Friday, March 06, 2015

driving the rut

Last Sunday, fellow blogger Sparks -- over at Sparks Mexico regaled us with his road trip through the mountains in our neck of the woods (Cihuatlán to Tequesquitlán).

I made the same trip in the summer of 2013.  If you don't recall how I managed to mix Burt Reynolds, a brush with death, and the X-Files into one essay, you can find it at burt reynolds is god.

Sparks's trek gave me an idea.  My Air Force chum Dennis was flying into Manzanillo the day Sparks filed his story.  Why not let Dennis experience a fun drive with death as our co-pilot?  After all, the closest we ever came to meeting Mr. Bony Fingers, while in the Air Force, was driving the mountain roads of California in my 1967 fire-engine red Oldsmobile convertible.  Life was good then.

And life is even better now.

One of the best aspects of the trip is that it is VFR -- all visual.  IFR traveling is impossible.  As you can see at the top of the essay, my GPS was positive that we were all driving through The Great Unknown.

Unlike Sparks, we came at our quarry from the mountain side.  When Barra de Navidad was the Mexican port for the Manila galleon (back in the 1500s), the goods traded with China would be loaded on mules to be carted over the mountains to Mexico City -- and on to Vera Cruz, where the goods would be laded on ships heading to Spain.

That road is approximately the route that Highway 80 now follows to Guadalajara.  But we were not going that far.  Just a few miles after La Huerta, we abandoned the paved ribbon of civilization for the road less taken.

I have visited the mining town of Tequesquitlán twice before.  Once, in 2012, with tour guide Ray on our ATM adventure, and once in June 2013.  What has always struck me as unusual is how tidy the town is.

And not just Disneyland tidy.  It is as if all of the people in the world who suffer from anal retentive conditions have been awarded homestead rights there.

I have seen nary a piece of paper or plastic strewn in the streets.  If the residents were not so openly friendly, I could almost imagine them in the night, in a zombie-like state, searching out litter for disposal.

I really like the place -- and its odd accompanying story. 

I told you this is a mining town.  On the outskirts, you will see a very odd sight.  A Mexican flag flying with a corporate flag flying with a Red Chinese flag.

It is a joint operation.  To produce mine ore -- even though the locals whisper that the Red Chinese have come for gold.  Just like other conquistadors.

When we drove by, the mine was as silent as Tiananmen Square on 4 June.  For all I know, they are digging the proverbial tunnel to Beijing.

But we were not in the Sierra Madre Occidental to indulge in ad hominem geopolitical exchanges.  We were here to tempt death.

In this case, tempting death means driving far too fast over a road with more potholes than pavement, and sheer drop-offs where the pavement is narrower than the width of my Escape.

At least, that was the joy of my last trip.  This trip with Dennis was merely a challenge to my suspension.  Well, the Escape's suspension.  Mine has been shot for a decade.

Maintaining these mountain roads is made more interesting with our rainy season.  Water knows no master other than gravity.  And when water builds up, the concept of curves is a known unknown.  It cascades over the side of the road into the void -- along with a good deal of asphalt.

And when it hits a ridge of stone and sand, the sand is eroded and gets a free ride through some farmer's house.

Those of you who live in this area know what happens when heavy rains hit Cihuatlán.  The city streets fill with sand, and shut down until front loaders can clear a path for civil commerce.

Well, these hills are the source of that sand.  And looking at the supply, there is plenty to keep the public works folk busy.

Was it a dangerous trip?  Naw!  No more so than any weekday trip through the hills.

We did encounter a couple of humorous moments, though.  Like this landslide that restricts the flow to one lane.  I was going to say I did not see the point of the "no passing" sign -- until I thought of several recent highway incidents here in Mexico.

I suspect we were too far out from the rainy season to make the road as fun as it can be -- and has been.  Showing off the full monty of sluffed pavement may need to wait for the next set of visitors.

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