The much awaited and anticipated odyssey to El Cielo, Tamaulipas was canceled again due to hurricane Dolly. We intelligently changed the direction of our travel from south east to south west of Monterrey, Zacatecas was our destination for the weekend getaway. The Friday night was spent on the soft reclining seats of an air-conditioned Volvo bus, which carried us to our destination. The first few hours were cacophonic due to some unknown movie screening in the bus, but I had a sound sleep after that. It was 7 long hours of journey before we opened our eyes to the first dawn at Zacatecas.
The colonial city of Zacatecas, located in the central Mexico is the capital of the state bearing the eponymous name. Deriving it's name from Nahuatl word Zacatl (a type of grass grown in this region), Zacatecas brought back the memoirs of Guanjauato. I felt it was a lesser beautiful and lesser mountainous version of the Guanajuato city. The town is tiny with cobbled-stoned streets, cathedrals of neo-classical architecture, majestic colonial buildings, countless museums and gardens, classy fountains, aqueduct. The most striking feature of the town is the mine, La Mina el Eden and the cable car (teleferico) leading to the nearby mountain, El cerro de la Bufa.
After reaching the hostel Villa Colonial and finishing the morning mundane activities, we headed to Calle Hidalgo in search of breakfast. We were mesmerized by the chill weather of the dawn which was very welcoming for us. We found Gorditas de Doña Julia which served us mouth-watering gorditas of various flavours like nopales, huveos, rajas and picadillo. We then took the city tour on an open top bus, which costs 40 pesos per person. It takes about 40 minutes traversing the entire city, with an introduction of various edifices in Español. It starts and ends at Plaza de Armas.
Post city tour, we visited the central cathedral after which we walked to the museum that was declared as "Must see" by Wikitravel. It's called El Museo Rafael Coronel, the museum of masks. It's housed inside Ex Templo de San Agustin, which according to me is architecturally one of the most elegant structures. The walls of the edifice are sort of blemished, which gives the building a very artistic, retro looks and is a perfect choice for photographers. The entrance costs 30 pesos per person, the museum has all the possible masks one's imagination can reach. The photographs of the masks will be featured in another article dedicated to the museum. We were drained of energy by the time we stepped out of museum and lunch was the only thing that was on mind.
We were wandering in search of a crowded restaurant, normal human behaviour. We found one which read El Rincon de Sabor on Calle Hidalgo, a little ahead of of Plaza de Armas. I was delighted to see Pozole on the menu and without much thought, I ordered and recommended the same to others. The hot bowl of Pozole verde topped with chopped onions, lettuce, salsa and herbs tasted scrumptious. We then roved around the Centro trying to chalk out our next plan of action. Most of us were slightly tired and sleepy which made us go for a coffee house, after realizing that there were no Italian Coffee Company or Starbucks, we entered Acropolis, the most prominent restaurant in the heart of the town and had a dose of caffeine each. We relaxed for a while at the Social center at the hostel, with beers gabbing with other hostelmates before starting to El Cerro de la Bufa.
We started our tiny trek to El Cerro de la Bufa, the mountain which overlooked the hostel. It took about 20 minutes to climb those steps and reach the summit, quite an exercise for such a vacation. Atop the mountain, is a humongous boulder of rock which is a tad adventurous to climb and I live to experience such adventures. We all started climbing the rock and reached almost the summit of it. The panoramic view of the town was just too picturesque to put in words. After descending the aforementioned boulder, we went to the church which had a spacious courtyard, behind which there was a mirador, the view point for watching the golden sun setting behind the neighbouring mountain, immersing the whole city in his auriferous yellow shine.
The spice of the Mexican food had set many stomaches and arses on fire and those mortals wanted to have a non-Mexican dinner. We went in search of an Italian restaurant and ended up in a Spanish one. In Kannada slang, we have a thing called "Biscuit haaksoLodu" which loosely translates to "Getting screwed" and that's what happened to us in that restaurant. Without knowing the food and it's quantity we ordered some Pan Tomate and Ensalada. After nearly an hour long wait we realized that Pan Tomate cosisted of a bread slice, topped with tomato juice and olive oil and the later consisted of chopped lettuce with 4 pieces of tomato for decoration and 4 olives!!! The day ended with nice hot shower and sound sleep.
Our second day started off with an unforgettable breakfast in the same place we had lunch the previous day, El Rincon de Sabor. Huevos rancheros and chilaquiles were at it's best and each one of us had more than one dish to satiate out tongues. La Mina el Eden, the mine was our the next item on "to do" list, we walked up to the entrance of the mines which is about 15 minutes from downtown.
The entrance to the mine is just stones throw away from teleferico, it costs 60 pesos per person which includes the guided tour, entrance to rock museum and the train. We were provided with helmets at the entrance and the guide kept explaining about the mines, which we didn't heed to for it was in Español. The mine was cold and dark with minimal lighting (tripod is a must for taking decent photographs). It's not an active mine, it used to be source of silver, quartz and gold. There are mannequins here and there showing how the workers life used to be inside the mine. There are elevators inside the mine to take us to different levels and one can see the underground water table still present and at some places, the walls are still lustrous indicating the presence of silver. The tour takes about 40 minute and ends at the other entrance which has a precious stone museum. We saw repertoire of brilliant stones from all over the world in various forms, colours and sizes displayed in this museum. A sort of toy train drove us from the inside of the mine to the exit.
We walked back to hostel along La Alameda (an ancient colonial garden) and headed to Sunday market. It was a long walk beyond the Ex Templo de San Agustin and was not that worthy, it was yet another flee market. Enroute we tried some tasty Raspados and Tehuinos (fermented corn drink with chilli powder and tamarind). We were neither too hungry for lunch, not too empty to skip. We had some roadside tamales, which tasted sumptuous and a zillion times better than the previous night's damned Spanish Pan Tomate. On the way back we visited La Casa del Mezcal, wine store that just sells Mezcal, a close cousin of Tequila and bought some of them.
We relaxed over a beer at hostel and headed for an early dinner. By the time we packed our bags and reached the restaurant El Pueblito, Calle Hidalgo was crowded on both sides by entire population of Zacatecas. They were waiting for the parade to start, the parade which was about to mark the International Folklore Festival. As I placed the order of Pollo en mole, Enchiladas and Fajitas, we started hearing the drums roaring outside. I blitzed my dinner (Enchiladas were not that great) within seconds and ran to the street with my camera.
It was so jam packed that I had to click like those photographers trying to click a politician besieged by journalists, in other words, I had to shoot without even looking into my viewfinder. Composing the image is out of question, my right hand was sore holding my bulky camera up in the air. I witnessed ethnic groups from Greece, Croatia, Hidalgo, Zacatecas, South Korea, Finland, Libya, Oaxaca and other places. It was 8 in the evening and our bus was at 9:10, we had no other option but to quit the procession and reach the bus-station. Due to procession, the number of buses had been reduced and we had to take a taxi, which cost us just 30 pesos.