Saturday, November 10, 2007

Car Trip 24

Upon awakening Sunday morning, the three adventurers decided that a hearty breakfast would be in order. Today was the day we were going to tackle many of the sites and adventures of the city. Our first stop was to be a tour of the old silver mine.

Located on the outskirts of town, Mina El Eden (Eden mine) is no longer operating, having been closed down in the 1950's. It was once one of Mexico’s richest silver mines and consists of seven levels. Level 4 is the only one left open for visitors. The levels below it are flooded. To get to it, we drove the car and parked as close as we could and walked to the entrance to the mine. There we were greeted by a pleasant, chubby Mexican lady, dressed in her finest blue jeans, t-shirt and the Mexican version of Bierkenstocks. I imagine that her hair was cut so very short to keep her head cool while wearing the compulsory hard hat on the tours. Although she did not speak a word of English, it turns out that we probably got one of the best and most minely educated tour guides around. I know this because I did understand quite a bit of what she had to say (since she tried to speak so that B and I, the only two non-Spanish speaking people on the tour could understand) and because L interpreted a lot of it as we walked along, obedient puppies to our master.

The first thing she did was to hand us paper hair nets, very, very, in fact too very similar, to those worn by people in the kitchens of the fast food industry. We had to don these and then put on our hard hats over them. I think the word dork about sums up the way everyone looked in these things. No matter, everyone had to wear them. A family on the tour with us very kindly offered to take our photos wearing these mining fashion statements. Needless to say, none of you will ever see this picture!

After we were all safely under our hard hats, we boarded a little train that was to take us deep into the mine where we would start our tour. And when I say little, I do mean little. It was like something you would find at a kiddie carnival. It was so small and cramped, due to the size of the mine tunnels, L and I were forced to sit on the floor to avoid hitting our heads on the roof. B scrunched low in the seat and tried to maintain his dignity by staying off the floor. I guess he forgot what he looked like in that hat because our dignity had long since been left behind! The little trained pulled out and we were immediately plunged into a world of dank darkness, lit only by the occasional light on the tunnel ceiling. After a brief journey, we emerged into a hall of sorts and all rolled out of the train and gathered around our guide for our introduction to the ways of the mine.

We were given a history of the mine and shown examples in the walls and ceiling of silver, gold, iron, copper and zinc. All of these were mined here and we did get a quiz on this as we went along! The mine, and its’ history, was another fascinating bit of Mexican history. Again, the Spanish influence and control was incredible. Indigenous people were enslaved and forced to work the mines, with as many as five a day dying from the horrific conditions. The mine had been put together now with models of "people" doing various jobs, picking at the walls, carrying baskets of ore from one level to another. And they did not have ladders. They used logs with notches cut out as steps. One slip..... As each basket of ore was filled, and they were large baskets, each miner had to transport it to the surface and unload it. For this he was given a handful of rice as payment and sent right back down.

Every once in a while, the mine level we were on opened up so that you could see down to the some of the other levels. It looked like an underground river was going on down there. Also, where openings had been in the floor for the miners to ascend or descend from level to level, they were now covered over with clear plexiglass. It was a trip walking over these and looking straight down into an instant, freezing cold watery death if the plexiglass ever gave way. Shudder the thought!
We finally emerged at the other end of the tunnel, thanked and tipped our very knowledgeable and fun guide and walked the rest of the way out of the shaft and back into the bright sunlight of Zacatecas.

Our next stop was only a few feet away. We were going to board a cable car and be taken to the top of Cerro de la Bufa, the large hill that dominates the landscape of Zacatecas. We were looking forward to this ride, but a little scared of it too.

We patiently waited our turn and were finally loaded onto the cable car and began our ascent to the mountain. We traveled above the city, its' houses and streets and they became smaller and smaller underneath us. The view from the car was fantastic. Everywhere were buildings stretching out and filling every available inch of space between the two mountain ranges bordering the city. Past the mountains, we could see way out into the desert again. It was great. And the car did very little, if any, swinging. I was hoping for a lot of sway, just to make things a little more fun and dangerous feeling. And besides, I could enjoy this swaying without B yelling at me like he did on the suspended bridge at Salto de Eyipantla. But Alas, there was no swaying and the ride only lasted seven minutes.

The view from the top was great. To get to the top was another story. The first thing you encounter getting off the cable car is a great plaza like area with three large statues of men on horses. These are the three great heros of Zacatecan history, Pancho Villa, Angeles and Panfilo Natera. They led the revolution that freed Zacatecas from the Spaniards, and indeed, later all of Mexico. From this plaza, a wide cobblestoned pathway winds it way around the top of the hill to the summit. Again, more climbing, a lot gentler incline but uphill again all the same!

After enjoying the views in all directions on this bright, sun filled day, we decided to take our leave of Cerro de la Bufa and head out for our other adventures. We took the cable car back down to the mine entrance. From there we walked back down the mountain. We took the stairs down to street level, no easy task as they were very steep and plentiful! Upon finally reaching the bottom and street level again, we checked the car out of the lot and headed for our next stop, an art museum that was high on B’s list of things to do.

No comments: