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Mexico Travel - Monterrey To Mexico City
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THE DISTANCE FROM MONTERREY TO MEXICO CITY IS 614 miles, and although I have read books which insist that it can be done in an average driving time of 15 hours, I think that the attempt would be foolhardy. Simple arithmetic shows that 614 miles in 15 hours' driving time means an average-not maximum-speed of 40 miles an hour. That means that on the straightaways or in the valleys you will have to spend all the time you can driving between 60 and 70, because when you go through the mountains you will be lucky if you can average 20 with a maximum speed of 35. Another good reason for driving slowly is to permit you to look at the picturesque sights along the way.
From Monterrey on, the scenery and the people become really Mexican. Up to Monterrey, the atmosphere has still been strongly mixed with the American, just as on the American side of the border, it is somewhat mixed with the Mexican, as far as San Antonio. After Monterrey, you will have the charming scenery through HUAJUCO CANYON, and shortly afterward, you will be in a great orange-growing district, of which the center is MONTEMORELOS. The drive through this section is particularly beautiful in February or early March when the oranges are in bloom.
Your next town will be LINARES at kilometer 863, and from this point you begin a drive through one of the greatest hunting districts in Mexico. Except possibly for a deer, you probably will not see any animals from the road, since they stay far back in the hills at the side, and the great game animals, like the bears and the jaguars, are nocturnal and are not likely to be wandering around in the daytime. At Villagran at kilometer 82o there is a small cafe and a tourist court, but probably you will do better to go on through Hidalgo, a small town of no particular interest, to Ciudad Victoria for lunch.
Just outside of CIUDAD VICTORIA, you will cross a long bridge over the Rio Purificacion at kilometer 750, and at the far end of the bridge, roads lead to the right and left. The one on the right leads to the dude ranch of Don Pape Martinez, and the one on the left to that of Mrs. Teader. Both are extremely good places to stay, but since one is eleven miles and the other seven miles off the road, they are hardly suitable for luncheon stops.
At Ciudad Victoria there is nothing whatever to see. There was a new hotel under construction at the time of writing which may be finished when you get therethe Sierra Gorda. It is located on a little plaza and is unmistakable, for it is by far the most imposing building in town. There are also the Victoria Motor Courts, for an overnight stay, and the Victoria and Palacio Hotels. I have heard the Palacio well spoken of, but have not tried it myself. The food at the Victoria is excellent and inexpensive, and here, also, they usually have a few jaguar skins for sale at a very reasonable price.
After leaving Ciudad Victoria, you will start a gentle climb up to the MESA DE LLERA. The views of this great tableland and the low and fantastically shaped mountains dotting the plains below are so lovely that you will probably not be particularly interested when you cross the TROPIC OF CANCER just beyond kilometer 668.
Then, for some distance, you will have a somewhat winding road to Limon, and from there you will pass through sugar-cane country to VILLA JUAREZ. This town is the center of an immense sugar plantation. If you have never seen a sugar refinery in action, you will be interested in visiting the one here. The refinery is in operation only during the winter months-December, January, February, and perhaps March. At Villa Juarez there is an excellent hotel, El Mante.
There is an all-weather road, although not a paved one, leading from Villa Juarez to Tampico, 99 miles away. Unless you are particularly interested in Tampico, I would continue straight on to Valles. Here there are several good hotels and also some excellent motor courts.
The town is pretty and lies in an extremely fertile valley. There is nothing in particular to see, but if it is late in the afternoon, you can make an overnight stop here. The best hotel in Valles is, I believe, the Condesa. There are also several tourist courts and hotels, such as the Azteca. At kilometer 466, about five miles beyond Valles, there is an excellent tourist court at El Banito Mineral Wells, where they have a swimming pool, a good little restaurant of the simple type, and some amusing local animals wandering around in the garden behind the office. I had a delightful time there once playing with a jaguar kitten, but I quickly retired from the field when I noticed that my playmate, who was twice the size of a very large cat, was taking the play too seriously.
If you arrive in Valles fairly early, you will probably prefer to push on to Tamazunchale rather than remain there overnight. Tamazunchale is 66 miles from Valles, at the foot of the great mountain climb. The scenery between Valles and Tamazunchale is lovely. The country is pure tropics, abundant with palms and bamboo, and the last time that I went over the road we drove nearly the entire distance from Valles to Tamazunchale through clouds of butterflies, of every conceivable hue.
