The Streets of Zacatecas

Zacatecas Cowboy Seems these last few days in Mexico I’ve been moving a bit slower than usual. Maybe I’ve been here too long and the concept of siesta, sitting around or simply lounging as locals do has consumed me. Forget my intentions, but getting up, breakfast, packing and moving on seems to happen and the crack of noon rather than the break of day. But this is Mexico. And I’ve been here more than three weeks.

Hurricane Stan severely lashed southern Mexican states including Chiapas and Yucatan while causes devastating mud slides in Honduras and Guatemala. And Wilma is threatening to wreak havoc once again on the Yucatan. My plan is to circumvent Mexico city and head to Oaxaca and then revel in the glory of the tropical paradise of Chiapas and then chilling on the pristine beaches of the Yucatan. Logic may rein as much as these hurricanes and I may have to alter my course and head into Guatemala from the Northwest. We’ll see.

Zacatecas Night

Zacatecas Calle Festival3 But rolling into Zacatecas last night just as the dusk turned to dark. Finding the central (Centro) district turned to be a challenge. Navigating the hills above the city and around the Buffa, a large slab of rock that defines the landscape around this colonial city, is futile. Signs point me to Centro and I follow until the next intersection and there are no more signs. I spot a large beer can that has been cut off lengthwise that’s lit up with neon and flourescent lights. It’s a drive through liquor store. I pull in to view this scene and ask for directions to Centro. In my best Spanish I ask how come they have a drive through liquor store when every mile or so on the roads signs read “Si Toma, No Manaje”, translated “if you drink, don’t drive.” The two girls have no answer. But they do have jobs.

Beer signage is everywhere. Riding through dusty towns, ranches or areas of some population the neatest and cleanest painted buildings are so only because they are adorned with logos and colors of beer companies. Other buildings are faded, chipping or simply in some stage of decay. Beer rules in Mexico.

Zacatecas is about 400 miles north of Mexico City. We are lucky enough to arrive during an International Street Theatre Festival (Festival de Teatro de Calle). Clowns, mimes, musicians and performers act and play in the streets and the plazas throughout the historic district. But arriving during its biggest night just as the last performance ended contributed to our frustration in trying to find a hotel. The streets are steep and cobblestoned which adds to the scenic and historic feel of the city, but riding up steep hills slick with water and sometimes oil has us slipping and sliding while putting extra strain on our clutches. Minutes later Jeremiah is honking at me telling me his oil warning light is glaring at him. Turns out it’s really a temperature warning. But thanks to a local fast food restaurant owner who happened to walk by while we were sitting in th endless line of cars trying to navigate through the narrow streets of this 450 year old city. Sergio is a stocky man dressed in neatly pressed clothes with a street festival “back stage pass” around his neck. He tells us he owns the same bike, an earlier model BMW F650GS Dakar, offers to but us breakfast the next morning and gives us clear directions to the hotel we chose through the pages of my Lonely Planet guide to Mexico.

Zacatecas Calle Festival5Zacatecas Calle Festival4Zacatecas Calle Festival2

Traffic is still unbearable and I sense Jeremiah’s frustration and fear for his bike. This is the guy who meticulously cleans his windscreen on his bike and who exhibited true disappointment when he discovered a slight scratch on his helmet. But soon we’re negotiating with the front desk clerk at the Hotel Condesa. This goes nowhere but we’re assured that they have 24 hours security who’ll keep on eye on our bikes. We must park outside on the street because off-street parking is practically non-existent in this downtown area.

Zacatecas Calle Festival

While Durango sports its share of colonial architecture, Zacatecas is the first city as I ride south through the Sierra Madre where the influence, if not excess, of the silver mining is present in the downtown hisotric district. Silver barons spared no expense in creating this colorful city. Gracing the center of the city is the quitessential Mexican Baroque cathedral and an example of Churrigueresque architecture. I wish my good friend Tim was with me as I trek through these colonial cities. His knowledge of architecture would enrich my experience. I hope he’ll comment here and add a few cents to my descriptions. Nonetheless, built between 1729 and 1752 the pink stone cathedral with its meticulously detailed facade faces Hildago Street flanked by the Plaza de Armas on one side and adjacent to the 19th century Fernando Calderon Theater. For the Festival de Teatro de Calle the steps of these theater turn into grandstand seats for acrobats, jugglers, clowns and festively adorned men and women walking on extra tall stilts.

Walking the colorful streets for the next two days sends our frustration of getting into this city into the depths of our memory. I like Zacatecas. I think I could stay here for awhile. Our friends from the HU meeting in Creel, Dave and Deb have met up with the other couple Grant and Julie who all are renting an apartment in Zacatecas for a week or two and taking Spanish language lessons. I had planned on doing this in Guanajuato, but now anxious to move forward, I plan on spending time in Antigua, Guatemala to study Spanish.

Photos: (1) Zacatecan Cowboy walks the streets of Zacatecas, Mexico; (2) Zacatecas at night with the Baroque Churrigueresque Cathedral and high above Cerra del Buffa; (3) Proud locals participate in the festivities for Festival de Teatro de Calle by marching down Avenida Hildago in traditional clothing; (4) Music livens up the street as the band plays on; (5) Cheeful, playful and in the spirit of the festival; (5) Cabellero rides down Hildago; (6) Street performer tempts fate high above the crowd sans net.