Friday, May 30, 2008

Zaragoza...

At the eleventh hour, the much anticipated and much prepared odyssey to El Cielo, had to be postponed due to unavailability of a vehicle that could drive a herd of 16 people. We were spending our Saturday morning with total sloth and boredom. Browsing his friend's orkut album, Loks, known for his silence, cried out, "Hey do you know where this water fall is? " The waterfall indeed looked splendid and I used keywords "Las cascadas cerca de Monterrey" (waterfalls near Monterrey). With Chipitin and Cola de Caballo as the top search results, it displayed an unknown and unheard waterfall, El Salto, Zaragoza. Immediately the key words changed to El Salto, Zaragoza and in no time we were all (Mallesh and Liyan joined us) set to hit the road.


Zaragoza, located in the southern part of Nuevo Leon state, is a tiny village with the most magnificent waterfall in it's outskirts. The route to be followed from Monterrey is as follows:
Monterrey - Saltillo (bypass) - Matehuala highway - San Roberto exit (towards Linares) - La Ascención - La Escondida - Aramberri - Zaragoza. The distance is about 320Km and takes approximately 4 hours. The drive after La Ascención is a very picturesque and peaceful one - country side Mexico with horses grazing alongside lush green mountains, farmers tilling their patches of land in ovlivion and cowboys lazying on horses watching their sheep. We stopped over at Aramberri for grabbing beer, but bought some palomas (tequila with grapefruit juice and sangrita) for they taste better and doesn't contribute for your belly.


Zaragoza has many pointers to El Salto for easier navigation. The entrance costs 130 pesos for camping (per vehicle) otherwise it's 35 pesos per person with an additional 20 pesos for parking. The entry is through a pavement that leads directly to the camping area with lots of tents and barbecue grills. Velo de Novia unveils itself with all the splendour of a bride's veil as you enter the camping area. Elegantly thin stream and delicately milky white in texture, this waterfall is the tallest and the prettiest among other cascades.


We parked, we changed, we dived!!!


That summarizes the whole trip. La cascada del Salto, is a roaring stream of milky white waters which pacify in the large green pool below. Don't think that the green of the pool is due to chlorophyta deposits, but they're travertine pools (it's the primary calcite that gives them that pleasing green colour). The water was ice cold, but amazingly fresh. Trust me, the feeling of guzzling chilled paloma, completely drenched in the waterfall is goddamn divine. There is another tiny water tail joining the pool and next to it was a natural diving platform of about 2 meters high and there was a great feel good factor in diving from there. We dived from every platform available around the pool, we tried swimming against the current, we jumped from next to the waterfall into the pool, we drank paloma, we photographed till the sun reached his home far in the west.


We neither had tents to stay nor had food to eat, but the urge to camp was much stronger than the willingness to drive back 4 long hours in the night. We had a 3 tarpaulins and ropes we had got for the other trip and a couple of torches and it took not much time to decide staying there. But we had no food, we drove back to Zaragoza village in hoping for a taqueria. We found one which served us delicious machacado con huevo (beef with egg), smashed beans, rice and lettuce salad, all for 40 pesos per plate. As we were having the dinner, the lights of the whole village vanished and it immediately took us to India for few moments...Power Cut!!!


We came back to the camping area of El Salto waterfall and tried hoisting a makeshift tent with the using car trunk, ropes and tarpaulins, but we sucked at it. We gave up...we asked Liyan to sleep inside the cars and we three men slept on a tarpaulin with two of them covering us from top.


The next morning, we started a short and simple hike to the source of the waterfall, which was marked to be 1Km from the camping area. We walked along the stream clicking more photographs for more than a kilometer. The forest was denser and more secluded, we were the only four mortals around. We climbed rocks and kept going until we found a completley mangled and rotten dead body of an anonymous animal, with scattered bones. We looked around for a glimpse of a bear or a coyote or some damned wild animal, but to our dismay we didn't find any. We decided to retreat from there, my eyes were all around the forest to get atleast a faint coup d'oeil of some animal, but I was not fortunate enough. While we were resting at the woods a little away from what I mentioned above and sucking on oranges, we heard some animal cry from the side we just came, though I couldn't even make a wildest guess of what animal it was. Though I was happy to spot a baby serpent which eschewed away in a jiffy.


