack of tamarindo in a cup, we almost jokingly boarded a small boat for a quick tour of the lake, imagining there wouldn’t be much to see. The night before, my interest had been piqued in seeing the place after the cab driver from the airport told me there were crocodiles in the lake, though I was somewhat skeptical of his claims. Turns out he was telling the truth, as a seven-foot long one swam just in front of the boat as soon as we left the dock. But crocodiles weren’t the only attraction of the ride, as the other side of the lake was a small wildlife refuge of sorts with multiple species of herons hanging out in the trees alongside hundreds of enormous orange-red and emerald green iguanas. Quite cool. Towards the end of the tour there was also a beach full of sunbathing crocs, which, though impressive, almost paled in comparison to all of the unanticipated wildlife we’d already seen. Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, however, was the trip host/announcer, who, in spite of the fact that he probably did this dozens of times a day for years on end, resonated fresh enthusiasm for the laguna and for his city as a whole with his upbeat attitude and positive affirmations pertaining to Tampico’s attributes as an outstanding city worthy of pride and consideration.

 

From there we walked to the central district, stopping to check out the obligatory cathedral and the main plaza before catching a, thankfully, more direct bus back towards where we were staying. Still full from breakfast, dinner consisted of fresh fruit in the hotel room, and breakfast the next day was no more than a couple pieces of bread and some coffee before boarding the bus to Valles.

 

The intention to check out San Luis Potosi had been a couple years in the making. Perhaps never a true intention, rather more of a suggestive impetus in the back of the mind. As such, finding ourselves a state away while in Nuevo Laredo, opportunity merged with subconscious slowly developing as potential reality. Two winters ago we spent several months in Argentina, where I worked on the Mendoza guiding rafts, and Erin shot photos of the rapids. While there, we met lots of kind and generous people, among them a Mexican river guide by the name of Miguel, who often spoke passionately of his adopted home state of Potosi. It was there that he spent a majority of each year running trips on the turquoise blue waters found throughout the region, and his descriptions of the waterfalls and countryside in the area left one with a strong desire to visit and explore.

 

The main hub of adventure based activities in the state is found in Ciudad Valles, several hours east of the capital, and a couple hours west of Tampico. In Valles we ended up staying several days in an apartment near the city center which we found on Airbnb. Our host, Don Gustavo, and his son Marco, picked us up at the bus station and shuttled us over to their place. Once there Don G provided us with an outline of the multiple locations worth visiting in the area, along with several hand sketched maps drawn over the course of our conversation. He left with an invitation to join him for a sip of tequila at some point during our stay, which we later took him up on, showing up expecting a quick nip and some light conversation only to find ourselves being served a full dinner and hanging out for several hours of casual Spanish chatter.

 

The biggest challenge during our stay in Valles become quickly apparent when we realized that most of the outlying destinations weren’t necessarily all that close to the city, and no one could provide us with any solid details pertaining to public transportation to and from any of the major attractions. Frustrating as this may have been, however, some of the more rewarding, though potentially maddening, experiences garnered in the course of both travel and language acquisition (and the combination of the two) arrive in the form of seemingly daunting and insurmountable obstacles such as getting from one place to another. The good news is that if you want to go somewhere in Latin America, there is almost always a bus, or series of buses/colectivos/etc., heading that way from somewhere at some point just about every day. You just have to find them. And we did, eventually, and without excessive effort and a little bit of occasional luck.

 

The first day there we decided to go for the easiest place to reach, which was the small neighboring town of Xilitla and the surrealist garden of Sir Edward James. The eccentric James was an uber-rich Scottish socialite who transplanted himself to the Mexican jungle in the late 1940s, eventually creating/sponsoring the construction of a paradisiacal micro-reality in the form of Las Pozas, where towering concrete sculptures and multi-storied staircases to nowhere serve to visually enhance the already fantastical pools and waterfalls on the sizeable property. I had read about the ‘garden’ years before, while in southern Veracruz, which is as close as I imagined I’d ever get to seeing the place, so it was a truly dreamlike experience to walk the paths there for a few hours and marvel at both the imagination and labor that went into the creation of such a unique locale.

