Thursday, November 8, 2007

Car Trip 22

True to ourselves, we pulled out of Xilitla at exactly 7:45 am on Saturday morning. I could not help but think back to our trip to Akil with Juan and his family and how different this trip was. Not only from the obvious that we were traveling a lot and seeing different things, but also from the perspective that we got up and going when we had things to do. No pokey mornings for us!
Our next stop was to be Zacatecas, about 320 miles northwest of Xilitla through the Sierra Gordos. We would be climbing from an elevation of 3250 feet to about 7900 feet. Even though this is high, it is still mostly arid high desert.
We were really looking forward to this city. It is one of the original silver producing cities conquered and controlled by the Spanish. It still has a huge, non-working silver mine which can be visited. The city itself is a giant sprawl located between two mountain ranges, Cerro de la Bufa and Cerro del Grillo. From our research, it sounded like it was going to be one interesting city.

Our journey to get to it took us through some very interesting country. The route was a maze of switchbacks, up and then down mountain roads. I have probably said this too much already, but the scenery is gorgeous in the mountains. I have seen the Appalachias, the Rockies, the Smoky Mountains, the Porcupine mountains of upper Michigan and the Alps. Of course, all of these mountain ranges are totally different, but, except for the Alps, and to a lesser degree the Rockies, the mountains in central Mexico have the most interesting scenery. We eventually seemed to leave the mountains behind. In truth, we had just leveled off onto one great high desert upland region.

After about an hour or so of driving, we entered into the state of Querretero. This was our eighth of fifteen Mexican states that we would pass through on this trip. There are a total of 31 states here, including Mexico City as its’ own state. (much like DC is its’ own entity). We stopped at a little restaurant where the main street twisted its’ way up, around and through the town. The restaurant we chose, of course, was at the top of a hill and we had to negotiate more steps to get to it. I really am tempted at times to rename this the adventure of the stairs and hills due to all of them that we had to contend with on the trip! It was a nice enough restaurant with a wall of windows on the front that looked out onto a wooden balcony that ran the length of the building. We had an excellent view and across the street and below us was a local travelling carnival that had set up. I secretly wished that it was open and operating. I love carnivals, but that’s another story!
We ordered what we thought was a simple breakfast; fruit, juice, coffee and eggs. The waitress acted like we had ordered something that had to be shipped in from Mars, even though we had chosen a breakfast listed on their menu! But off she went to the kitchen and returned with a bowl of chopped fruit for each of us. Then we waited. And waited. At least the wait gave me time to look at the decor of the restaurant. The walls were decorated with family photos, evidently from the owners family. One man in particular, probably the patriarch, dominated most of them. I found the wedding pictures of his various children fascinating. All of you are probably familiar with the traditional dress of Querretero, you probably just don’t know it comes from this region. And what is that? The giant, spangle and sparkle covered sombrero! The one you see for sale in all of the tourist shops and occasionally even see on an airplane as some tourist realizes that it is too big and tries to stuff it into the overhead compartment.
At any rate, all of the men in the pictures were proudly wearing them. And, I must say, they did not look out of place or silly on them. Maybe because there was usually a horse in the picture too? I particularly liked one picture where the bride was side saddle on her horse with the groom beside her on the ground, holding the horse and with his hat proudly in his hand. This was taken in a corn field, with stubble all around, but the church where they were married is visible in the background. Of course I am supposing this, but every picture tells a story, right?!
Back to breakfast. She eventually brought us all of our food, but in courses and at different times. B would get his juice, I would get a plate of tortillas and L would get his eggs, so on and so on. It was exasperating but amusing at the same time. What was not funny was that the last course served to us was the coffee! The one thing we so desperately needed and wanted as the first course! And when it came, it was undrinkable. I do not know, and after thinking about it a long time, I still cannot figure out what they did to it. It tasted like it had been brewed with fuel oil instead of water. Or maybe they had stored fuel oil in the coffee pot? At any rate, it was horrible and we left it sit. Maybe a Coke somewhere down the line would soothe my caffeine craving.

Back onto the road where more mountains and vistas awaited us. We made our way through the endless industrialized, sprawling expense of San Luis Potosi and came out the other side to be met by miles of cactus strewn desert. I love the high desert with its' vast open areas covered by all sorts of interesting cacti.
In the distance were great mesas, like giant flat top fists rising out of the ground. The whole area was like driving through an American western movie. Here and there the land was divided up into quadrants by rock walls. It must have taken hours and hours of back breaking human labor to build these walls. And they were all straight. They did not wobble or zigzag unless they did so intentionally to go around some object.

