Saturday, November 7, 2015

Another Backtrack Post: Travels North, Via Chihuahua, July 2015

No we ARE NOT in Mexico. Yes we ARE STILL in El Salvador.  But yes, this post is about Mexico. That's because it is another backtrack post, catching up on our drive last July from Guanajuato, Guanajuato, Mexico to Sacramento, California, USA -- via Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico:

A Mad Max-ish Sort Of Beginning

On July 3 we left Guanajuato early in order to arrive at the Torreón, Coahuila Hampton Inn (waffles being more important than charm for a one-night stay) before dark. The internet said the 680 kilometer trip should take 8 hours so we figured it would take us about 10. The internet drives faster than we do and apparently doesn't run into construction delays or stop for food or bathroom breaks. 

At some point in Zacatecas state we began noticing extremely long lines at some Pemex (the national petroleum company) stations.

Looong Lines - This One Stretched For Several Blocks

Other stations had no gasoline at all.  Clearly there was some sort of fuel shortage going on. 

From radio reports we pieced together that some of the fuel delivery contractors hadn't received gas from Pemex depotsBut why, and which stations got fuel and which didn't remained mysterious - as well as whether this problem was regional, state-wide or national. We did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and realized that we would probably run out of gas about 20 miles outside of Torreón - aka middle of nowhere -- just about sunset. 

So things didn't look good until we realized that the long lines were behind us and that all of the stations we were now passing were out of gas. Now things looked even worse.


Hmmm. Give up on Torreón and waffles and return to someplace that might still have or might soon have gas? Keep going and hope that somewhere between us and 20 miles outside of Torreón there was a station that still had or would by then have gas? 

We did what we do in a crisis - stopped for lunch. And managed to find the worst carnitas in Mexico. 

Neither the criminally terrible cook nor his brother knew anything about whether there was fuel ahead. Not even people on duty at stations without fuel knew which stations or areas had fuel. One gentleman with a charming smile gave us unspecific and unattributed assurance that there was gas "up north". We were not greatly comforted, having on several occasions experienced the apparently pathological inability of some Mexicans to give bad news to strangers. 

Dispirited by the lack of communication among representatives of the nationalized petroleum company, we drove on for several hundred kilometers wondering whether we would see (a) a sign for a decent-looking hotel or (b) a station with fuel before hearing the dread chug-chug-chug of an empty tank. Not having purchased a cellphone data plan suddenly seemed like false economy.  

And then there was a Pemex station with fuel on the wrong side of the highway.  And then one on our side of the highway! We wheeled into line and breathed a sigh of relief when we arrived at the pump to find it still had enough gas to fill The Truck's tank. From that point on all the Pemex stations along the highway were stocked and functional. 

The next day's Torreón newspaper (free at the Hampton Inn) reported that (a) some fuel had gone missing from a Pemex depot a couple of weeks earlier and (d) there had been fuel delivery problems the day before throughout an unspecific area referred to as "northern Mexico". We concluded that the lack of any obvious link between (a) and (d) proved that understanding Mexico requires a lot more than simply being able to read Spanish. 

Ay! Chihuahua!

We didn't do any sightseeing in Torreón but pressed on to the city of Chihuahua where we had mapped out some tourist plans - mostly to do with Pancho Villa. 

Viva, Villa!

We learned a bit about Sr Villa and the Mexican Revolution during our visit to Durango in April and on our visit to Zacatecas in May, but Chihuahua is another center of Pancho Villa lore. During the Mexican Revolution (a confusing 10-plus year period beginning in 1910) he served as the General in charge of the Division del Norte of the Constitutionalist Army and for a period as the interim governor of the state of Chihuahua. After the tides of war turned against him, he negotiated retirement at a hacienda near Hidalgo del Parral, Chihuahua for himself and his remaining loyal militia members (which by then had dwindled to about 200 men). In 1923 he was assassinated in the town of Parral. None of the assassins or identified conspirators served more than three months in jail. Hmm.

We didn't travel to Parral, but did visit a museum in the former home of Maria Luz Corral and Pancho Villa.  Luz Corral inherited the house after she was determined by the Mexican courts to be Sr Villa's lawful wife. Villa apparently married at least two other women and had children by two more - but the courts concluded that Luz Corral got to the church with him first.

The mansion is pretty:

The Courtyard

A Painted Wall In The House -
By An Imported European Decorator

Visitors can see the Dodge roadster Villa was riding in when he was killed (bullet holes and all) - though it's hard to get a picture of the car, as it is under shade. Guess you'll have to go see it for yourself. 

