ROCK, SEA AND MEZCAL
Laredo it was this time, many know the city at the shores of the Rio Grande (and its little sister on the Mexican side, Nuevo Laredo) only from drug movies or the news. It has definitely not the best reputation and the ever present border patrol cars and officers don’t add to it. We had actually found a nice spot for the night directly at the Rio Grande but a friendly border patrol officer made it clear that she would prefer that we stay elsewhere. “Of course it is not forbidden to stay here but also not really recommended”. Who knows, tired of searching something else we decided to stay in front of the nearby Walmart - Home Depot parking lot for our last night in the US. It was a noisy and busy place but just minutes from the border and that’s where we wanted to be early morning anyways.
As always, leaving the US was as difficult as driving through an automatic toll gate. On the other side of the bridge we were welcomed by a friendly officer and pulled to the side. As we still had our Banjercito (the temporary import permit) from last year, the whole process was pretty fast. An hour later and with a new tourist card in hand - that allows us to stay for 6 months - we headed south on Carretera 1 through desert landscape and barely any traffic. Tired we were looking for a place to stay when I saw the small road sign for a hot spring. We pulled off the road and found an abandoned recreation area, guarded by an elderly man. He kindly explained how to get to the natural hot springs and finally jumped in his car and showed us the way - crossing two small rivers - to the natural hot ponds. We parked next to them and spent the first night in Mexico soaking in the warm water till late and again in the morning. Next stop was Cuatro Ciengas - a unique place even featured by National Geography. It is a set of isolated (hot) ponds in the middle of the desert. They are so isolated that specific fauna - mostly fish - has developed in the colourful water. We took the opportunity for a kayak tour and enjoyed the quiet and remote place for a couple of nights before heading to El Potrero Chico (EPC), world famous climbing area that was our home for two months already last winter. Driving into the canyon we were greeted by familiar faces.
The climbing was great, the dinners at Ariel’s place amazing and after two weeks we decided to head up to El Salto, the other well known climbing area that kept us busy the year before. We spent Christmas with the Gonzales family, climbed, met old and new faces and spent New Year with friends from Mexico City. When the crowds became unbearable (at least for us) just after New Year we decided to head back to EPC, where we were expecting a visit by Hans and Jessie from Texas. One late afternoon - in front of Edgardo’s Margarita trailer - we were surprised to hear a “I know you guys”. Adam, whom we had literally met in a cave in Yunnan, China a few years back walked towards us. A reunion full of stories followed by many drinks and lots of climbing over the next few days was the result before Adam and Olivia left for Mexico City and we continued our journey towards San Luis Potosi, leaving the “climbing enclaves” of EPC and El Salto behind us.
We crossed high altitude desert landscapes, stopped at the famous, formerly abandoned Spanish silver mining town of Real de Cartorze and soon thereafter reached the picturesque small town of Guadalcazar, home of famous caves and of course also a climbing spot. As we drove through the small town searching for a place to stay a guy chased us on a bicycle. It was Christian, developer of the climbing area and owner of a weekend pizzeria in Guadalcazar and a climbing gym in San Luis. He invited us to stay on his land and gave us all the beta required to find our way in and around this beautiful town.
This time we felt like being in Mexico. Men with white sombreros on horses, traditional markets, old Spanish churches and dark skinned children. The caves of Guadalcazar - especially San Cayetano - are one of the most impressive climbing spots we ever saw. Steep, long, tufa climbing in real 3D. It took a while to get used to it but it was even harder to leave.
Sara came to join us after a while and we met Solveig and Jon - a super strong German / Canadian couple - and together we climbed, enjoyed the town and had fun with the local Mexican climbers that came from near and far for the weekends. It was also the time when Berna and Sara rescued two small puppies from certain death at a propane filling station near San Luis Potosi. After several veterinary interventions we decided to keep small Zorra as a foster sister for Mutlu.
Weeks passed and we decided to take a rest from climbing and to visit the Huesteca Potosina, a wide area full of rivers, ponds and waterfalls where the highland drops down to almost sea level in direction of the Caribbean coast. This are is simply stunning, we found a few touristy places but mostly we met hardly anyone in such a breathtaking scenery. We chilled, hiked, sat and swam in ponds and enjoyed more and more tropical fruits. Through Xilitla - with its famous “sculpture garden” by Edward James we drove back up into the mountains to escape the tropical heat.
