Today was a bit frustrating and somewhat of a wasted day. After a good night’s sleep in a comfortable, warm bed with no noise or street lights (what more can you want?!), I went for a short walk around Parral whilst Thomas did some Spanish homework, about which he is being very diligent, unlike his mother.
The shop windows were quite entertaining, one being full of very, very, frilly dresses (what I would call, frou frou) which I would assume were for weddings. There were also what seemed like hundreds of shoe and, particularly, boot shops. I never saw anyone wearing them though so maybe the owners keep them for best. The square had a shoe shine on every corner and a policeman tried to engage me in conversation but the language barrier was too great to overcome satisfactorily.
Once back in the room, we packed up and walked to where we thought the bus stop was, according to information gleaned from Google. Unfortunately, the website I had been using for bus information proved very wrong in both the bus stop and timetable so, when we eventually found the bus terminal, it was to discover that we had missed the morning bus to Durango and had to wait 4 hours for the afternoon one. We were quite familiar with the inside of Parral bus terminal by the time we left!
The journey took 6 hours, half of which was in darkness, and initially passed through a lot of flat sierra. There were quite a number of big gates denoting ranches, with dusty tracks leading into the distance, but rarely were any houses in sight. The buses are extremely comfortable and have films playing virtually non stop. On each occasion, we have been the only non Mexicans on the bus and, it seems, there are very few other tourists around at the moment, in this area.
We eventually got to the hotel at 10.30 pm local time as, somewhere between Parral and here, we lost an hour.
After an excellent sleep, we had breakfast and planned to take the bus this morning to Zacatecas. However, whilst I was on the internet in the lobby, the Canadians I had been talking to in Creel happened down the stairs and told me that we had to go and see the Plaza, which was just a few blocks down the road. I am so glad they chanced along as we would have missed a beautiful part of Durango. Sometimes it pays to read the tourist brochures!
The Cathedral is in the Plaza and there are 7 blocks that are pedestrianised. I visited three churches in the area and they were all quite simple and not at all adorned like many Catholic churches.
The Mexican men must be very keen to look after their shoes as there was a shoe shine every two feet in the Plaza. I have never seen a woman having there shoes shined though – probably do it themselves!
There were also a number of balloon sellers, both along the streets we walked and in the Plaza, so that must be another Mexican custom of some sort.
The whole area was very like a European city and, judging by the shops, seems to be very wealthy.
After wandering around for a couple of hours, we got a taxi to the bus terminal for the bus to Zacatecas. The bus terminals always seem to be a long way out of town but, luckily, taxis are cheap. There were a number of buses doing the four hour trip to Zacatecas so we didn’t have to wait long for the next one. I must say, the bus services are excellent here – very comfortable and all air conditioned (sometimes a little too efficiently!)
The journey took us through yet more tracts of flat land although, as we got closer to our destination, the soil got much redder and looked a bit more fertile. Zacatecas itself is nestled in some hills. We arrived as the sun was setting and the landscape was reminiscent of the Southern Mediterranean.
Again, we had to get a taxi to our hotel, the Posada del Carmen, which was situated in the old part of town. The taxi driver seemed to be a bit of a boy racer and had a horn that sounded like a police car. Luckily he had excellent judgement when it came to squeezing through small spaces between other cars.
What a beautiful town it is! All the buildings were lit up when we arrived and it was very like fairyland.
We checked into the hotel and then went out to find something to eat. I ordered something mysterious, which turned out to be soup (very tasty). We quite often don’t know what we are ordering but it is usually excellent. And so to bed and looking forward to exploring tomorrow.
Our room in Posada del Carmen is right on the street and the noise was quite loud when we went to sleep last night – the Mexicans certainly love their music. However, it didn’t disturb us too much.
It was a beautiful day yet again today and whilst Thomas went for a run, I had a wander round the old town, which is truly spectacular. I am already regretting not having enough time here. It is a Unesco Heritage site and the buildings have all been restored and maintained. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have been discovered by many non-Mexican tourists though. Zacatecas is a rich mining area, particularly of silver.
I wandered round for an hour or so but started to get a headache and feeling nauseous. It then registered that we might actually be at altitude (I have a big problem with altitude sickness) and, in fact, on consultation with Google, we discovered that we were actually at 2,400 metres – even higher than Mexico City! Activities were confined to observing street life and drinking 2 litres of water over an hour or so, by which time I was feeling a bit better. (Diamox is a last resort.)
However, street life is extremely entertaining. The traffic police are quite vociferous with their whistles when cars that are double parked are disrupting traffic flow, and there was a ceremony of some sort going on in the Cathedral Plaza around what appears to be a melting artificial ice rink. (Looks a little bizarre!) The ceremony involved brass bands (of which there is a plentiful supply, it seems, in Mexico) and a cannon, which was quite loud and unexpected. There were also a number of armed police and soldiers around. We never discovered what the ceremony was though.
This afternoon, I went for another walk whilst Thomas persevered with his Spanish. I managed to get my hair cut by a hairdresser who had about as much English as I have Spanish, but between us we achieved the desired effect!
After this, we took the cable car up to La Bufa, which is the hill above the city. There were spectacular views, of course, and we had an enjoyable, fairly steep, walk down through all the back streets, which I always find fascinating. By this time, it was time for another delicious dinner and back to the room.
It was my turn to wake in the night and listen to the night noises last night – drunken singing (surprisingly in tune), cars rattling over the cobbles and car radios. (For some Mexican drivers apparently only have 2 volumes on their radios, off or very loud, and seem to be under the assumption that everyone within a mile radius wants to listen to their music.) There was also, of course, the church clock letting you know how many quarters of an hour you have been awake.