TAMAZUNCHALE 1S a little town on the Moctezuma River. On the Valles side of the river are excellent tourist courts, the Sol and Aguila, which provide all the convenience and comfort of hotel accommodations. On the other side of the bridge is the Tamazunchale Inn, directly on the main highway, and the D-Z Tourist Courts. The tourist places are absolutely modern in every respect, with rooms and baths and Simmons beds and mattresses. The accommodations in the Inn are probably not so good as in the tourist camps, but it is lots of fun to stay there, particularly in the evening.
Even if you are staying at either of the tourist camps in Tamazunchale, take time off to sit on the terrace of the Inn and watch the extraordinary people and things that loom out of the dark up and down the road. The modern town of Tamazunchale lies between the road and the stream, and the Inn is situated right at the edge of the Indian village stretching up the hill from the oppo site side of the road from the modern town. The whole village seems to use the road as a forum and meeting place, so you will have an excellent opportunity from this vantage point to get a glimpse of the Indian life. The Indians here are Aztecs.
I will never forget a funeral I once saw from the terrace of the Tamazunchale Inn. First, out of the dark, appeared a man dressed in white, carrying a candle. Four other men, carrying a black coffin on their shoulders, completed the procession. They turned off the road around the corner of the Inn, set down the coffin, and two of them sat down on it while the others sat around and talked things over. Then, when they were rested, the first man picked up his candle, the other four picked up their burden, and the procession disappeared into the dark up a narrow path with a slope like a church roof which led to the burying ground.
At Tamazunchale you are only about 370 feet above sea level. In sixty miles you will go up some 5,000 feet, so it is well to take a deep breath before you start. Let me repeat again that the drive up the hill is absolutely safe with a cautious driver. The road is perfectly paved and so skillfully constructed that you can make the entire climb in high without difficulty. The grade is about 6 per cent. You will have only one thing to look out for besides the animals, and that is the clouds. The clouds hang low in this altitude, and between 1,000 and 4,000 feet altitude, you are very apt to be right in the midst of them. The best time of day for the climb is between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.This will give you the greatest possible freedom from clouds and will assure your seeing the exquisite scenery. You climb from the tropics into the temperate zone and from palm trees to pine forests. Perhaps the finest scenery on this particular stretch is at the RAVINE OF THE MARBLES, where the road goes into the ravine and comes out again on a ledge carved out of the rock.
The views are simply breathtaking, and if you are traveling at a reasonable speed, you will have nothing to fear, unless you happen to be one of those unfortunate people who cannot help being frightened on a mountain road. If you were nervous coming over the Mamulique Pass, this drive is not for you. If not, you will have no reason to be alarmed on the highway over the mountains. You should stop for a few minutes at SANTA ANA, kilometer 320. This tiny town is situated on a high ridge, and the views in both directions are outstandingly beautiful. Except for the views, there is little to see here. Then, 54 kilometers farther on, you will arrive at Jacala. Your first view of this town will be from a height of nearly i,ooo feet above it. Then, descending into a pleasant valley, you will be greeted by the sign of Mr. Simpson's gas station and tourist camp, where there is a small restaurant with spotless restrooms, good coffee, and some fried egg sandwiches that are a delight to the palate. From Jacala, the road ascends again, with more views of startling beauty until it reaches an elevation of over 8,00o feet, and then descends gently some thousand feet into Zimapan.
Just before you enter the town on the left, you will see an enormous cypress tree 42 feet around the trunk. It is not so large as the great tree near Oaxaca, but it is nevertheless an interesting sight. From Zimapan to Mexico City you will never be below an altitude Of 5,000 feet.
Unless you have completely filled yourself up with sandwiches at Jacala, you should stop at Zimapan for lunch. There is a hotel on the plaza directly opposite the church with good French-Mexican cooking. Here, too, if you happen to pass through on Sunday, you will have a good view of your first Mexican market. The market is open on other days, too.
I found the CHURCH in Zimapan extremely interesting. It is large, more or less simple, and a fine example of the small-town church. While it is not at all ornate and nothing that a guidebook could or does recommend, it is worth a brief visit.
After leaving Zimapan, the road goes gently downhill to the great TASQUILLO BRIDGE over the Tula River. This river flows into the Moctezuma (which you have already crossed at Tamazunchale), through a gorge crossed by a magnificent single-arch concrete and steel bridge. This is a good place to stop and take some photographs, or, if you are not a photographer, to at least plant the view firmly in your memory.
Above the bridge on the hill you will see a white structure with a wall around it, of a type which you probably will already have noticed elsewhere along the road.