Soon we arrived in El Doctor, brand new climbing spot in Querétaro at an altitude of over 2600m. We ran agin into Felix and the crew of climbers from León but soon decided to continue towards Bernal, picturesque town at the base of La Peña de Bernal, one of the world’s largest monoliths we intended to climb. Our first attempt failed as we climbed a newly bolted route that ended after 3 pitches but the next day allowed us to climb the fun but exposed Filo Noroccidental to the top. Finding the rap anchors was a bit of a challenge but once back down we were rewarded with spicy and cold Micheladas (beer with lemon juice, salt and chilly). Back at Rouletout we met Emma and Wade again who had just stopped for a night or 2 on their way to Jilotepec. We decided to head west, visiting the pretty but touristy town of San Miguel de Allende followed by equally impressive Guanajuato.
Our goal was to reach Guadalajara and meet up with Ivan - whom we had met in El Salto - for some climbing. The state of Jalisco - of which Guadalajara is the capital - has a relatively bad reputation due to the presence of some major drug cartels. There are also some stories of encounters of climbers and cartel members at the climbing sport of Ixcatan just north of Guadalajara that we were warned of. Our awesome host Ivan made sure we were safe and simply made us park on the private land of one of his friends in walking distance of the climbing. The rock type (Rhyolith) and its quality are exceptional and probably some of the best rock we ever climbed on but the heat made it a bid hard on us. After having enjoyed the night life of Guadalajara Ivan made us working out on his parkour before we moved on in direction of the coast. We quickly passed through the crowded and touristy town of Puerto Vallarta and headed south where we found an incredible sport on the coast not too far from Campo Acosta. Other than a handful of fisherman that went out every morning with their small boats we hardly saw anyone. We made friends with Eugenio and so we had fresh fish every day. One day Eugenio went oyster diving and delivered fresh oysters directly at Rouletout. A good week went by with long hikes, barbecued fish and relaxing and so we decided to move on.
Our goal was to reach Jilotepec in the Estado de Mexico, world famous climbing spot just north of the Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX). Our journey led us along the coast through Colima and into Michoacán where we turned inland and up again into the mountains heading east. Michoacán is dominated by agriculture, world famous for its avocados but also for all other sorts of fruits and vegetables - and for the Monarch butterflies (which we missed as we were too late in the year). Michoacán is also known for its pretty colonial towns of Uruapan, Pátzucaro and Morelia. As everywhere we were welcomed by friendly people, enjoyed great food and spectacular landscapes.
Despite all of this we made swift progress towards Jilotepec that we reached around mid April. Climbing was the focus again. Jilotepec is a small town about an hour north of CDMX (depending on traffic). The climbing is located in a small park that protects the Peñas de Dexcani that is quite popular on the weekends but deserted during the week. We met up with loads of friends from CDMX that we had met at various spots during our journey south and enjoyed their company almost every weekend. Most notably these are Fredy and Quetza and Bernardo and Saraí, but more about them in a minute. We had a good rhythm of climbing and resting for a few weeks and then decided to take a longer break to visit CDMX.
Luckily Bernardo and Saraí’s parents own a ranch just outside of Jilotepec and they allowed us to leave Mutlu, Zorra and Rouletout there for a few days. Fredy and Quetza were kind enough to welcome us in their home and we took the opportunity to explore another megapolis. Great museums (we especially recommend the anthropological museum), nice markets, lots of traffic and outstanding food marked our stay in CDMX. It was also the time to celebrate 5 years on the road which we did in a great vegan restaurant. Fredy - as owner of a catering company - made sure we discovered loads of good food and Quetza - being a doctor - had us checked up. Fredy and Quetza also made sure that we got into the mezcal culture, a for us hitherto unknown agave based alcohol with an impressive variety of tastes and subtleties.
After a few days and another mezcal heavy night with Bernardo we headed back to Jilotepec to collect Mutlu and Zorra from Bernardo and Saraí’s ranch and continue working our projects. Not for too long though as we had to leave Mexico after 6 months that passed so terribly quickly. Again it was time to bring Rouletout and our doggies to Bernardo and Saraí’s ranch and head to the airport to discover an island that was on my bucket list since quite a while: Cuba. But - as always - more on that in our next blog entry.