We returned to the waterfall, undressed and dived into the pool again. Finished rest of the paloma cans we had saved and chilled in the water for about an hour and started our return journey. I could have stopped the write-up here but for the unforgettable lunch we had. We were in search of pollo asada (chicken barbecue), the boards of which we had seen at lot of restaurants on the previous day. As I was speeding my car, I saw a country fella making the same, I paused and shouted "Listo amigo?" (Is the chicken ready?) and he said "Como deis minutos mas" (Like 10 more minutes). I pulled over the car and waited for 10 minutes and he served the most delicious chicken barbecue I've ever eaten. It was served with tortillas, barbecued onions and lemons, we almost ate one-and-half chicken and was surprised to hear the bill - 105 pesos for 4 persons. We thanked him for such a sumptuous lunch and continued our drive.


The route was a little different one during return journey: Zaragoza- Aramberri - La Escondida -La Ascención - Linares - Montemorelos - Monterrey (via Carretera Nacional). I would recommend the earlier route (Monterrey-Saltillo highway) for the latter one is dangerously curvy uptil Linares which greatly slows down the journey. Zaragoza is one of those few places which I felt was perfect for weekend chill-out. No hikes, no hurry, no loads of things to do. Drink, eat and stay cool in the waters.




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Thursday, May 29, 2008

america america

america definitely is racially...err...ethnically the most diverse country with people from almost any imaginable country on this planet. Abkhazia, Benin, Comoros, Djibouti...you name a country, you find people at some nook or the other. And it's no tricky trivia question that Indians (people from a distant country called India, located in Asia) are the third largest Asian ethnic group after China and Filipino. In other words, herds of Indians (I'm too lazy to google out for exact figure) migrate to the so-called, dreamland?!!?!!?

Out of the blue we (read NARs, non-american-residents) start receiving friend requests in orkut. The same person who wouldn't reply for your email all these years, as though rejuvinated from an eternal hibernation, would suddenly become overtly hyperactive in orkut or facebook. And within no time, if, in case "Updates from friends" option is enabled, you happen to see that the location from 9 lettered Bangalore or 15 lettered Vishakapattanam is proudly changed to cool 2 lettered ones...TX, NY, OH, MI, CA, WV, NC. This bloke Sarvanan Saamy who couldn't think of anything but Tamil Nadu for TN back in India, would now, without sligthest contemplation blurt out Tennessee, though I bet he would spell it wrong.

The best part is not the location change but the photographs that are uploaded and better still are the captions for the photographs. I feel they somehow would want to show (or is it show-off?) to the world that they are indeed in america. Here are few of the hilarious ones I've come across.

- This photo had a couple of my friends with frappuccino cups in their hands titled "At my fav Koffee shop with my Fav drink :)". Yeah you guessed it right, they were in starsucks coffee shop. I bet they wouldn't have done the same thing at SLV eatouts which serves the cheapest and tastiest coffee in Bangalore.

- This one is highly patriotic, "the most colorful n cold place on earth, my schenectady". This was in one of my friend's album and I've never heard words "My Bangalore" rolling out of his mouth.

- And few of them think that others (NARs) are so dumb that they start giving very implicit captions. "Foot path on Rosa Road, Schenectady", "Bus stop in front of my home", "In front of my apartment in Nashville", "Inside the Grapevine Mills, a big shopping mall", "Walmart, behind me". The fact that you're in America doesn't mean that we don't know footpaths, bus-stops, shopping malls and apartments.

- There is yet another kind of implicit captions given by some supposedly smart Indian americans. "Chatting with my sweetheart" was one of the caption for a photograph of one of my friend with is laptop. Now hold on...why on this holy earth would anybody want to know what on this holy earth was he doing with his damned laptop. At the entrance of Walt Disney, "Welcome to Walt Disney"...hellooo...redundancy is bad for health, the board already says "Welcome to Walt Disney" and why do you take trouble of keying it again.

