Thursday, June 19, 2008

Real de Catorce

Picture this - a tiny historical village surrounded by deserted mountains all over, patterned cobbled stoned roads winding up to the mountain, a central neoclassical cathedral, tiny houses made of stones, indigenous artists selling artwork - sounds like a perfect studio set for a Hollywood movie, isn't it? Indeed this village has been a choice of many directors for shooting the Mexican country side, one can find posters of Brad Pitt in the village, which is a matter of great pride to the people of Real de Catorce (RDC).

Located in one of the highest plateaus of Mexico, RDC is on a mountain 3000m high in the state of San Luis Potosi (SLP). One has to drive about 260Km north-westwards from the capital San Luis Potosi, via Matahuala to reach this wonder village. The last 14Km drive to the village is a cobblestoned one and greatly reduces the speed of the journey. The drive though slow is a picturesque one passing through the deserted mountains, villages and finally a one-way tunnel which leads into RDC. The tunnel is an interesting one which operates on a time shared basis, controlled by a guard at each end, the entrance costs 20 pesos (Rs. 80).

By chance you're driving, the very first thing that hits you when you enter the village, is the lack of parking space. There is a paid estacionamiento (parking space) at the entrance which we missed and we had to park it in one of the streets with hairline gap between the door and the wall (I had to get-off through the co-pilot door). The next thing we did was to figure out a place to stay, without much difficulty we could find a room which cost each of us 100 pesos a night (Rs. 400). We then collected the map at the tourist center and started a vagrant wandering around the cobblestone paved streets of the rustic village. There are plenty of art galleries sheltering artists from Jalisco, SLP, Guanjauto, San Miguel de Allende and Michoacán. Surprisingly, I met a pretty Argentinian lady, selling her artwork on the streets, who had been to Bangalore!

RDC, like any other Mexican place, had a zocalo (town center) with a park in the middle. The surrounding streets are crowded by artists and food peddlers. Fortunately there are no tall buidings anywhere in the buildings, the architecture is predominately colonial with houses made of stones. We were hungry by that time and decided to cater to our gastronomical pleasures. We had gorditas, pollo en mole and enchiladas at one of the numerous restaurants in town and continued our roaming about in the town. A guide approached us and asked if we wanted to take a trip to desert where we could see the indigenous tribes, their rituals and most importantly the famed Peyote, we rejected and decided to make it to Pueblo Fantasma, the ghost town. An hour long trek along the mountains high above the Ogarrio tunnel would lead you to Pueblo Fantasma, where one could witness the debris of the old mine. I had never seen a place like this one, a deslote little town with disintegrated buildings and shattered stone houses among the surrounding godforsaken lifeless mountains. It was a perfect place for photography and my camera enjoyed every click of that barren village. On the way back, we stopped at another desolate place overlooking the village of Real de Catorce, for sunset. We waited for nearly an hour, but sun seemed almost still and it need an hour more for him to reach is destination.

After reaching the town, we went in search of a bar and we found Meson de la Abundancia, very close to the Zocalo. It's a posh restaurant which serves Italian and Mexican dishes and liqour as well. I strongly recommend this place for dining, for the pizzas were deliciously thin crust and tasted wow. We were sort of aversive towards Mexican food, for we had eaten that for past 3 days, we dined pizza and wined tequila. We were exhausted. We went to car, got our baggages, hit the shower and hit the bed, at the dormitory where we had paid in the morning.

The next morning, it took nearly 2 hours of our precious time to fix the car battery, which had got drained. After getting it fixed, we visited the famous cemetery at the outskirts. It was a weird sight for me to see the cemetery at the entrance of a cathedral. We then headed to El Palenque, the cock-fighting arena which could be seen as a miniature model of the great Arena of ancient Rome. We went to La Casa de Moneda, the mint house at RDC. When silver mining first began in RDC, the coins were printed at this mint house, which now is an art gallery-cum-museum. After a quick shopping, we had some mouth-watering gorditas on a street-side restaurant and in no time we were driving on the narrow streets towards the tunnel. After 20 long minutes of wait for our turn, we bid good bye to this marvelous little town and entered the tunnel.

Photographs of Pueblo Fantasma:

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