The museum houses other, less grizzly, items including several pictures of Sra Villa in her role as protector of the Pancho Villa franchise. It's definitely worth a visit if you are in Chihuahua.

Captain Bryce And Revolutionary Period Artillery

Modern day Chihuahua centers around several pedestrian streets near the central square. 

Bryce and Umbrellas

As we walked through the historic town center we didn't see any restaurants that looked inviting - they all seemed to be fast food joints, expensive steak joints or Aye, Yai, Yai bars. So we took Lonely Planet's advice and tracked down Meson de Catedral which was relatively quiet and air conditioned - a key component to dining happiness when outside temperatures are over 100 (40 Celsius) degrees. The food was just fine and the balcony offered spectacular views of the city. [Travel tip: It's up above a parking garage, so you won't see much more than a sign or two at street level.]

Cathedral Scene from El Meson

Street Scene from El Meson

Central Plaza from El Meson

The Pedestrian Street From Above

The Flag - Echoed In The Red, Green and White
of the State Government Buildings

We ducked into the Cathedral for a look because it's the thing to do in Mexico.

Cathedral Centerpiece

And then visited the city and state museum, Museo Casa Chihuahua.

Beautifully Restored Early 20th-Century Building

The museum includes the requisite ethnographic information about the state, including an exhibit on the large population of Mennonites that immigrated to Chihuahua in the 1920's. The Mennonites apparently immigrated to Mexico in response to legislation adopted in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada which was intended to "encourage" the assimilation of the German-speaking Mennonites. Clearly this was before Canada embraced their multicultural society concept. The Mennonites got a place where they could live apart from the majority community and Mexico got lots of farmers - and some really great cheese.

We were also taken by the ethnographic exhibit of another, more recent immigrant religious group: the Mormons.

White Shirt. Tie. A Foreign Culture To Us!

The museum also included some sculptures by - Anthony Quinn. It turns out Zorba the Greek was born in Chihuahua! He was also an artist of some repute, who donated several of his works to the state. And, interestingly, he fathered children by as many wives and mistresses as Pancho Villa.

Destroyed But Not Defeated

Art by other Chihuahuenses is also on display.

A Forest of Pictures

The "must see" exhibit in the museum is a bit odd. It is purported to be the cell in which Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was held prior to his execution. [More about Father Hidalgo? See one of these two prior posts.] But after one reads the history of the museum building, this cell seems sort of like Plymouth Rock - a bit slim in attribution. Father Hidalgo was held in a former Jesuit college, then a military hospital which was razed to the ground in 1878. A mint was built on the ruins of the military hospital and that, too was destroyed in 1908. The current building was finished in 1910 and remodeled as a museum in 2004-06. So how did the good father's cell survive? It was in the basement. Hmmm. 

Regardless of whether the basement cell actually housed Father Hidalgo, it's pretty . . . atmospheric.    

A Cold, Dank Cell - Regardless of Who Was Kept There

Apparently our big miss was the Museo Casa Juarez, a museum of the house where President Benito Juarez lived while Maximilian was Emperor. So - gotta go back.

For others traveling to Chihuahua we can recommend the Hampton Inn along the Perriferico de la Juventude and the Mexican restaurant that is within walking distance (it's the restaurant that's not Applebee's). This restaurant is where, while enjoying some tacos and Mexican beer, we began to formulate our idea of "The Borderlands": that for about 300 miles on either side of the U.S./Mexico border, the culture is a unique and separate hybrid. It's not quite Mexican, not quite American. Around us were tables of families that fluidly moved between Spanish and English - cousins visiting cousins; Anglo dads / Latin moms or vice-versa; Mexican residents / American residents. Our conclusion was that we are more fond of Mexico than we are of The Borderlands. The Borderlands is an interesting area, but a bit too Americanized for us. That said, it is a very easy place to travel and engage in America's national pastime - shopping. If you are driving south, it's the place to stop and get . . . whatever you may need.

So, that's our time in Chihuahua. But we spent several more days in the Borderlands.

Along The Borderlands

From Chihuahua we drove across the border to Las Cruces, New Mexico where we found good pizza and okay wine at Luna Rosa Winery and Pizzeria.

From there we drove to Tucson, on to Blythe, and finally to Alhambra where we spent several days visiting Molly's brother Robert and his husband Tom.   

And then we were "home" in Sacramento, visiting friends, checking in with doctors, dentists and eye doctors and - because that's what we do in America -- shopping for boat bits. A quick post on our travels from our Sacramento bases is next!

No comments:

Post a Comment