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That evening, we caught up with Miguel, who was preparing to head down to Costa Rica for the next several months to guide rafts during the slow season in Potosi. We didn’t have much of an opportunity to hang out with him throughout our time in Valles, as he left a couple days later, but it was fun to visit with him for a couple of hours all the same. Always a treat to reconnect with people you met in a totally different set of circumstances, people you never really imagined you’d ever see again. He also set us up with his company to raft down the Rio Tampaon the following day, which was an enjoyable experience and welcome opportunity to check out a new river – and our one day of no hassle transportation as the operation’s headquarters was only a block from our apartment. The Tampaon, like most all of the rivers and otherworldly swimming holes we’d eventually see in San Luis Potosi, was a brilliant turquoise, the exact color you might imagine in an advertisement for a Caribbean vacation. And while there wasn’t a significant amount of serious whitewater, there were a couple of fun rapids, and a long scenic float through deep gray canyon walls followed by a quick portage around a chunk of limestone where the entire river disappeared into a cliff blocking its passage. Lots to take in.

 

We stayed around Valles a few more days, heading out on a couple more excursions including a day on the Micos River (same startling blue water) where we found a guide to lead us down the river about a mile, jumping off one waterfall into the current and swimming downstream to the next in a series. It would be hard to describe this place, as with several of the other places we would eventually end up later that week, without hyperbole, so I won’t attempt to do so. Suffice it to say that the entire time we were in that portion of Potosi, we had the great fortune to see (and swim around in) a lot of places the likes of which I’ve never seen similar. And Micos was one of them. A few leftover acres of Eden, if you will.

 

Deciding to be done with the daily busing to and from the city, we headed out after about a week with the intent to spend some time in our tent, as we’d heard there was camping available nearby most of the other places we’d wanted to see. And there was. We based out of the town of Tanchachin for a couple of nights, checking out both the top and base of the Tamul waterfall. We spent one night a hundred feet or so from the opening of a 1200’ deep cave shaft, known as Sotano de las Golindrinas, where tens of thousands of birds, mainly white-collared swifts moving at fighter plane speeds and green parakeets, return with astounding velocity each evening at dusk, and ascend in concentric circles to leave the abyss come dawn. We stopped by the popular Tamasopo Falls for a few hours for swimming and some lunch, and later camped out a short walk from Puente del Dios, yet another improbable and almost indescribable collection of water features, including multiple falls spouting out of all directions from the porous walls of an enclosed amphitheater of aqueous crystallinity, and a natural tunnel through a land bridge one could swim underneath from pool to flowing creek. Unbelievable that such grandeur exists in this world – truly – and even cooler that you can buckle up a PFD and jump right in!

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When it was time to start heading back north, we first had to travel west a bit. We camped one night at Laguna Media Luna, a warm water, spring-fed lagoon in the form of a half-moon, and then made our way by bus to the capital of San Luis Potosi, which bears the same name, the following morning. We spent the late afternoon wandering around the city, and arrived in time to spend a couple of hours in the national museum of masks, which moved into place as one of my favorite museums ever.

 

From the city the next morning, which happened to be Erin’s birthday, we headed due north and back into stark landscapes and lanky cactus, though I think the actual shift occurred somewhere between Media Luna and the city. It was remarkable to observe how quickly the environment changed from lush jungle to arid desert, and to marvel at the curious plants in the transition zones. After a long ride, a transfer, and a bumpy ride, we arrived at the Orgarrio Tunnel, gateway to the ‘Pueblo Magico’ of Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town in the mountains of the Sierra Catorce. The local shuttle ferried us through the two kilometer tunnel, where we departed and searched out our hotel along the steep narrow cobblestone streets of town. As it was Erin’s birthday, we splurged a bit and ended up in a quaint, stone constructed suite owned by an Italian couple, both ex-accountants who vowed not to die at their desks before moving to Mexico to begin life anew. During our two-day stay, they plied us with Italian coffee, homemade focaccia, and explanations about one of their cats, half-crazed from a recent operation.