- There are lots who're indirectly involved in promoting tourism in america. It's good for us, NARs, that we happen to see all the touristic clichés of america. Photos containing captions "That's me in front of Statue of Liberty - NY", "Me wading in the blue waters of pensacola" or "Ooohooo on top of sears towers, on top of world" are not too uncommon in orkut albums. I've almost seen the whole of america rodeo drive, alcatraz, hover dam, las vegas, golden gate, chicago downtown, yosemite, grand canyon, space needle, niagara...all with a smiling face, wearing sunglasses, in the foreground with an introductory caption.

- However handsome you maybe, but remember, there are better brand ambassadors. I saw this photograph which was captioned "My new American Eagle T-shirt", imagine how it sounds if I doing the same "My new VIP-bonus banian and rupa underwear" or "My new trousers stitched by Krishna tailor" or better still "My new rayban glass bought at majestic footpath". As said earlier, we can very well read American Eagle embroidered on your T-shirt and we don't care if it's new. The same with your new cars, caps, coffee mugs...get photographed but give smarter captions.

- Few others think they transmogrify into more handsome creatures the moment they land in america. This guy with his newly bought rayban glasses "Am I looking phunk with this glasses?" and another one with his new hairdo sitting next to the flower (sounds very gay) "My looks are poisonous...beware of it". Another Shahrukh Khan fan on a winding road with sweater on his shoulders, "Filmy eshtyle". And I still remember one fat lady, not so cool asked (again with her sunglasses on the boat), "Ain't I cool?". I was almost about to comment on that photo with a blatant "No".

Remember that a picture speaks a thousand words. Start thinking some thoughtful captions for your pictures, better still, don't use captions. As said earlier, we can make out that you're in america leading a lavish lifestyle just by looking at your photographs. Being in america is good for you, try to do something more than just clicking and uploading YOUR pictures and showing off to the world.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grutas de Garcia

Located About 36Km from Monterrey, off the Saltillo-Monterrey highway are the magnificent caverns - Grutas de Garcia. On the outskirts of Monterrey, after crossing Santa Catarina, keep watching for the board pointing right which reads "Grutas de Garcia". After turning right and crossing the industrial area of Garcia, Nuevo Leon the road becomes narrower and passes in the canyon. One can either trek all the way till the entrance or take the teleferico, the cable car. The trek approximately takes about 30 minutes (less if you're in good health) and costs 45 pesos while the cable car takes about a minute and costs 65 pesos.

The view of the valley from outside the cave is picturesque. The cave has many stalactites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago and the climate inside the cave is very pleasing, especially during summers. The cave approximately takes about an hour and a half for traversing. There are guided tours if you wish but I felt it was useless looking at the way the guide was explaining to others. The last guided tour starts at 5 in the evening and one has to be inside the cave before that time.

A note for photographers, the cave is dimly lit in most places and a tripod is a must carry if you don't want your photos to be blurred. Don't carry any of your telephoto lenses for those will be of no use, just take one ultra-wide angle lens and that should suffice for all the photographs.





















Friday, May 16, 2008

Roadtrip to Querétaro

It was a hot and cloudy Wednesday afternoon. Lokesh, Mallesh, Liyan and myself hurried home for a quick bite of egg burji with tortillas and some spaghetti. We loaded the car with bags and gas, 4 of us by 4 in the evening were cruising on Monterrey - Saltillo highway.



















Landscape kept wavering from raw and rocky mountains to cactus clad desert plains. The day sang into evening as we crossed Matahuala, the parting crimson glory of the ripening summer sun turned the desert bushes into an artistic silhouettes. These ones were shot from the moving car, it was moving at 160Kmph and it was indeed difficult to shoot these with the gush of wind pushing the camera.























Within no time, all we could see see was the shoulder of the highway painted yellow with blinking cat eye reflectors, the darkness had invaded the sky. At the outskirts of San Luis Potosi, we refilled the car, grabbed a sandwich and continued driving.























We had a couple more hours of journey remaining. Querétaro started showing up as a carpet of scattered lights from the far. It didn't take much time for us to locate the hostel, Hostal El Pozo.




















