Cuatro Cienegas to Mexico City via Real de Catorce.
Mexico City Travel Blog› entry 3 of 10 › view all entries
Apologies for my lack of updates recently, we've been in the middle of nowhere with very little internet connection.
From Monterrey we travelled to Cuatro Cienegas, which is in the middle of the desert. It's a very sleepy place and we stayed in a motel that looked like a set for a horror movie. It was cheap and nearly cheerful though, so provided a good base for the two days we were visiting. It's a weird place because in the middle of the desert it is surrounded by natural pools and rivers. The village itself was nothing to write home about, but the surrounding areas were pretty cool.
We visited 'La Poza Azul' (named by "National Georgraphic" as the most beautiful of the 250 pools that can be found in the surrounding desert), where stromatolites can be found. Stromatolites, for those with as little scienctific knowledge as me, are the first organisms that evolved over 3 billion years ago, and without them we would not have oxygen (thank Tim for that explanation). Or for the simple minded among you, they are the organisms that "invented photosynthesis through use of their antenna" (thank the information boards at La Poza for that explanation).
Following that we visited another pool where we could take a dip. If, like me, you would assume that a pool in the middle of a desert would be nice and toasty, you would assume wrong. It was flipping freezing! We literally jumped in and jumped out again, and then I settled fora bit of sunbathing in the middle of the desert. Tim went off exploring and taking lots of photos, but sunbathing was definitely the more sensible option.
The pools were cool but nothing overly spectacular. But we then went to the "Dunas de Arena" - an area of 800 hectares of calcium sulphate. It looks like snow in the middle of the desert, and there are massive formations of the calcium sulphate which makes it look like a set of Star Wars. This place was really cool, and we spent a long time climbing the formations. I'm glad I visited, but I wouldn't recommend more than a day in Cuatro.
From here we went onto Real de Catorce, a tiny town nearly 3k above sea level which used to be the site of silver mines. The film "The Mexican" with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts was filmed here, as well as part of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean".
We arrived by our usual Senda bus and were thrown off in the middle of nowhere. Not having a clue what we were doing we wandered around dazed and confused for a while. After a short while we established that we had to get a horse drawn cart (driven by an old Mexican towns' equivalent of a chav) through this very long tunnel to actually reach the town.
Real is a very small town of cobbled streets (a joy with my wheely bag). It's very steep everywhere and very hard work to navigate because of the altitude but absolutely stunning. It's basically a giant market all day every day, where they sell everything from clothing and food to naff plastic religious statues. It's surroundings are breath taking, and on our first evening we climbed a mountain near to the town to watch the sunset.
After a terrible nights sleep in the coldest and most noisy (the church bell went off in an incredibly eratic fashion) hostel we tackled a mountain to visit the ghost town where the silver mine used to based. The climb wasn't too bad and the views from the ghost town were gorgeous. We were offered numerous tours on mules and donkeys, but my fear of animals that are nearly as big as me, the lack of helmets, and the tiny mountain path that was to be navigated prevented us from doing so. We headed back to the market for the afternoon where I may have treated myself to a lovely silver and turquoise ring (really cheap, honest), and a silly hat from Peru. From here we briefly the worlds most tacky cathedral. It had plastic dolls of baby jesus everywhere, and the most gory Jesus on a cross I've ever seen... It looked like he had a gun shot wound in the cheek, and his arms had practically been ripped from his torso ("Jesus Christ" was Tims' reaction).
We then embarked on a death defying tour of the other end of the silver mines by jeep. Only we chose to sit on top of the jeep, which meant we were balanced on a seat that wasn't really attached to anything as we hurtled down a narrow and steep mountain road. It got hairy when other jeeps tried to pass us on the way back up, but it was amusing to say the least. Particularly noteworthy was the doorway we had to pass through to enter the silver mining village. It was just about tall enough for the jeep to pass through, but not with us sitting on top. Thankfully we made it in one piece, just about. We then decided it'd be a great idea to climb a big moutain to watch the sunset again. Only we left it a little bit late, so we opted for the "quick" root up. This involved climbing up what would be a waterfall if it had rained recently. It was basically rock climbing, but in hiking boots and without ropes. Roughly half way up we realised we had perhaps been a little foolish for deviating from the path, but by that point it was easier to go up than down. I obviously flew up like a gazelle (ahem), it was worth it when we got to the top though! Heading back down again in the dark we decided to stick to the path, which wasn't very well maintained but our forward planning meant we had packed two torches, both of which we discovered too late were running out of battery. Real was really nice though, with some nice restaurants and if you have the money nice hotels. From what I've seen of the North of Mexico it's definitely the place to visit.
From Real we headed to Matehuala where we could catch an 8 hour bus to Mexico City. Unfortunately the Senda buses we usually catch (slighty over zealous on the air conditioning but otherwise clean and comfortable) were fully booked so we opted for a Futura bus. Word of warning to anyone who may find themselves on a bus in Mexico - don't travel by Futura. It was filthy, the a/c did't work so one minute we were boiling and the next we had frost bite, but worst of all it smelt like over flowing toilets. Me being me, knowing I couldn't go to the toilet meant I instantly needed it. But that was ok, the driver decided to stop in a service station for an hour to get some lunch... just what we needed on an already marathon journey.
We booked into a cheap 5* hotel in Mexico City (god bless swine flu) as we had heard it can be pretty dangerous. I don't really know where this reputation has come from though. As far as we can gather Mexico City has an extremely high volume of very openly gay men who sit on the street benches all day making out and very few drug gangs and shootings. Then again we are staying in the Zona Rosa (pink zone), maybe if we went to the drugs and gangs zone it would be a different story?
Mexico City is really cool though. The centre is very artsy, with loads of old and new statues, and it's really clean. We walked around to explore on the first day, went down to the park and visited the Museo de Nacional Historia, which was very interesting. We got chatting to a tourist policeman and organised a taxi tour today, which took us to the Aztec Pyramids, a random old monestery which we were told was boring, and the Basillica (new and old). The random monestery was the best bit!!
I'm pretty sure the Aztecs didn't have concrete to hold together their pyramids?! They were nowhere near as impressive as the Mayan ruins we have visited and whoever did the excavation should be shot. The old Basillica was in the process of being refurbished, but I'm sure it is impressive. There were people crawling on their hands and knees around it and one woman was flat on her front, apparently how that's you worship in Mexico. The new Basillica was a hideous building that was built in the late 60s, complete with moving walkways (airport style) to ensure the thousands of pilgrims who head there every year can get close to the picture of the Virgin Mary which is also available for sale in the gift shop.
The monestery was cool though, I don' think it ever got any visitors so it wasn't tacky and it was actually really interesting. Our tour guide for the day was hilarious as well! As soon as we got in the van he told us his life story... He met his wife when he was 25 and she was 15, and married her within 3 months of meeting her. He hasn't looked at another woman since, but in his youth he slept with 460 women apparently. He was in to drugs, and women apparently found a short, fat, Mexican stoner irresistable. He told Tim it's all in the kiss, that and not taking no for an answer.
Tomorrow we're off to Oaxaca, I cannot wait!! We're nearly in the Yucatan again. My impression of the North of Mexico? I'm glad I saw it but I wouldn't necessarly recommend it to other backpackers. The food is nowhere near as good (how can you make a Quesadilla wrong?), the hostels are expensive, and it's cold. I'll gladly accept the Mozzie bites to be back on the beach and into friendly Mexico again.
Will write again soon(ish). Love to all xx