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Mexico Travel - Some More Places to Visit if You Have Time
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THIS IS A CHAPTER ABOUT SOME NEGLECTED SPOTS IN MEXICO. Although none of these places is particularly abundant in sights, still they are sufficiently important, for one reason or another, to warrant some attention.
If you are going to or from Mexico City by way of El Paso, you may find it interesting to stop at Aguascalientes. It is a pleasant town with nothing outstanding to see above ground, but with one unique thing below. Under the whole city runs an immense CATACOMBS, or series of underground tunnels, which were excavated we don't know when and we don't know how. As far as anyone can say, they are not Aztec, Toltec, or Tarascon.
There are pretty plazas in town and some attractive but unimportant buildings. Some people find that the church of San Antonio makes them think of St. Basil's at Moscow, but while it is certainly a most extraordinary building of its kind, it could hardly be considered a reason for going to Aguascalientes.
Since the train usually stops at Aguascalientes for a long time, and since most of the local goods. are brought down to the station by the vendors, you can do your shopping right there. DRAWN WORK is an important industry, although it is rarely made of linen, even though they may call it that. Vendors at the station also sell tiny HORSEHAIR HATS. This is exclusively a tourist product.
The local SARAPES are only fair, and a trifle too violent in color.
There are large POTTERY factories, but in general all the best products of Aguascalientes are for sale in the stores of Mexico City, rather than on the station platform of the town itself.
For those who wish to stop over, the Hotel Francia is the place.
To the average American, Chihuahua is the place where the dogs come from, and frankly, there is little other reason for the tourist to go there. Like Monterrey, it is not purely a Mexican city. It is a mining town and a busy one, but in no way a tourist town. In the city there is a cathedral, but in comparison with the cathedral in Mexico City, it is fairly modern, having been finished in 1789 (although above the main en trance the date 1738 can be seen). It is a graceful church, but otherwise of no great interest.
The immense COLONIAL AQUEDUCT, built in 1790, which brings water into the city from about three and a half miles away, crossing the valley between, is spectacular. It is one of the things that must be seen if you happen to be in Chihuahua.
Far north in the state of Chihuahua, and reached by railroad from El Paso, are the famous CASAS GRANDE. They are very much like the pueblos in Arizona- and New Mexico, but in a pretty bad state of dilapidation, and while they are interesting to the archaeologist, they are hardly spectacular enough to attract a visitor.
Unless you are particularly interested in hunting and intend to make Durango your point of departure for one of the largest hunting sections in Mexico, there is no reason whatever for a stop there. The whole region around Durango, on account of the perfection of the climate, is famous as a sort of natural sanitarium, but there is extremely little to see.
There is a great IRON MOUNTAIN near the city, discovered in the sixteenth century by one Mercado when he happened to be looking for a mountain of silver.
For the sportsman the state of Durango has great attractions. Grizzly, black, and cinnamon bears roam the higher mountains of the state, and wolves, coyotes, and deer are numerous. In places the state is almost a natural game preserve.
This city of some 60,00o inhabitants has been much neglected by tourists, and when a place is neglected by tourists, it is usually because there is not much to attract them.
The town has a few sights of minor importance. The PALACIO MUNICIPAL IS a fine building, but you will see better ones of the same type elsewhere, and the caTxxDRAL is of no particular distinction.
It is, however, a good shopping place, and some unusual articles of Mexican manufacture can be found in the HIDALGO MARKET. The town is particularly famous for SADDLERY and other excellent LEATHER GOODS. What a saddle will cost depends, first, on the amount of solid silver used in its decoration, and second, and probably more important, upon your skill as a bargainer.
The same is true of the STRAW HATS which are one of the prominently displayed products in the Leon market. An ordinary one will cost only a peso or two, but a really fine one will cost up to a hundred pesos or more, depending on the amount of silver braid and ornamentation. And again-on your skill as a bargainer.
This is another one of those places which looks big on the map, is important economically, and at the same time is of no interest whatever to the tourist. Like all Mexican cities, it has some splendid scenery, but that can be seen as well from the train window on the way through. The town is growing very rapidly. The great smelter is the center of Torreon life and was for years its most important economic unit. At present, however, it is getting competition from iron, flour, and cotton mills. The flour and cotton mills draw their supply from the surrounding country.
If you go through in the dry season, you will wonder how anything could ever grow here, but in the wet season, you will find the country amazingly productive.
An interesting sight by the wayside can be enjoyed by glancing at the old waterwheels used for irrigation. These are called Norias. It is an old Moorish name, and the idea for these wheels originated in Morocco.
Zacatecas is a quaint place rarely visited by the tourist. It depends for its prosperity on its SILVER MINES, of which there are said to be about a hundred in the neigh borhood still in operation. A trip to the mines is an interesting experience, but you should be warned that the going is rather rough.
The city lies in a narrow ravine between the Bufa and Grillo Mountains. In many ways it is still quite primitive. A great deal of the town's drinking water comes from flooded mines and is peddled by water carriers from house to house. If you drink any water there, make sure that it has been boiled first.
Another sight to see is the great churrigueresque CATHEDRAL. Other than the trip into a mine, it is about the only worth-while thing to see in Zacatecas. One of the most lavishly carved and decorated churches in Mexico, the towers and the handsome tiled dome are visible from almost every point in the city.
Zacatecas is famous for its fine SARAPES. The old blue and white ones are getting very scarce, since most of them have been bought up by antique dealers and curio shops in Mexico City. Modern ones are for sale at various shops in town, in the market, and at the railway station.
And now I can almost hear someone saying, "How odd! A book on Mexico that doesn't even mention Tia Juana, and Agua Caliente, and Juarez, and Matamoros. Why, Cousin Minnie went to Tia Juana and had the best time. . . ."
And the answer is that this book is about Mexico, and not about all the places that merely happen to be in Mexico. Already I have listed and described more places than most of the tourists at whom this book is directed will ever see. And the places I have chosen are those that in my opinion are really Mexican, not moving-picture Mexican, or border settlements owing their existence to an American town across the border.
It is hardly the province of a guidebook to attempt to capture of the spirit of a country. All it can hope to do is to present significant aspects of scenery, customs, and culture so that the tourist can make his own choice of those things which, within the limitations of time and money, will best enable him to get a real picture of the country. If the present work has succeeded in doing this much, it has been worth while.