Adventures in Mexico pt III
Sunday 14th January
Good cooked breakfasts and an early start are not a combination to be found that often on a Sunday in Mexico, yet we found one of the local hot-spots was open for business - Mama Mia. Superb breakfast of Mexican style scrambled eggs (huevos a la Mexicana) followed by hot cakes - loading up the carbs for a day with no lunch break being the usual food game plan. Certainly a philosophy I embraced wholeheartedly.
Then to another old stop-off. The hot thermal pools at La Gruta just out of town. Once again we languished in the hot steamy interior of the womb like cavern from whence the hot springs issue and feed the complex. Well, it would have been rude not to, surely?...
Stopped briefly at Atotonilco to view some ancient church frescos; the town held little of interest otherwise so we headed once more for HWY57 and resumed our trek northwards.
the market in Atotonilco
Mexico is a big country, maybe ten times the size of England, and during the course of the trip we would need to do the odd hard mile day. This was one of them. Heading north on HWY57, the landscape gets bigger as does the scale of the plant populations. At first a few lonely Yucca filifera appear on the roadside plains, studding the largely arable land. Then things get a little wilder and the yuccas increase until there are countless billions of them to be seen for miles into the distance forming dense single-species stands. Then, as if at some unseen signal, the Yucca filifera stop abruptly to be replaced by Yucca carnerosana. Then, after a dozen or so miles, the Yucca filifera return. Then both together.
Below: a stand of Yucca carnerosana
At one stage the yuccas we were seeing started to look a little different. Not as branched as filifera and perhaps less scruffy, thinner-trunked than carnerosana yet often just the single stem. A little book work beforehand indicated we were driving past the odd colony of a little understood species, Yucca potosina. Well, I don't understand them, anyway. We stopped for pictures.
Whilst walking about I suddenly was aware of being surrounded by lots of different cactus species - I counted fourteen in the space of around 10 square metres, though couldn't start to put names to many. Here are a few of them:
clockwise, from top left, a UFO (unidentified flipping opuntia), another UFO, echinocereus sp?, a cactus?, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, another UFO.
Then away we headed again, finally turning off HWY57 at Matehuala travelling east along a fairly flat and botanically dull plain towards the small town of Doctor Arroyo, our planned overnight stop-over. Toby and I had been along this road before, so it was interesting to watch Phil and Neil's faces as we approached the distant mountains and the terrain started to change. Soon we were driving through a hillside covered in a few hundred thousand Dasylirion quadrangulatum - some of them huge trunked ancient beasts. A few Yucca carnerosana, some scruffy Dasylirion berlandieri, a nice form of the widespread Agave protamericana x scabra hybrid, Agave lechuguilla and Agave striata were also present, not to mention assorted cacti. Side lit by the evening sun, the setting couldn't have been more dramatic.
Finally we dragged ourselves away and made up the final few km to Dr Arroyo as darkness fell. A typical small desert town, it seemed to have unnecessarily complicated and, not unexpectedly, unsigned access to the main street. Indeed we soon found ourselves travelling the wrong way down a one way street through the middle of it. Before we could do anything about this lapse we were suddenly approached by two motorcycle cops. As banker for that week, I hastily started hiding our cash in my underpants so no money was on show for the inevitable bribe. Yet, astonishingly, after a few words they not only gave us directions to the hotel but a full police escort, complete with flashing beacons, though town. 'Enjoy your stay' they said 'and if there is anything else we can do to help it would be a pleasure'. A far cry from their Mexico City compadres.
Yet, try as we might, our stay at Doctor Arroyo wasn't really that enjoyable. The jaded (and only) restaurant in town, with it's peeling plaster and lifting floor, actually made our rather faded hotel seem palatial by default. The food, surprisingly, was fine given the precaution of avoiding anything containing meat. However the beer was warm - unacceptable after a long drive and a hillside rummage. Largely out of desperation, Toby suggested visiting one of the small cantinas - little Mexico's equivalent of the Working Man's Club. This one sported two pool tables, wall to wall nude posters, a throbbing jukebox and a concrete floor mulched in recently spat-out pumpkin seed husks, presumably from the large pile on the bar. On reflection it wasn't such a good idea, but in we went - possibly the first gringos to step across the threshold. I suppose the best thing to report was that the beer was cold and, at 8 pesos, really cheap. But we were, and felt like, intruders so didn't linger for a second round, heading straight back to the hotel.
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