High up in the hills near Matehualpa in northern Mexico lays Real de Catorce, an old silver mining ‘ghost’ town dating back to the eighteenth century. It was a short riding day, less than 80km from Matehualpa, but 22km of cobblestone at high altitude wasn’t easy. The narrow one lane tunnel into town burrowed under a huge mountain for several kilometers. A line of cars and trucks waited to enter, and I cut to the front as usual. Being stuck in a long tunnel with dozens of cars polluting the air is tough, so I butt my way through the cars, trucks and buses. In Latin America no one bats an eyelash at this.
The town itself sits on the side of a mountain in the southern Chihuahuan desert at 9,000 feet in the Sierra de Catorce range. Stone houses in ruins or varying states of dilapidation run up the steep, slick cobblestoned road. Restoration of some areas has taken place for the 1,300 residents, the bounty of hotels, houses and shops, but much of the town lays untouched, unchanged for decades, centuries. Whole streets piled high on each side with half fallen down walls, empty door frames and windows staring out, startled by my presence as I wander the quieter streets. My motorcycle and I struggle up and down the narrow stone paths, grass poking out through the cracks and crevices, Mexican cowboys with huge hats and tiny donkeys give me sidelong glances wondering, “Que chingados! What’s that gringa doing here?”
My big room at El Ángel y el Corazón boutique hotel was a splurge. Mrs. Moneybags strikes again! She’s been lurking in the shadows of my psyche, planning a hostile takeover, biding her time and mentally noting all the ghetto hotels she’s been forced to take refuge in- the same ones that Pennypacker finds to be nice “character builders”. But I – or “we”, have been exhausted. We needed a vacation, so Moneybags won out while Pennypacker was at her weakest. Pennypacker knows a good find when she sees one though, and knows when something really is worth the extra expense. At least Moneybags didn’t get the $85 room…In the end, everyone was happy.
The hotel has little courtyards and views of the surrounding hills, tables and chairs around. My room is tiled red, a soft pink paint on the walls, beautiful wooden beams running the length of the ceiling with thin sticks crisscrossing between the beams in different shades of brown and tan. Bamboo curtains hang on the two windows, and a big reddish wooden cabinet leans against the wall. My guitar rests against the armchair in the corner. The bathroom is painted a cheerful green, with a large oval white sink. The gas heater goes in the corner, after a few failed attempts at lighting it and some startlingly large fireballs directed at my eyebrows and dangling scarf. I get the night guard to come light it, and in 5 seconds it’s glowing warming with no near explosions.
Exceedingly cozy and happy, giddy with excitement and fatigue I throw myself into the big fluffy bed and stay under a pile of blankets to keep out the mountain chill. I thank Mrs. Moneybags for both the splurge and for the cheaper room, and give Pennypacker a much needed rest for the next couple of days.