We decided to visit the silver mine this morning – El Mine. It appeared to be quite straight forward on the map but we ended up walking round and round in circles for some reason. However, we did find some most delicious tamales for breakfast on the way and the mine was definitely worth the perseverance in searching for it. Luckily, we had an English speaking guide, who translated a lot of his narrative. It is no longer a working mine but when it was operational, was 7 levels deep. Not somewhere I would have enjoyed working!
On the way back to the hotel, we bought some excellent tortas for lunch from a very nice man to whom Thomas was able to have quite a chat. We also picked up our laundry that cost a grand total of $5. Why would you bother hand washing yourself for that price?! As Zacatecas is well known for its minerals, we also checked out a couple of crystal and mineral shops and both bought a small rock.
I left Thomas in the room to do some more Spanish homework and had a last wander around the town. Of course, I felt obliged to buy some silver jewellery as a memento. We both just love Zacatecas and are sorry to be leaving tomorrow. I also managed to find some ‘normal’ shops and was able to buy Thomas some more socks to replace the most disgusting smelly things he has had on his feet.
When we went out for our meal tonight, we found that the city was buzzing – even more so than on the previous nights. A band was playing outside the Cathedral and there was some sort of magic show going on on the other side of it. Swarms of people were out walking and shopping.
Not long after we had returned to the room, the brass band moved, with its followers, up the road so we had the full blast of the music and dancing! It was all so animated!
25 January 2014
We both had difficulty getting to sleep last night as we seemed to have music coming from every direction and some was still going whilst we were waiting for the taxi at 6 am this morning!
We were up early to catch the bus to Mexico City, which was an 8 1/2 hour trip. There was a beautiful sunrise but the first part of the journey after that was decidedly gloomy.
Our bus was one of the ‘Select’ service buses and as we boarded, we were handed a bag of goodies, including a newspaper, sandwich and biscuit for lunch (which disappeared quite rapidly), and some ear phones for the in seat screen – just like on a plane! The buses really are excellent.
The journey was relatively uneventful apart from seeing an accident that must have given our bus driver a bit of a fright. A car hit another one on the opposite carriageway and rolled over several times in our direction. Luckily, it stopped, on its roof, in the median strip but I didn’t like the chances for the occupants if they weren’t wearing seat belts, which they probably weren’t as Mexicans tend not to wear them. We only stopped in a couple of large towns and then for a quick lunch stop at a taco stand. Thomas and I were the only takers amongst the passengers for the latter. They didn’t know what they were missing!
The scenery got a bit more varied, more hilly and fertile and obviously a lot more populated the closer we got to Mexico City. The weather also improved considerably, which is just as well as we have now got used to blue skies. Once at the Terminal del Norte, we again took a taxi to the hotel, located right in the centre.
As it was getting late, we left our bags and went straight out for a walk to the Zocolo, which was only 10 minutes away. There, we were confronted with swarms upon swarms of people! I know, this shouldn’t have surprised us given that the city has a population of 30 million, but we come from N.Z. and aren’t used to it. It was almost too much for us to cope with. Anyway, I had a wander into the Cathedral (Thomas wasn’t allowed in as he had shorts on) and then we walked up to the Plaza in front of the Museum of Belles Artes.
There was a big variety of street entertainers, including a group of dancers and drummers, who we thought were members of one of the local indigenous groups but it was hard to tell which one as most of them were wearing jeans.
Lastly, we stopped at a cafe for dinner and had the worst meal we have had to date. We are never quite sure what we are ordering and on this occasion, mine turned out to be something white and flat (no, not fish) that was swimming in grease and had little flavour. It may have been tripe but really it was completely unidentifiable! Thomas’s meat, whatever variety it was, was tough and chewy. This was most disappointing as we have come to expect good food. Anything we have bought from street stalls has always been excellent.
This morning, our first stop was to find a money machine that would accept my Air NZ card as we couldn’t even have breakfast without doing so. When we looked last night, they all either had big queues or were locked, so it was getting a bit desperate. We went out early and had no problems finding one, luckily, so we were able to afford the morning tortas and coffee!
Thomas decided that he wanted to go for a run in the large park that he had seen on the map that seemed to resemble New York’s central park (in size, at least). We worked out the route and took the metro, for the grand total of 5 pesos each (about 50 cents). However, as luck would have it, the station we required was closed and the train just went flying on through! We got off at the next stop and walked around in what we thought was the right direction. Of course, it wasn’t. We found a small park and had a bit of a walk around that and then gave up and got the metro back again.
The nearest metro to the hotel was Bel Artes, which is in a huge plaza and all morning there were cyclists, runners and roller bladers going around a circuit, which, when Thomas Googled it, seemed to be 28 kms. I suspect a lot of them didn’t quite make the whole distance! It seems to happen every Sunday and the entire route is closed to traffic. There were certainly a huge number of people taking advantage of it.
I left Thomas to go to the gym in the hotel and went to look for the hotel at which I was joining the tour. Luckily, it was just a few blocks away. Once I had done this, I wandered around the centre again, absorbing the atmosphere of all the people, street entertainers and generally observing what was happening. There are just so many people…!
I had a meeting with the tour group at 6 pm so came back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before going out again. The group primarily consists of Australian and New Zealanders with one English girl. As far as Cancun, there is only going to be 9 of us but after that more people will be joining so it will be up to 17 (a bit of a big group). The age range is mixed and Thomas joined the group for dinner afterwards and is now regretting that he is not coming with us! It’s and early start tomorrow for the trip to Pueblo.