Real de Catorce

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Mexico  ,
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A couple of weeks into our Mexico trip, and we're still in a state of culinary confusion. The most mystifying thing being, trying to work out the difference between a Taco, an Enchillada, a Burrito, a Tostada, a Quesadilla and a bloody Gordita!

This isn't helped by the typical Mexican waiter's cluelessness about the product he's selling. Basically, you ask them about all the above mentioned dishes and they give you the same explanation for all of them. The complication isn't helped by the fact that dishes with the same name, can also vary between different parts of Mexico, and sometimes between restaurants in the same street. It can make working out what you're going to get on your plate, a task for the Clairvoyants of this world!

Our next stop, is a remote former silver mining town, nested some 2,800 metres above sea level, in the Mexican highlands. When the price of silver collapsed in the early 1900s, people deserted the place and it became a ghost town. The Mexican government is trying to bring it back to life by promoting it as a tourist town.

We were in two minds about coming here, it's a huge detour from our main route(a good 10 hours away), and it's nowhere near any of Mexico's major cities. However, from the reading we've been doing, it's one of those special, come here before it's too late places!

So we came, and have no regrets whatsoever.

Imagine a fine colonial town, with steep narrow streets, great architecture and pleasant squares, in a remote desert location and surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. Then imagine this town was completely deserted and left for ruin. You arrive through a narrow, one way, 2.5 kilometre road tunnel, which feels like you're driving through a mine, and suddenly "pop out" in this special place.

There are barely any other tourists around, few places to stay or eat, hardly any cars, no banks and horses remain the main form of transport. Most of the buildings are still abandoned, many of which lay in ruin. However, these forgotten buildings are intermixed with occasional restored hotels, restaurants, and shops which look like they haven't changed in a hundred years. All around the place, you sense that something special is happening. That the place is slowly being brought back to life, with many restoration works underway.

This special place, frozen in time, is Real de Catorce.

We liked this place so much that we extended our stay, spending the days taking in the unique atmosphere and exploring the surreal streets.

On one of the days, we hiked up an old road which links an even remoter former silver mining town, and which is still a complete ghost town. In fact, the only building which is still recognisable is the church. A testament to which building was built the best.

One of the funny things which happened during our time here, was when we stopped on one of the streets to talk to a British tourist. Our conversation was interrupted by a group of local men who were trying to get us to take a tour on horse back with them. In order to get rid of them, Patricia made the excuse that she couldn't ride on a horse, because she has a bad back. One of the guys answered to his mates, in super quick Spanish slang, "well, your back may be bad, but from what I see, your ass is Ok"

As we were speaking in English with the British tourist, we don't think for one minute that he thought that Patricia was Spanish and would understand his quick, mumbling, wisecrack.

Well, that was a mistake, as she picked up on it, quick as lightning, and had a right go at him. It was so funny, all his friends were pissing themselves laughing, one of them said to her, ah you're Spanish then! and gave a smirk look to his very embarrassed looking friend. It was so funny, cos every time we walked down that same street afterwards, his friend went into hiding.

We leave Real de Catorce, in a jeep shuttle service designed for 5 people, but which actually ended up carrying 14, including 6 on the roof.

The driver tried to convince us to sit on the roof, by telling us about the great views we'd be afforded on the way down from the mountain. Common sense told us to stay inside the jeep. Just as well, as the journey wasn't for the faint hearted.

You know those dodgy, single lane, bendy country roads, which hug the sides of valleys, where there are no crash barriers, and inches from the road's edge is a sheer drop of several hundred metres. Well, that was the road that the severely overloaded jeep took. However, to make the journey more exhilarating, the road surface is not paved, rather it's just a track which has been hacked into the mountain side, and has more potholes than flat bits. Well, this combination turned the jeep into the wildest bucking bronco that we've ever seen. As we'd chosen to sit inside, and were so focused on stopping our head from hitting the jeep roof, we had no time to look at the steep drop down into the valley. Just as well, as the two poor backpackers who'd opted to sit on the roof, said they were terrified.

We eventually arrive at the next town. We need a strong drink, preferable a tequila or 10!
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