Zacatecas

The Copper Canyon
La Quemada

The new party of four: myself, Jeff and now Christiane and Kathrine met early the next morning and repacked the Blazer.  With the back seat now occupied with two passengers and the extra luggage, we put some of the gear on the roof and secured it with some rope that I brought.  We drove a few hours drive north and then took Hwy 16 east to the southern edge of Chihuahua which we bypassed and continued south on Hwy 45.  As we drove south of Chihuahua, the flat plains turned to rolling hills (above) and many times I thought that the drive could have been mistaken for eastern Washington or Oregon.

Eventually Hwy 45 became Hwy 49 and we traveled for about 400 miles until it was dark and decided to find somewhere to rest for the night.  It isn’t particularly safe to travel in Mexico or Central America at night – not because of crime but because of large farm animals and the conditions of the roads.  During the daytime you may pass a pothole in the road large enough to swallow a small child.  If you hit it at night at best you will lose an axle, or worse yet, roll your car and lose your life.  Additionally, for whatever reason (I have never figured out), the people of this region let their cows roam free.  Running into 2,000 pounds of steak at 55 miles per hour in the middle of the night is a quick way to wreck your travel.  We found that it is just best to get up early, drive all day and bed down at sunset.

About 50 miles outside of Durango we saw a sign that advertised a motel.  It looked a bit like a motel 6 except that the parking lot was closed off with a security fence where a guard sat behind a glass window inside a booth.  We pulled up and were able to talk to the guard/clerk without exiting our vehicle, it was a bit like being at the McDonald’s drive up window.  We ordered two rooms and were given two garage remote controls.

We drove into the parking area, hit the buttons and two garage doors came open.  I pulled the truck into one and we all got out to stretch our legs.  It was at this point that we noticed something quite peculiar about these hotel rooms.  They were all accessed through the garage and had no windows.  It was almost as if you could pull up, pay for your room, pull into the garage and exit your vehicle without anyone ever seeing you.  If you had tinted windows you could sleep here complete anonymously.  “Hmmm,” I wondered, “What’s the point of that?”

When we went into the rooms we quickly discovered the reason.  In each bedroom, the beds were surrounded by mirrors, there were mirrors on the ceiling and a toilet paper towel dispenser hung prominently next to the bed.  The ashtrays were filled with condoms and there was adult programming on several of the television channels.  It finally occurred to me that we were at a sex hotel.  It seems that anyone who wants to have a liaison can take their partner, pull in, do their deed and sneak out without anyone being the wiser.

It wasn’t until the next morning when the maid discovered two men in one apartment and two women in the other that she must have thought that we were singing to a different tune.  Well, creepy as the hotel was, we slept well as the beds were comfortable and I knew that the truck was secure as it was parked in a locked garage.  We repacked the gear onto the roof and got on the road again.  We passed through Durango stopping only for lunch.  It was here that we saw our first Mexican Wal Mart; we loaded up on bread and cheese, fruit, water and other snacks for the drive.  After we got back on the road we chatted and told travel stories; Christiane and Kathrine told us some stories about their 6 months living in Mexico City.  The minutes passed into hours and in no time, we arrived in the famed silver city of Zacatecas:

I shot this photo (above) on a hill overlooking Zacatecas.  Within the limits of this photo there are over 1,000 miles of underground tunnels (or so the LP guidebook says).  It seems that this entire area is one massive silver vein after another and it has been mined for centuries.  While the indigenous people had mined the silver prior to the arrival of the Spanish, it was in 1548 that heavy industrial mining began.  The Spaniard conquerors used enslaved Indian slave labor to pull the silver from the mines.  Much of the current city was built in the 1700′s and Zacatecas is a fine example of Colonial construction in Mexico.  Many of the original buildings remain standing and the town has a very European feel (architecturally speaking).  To get up the hill, called the Cerro de Buffa, we took the cable car (below) which provided a magnificent view of the city.  Up on top we could see all of Zacatecas and the desert that stretched on to the horizon.  In the center of the photo above you can see the grand Cathedral of Zacatecas.  Built in Spanish fashion it reminded me of the Missions up the coast of California.

As war loomed in Europe just before the start of World War I, Mexico was in turmoil with its own civil war.  The leader of the Federal forces, General Victoriano Huerta had come to power by removing the Mexican leader, Francisco Madero and later ordered his execution.  General Huerta, who commanded the best division of Mexican troops planned to crush his adversaries one at a time.  Pancho Villa who commanded his legendary Army of the North and the two met at Zacatecas.  Villa was victorious and won a decisive battle here.  Later, Pancho Villa would best all of his opponents and claim the dictatorship of Mexico.  On the top of the Cerro de Buffa is a statue commemorating Pancho Villa; we all posed and I placed the camera on my small tripod and set the timer:

From the Cerro de Buffa, we explored some of the underground silver mines.  They were indeed impressive as they went on for hundreds of yards in every direction.  We learned about how the Indians were into slavery and had to carry the silver ore out of the mines on their backs.  In the vertical mines, wooden scaffolds were constructed and the Native American men, women and children had to climb wooden ladders from scaffold to scaffod in mines as deep as 150′ (50 meters) or more.   To free their hands to climb, a wicker basket was placed on their backs and a leather strap was balanced on their forehead so that the entire sack of ore had to be supported by the neck.  We read of many stories of how, when one worker would lose their footing, they would fall knocking several below them off the scaffolds; all would fall to their deaths.  The slaves were given meager rations and were worked tirelessly.

I was really surprised to find out how extensive the caves were when we found a small train that went under the city in one of the horizontal mine shafts.  We purchased tickets and in no time we were on a small train that resembled the ore cars that you see in the movies (like Indiana Jones II).  We clinked along at a snail’s pace looking into the different reaches of the caves that were lighted; the entire ride was surreal and I kept feeling like I was on some Disneyland ride.  After 15 or 20 minutes, we emerged from the mine – clear on the other side of town.  We had passed underneath roads, schools, hospitals, businesses and churches.

We walked all through the town sampling some of the local treats; in true European form there were many gelato ice cream shops and waffle stands with all sorts of sweet pastries.  We toured the great Cathedral of Zacatecas (pictured below from a shot I took later at night), saw some of the local museums and sat in the local square and chatted with the locals.  My Spanish was quite rusty but I was eager to learn; and so I brought along a small travel Spanish-English dictionary and I was constantly looking up all of the new words that I was hearing.

Since we had met in Creel, the 4 of us really hit it off.  We laughed and talked and laughed some more; it was like we had all known each other for years.  As we boarded the Blazer to drive back to the hotel, we laughed at some jokes and I thought I’d capture the moment.  I think this photo captures well the fun mood that Jeff and I had the entire week that we spent with Christiane & Kathrine.

After a long day of touring around Zacatecas, we decided to pick up some snacks and drinks for a hotel cocktail party.  Well, they sure don’t make it difficult in this part of Mexico; it seemed every few blocks we passed a liquor store.  But not just a parking lot – walk up liquor store like you find in the States, it seemed that all of the liquor stores here were drive through.  Convenient.  But as we thought about it, perhaps too convenient…


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The Copper Canyon
La Quemada

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