23 August 2009

Real de Catorce II

I am in El Café Azul, “The Blue Cafe,” with wifi in Real de Catorce, an old silver mining town where silver was discovered by the Spanish in 1772. As I said before, Real de Catorce is about 9,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra de Catorce range. It was a bustling town during the mining days until a couple of civil wars came and went, particularly the revolution in 1910, when it became nearly a ghost town. It has slowly come back as a tourist attraction. About 7,000 people live here now.

Yesterday the young people and I drove up here on an unbelievably terrifying old one-lane mountain road with the truck in four-wheel drive and low gear all the way for a hotel room and shower. The young people to whom I refer are Fabien the Frenchman and Maga the artist. They are perfect traveling companions--very knowledgeable about México, Mexican history, and Mexican art, and very patient. . .and they pay for their share of the goods. The icing on the cake is that they are both hardcore wilderness freaks, real tree-huggers, and I have come to love that.

The truck did well, Spike, but we used up some of its useful life, I am sure. As we were coming up, we would occasionally meet a Jeep Wagoneer-type vehicle coming down the road chock full of passengers, including passengers on the roof. I would have to locate a wide spot in order to pull over to let it pass. This happened three or four times. There was a constant sheer drop-off on the right side and never anything that would remotely pass for a guardrail. This was truly hair-raising maneuvering, especially backing up. This was the only time I have ever wished that I had a manual transmission in that truck instead of an automatic one. Wow!

That road is not the only way here. There is also the road with the mile-long tunnel. But the young people wanted to come up this way, and so we did.

Before that, we were camping for two days and three nights under two of the very few trees in the deep desert about 900 feet below here, Valle del Salado. That place was absolutely flat, absolutely empty, and absolutely silent. With no light pollution, the sky at night was. . .well, I know I am using too many superlatives. I can only say that I had forgotten what the night sky looks like without extraneous terrestrial light mucking it up. I truly had. That desert sky at night was spectacular.

The boy on the horse is a goatherd who stopped by our campsite a couple of times to chat.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

* * The following is in the nature of a footnote. I have put off explaining this to you long enough. This trip has reminded me of it. I am going to tell you about toilet paper, papel hygienico, on the road in México. Some of you know about this, but many of you do not, I am sure. Those of you who are uncomfortable reading about how different people deal with elementary bodily functions should stop and read no further.

On the road in México, you will encounter very, very few restrooms wherein toilet paper is furnished. In fact, you will encounter very few restrooms. . .period. There are no “Rest Areas” per se. And those few restrooms that you do encounter never have toilet paper. They may kindly furnish you with a toilet paper holder but never the toilet paper itself.

Let me amend that. Some restrooms at the bigger government-owned gas stations, the Pemex—and all the gas stations are Pemex—do have toilet paper, but it is in big rolls on the walls outside the door of the restroom before you go in. So you unroll a swatch, and take it in with you. There is an attendant who watches you.

“Not too much toilet paper, please,” is the message.

The problem is elementary. The sewerage disposal systems are simply not equipped to handle all that paper. So here is how we solve this problem down here. You always, without fail, have with you a shopping bag with a couple of rolls of toilet paper in it, your brand of choice. You also keep in that shopping bag a plastic grocery sack. In the public restrooms you must refrain from flushing toilet paper down the toilet. Instead, you put the used toilet paper in the receptacle furnished—the waste basket.

But wait. There is more. It is not uncommon at all for there to be no waste basket, no receptacle at all, in the restroom. In that case you put your used toilet paper in the plastic grocery sack, roll it up, and put it in your shopping bag with the unused rolls of toilet paper until you reach the next garbage can.

Everybody has their own system, but they all approximate my system, which I have described here. For example, women may carry toilet paper in their big purses.

Have I mentioned that garbage cans are somewhat rare on the road, too, particularly in the outback?

I suggest that you carry your shopping bag in the trunk or back there in the bed of your pickup.

I thought that I would never become accustomed to this. Nonetheless, I have. Perfectly. I am by no means making fun of this situation. It all makes perfect sense to me now.

I have no appropriate pictures to accompany this footnote.

* * But please see entry of August 25 immediately above.


Barb said...

Thank you, thank you, Steve! I was hoping you would do lots of pictures of this trip. The description of that road had me holding my breath.

We encountered the toilet paper, plumbing issues on our first really big trip to Europe. Since then, everything has become more like the U.S. I still remember the first time I encountered a toilet that was just two blocks of wood on either side of a big hole. When Tom was a little boy, his parents were in Japan and France in the military and that was all that was available away from home. He thought my reaction was hilarious.

Ruth said...

I look forward to every post, Steve. That road to Real de Catorce would have had me wresting the wheel away from you. Control issues. I know I'm not going to head into the abyss, but I'm not so sure about anyone else.

My experience with TP in Europe was that it all seemed to be made by Waxtex. More suited to wrapping sandwiches than to its intended purpose.

Sheila said...

Your pictures just bring back home to me memories of my time in Central America a few years back. So keep them coming!

On the subject of paper hygenico, I have been warned that in rural India such luxuries are very difficult to get hold off, so you must stock up, get friends to bring extra supplies when they visit and/or remember to get it when you are in the big city. Otherwise, it is back to the way everyone else locally does it...and definitely no pictures there!

spike said...

The truck look's good with some real Mexico road dirt on her.

Señor Steve said...

That photo does not do justice to the dust on and in the truck, Spike. The powdery dust would rise into the air in big plumes behind us as we drove into that desert. You can see that the license plate is completely obliterated.