Thursday, June 19, 2008

San Luis Potosi

A quick and healthy breakfast of caldo de borrego (soup of lamb with chopped tomatoes, cactus and topped with chopped onion and coriander leaves) and fresh carrot juice, at Querétaro, marked the beginning of our roadtrip to San Luis Potosi. We had to wear the car tires for 200Km to reach our destination, San Luis Potosi a.k.a San Luis a.k.a SLP. However we seldom like taking paths straight to the destination ignoring the beautiful Mexican countryside enroute.

Almost at the midway between Querétaro and SLP we deviated towards Pozos, a tiny village known for it's silver mines. We went there in search of the famous furnaces used for silver smelting, los hornos, but to our dismay we couldn't locate it. Nevertheless that didn't disappoint us much for there was an artists' expo which made the visit worthy. Artists from various surrounding states were displaying and selling their artwork. It ranged from beaded keychain to colourful flutes to rustic metal art to clay art. We wandered around the village for sometime and took leave.

SLP was about an hour more from there. SLP is the capital of the state with the same name. The state is surrounded by Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas in the north, Zacatecas in the west, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Hidalgo in the south and Veracruz in the east. SLP is well connected with major Mexican cities with flights and buses. It is located inbetween Matahuala and Querétaro if you're driving from North towards Mexico city. The taxis are cheap and frequent in the city, but the historical center is best explored by feet.

SLP was a lot more tougher than Querétaro to navigate for the colonial part of the city huge and as a consequence one-ways are omnipresent. It took nearly half hour to find the hostel La Marquesa, where we recieved a warm welcome from Señora Lety. It's worth mentioning that this particular hostel is THE best hostel I've ever stayed. The hospitality in the hostel brought back to me the memoirs of Dodda mane and the host Kasturi akka, in Agumbe. It was extremely well maintained, the hostess was very kind and friendly. I would strongly recommend this hostel to anyone who visits SLP. After getting refreshed, Lety showed us the restaurant which serves the typical food of La Huasteca, SLP. We had delicious tamales and chilaquiles for lunch. We returned to hostel and relaxed in the backyard, listening to the stories of Lety.

We set out to see the Centro Historico (Historical Center) at about half past four. SLP has a colonial center with gigantic and grandiloquent cathedrals showing off the architectural splendour. Plaza San Francisco, Plaza de Armas, Templo de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Teatro de la Paz, Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí (UASLP) and the regional museum are few of the must see places in the center. La Ciudad de Los Jardines (The city of gardens) is the moniker of San Luis Potosi, there are numerous gardens and fountains decorating the city. The plazas are normally very crowded in the evening with children crying for candies and balloons, couples romancing, musicians playing, dancers rhythmically moving their bodies, tourists expressing their awe at the architecture, peddlers selling sundries and photographers like me exhausting our camera batteries. There are cafes and art galleries in the narrow streets connecting the aforementioned edifices.

The center of SLP is much larger than that of Querétaro with taller and higher monuments. Though it's best explored by feet, we were exhausted by the time we traversed the entire centro. We were lucky to get a glimpse of La Estudiantina, the traditional music group of the university. La Estudiantina, like we had seen in Guanajuato, were a set of university students who wore black attire and played various instruments like acoustic guitars, tambourines, mandolins, violins and acoustic bases. It was dark, our legs were tired and our stomachs were craving for something to eat. As said earlier, centro is so crowded that it's almost impossible to find empty taxis and we decided to walk back to hostel.

My quest for photography was not yet over, I thought of getting a couple of long exposure shots after the city was illuminated. After dinner, we hitched a taxi to Centro again. I mounted the camera on tripod and started shooting all the glorious plazas and cathedrals which we had seen during day light. They appeared doubly magnificent adorned by colourul lights and it was delight to my camera for seeing such sight. We didn't have enough energy to click every edifice, every street; we returned to hostel and dozed off.

Next morning Lety had made the most delicious Huevos Rancheros, I had ever tasted in my life. The eggs were perfectly and delicately cooked sunny-side-up and served with home-made salsa, frijoles (bean paste) and lettuces. My mouth waters every time I think of it. All good things had to come to end, but for us better things were waiting. We packed our bags and bid au revoir to unforgettable Lety and headed towards Real de Catorce.

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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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