The colonial city of Zacatecas, Mexico. 4/30/15. I’d arrived in the late afternoon with time to find a spot in a local hostel (I’d suggest the Villa Colonial to any future visitors, it has a rooftop terrace and is 1 block behind the main cathedral. Fantastic views and a beautiful little spot.)
Catedral de Zacatecas. Fantastic ornate stone work all the way up the facade.
I awoke the first morning in town to an empty dormitory room. The other 3 inhabitants had already packed up and moved out. Rolling out of bed and down the street to look for coffee, I found out it was a national holiday in Mexico: Labor Day! A long parade filled the main street for many blocks, each group demanding increased rights and support for local workers. I heard another group had created an effigy of the current president of Mexico and burned it a short while after I left. Needless to say, the president is not very popular among the populace.
Just a man on a donkey carrying huge jugs of mescal (kind of like bathtub tequila), illegally occupying a handicapped spot. I doubt the parking regulations were strictly enforced.
I decided to spend the day roaming the city, taking in the architecture, perhaps even exploring a few museums. Shot from inside the Ex Templo San Augustin.
This temple was fit to host even the Pope…
In about 2 weeks as it turns out!
A block away, the Zacatecas Escuela de Artes had an exhibition of order sculpture. The contrast of new art pieces against the 19th century architecture was exquisite!
Inspired by the idea of seeing modern art in a progressive metropolitan Mexican city, I found out there was an abstract art museum down the street, featuring the work of Manuel Felguérez. The building was amazing. Last used as a prison in the mid 20th century, the cells were converted to exhibition halls in recent decades. Above is an old photo of one of the cell blocks.
Same wing of the building, now showing 4 levels of Felguérez’s surreal work from the 60’s. Having only faintly heard of the artist I had no idea the beauty, skill, and range of his talent!
A long and engaging conversation with the museum docent informed me that these 20 foot high murals, all painted in the mid 60’s, had to be dropped into the museum from above by removing the roof from this section of the building and rebuilding it around them! He then pointed me to one last museum, which he said had an impressive collection of tradition ceremonial masks…
Another gorgeous structure, this was an old seminary that was partially restored to house the museum and some lovely public gardens.
Inside, the collection of masks was indeed vast. Representing cultures from all over Mexico, I had no idea such things existed!
Some with haunting eyes…
Some with long braided hair…
Some with long curvaceous noses…
Even the Jew-Fro was represented. I think I went to Hebrew school with a kid who had hair like that!
They also had a huge collection of traditional marionettes.
Later that afternoon I found a perfect shaded table at an outdoor cafe within a beautiful little plaza. Time to get down to business catching up on blog posts. But before I could even sit down, I saw a man ride up with a pretty new mountain bike, fancy components. Of course I had to ask him if there were trails in the area. Francisco Llamas was the name, and being unbelievably amazing was his game. Within moments of talking, he’d already offered me a spare room in his house to stay while in town, and we’d made a plan to ride the single track around the Bufa (huge hill overlooking the city). We met up later that day with his friend Rafael and hit the trails. Pretty fun single track for large sections with challenging steep loose rocky climbs and technical descents. Sweet!
Francisco (left), and Rafael (right).
I awoke to my last moments in the Hostel Villa Compostela to pack my bags and ride a few blocks up to Francisco’s house for an extra day in Zacatecas. He and Sandra had already prepared a feast of a breakfast with eggs, fresh breads, fruit and nuts. With the added company of their friend Ernesto, we had a lovely breakfast! Ernesto and Francisco then decided they wanted to share the city with me and drove me around to the park and eventually to a very famous mine, the Mina Eden, to take a guided tour.
I don’t tend to go for guided tours, but this is supposedly one of the largest mines in the western hemisphere. I had to check it out.
Ernesto and Francisco sporting their trendy miner’s helmets.
Classic touristy tour in many ways, complete with guide making cheesy jokes about the bats attacking us and all that jazz. The mine was, however, quite impressive. Amazing to see how much rock they moved to get that deep into a mountain with the tools available so long ago.
Quite hard for me to swallow was the humor interspersed with explanations of indigenous slaves used to haul water and rock from the depths of the mine, many dying every day. Not a laughing matter from where I stood.
Huge underground river beneath the mine. Supposedly more than 200′ deep!
Best part of the tour, an exhibition of rare geology from all over the world.
I returned to the same plaza where I met Francisco (and where he lives as well) to sit myself down and write… and was again distracted. This time by a growing crowd of BMX bikes and bikers and makeshift ramps being assembled in the square. They were going to have a jumping and freestyle competition at any minute!
An hour after that, some visitors showed up from Durango! Karl and Marie had started up in Alaska one year ago as well. I’d met them on a highway pullout in the Yukon Territory about 50 miles South of Dawson City. I remember them well because they were the first couple I’d med who were carrying a child in tow. Kayla was 1 year old when they started up North, just turned 2! Flabbergasted by the volume and weight of stuff they had mounted to their bikes, it made sense though. So much to think about when caring for another human on a journey like this. Without any hesitation, Francisco and his lovely wife Sandra open their doors and hearts yet again to take the family in as well!
Left to right: Raymundo (friend of Francisco’s), Franscisco, Susan (another cyclist from Switzerland), Marie, little Kayla, Karl, Sandra and pup Nina, and some random stinky guy.
I honestly cannot believe these two. Taking us all in, not allowing us to pay for meals, guiding us around the city. They even gave Susan a ride across the desert to the not-very-nearby city of San Luis Potosi to help her on her way, and days later gave the cycling family a ride to Guanajuato (3 hours away). These two were too much. Thanks Francisco and Sandra!!