If you want to start a blood feud, tell an expatriate the area he lives in is not The Real Mexico.
Mountain folk think beach people are short a few marbles. Beach people think the Mountain folk have confused Edmonton with Mexico. And then there is the universal tension between rural rustics and sophisticated urbanites.
I really do not have a dog in that fight. I have my reasons for living near the ocean, and none if those reasons are based on a decrease in my reasoning. But I could just as easily live in Zacatecas.
As far as I am concerned, every part of Mexico is The Real Mexico. Not to be too tautological, but if a place is in Mexico, it is The Real Mexico. Even if it is Cancun or Puerto Vallarta.
When I tell a lot of my northern acquaintances I live in Mexico, they assume I mean something like the photograph at the top of this essay. Mountains. Desert. Cactus. And it certainly is authentically Mexican -- as was our last full day in Real de Catorce.
This morning, we piled into four jeeps and wended our way down a road barely wide enough for our vehicles. The mountain on one side, a steep valley on the other. The type of drive, I call exhilarating.
I chose to sit on the roof of the jeep to get some better shots for you. The view was great. Unfortunately, the road was too bumpy for steady shots.
We stopped off at a mine that had last produced silver in 1910 when the Revolution broke out. A Canadian company is attempting to open the mine because it still has plenty of silver to be extracted. But the operation has been put on hold by a Mexican court.
Most of the mine operation is within a zone protected by the government because it is the natural habitat of the peyote cactus. Most northerners tend to think of peyote as just another method to kill more brain cells in an attempt to become a Carlos Castaneda character. We saw several wandering aimlessly through town.
But the Mexican government does not protect the peyote for drug-addled tourists. Peyote is a ritual drug for the Wixáritari. They believe their tribe originated in the protected area, and that it is the place where the sun was born. It is sacred to them. Silver mining is not.
Each year, they travel to the mountains outside of Real de Catorce to harvest peyote buttons for their religious ceremonies and to create medicines.
As a result of our experience today, I can tell you the peyote cactus is not easy to find. When they are small, they easily hide under shrubs.
There are also other varieties of the cactus that are a bit easier to spot.
Especially, if they are in a planter in a museum.
Or, the variety that is so hard to see in the wild can be better seen in replica form (including its large root) in the same museum.
Even I could find that beauty in the wild.
The peyote culture is so prevalent here that the gates to the Franciscan church and surrounding cemetery are decorated with stylized peyote buttons.
Forty years ago, the mining company could have expected success in the courts. Money talks when justice is at stake.
But, there is an irony. Forty years ago, Canadian money would not have been welcome in Mexico. Memories of why they were expelled from Mexico by the Revolution still run strong in some quarters.
Because Mexico is becoming more environmentally conscious and it has concurrently taken a strong interest in defending some tribal rights, the mining case that is now before the Supreme Court appears to be a doomed effort, according to my legal sources.
But our day was not completely peyote-centric. While searching for it, we encountered several variety of cactus.
The fruit from this beautifully-colored variety is prepared with other foods for consumption during semana santa -- Easter holy week.
The fruit from this cactus reportedly heals diabetes.
I have no idea if the fruit from this cactus does anything. I just liked the way its yellow needles reflected the sun's rays.
At the base of the mountain road is the train station that transported the silver to other parts of Mexico. Our guides once again praised Porfirio Diaz for helping Mexico enter the Industrial Revolution and for building railroads like this one at Catorce. Ironically, those same tracks allowed Carranza, Villa, and Obregon to quickly transport the revolutionary forces to defeat Porfirio Diaz.
And it was not just our guide who praised the man much of the rest of Mexico still despises. In the town museum, there are a series of photographs that captured the celebration Real de Catorce gave President Porfirio Diaz when he visited.
These re-enactors of the Independence heroes are one example. Allende and Hidalgo are right out front to solemnly welcome the President.
The museum contains three levels. The main level is devoted to explaining the peyote culture in Mexico. The next level down is a gallery of photographs from Real de Catorce's golden age.
The third level is dedicated to Mexican money. The rooms once housed the city's mint. The current exhibit has some machinery and a display of modern commemorative coins.
For a local museum in what is effectively a ghost town, it is quite thorough and informative.
In the afternoon, we walked through the town to see some of its other sights.
An old, but still active, cock fighting arena.
And a bullring built in the late 1700s that has not been used for a long time.
The Franciscan church you can see behind the bullring has all the marks of desertion -- even though it is lovingly cared-for by its women parishoners. "Care-for" in a ghost town sense. The wall frescoes have suffered grave damage from the effects of water.
Mass is celebrated here only during the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December. Otherwise, the church is merely a reminder of the town's history.
Then, there is the name of the place. "Catorce" means fourteen. But fourteen what?
As is often the case, Wikipedia tells a tale that is not supported by anyone locally. The fourteen refers to fourteen bandits who would regularly ambush silver convoys.
They were eventually captured and executed by a firing squad against the wall of what once was part of the bull ring.
That is not one of them. He is Noel, our Mex-Eco Tours guide.
Real de Catorces is just another authentic part of Mexico. Stitch it together with Cabo San Lucas, Patzcuaro, San Miguel de Allende, Veracruz, Mexico City, and, even, Barra de Navidad and Melaque, and you will have a tapestry of Mexico -- all of which are the real Mexico.
And tomorrow, we will add a new patch. San Luis Potosi.