A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!


Visit Expedia…

Expedia is my favorite place to book airfare, and they handle hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc. I like the organization of the site for figuring out what flights I want. Click on the suitcase to take a look.

I was very pleased to win an award for this blog! Even better for you: click through for lists of all sorts of award-winning travel blogs.

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

We continued onward, ever onward. Our attempts to bypass the city of Torreon did not work – in fact, we had to retrace our route twice in one area before the city let go of us – but pretty soon we were northbound again. We crossed into the state of Chihuahua, sometimes called Mexico’s Texas, because of its size, cattle raising, and other qualities.

Northern Mexico generally does have quite a different flavor from the south. More people have cars, the roads are often wider, the tortillas are flour instead of corn, the population is less dense, and it is generally more prosperous. We stayed in an RV park just south of Ciudad Camargo. It had once been someone’s ambitious project but had deteriorated to a state of disrepair.

The next morning, as we approached the city of Chihuahua, we noticed people walking along the side of the highway. At first we thought maybe a bus had broken down, but soon we realized that it was a pilgrimage. People were walking singly, or more often in small groups, and they were strung out for miles. Most of the people were relatively young, but by no means all. Many were quite heavy. There were a few children, and even some dogs on leash, going along. Mexicans love pilgrimages and accept hardships as part of the process.

Mexican suburbs in Chihuahua
Suburbs, Mexican style, in the process of being built in Chihuahua

The periferico, or ring road, around Chihuahua, was the best marked one we had encountered. We circled around the edge of the city, past countless yonkesitos (junkyards… yonke coming from the Mexican pronunciation of “junk”). and repair shops. When a Denny’s appeared shortly after I had begun gazing out for a place to eat, we stopped there. With most items $6 or more, it was an upscale place, and the staff all spoke and understood at least some English. Our meal was less interesting than many in Mexico, but we enjoyed the liveliness of the young people working there. One musical fellow was singing and thumping on the counter along with the cheery Mexican music playing in the background.

On the northern side of Chihuahua, we passed a bicycle race with dozens of riders, sleek costumes and all. They didn’t mind slowing the rest of us down, and sometimes took over both of the two northbound lanes. Just before a toll plaza, they all turned left, heading back toward the city.

The usual way back to the U.S. would be to continue north on the highway and cross the border at Ciudad Juarez/ El Paso. But in keeping with our style of avoiding large cities, and in order to arrive in the part of New Mexico where we had things to do, we left the main highway to go northwest to the city of Nuevo Casas Grandes. Once again, our map book was behind the times – there was a toll road cutoff that made our trip shorter than we expected.

It was fun to return to Nuevo Casas Grandes just about exactly a year after we had been there. That time, we had made a one-week trip by car to the renowned pottery village of Mata Ortiz. There, hundreds of villagers are turning out works in a variety of styles, and most of what we saw was of a finer quality than we had seen anywhere else in Mexico or the American Southwest. As we wandered around, people would ask us, “Do you want to buy pots?” and if we said yes, they would take us into their homes, where pots for sale might be sitting on a sofa or bed, or perhaps displayed in cabinets. I loved the excuse to go into their homes and chat with them, even when their pottery style didn’t appeal to me or I couldn’t afford the $500 and up for the ones I liked the best.

where we stayed in Mata Ortiz
The bedroom we had stayed in when we took our car to Mata Ortiz. There were not enough motel rooms, so villagers rented out spare bedrooms. This was the room of a daughter who was now married.

How did this village become world famous for its high-quality pottery? It’s quite a story. In the 1940s, the village was not a prosperous place. A boy named Juan Quezada only went to school from the age of nine until he was twelve. Gathering firewood, picking fruit for the Mormon farmers in the nearby town of Colonia Juarez, gathering wild honey and other gifts of the land – in these ways the growing boy contributed to the family’s livelihood, but his passion was drawing. He would draw on the walls of his room, experimenting with local minerals to make his paints.

The boy picked up bits of ancient pottery that were everywhere around. He became fascinated with how they were made. With nobody to guide him, he found clay deposits, experimented with making and firing pots, and learned from his many failures. By the time he was married and with a young family, he began to sell a few pots. They were exquisitely made and in the style of the ancient works he had found.

Selling pottery in Mata Ortiz
One of Juan Quesada’s sisters selling pots made by her branch of the family, from a spare bedroom

In 1975 Quezada was selling enough pots to local traders that he could afford to take a year’s leave of absence from his job on the railroad, and he never had to go back. With few ways to make money in the village, he began teaching family members his techniques, and from the start the quality of the pots sold was much higher than the folk pottery sold throughout Mexico.

The next year, 1976, anthropologist Spencer MacCallum came across a couple of Juan’s unsigned pots in Bob’s Swap Shop in Deming, NM. He bought them, thinking they were prehistoric, but he was assured by the store owner that they were contemporary. About a month later, he decided to see if he could find the person who had made them. He assumed it would be a woman because the most renowned Southwestern Native American potters are all women, and these pots were so well made. He took photos of the pots with him and went into northern Mexico, showing the photos to anyone he came across – even the police officer who stopped him for speeding! Within a couple of days, he had found his way to Juan Quezada’s home in Mata Ortiz.

Mata Ortiz potters
A husband and wife pottery team holding a pot we had just bought from them

Later that year, he offered the potter a monthly stipend that enabled Quezada to experiment freely and expand his methods and styles. In the next few years, MacCallum arranged for showings and demonstrations by Quezada and other village potters in the United States, and the fame of Mata Ortiz began to grow. A number of Americans have become involved with the village since then, as traders, authors, arrangers of exhibits, and more. Now there is so much going on that MacCallum publishes a monthly newsletter listing it all! And Juan Quezada is now one of the most famous artists in all of Mexico.

This year we didn’t go out to the village, but our camping guidebook led us to another treat. We first went to a hotel in Nuevo Casas Grandes that had RV facilities, but they only offered a dusty field. This would be our last night in Mexico, and we wanted something special.

Kelly at the Pistolero
Kelly comparing the Pistolero and the Refuge Club, where he grew up

So we drove over to the Pistolero Restaurant, which the guidebook said had allowed RVers to boondock free on its grounds.

We struck paydirt there. The Pistolero was a rustic rock-and-wood building that greatly reminded Kelly of the remodeled nightclub in Idaho that he had grown up in. It was Sunday afternoon, and a small rodeo was going on, right on the restaurant grounds. Everyone was most welcoming, and we had a grand time, going to the rodeo for a while
and later having a good dinner, complete with Mexicans singing karaoke!

We had a very peaceful night there, tucked inside the walled compound of the restaurant. We woke the next morning with mixed emotions at having to leave Mexico. A few hours took us to the border town of Palomas, a town we knew somewhat because we had spent two winters across the border from it, in New Mexico, going to Palomas now and then for dinner, to get eyeglasses, or just to wander around.

rodeo in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico
Informal rodeo at the Pistolero

Then it had seemed exotic and rather poor. Now it was all quite normal to us. We had lunch in a restaurant, Kelly got a pair of glasses, and I discovered that the pink tourist store had become a much larger emporium of arts and crafts from all over Mexico, with what I thought were good prices considering the distance they had to bring things. The main road was still dusty and full of potholes.

Mexican and U.S. border formalities were brief. Suddenly, we were back from Mexico. Just like that, our Mexican trip was over.

[Next: back in the USA]

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