The city of Querétaro is a shortened name for Santiago de Querétaro and it's the capital of the state Querétaro. Located almost in the center of the country, it's bordered by the states of San Luis Potosi in the north, Guanajuato in the west, Mexico in the south and Hidalgo to the east. The legend has that the Spaniards were about to lose the battle with the local Indians, out of the blue the sky darkened and Saint James and the fiery Holy cross incarnated. Indians accepted the defeat and Santiago (Saint James in Spanish) de Querétaro was formed in 1531.























After making the payments, the señora of the hostel recommended us to have the tacos from Oaxaca at the junction of Calle Constituyentes and Manuel Tolsa. The tacos were indeed, as she said, riquísimos.



















Wrong alarm screwed our early morning plans the next morning. We exited the hostel by 9 and drove straight to Peña de Bernal. It's a tiny village, about 60Km from Querétaro, located off the Querétaro-Mexico autopista. Known for it's second largest and fourth highest monolithic rock on this planet this town reminded me of San Miguel de Allende, with it's colourful colonial architecture and narrow alleys.























There are numerous artists selling artworks and sundries. The gigantic rock overlooks the village providing a sort of magnificent backdrop. We rambled around discovering the village and photographing.



















A red and yellow painted cathedral adds pride to the central square, buildings are painted with saturated colours ranging from violet to red of the spectrum.



















Parking space is extremely sparse and it's highly recommended to pay 25 pesos for the parking lots at the entrance of the village.




















Calle Ignacio Allende in Querétaro was our choice for lunch for there are countless tiny fast food outlets. We had four tacos each of different body parts of cow topped with chopped onions, spicy salsa and Guacamole.



















After a tiny siesta at the hostel, we set out for exploring the Querétaro downtown, with camera and colourful guide maps (dispensed for free at most hostels and tourist centers).























Querétaro centro is the home for countless colonial cathedrals and cafes attracting millions of artists and tourists every year.























Encircled by streets Zaragoza, Corregidora, Universidad and 5 de Febrero, the centro (a world heritage site) is an aesthetic place with unique architecture and magniloquent churches of colonial grandeur and majesty, brilliantly maintained parks with central fountains, elegant retro styled houses and art and historical museums.



















Guided by the maps, we were "church hopping" and photographing around centro for nearly 4 hours with small breaks for coffee and snacks.



















Some of the must see sites of the centro are Plaza de Armas (known for it's unique fountain with water jets coming out of dog's mouth in four courner of the fountain), Templo y ex Convento de San Franciso (the most attractive church painted orange-red colour), Plaza de la Corregidora (has the statue of Corregidora and lots of cheap eat-outs and art peddlers), Templo de Santa Clara (the grandest and the loftiest cathedral I've ever seen), Catedral de Querétaro, Templo y ex Convento de San Agustin (very grandly constructed) and Jardin Zenea (the central garden).























Querétaro has so many churches that the title "City of Churches" would be very apt. At twilight, the street artists appearing like clowns perform in the square bringing smiles on the faces of lookers-on.




















Like Morelia, Querétaro has aqueduct on calle "De Los Arcos". While the aqueduct of Morelia is shorter, the one of Querétaro is tall and gigantic and poorly lit. Till 1970 the aqueduct was used for suppling water to Querétaro.






















As I mounted my tripod and started shooting the aqueduct, my eyes fell on a pub located on the other side of the road. I was pleasantly surprised to have found a pub that plays Jazz music, "Encrucijada Jazz". Without much contemplation, we entered the pub.



















The live music had not yet started and B.B. King's Live at NYC DVD was being played on TV screens. We ordered a couple of beers and waited till 10:30 for the live music to start and truly it was an experience for which I was longing for about an year. If you're a jazz fan, Mexico is definitely not the right place. The trio Gabrial Hernandez from Cuba (on Piano), Serguei Sckalov from Russia (on Drums) and Tyler Mitches from USA (on Bass) gave an extraordinary performance. I highly recommend this place to all the jazz lovers visiting Querétaro. The address is Avenida de los Arcos, 21, Querétaro

During our previous roadtrip, we had just passed Querétaro without really knowing that it was this wonderful. A pretty village, a magnificent colonial town, melliflous jazz music...all in less than 24 hours!!! Roadtrip to Querétaro would surely be a memorable one.

















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