Parral to Durango and then Zacatecas

Originally uploaded by refay.
March 21, 2007 to April 7th Parral to Zacatecas Riding the high plains of northern Mexico was peaceful enough with arid high plains, scattered stunted dark colored trees like scrub oaks and what I thought was nut trees. The was little traffic and what traffic there was gave us lots of space and many waves and friendly beeps from their cars. The high plains were broken up with a few river valleys which we descended to find the area blooming with the newness of spring and planted with apple orchids, corn fields, and other cultivated fields. It turned out that the month of March is the windy season and we were greeted with varying strengths of winds through out this stretch in northern Mexico.

About 56 kilometers (35 miles) south Parral as we rode into the town of Las Nieves, the wind blew sheets of dust across the town, the roads and us. It was so impressive to see the wind blowing sideways full of the dust and particles of the arid landscape. We bought a few things to eat from the local Pemex gas station and continued on our way to find Poncho Villa’s Villa in Canutillo. The villa was a run-down complex with a handful of building with large photos and a bit of history about this Mexican who both was a local hero, a famous general of the Mexican revolution, and renegade (from the perspective of the U.S.). After the visit to the museum we decided to find a hotel because we both were sick with a cold and did not have the energy to continue. We found a clean economical room next to the bus stop which we laid low for two days recovering from our ailments.

We headed out two days later feeling somewhat better. The winds where more gentle and the landscape was the same.

Riding from Parral
Several nights we camped in the desert along this stretch along with what Randy calls the Mexican brown bears (cows). It was so nice to have such quietness in the vast dry landscape. It gives me a well needed break from the cities, the little pueblo with dogs that bark at us in the nights, the cars booming with music that have to pound the sense out of the youth that drive around in these moving music jukeboxes and the constant attempts to speak a new language I know so little of. The nights we camp I have come to treasure more then I knew.

(You may want to click the "read more" below to continue - this is a long one.)
Nancy washing clothes by the well at the abandoned homestead
Another night we camped at an abandoned homestead along a trickling creek. We fetched water from the well with a bucket that hung from a hemp rope. I cooked dinner with our camp stove at the outdoor adobe oven. The wind was blowing hard and I setup a various wind screens which kept blowing over. After dinner we washed clothes and we even had a warm shower--possible because we carry a Ortlieb water bag with a shower head. We climbed into the tents around 9:00 and read for just a few minutes before sleep crept into our heads. The next morning the magic of this secluded magical place presented us with singing birds and the morning sun crept over the high canyon walls to warm us as we sat drinking our coffee and enjoying the little paradises we found. It was hard to tear ourselves away but down the road we continued, sometime mid morning.

We stopped in Rodeo for the day and spent the night, friendly enough people but Durango and Zacatecas called us. We continued on fighting the headwind until I just had enough. We stopped in the afternoon at bus stop to rest and try to get out of the wind. I was exhausted and the traffic was picking up either because we were getting close to Durango, a large urban city, or a lot of people were starting their two week holiday which falls during holy week. Or maybe both. Anyway, we decided to take a bus the next 40 kilometers to Durango and then two days later to Zacatecas for Semana Santa (holy week). The traffic in Durango was heavy and vehicles emitted more pollution then we have seen so far Mexico. We rode aggressively to the main plaza, found a hotel and stayed for two nights. I think we were the only guests in the hotel and had a bit of an abandoned feeling. It was clean and affordable. If you stay there always ask for a balcony view because it is the only reason to stay at this very old hotel.

We hopped on to a bus to Zacatecas – it took 5 hours and they showed 3 movies, two of them in English with Spanish subtitles. The buses in Mexico are first class. Because the people of this part of Mexico do not have a lot of money to afford things like cars and internet in their homes, the buses and internet cafes in Mexico are first class and abundantly available.

Fireworks over the cathedral
We planned to stay in Zacatecas for 3 nights but we were captured by the beauty and culture of this incredible colonial city and have stayed 10 days. The holy week in this city is not just a religious holiday but also a week full of international cultural events. The whole city is a Museum. This week the city has dozens of cultural events going on any time of the day or night including classical music, chamber music and classical guitar performances, jazz, free outdoor rock concerts, folk dancing, street performances, marching brass bands who march the back streets and alleys ways playing wonderful local Mexican music and serious religious parades like the procession of the crosses and the Procession of Silence. We also toured the underground silver mine, visited scores of art museums and walked for endless hours studying the outstanding architecture.

Oh, did I mention we also took a week of classes to learn Spanish at the Fenix Language Institute. Randy was in an advanced class with 3 students and Nancy was put in a special education class for the slow learners, or should I say a basic class, Level 1 Spanish. We both learned a lot and enjoyed attending this structured institute of learning.

"Tipico" musical group in Zacatecas
We did stay in a wonderful hostel just a block from the main cathedral called the Hostel Villa Colonial. A highly recommended place to stay because of the beautiful interior design of the hostel, the rooftop kitchens with a view of the city, and reasonable prices. We stayed in a private apartment across the street with a private bath and a brand new interior for 4 nights. We did decide to experience what is called a “homestay” so we moved to a family home during the week we attended school. Consuelo, who is in her mid 70´s, cooked 3 meals a day and her large family came and went all day and night so we had a lot of chances to practice Spanish and we asked many questions about their lives.

The week in Zacatecas has been a true immersion experience: full of learning Spanish and Mexican family tradition, exploring a phenomenal colonial city, and enjoying a full week of cultural, traditional and religious events.