This is one of the blockhouses built to protect the road in case of internal disturbances. After crossing the bridge, the road enters a valley and goes on t0 IXMIQUILPAN. On the road near Ixmiquilpan you will see the Indians walking along the highway and spinning some kind of fiber into balls of string. The Indians are Otomies, one of the tribes subject to the Aztecs in the old days, and the fiber they spin is the maguey fiber.
The MAGUEY (century plant) figures importantly in the economic life of the Mexican, and particularly the Mexican Indian. It supplies him with his three pet drinks-PULQUE, TEQUILA, and MESCAL.
The maguey is used for many things besides making drinks. Its fiber is used for the making of rope and takes the place of hemp in almost any article for which hemp could be used. They have found some extraordinary uses for the maguey fiber. A flat wad of the soft maguey fiber makes the softest and most delightful washcloth yet invented by man and is used by the Mexican in place of a cloth or a sponge. At one time, the fine skin of the maguey was peeled from the leaf, dried, and used by the Indians as their writing paper. You will see great fields of maguey in the valleys in and near Ixmiquilpan.
The only points of interest in this town are the market place (on Sundays), and the little CHURCH and MONASTERY.
Twenty-four miles nearer Mexico City is a sight you absolutely must see. That is the sixteenth-century monastery at ACTOPAN, now a national monument. There is a caretaker in charge, and admission is free. For a small fee, the caretaker might be willing to show you around and direct you to the points of interest.
This is almost a perfect example of a great fortress church, impressive in its architecture and frescoes. The monks' quarters at Actopan have been much better preserved than those at the much-praised Acolman. You can still see the swimming pool in the patio, the great kitchen, and the monks' cells-small, comfortable rooms, each with a window seat for reading, and opposite the seat, built into the wall, a comfortable rest where the occupant of the room could put up his feet.
The custodian will probably show you a heart-shaped scar on a hill some three miles away which is the mark of the quarry that supplied the stone for this immense structure. When you recall the fact that the stones had to be carried on the backs of the Indians, you can visualize the tremendous amount of labor that must have gone into the construction of the buildings.
After leaving Actopan, you will see some interesting rock formations on the mountain peak to your left. These are known locally as THE MONKS.
At kilometer 92 is the highest spot in the road, and here a MONUMENT has been erected to mark the friendship between Mexico and the United States. The monument was a gift from the Americans.
If it were not for the monument and the sign, it would be difficult to believe that you were at the highest point in the road, for it is merely the top of a gentle slope among the great maguey fields and less than 1,000 feet higher than Mexico City. Four miles beyond the monument, a road branches off to Pachuca, a small mining town which you will see on your left. Although the town has an old and distinguished history, the hotels are not too good, and there is nothing of particular interest to see here, so, unless you expect to stay for a long time in Mexico, I advise that you drive straight on.
All the way into Mexico City now your road will lead across the great central plateau, with distant mountains rising up all around you. If the day is clear after leaving COLONIA, or perhaps before, look a little to the left and ahead, and you may have the good luck to see the two great volcanos, Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, thrusting their snow peaks into the sky. At this point they are 8o miles distant, and your elevation is already about 8,00o feet. Nevertheless, if you expect to see the mountains, look up. The tops of the mountains are often mistaken for distant clouds, and equally frequently, enthusiasts are apt to mistake distant clouds for mountains.
There are other great sights on the way into Mexico City. At kilometer 27 the road branches off to the Pyramids of San Juan Teotihuacan and to the Acolman Convent. Although this is one of the great sights of Mexico, I would not try to include it in this day's drive. You will already have seen as much as the average tourist can absorb, and the Pyramids and Acolman Convent are so important that they really rate a separate excursion.
At the boundary of Mexico City you will be stopped at a police post, where you will be required to state whether or not this is your first visit to the city. If it is, your papers will be examined, and you will be asked where you intend to stop. The whole procedure is merely a police checkup on automobiles and people en tering the capital. Your baggage is not examined at this point.
If you are going to the famous motor court known as Shirley Courts, you will not require a guide, unless it is after dark, since the way to the court is extraordinarily well marked. If you are going to one of the hotels, you can pick up a guide at the police station. Although this service is supplied free to tourists by the hotel association, your guide will expect a tip, but it is well worth the peso or so that it will cost, for if he is recommended by the police, he is certain to be reliable. Besides, Mexico City is a big city, and without some help you might very easily go astray in the maze of one-way streets.