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 passed a hot, noisy night in a city called Matehuala, but the next day we had a more interesting goal in mind. We would go through Saltillo, bypassing nearby Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest city. Turning west from Saltillo, we would go to Parras de la Fuente, a town of some 25,000. De la fuente means “of the fountain,” and Parras was situated at the base of some tall mountains which provided it and the area around it with abundant water. The oldest winery in America was there, founded in 1597, and fruit orchards surrounded the town. In our never-ending quest for possible smallish towns to return to, we had noticed Parras in the guidebooks.

The drive north from Matehuala had light traffic and we had a good talk. I raised the question of what the downsides of spending time in Mexico had been for us. Trash all over the landscape, getting used to the traffic, frustrations with the language, and the constant quest to find a place for our motorhome were all we could come up with. As for what we liked? Well, we went on and on. How kind and jolly the people were, how they looked you in the eye, how much beauty there was, the sense of history, the diversity of places to go, the low cost of food, the fun of our Spanish getting better, that neither one of us had gotten sick beyond Kelly being a bit off one day, the relaxing balnearios, the friendships we had made … The list hardly stopped.

We passed huge forests of tall yucca trees, spreading out across a vast valley as far as the eye could see. Then, abruptly, and long before we expected it, we were confronted with a choice between going right to Saltillo and Monterrey cuota (toll) or left to Saltillo free. K pulled over and we read the maps.

They made no sense, so we used our intuition. We both felt to take the left turn, for Saltillo free. Once on it, there was a sign for Zacatecas via Highway 54 and I was able to figure out that we were going west on a minor road that was cutting over to 54, which would enter Saltillo more from the southwest. Then, to my delight, I noticed that we could get to Parras without going through the city of Saltillo at all! The map showed a couple of minor roads going west off Highway 54. We could take those. I patted the little image of the Virgin of Guadalupe that now graced the front of Cando, and sat back to enjoy the ride. For once, the mysteries of Mexican highway signs had worked to our advantage.

Those little back roads turned up, more or less where we expected them to be. They were the emptiest roads that we drove on in Mexico. I was glad we had plenty of gasoline. The land was bare desert, and there were few people or habitations. For a while, traffic was down to seeing another vehicle about once every 20 minutes. Then gradually there began to be orchards. One huge place was ringed with yucca trees, going for miles around its perimeter.

Parras view
The countryside around Parras, and one of its large pools,
from the rock the church was built on

We were coming into Parras, passing part of its old aqueduct. It had the somewhat more spacious roads that are typical of the North. We stopped and parked in the town, and wandered around for a while, doing a little shopping and getting the feel of the place. Many of the doorways were ancient, and reminded me of where I had once lived in Spain. We stayed north of town at Rincon de Montera, an elegant and virtually empty resort, with a bit of green lawn on the edge of things for RVs.

Wall of thank you notes to the Virgin
The wall of thank-you notes to the Virgin for miracles

We stayed over a day, to further explore Parras. One of its landmarks is a church at the top of a hill. The way up was a steep walkway around a rocky core. The church was a sweet little chapel, and next to it was a room where people left notes and pictures of thanks for miracles that had happened. I read one from a young woman in Monterrey, whose pregnancy had been difficult and whose son had been born with asthma, but now he was almost 2 years old and she was giving thanks. Other people had brought their diplomas, or copies of them. There was a poignant photo of a thin woman of about 50 looking right at the camera, from her hospital bed, with Santa Claus next to her. I saw a painting from 1917, and there were earlier ones too.

The view from there was extraordinary, with Parras spread out all around, and fruit orchards also. Goats and burros were grazing on the flanks of the hill, which rose up from a large plateau that was part of the town. The views from the edge of the plateau would have been a nice overlook above the town, but in usual Mexican fashion, it was just poor houses around there. I had a moment’s fantasy of buying a run-down adobe.

A man and a Dalmatian-type dog had come up, but the dog was very lively and the man didn’t want him bounding into the open church, so we all went down together. We chatted a little about the dog and town and why we were there. A moment like this made the town come alive.

winery Casa Madero near Parras
In the winery’s tasting room

Later we drove out to Casa Madero, the first winery ever established in the Americas. We took a tour with a Mexican man who had worked there 29 years. We were the only tourists in this tour. He didn’t slow his Spanish down for us, and he had a way of slurring his speech and trailing off, so it was quite a challenge to follow him, but we got the drift. We wished our winemaker nephew was with us. Much of the processing has been automated – they had a new huge Italian machine that they had bought the year before – but the sense of history was palpable. There were wonderful huge old vats, some from the 1700s.

Sunrise in Parras

We added Parras to our list of favorite places. It wasn’t quite as high as Bernal or Xico, but then we hadn’t made as many heart connections here as we had in those towns. We liked it that Parras was closer to the U.S. Maybe we’ll go back again someday. The closer we came to the end of our trip, the more we talked about returning someday.

[Next: Chihuahua and the famous pottery village of Mata Ortiz]

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