Just outside of Zacatecas we stopped at a rest/gas/truck stop to refuel the car and our parched throats. I left the convenience store and was standing outside by the car when a young boy came out of the store and approached me. In perfect English, he asked me if I was an American. I told him yes. "When are you going back to the States?" he asked, in perfect English. I told him I live in Mexico and it would not be for a very long time. Then he informed me that he was 10 years old and hated Mexico. He was looking for an American that would give him a ride back to Los Angeles! About then B, L and the boy’s father all came out of the store. His father was the clerk. The father informed us that they had just moved here from Los Angeles, where the boy had been born. The father was originally from the area and had returned to this area to care for his elderly parents. The boy considered himself an American, not a Mexican and hated everything about where he was. He desperately wanted to return to the life he knew and the only one that he had known until his father uprooted him and brought him here. I really felt sorry for him. Even though he spoke Spanish, it had to be very hard for him. They were still miles and miles from any town and stuck out here at this truck stop in the desert. Probably nothing for the kid to do all day but feel sorry for himself and practice hating his father more for bringing him here. It was a rather upsetting encounter to have. We left with the boy standing there watching us drive away. I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind.

I quickly forgot about him since just down the road we encountered our eleventh military check point. This one appeared to be much more serious than the little one we had passed in Tabasco, or any other point for that matter. There were lots of machine-gun toting soldiers everywhere and the checkpoint was very well organized and divided up into little areas. There was no way we were going to just get waved through this one! But we did get waved the machine guns! They directed us off the road and onto a side road that led to a little hut with even more soldiers standing around. The whole place was quite foreboding and scary. I cautioned L to keep silent, thinking that if they did not speak English, and we did not speak Spanish, the frustration would quickly build and we would be on our way, leaving exasperated soldiers behind. I was wrong though. They did speak Spanish only but made it quite clear that we were to shut off the engine, get out of the car and wait over there while they inspected it. I was terrified. There was no way I was going to be allowed near enough to the car to watch them to make sure they did not plant anything in it. Visions of Mexican jails and being somebody’s senorita danced through my head. And it was not a good dance! We acted like we did not totally understand what they wanted us to do and stood close enough to the car to sort of see what they were doing. Actually, in retrospect, it was interesting to watch. They looked in places that I did not even know existed in my car! They even lifted the rubber protector that goes around the base of the gear shift knob and searched way down in there. Strangely, though, even though they made me pop the hood, they did not request to look in the trunk! Maybe too obvious? The inspection finished, they waved us back into the car and allowed us to pass. I hoped that this would be our last checkpoint, knowing full well that it probably would not be. I also hoped that this would be the scariest moment of the trip for me. And it was, until we got to Mexico City!

Safely back on the road, we could see the mountain range ahead of us that housed Zacatecas. It looked so close but we knew it was still a couple of hours away. We did stop at one spot along the road and got some great pictures of the buttes, mesas and very unusual cacti in the area. One in particular looked like a tree until you looked at it closely and discovered the branches actually ended in true cactus plants. Strange tree indeed.

We entered the outskirts of Zacatecas with L skillfully navigating. Unfortunately, Mexico had once again forgotten to skillfully mark the streets with any kind of signage! But, with L’s Spanish and a few stops for directions, we found our way into downtown proper and located the hotel district where we wanted to stay. I found a place to park and we were off on our trek to find suitable (affordable!!) lodging for the three nights we were to be here.

1 comment:

Andee said...

I didn't realize San Luis Potosi was an industrial town. Cross that off my list.

I like the photo of all the litte houses in color. Very pretty.

I have never been in a vehicle that was stopped for inspection. I have been on buses between Tepic and Nogales were some kind of police come on board and pick out a half dozen young men and send them off the bus. The are usually young Indios who appear to be heading toward the border. In brand new jeans and shirts, and spiffy haircuts.

The police take what looks like $200 peso bribes/fees from each them of the, each time,and then send them back on the bus.

On one trip in particular, when we saw we were being pulled over,their group leader would zip up and down the aisle, handing out the $200 bills and then sitting down again before we actually stopped. After we started going again, he would go around and collect whatever bills were left. That guy hae a dozen young men with him.