miércoles, 1 de diciembre de 2010

Destination: Real de Catorce

After living in Saltillo for the past two years, we’ve driven down that empty, mind-numbing stretch of highway between Saltillo and San Luis Potosi more times than I care to admit. The first time we drove it, I was rather intrigued by all the Joshua Trees, cactus, and snake skin sellers. But once was enough.

This last time, when our destination was simply San Luis Potosi, we had time to make a detour—at Real de Catorce. Just crossing the border into San Luis Potosi from Nuevo Leon, we had been promised by Mario’s family that a few hours at Real de Catorce were worth our time.

Real de Catorce used to be a silver mining town in colonial days. I believe the last of the mines were all but scraped clean by 1908. We were anticipating visiting a ghost town.

However, Real de Catorce is a thriving community.

What a surprise, as anyone who wishes to either enter or leave the town must pass through the Ogarrio Tunnel, delving under a mountain nearly a mile in length. That makes for quite a commute, especially as Real de Catorce is the closest thing to the middle of nowhere that I've ever been. Built in 1902, tunnel is impressive. But even more impressive, what were those doors leading off to a few meters from the entrance? I also would have been tempted to stop and look (as my in-laws did). However, the traffic is only one-way, and while they count the cars coming out as the end, if they notice that the traffic has ceased, they may just assume they miscounted, and let the oncoming traffic through. Therefore, when my in-laws stopped to admire this feat of engineering a year ago, my father-in-law had to back up halfway through the tunnel until there was a space wide enough to let the traffic pass. Lesson learned: don’t stop to gawk.

Once in town, what is there? A plethora of the usual tourist trinkets, antojos, and a more than usual number of hippies. I had never seen so many hippies so far from Cuernavaca or Tulum. Who knew that this was hippie mecca? They (the townies, not the hippies) also offer horseback rides to the ghost towns. Therefore, when we return we may get our ghost town fix, after all. And a word to the wise: for those traveling with small children, taking a stroller in this town is more hassle than it’s worth. We learned the hard way.

There were quite a few Regios (people from Monterrey) who were apparently taking a break from getting shot at for the weekend. Much like those of us from Saltillo, they have few weekend options within driving distance. Spotting Regios is fairly easy, as they seem to travel in packs. Were I part of the pack, I would probably love vacationing with them. However, as part of a small, independent family unit, the noise that usually accompanies these packs of Regios requires a bit of patience. Fortunately, they just talk loud. Other than that, they do seem to be very, very nice people overall. I do count my blessings that, at least in my experience, they don’t go blaring that awful norteño music everywhere they go.

And, I’m guessing that thanks to the flocks of regular visitors from Monterrey, we stumbled onto a beautiful Italian restaurant/hotel. But did Mario and I order Italian? Of course not! Mario had German-style rabbit. It was very good, but not near as good as my chipotle sauce-covered rabbit. For those who may venture out to Real de Catorce, this restaurant, aptly named “Real”, is on Morelos, between Lanzagorta and Constitución, a block nearer the center of town from the Plaza Hidalgo.

Futhermore, the lobby at the Real is littered with movie posters and still shots, as the movie The Mexican, with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, was filmed in Real de Catorce. Futhermore, Bandidas with Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, and a number of other non-Hollywood movies were also filmed here. The hotel boasts the impressive display of pictures, as the hotel’s owner enjoys being an extra or gets bit parts (he was also a pirate in Pirates of the Caribbean III).

As this is the only other town besides Parras within 3 hours of Saltillo and not currently overrun with narcos, we’ll be visiting again. İQue vivan los Pueblos Magicos!

For those who might visit Real de Catorce, take Highway 57 (Mexico City-Laredo) until just north of Matehuala. Then, cut west on 62 (keep your eyes open—it’s not well marked). From there, follow the signs to Real de Catorce. All in all, it takes about an hour after leaving 57—not counting the time spent waiting to go through the tunnel.

2 comentarios:

Krystal dijo...

I'll definitely have to add this to my list of places to see while I'm in Mexico. Great review Jill!

Jill dijo...

Good call--it'll break up that long, boring drive through northern Mexico. Because that has got to be one of the most boring stretches of highway EVER!