 

We got there early enough to go for an evening stroll up a steep hill to the old ghost town on the outskirts of town. From there we watched the sun set behind the mountains, and wandered around the well-preserved remnants of old mines and habitations. Dinner was simple fare of beans, gorditas with nopales, and quesadillas made with local cheese and 20180115_134916huitlacoche, a type of fungus that grows inside corn ears that is somewhat of a delicacy and surprisingly good. The following day we woke up early and hiked south out of town. Spotty directions and good fortune led us out on the right road, and we eventually found ourselves climbing up and past more old mines and a few occupied dwellings, shanties burdened by difficulty and squalor. Up we went to around 11,000’ and the top of Cerro Quemado, sacred mountain of the Huichols, who make annual pilgrimages to the site. Views in all directions, perfect weather, and not another person the entire time we were walking. We made our way back down a different route, following a ridgeline over to Cerro Oregano, whose namesake grows wild across the hill, and the huge cross above town, descending from there.

 

The next morning we walked north of town a ways, before leaving around noon via one of the antiquated Willys jeeps commonly used for tourist excursions in the Wirikuta Desert below town. Once a day, collective rides to Estacion de Catorce are offered at an abominably low rate for what ends up being over an hour long trip straight down the mountain and across the desert into town. Even better, we rode on top of the jeep with two other passengers and the luggage. It was nice to take in so much fresh air before the bus ride that awaited us that afternoon. We spent an hour soaking up some sun in the main plaza of Estacion before boarding for the hours long ride to Saltillo, Coahuila, and finally arrived there around dark just as the weather was getting very nasty indeed. It was back to winter in a flash, with snow and sleet beginning to blow sideways across the city, and the driver didn’t even bother to pull into the station, simply dropped us off on the main thoroughfare and sped off, hoping to make it to Monterrey before things got really ugly. Which they did, as I read the next morning of a 46 car pileup on the roads through town, and heard of other multi-vehicle accidents for the following two days.

 

We found our hotel, back to budget and with nothing in the city really set up for that kind of cold. Once again, as we were traveling through, we decided to spend a full day seeing what Saltillo had to offer, what kind of city it might be. Turns out, a really nice one. Mellow, relatively quiet, clean, and with all sorts of museums focused on everything from the Mexican Revolution to the history of the serape. The following day, the one after we arrive that is, the one we spend walking around the city, was bitterly cold with snow falling for most of the morning and afternoon. It was hard to find a place to eat in an enclosed setting, as most of the year it’s probably a lot more comfortable to dine in an open air atmosphere. Many of the shopkeepers didn’t bother to go to work, and even a couple of the museums we were going to check out were closed due to weather. We finally found the internationally renowned bird museum open, and ended up spending a couple of hours checking out all of the well-conceived exhibits and trying to memorize as many bird names in Spanish as possible. Afterwards, we tried to find anyplace warmish to hang out, eventually ending up at the Cineplex (which, though not all that toasty, was at least out of the wind). We decided to test our Spanish skills while watching Una Mujer sin Filtro, a contemporary comedy filmed in Mexico City. It ended up being easy enough to follow with or without total comprehension, and provided several warming laughs to boot.

 

The next morning it was back on a bus to Monterrey, only a couple hours away. The roads were relatively clear, though several passengers used their phones to film the frozen landscape outside the windows, an uncommon sight in that part of the world. We stayed the night in the same hotel we started out in, a block or so from the main terminal, and I enjoyed the full circle sensation of return. That evening we found the nicest place to eat available in that area of town, which isn’t all that nice to tell the truth, ate our final tacos and drank the last couple Carta Blancas of the trip. In the morning it was a few hours spent on a bus to the border, the crossing, the bus station, a cab ride to the van, and straight on out of Laredo, the open road before us, and no plans for anything to be over anytime soon.

 

 

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