Wednesday, January 12, 2011

climbing to Colima

I am on the road again.

This time up in the mountains that provide a backdrop for Manzanillo's beach life.

I planned on venturing into the Sierra Madre Sur the first time I caught a glimpse of Colima's fraternal twin volcanoes on the horizon.  And I finally got my wish on Tuesday morning.

I looked at a map and decided I would spend two days taking the old highway to Colima.  In the process, I would enjoy rustic campgrounds, the urban delights of Colima, and two Indian archaeological sites.

If I had actually planned this trip, I would have realized two days will allow me to only skim the surface.  But I have no moral qualms about indulging in Whitman Sampler style trips -- even though Colima is essentially the Rhode Island of Mexico.

I did not get out of Manzanillo more than a few miles before the road started climbing -- and climbing rapidly.  I would soon pass the 4000 foot mark in what is theoretically the foothills of the Sierra Madre.

One of my neighbors (who comes from a flat Midwestern state that begins with a vowel) told me the road was the most frightening she has ever been on.

For her, that may be true.  For me, I grew up on roads like it.  Anyone who has traveled the coastal mountain roads of southern Oregon or northern California would immediately recognize the topography. 

Except, we have bobcats up there.  Here, we have jaguarundi, and I saw my first one today -- crossing the road.  I suppose, to get to the other side.

My truck was not as forgiving of the road, however.  Rather, its transmission wasn't. 

Several times I heard a grating that sounded like bolts being shaken on a silver tray.  Accompanied by a rather disconcert jerking motion.

Now, there are those amongst you who suppose I spent the rest of the day waiting by the road for a tow truck.  But you would be wrong.  Instead, I am sitting in a Colima hotel and my truck is resting in the parking lot.

There were several sights I wanted to see on this trip.  And, here, I should note that when you are driving alone in a truck on a winding mountain road, you tend to miss a lot of scenery.  But I had my small list.

The first was a sight along the road.  I had read there is a huge iron ore mine visible from the road.  A mountain is essentially being dismantled and shipped by conveyor belt to Manzanillo for processing.


And there it was as I came around a curve: the Peña Colorado mine.  My green gene should have been appalled.  But my guy gene took over, instead.  It is an amazing engineering feat.  And beautiful in its own way.


To make amends, my next stop was about as green as you can get in Mexico.  El Salto is an odd mix of water park, picnic area, and scenic wonder.  As if Seven Flags had been taken over by Teddy Roosevelt.

There are two areas in the park.  The new area is the picnic-water park combination.  There are slides and fountains that dump young children into shallow concrete ponds.  All surrounded by picnic tables.

When I was there, several families were spending a fun day together.  Fires were burning.  Meat was charring.  Kids were laughing and playing.

And, best of all, the place was spotless.  There were plenty of garbage cans, and everyone seemed to be using them.


The scenic wonder portion of the park is the older section.  At the end of a cobblestone descent, is a 30-foot waterfall.  It is not the greatest fall I have seen.  

But it is one of the most peaceful areas I have encountered in Mexico.  The pool at the bottom is crystal clear.

I had considered camping there for the night.  It would have been a perfect setup.  But it was too early to get ready for bedding down.  Instead, I decided to head on to Colima -- after stopping at Minatitlán on the way.


Minatitlán is not a big tourist stop.  But it is one of those little towns in the highlands that has retained a portion of its colonial heritage. 

What impressed me most was the manner in which the church has been decked out.  It appeared as if some sort of fiesta was about to begin.  But my Spanish failed me in talking with some of the residents.

And then I was off to Colima.  Just as I came out of the mountains, I got my first close-up views of Colima's volcanoes -- Nevado de Colima (the quiet one) and Volcán de Fuego (its much more violent and smoking brother). 

A haze obscured the view.  But it was exciting to see both of them that close.


Lots of visitors come to Colima to see Volcán de Fuego.  But I doubt that was the reason for all the traffic around town.  I had almost forgotten what it was like to drive in even a medium-sized city.

I quickly got situated -- without the help of my GPS -- in what the locals refer to as one of Colima's nicest hotels.  Hotel Ceballos.  On Colima's main plaza.

And pleasant the hotel was.  It is Hispanic writ large.  With open courtyards surrounded by chairs for conversation.  One of the many cultural positives the Spanish left behind.

I had a balcony with a great view of the cathedral.  The only drawback was the bed that seemed to have been left over from the Torquemada collection -- one of the cultural bequests the Spanish should have taken back to the Iberian peninsula.

Colima's main square is Jardin de Libertad.  If you did not know Colima was a colonial city, the arrangement of the plaza would give it away.


The plaza has a landscaped square in the center -- gazebo, trees, geometrically bisected.  And surrounded by four almost identical buildings on each side -- in Neo-Classic style.  The governor's palace, a museum, my hotel, and, of course, the cathedral.

The governor's palace is open to the public, and, somewhat surprisingly, has minimal security.  But the politics of the place is not its draw.  It is a beautiful building on its own. 

Its staircase has a mural honoring the Mexican Independence movement -- painted in 1953 by Jorge Chaves Carrillo.

I know quite a few figures in the mural.  The usual cast of characters is there.  But there are also several symbols I cannot identify.


Is this sprawled figure a symbol of the fallen monarchy -- or does it represent the Napoleonic overthrow of the Borbones that precipated the war of independence?  I have no idea.

But it is a compelling piece of art.

As is the next door Catedral San Felipe de Jesús.  Built in 1894 by the same architect who designed the other buildings on the square -- even though a cathedral has stood on that spot since 1527. 

The proximity of the volcanoes explains one reason for the urban renewal projects.  Earthquakes are a common phenomenon here.

The current cathedral is worthy of a city the size of Colima.  It is tasteful, in its style.  It could have been built in Salzburg -- but without all of the rococo business.

And that was my day.  A full one.

Tomorrow will be devoted to archaeology.  With a short stop at Sam's Club -- if time permits.  I doubt I will take photographs there.


Don Cuevas said...

We had an enjoyable 2 night stay in Colima back in the 90's. However, our small room in the Hotel Ceballos was very hot, even in January. Fortunately they supplied us with a table fan.

We did a lot of walking around town, and took a local bus out to El Salto. No one else was there when we arrived, but a bus driver took a break and brought his family there for a cooling dip. He treated us to Cokes when we resumed his route.

Recently I read on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree, Mexico Branch site, from "Chris0Daniel" that there's a compact wilderness area called "Manatlán", I think, between the city and Minatitlán. It has notable karst features, something which once would have attracted me to investigate.

Did you drink any "tuba" when out and about the calles of Colima? I passed on that.
Incidentally, the best food we had while there was at an Oxacan transplant called "Ah Que Nanishe". We liked it, but since we hadn't yet been to Oaxaca, we had no basis for comparison.

Don Cuevas

Kwallekno said...

Just a guess, old bed rock that has "new" seabed type rock subducting under it. The seabed rock melting and floating upward to form a volcano. The iron ore is part of the old bedrock Just a guess.

Kazual13 said...

Just wanted to send best wishes on this anniversary of your birth. I will be raising a jar or two of tequila in your honour, amigo. K

Kazual13 said...

Have you been to Chiapas, especially San Cristobal and Palenque? I am going in a few weeks for 2 weeks. Just a small adventure.

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks. And I will raise my Coke Light con limon in return.

Steve Cotton said...

I haven't. But I will soon work my way south.