Tuesday, November 15, 2016

San Juan Raya

The countdown is on. There are now 33 days remaining in my time here in Tehuacan and as is the norm, time has begun to fly by. Mexico has won me over and without fail the kindness of the people and the unexpected experiences continue to occur almost every time I leave the house. Today's desert adventure experience went smoothly with the help of 2 students, Elizabeth and Ramses. I am confident I could have pulled of the remote transportation and details of getting to San Juan Raya but having two native speakers with us sure helped..and Ramses's mom packed us sandwiches.

Elizabeth and Ramses

The Combi that we needed was parked at a random corner that would have been a difficult to find but Ramses scouted it out the night before and at 8:00 we met him and Elizabeth in the Zocolo for the short walk. This was going to take about an hour passing through Zapotitlán with the spectacular  highway views of  the Biosphere that is The Botanical Garden of Zapotitlán Salinas which I wrote about a few months ago. 

We jumped aboard and set off. There was one stop along the way to pick up a few others and when Elizabeth spotted what turned out to be an old German she let out an excited gasp and smiled at me. Her enthusiasm for another white person to climb aboard was so spontaneous she quickly recognized how silly it was. Silly quickly turned to funny and we teased her relentlessly for the next 15 minutes.

The Long Walk Begins with Elizabeth, Ramses And Lucy With Her Hat
The Combi's final stop was the tiny desert town of Santa Ana where would have to walk the 4 km to San Juan Raya which is a small community in the Biosphere. The end game was to see ocean fossils, yes ocean fossils and Dinosaur footprints. One hundred million years ago, or the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, this entire region was once a deep ocean. It then evolved into a lush tropical oasis, where Dinosaurs thrived, and ultimately the dry desert that it is now.

The hike should have taken about an hour but Mexicans are not known for their speed walking. I love hiking with people who embrace the experience with humor and positive attitudes. That is one of the primary reasons I find myself with Lucy on every trip I take. We found ourselves pointing out spectacular cacti, various birds of prey, scampering reptiles and even colorful bugs. The landscape was worthy of too many photos but as I have said numerous times, these photos would never do the experience or views the justice it deserved.

One Picture with 8 Different Type of Cacti
Although remote there were random vehicles that passed us and also a tour bus that lumbered along carefully. We were fairly safe in case of an emergency. (always thinking like a Boy Scout). About half way we stopped for one of what turned out to be incredibly delicious ham, cheese and chipotle sandwiches. It took one final chug on my water bottle to realize that I need lots more water and I was confident that the town would have a vendor or shop as after all this was considered a tourist type destination. It is also a zone where students and scientists of every type come to do research. At the very least and this being Mexico there would be a cold beer at the end of the road.

Arrived Alive
Bienvendios San Juan Raya, we arrived alive after our arduous trek through the desert. Well not so much arduous as it was a bit of a Sunday stroll but it was hot and sunny and there might have been snakes stalking us, we would never know because they are so sly. We came to the town which was a few sporadic buildings we looked at each other and agreed without really speaking "OK now what?" I mean this was as rural a village that I have ever stumbled into.

We found our morning beer to wash down the trail dirt and found directions to the Museum where we would book a walking tour. The museum as it turned out was new, modern and completely out of place in this dusty outback part of Mexico.

We chose the fossil and dinosaur hike and for 30 Pesos. The tour included a very knowledgeable guide who had lived illegally in New York City for a couple of years before being found out and deported. It is so odd to hear Mexicans talk about being illegally in the United States and then getting deported like they were out having a cup of coffee chatting with their friends about the latest Soccer/Futbol scores.

The well groomed and marked trail was dominated by a variety of Cactus some of which rose to 60 feet. As with so many nature guides I have met along the way we were shown where the cactus stored water which was a primary water source for the indigenous through out the years. There were also small plants whose flower pods held drops of water.

The guide was explaining things to both Lucy and I while we stood staring and shaking our heads like we understood everything he was saying. Ramses and Elizabeth stood back and I noticed they were giggling. Then Ramses smugly said "so, did you understand anything?" Off down the trail the two of them skipped laughing and giggling knowingly.

Dinosaur Tracks
The fossils themselves were awe inspiring. You could have been walking on your local ocean beach and the sea shell would have looked exactly the same. However the jewel in the tours crown were the dinosaur footprints as they were very distinguishable. A trail of 3 clawed feet on the way somewhere 50 million years ago. The guide then pointed to large indentations beside the well marked foot prints.
"Mama walking with her baby". Holy crap there it was, a huge foot print riding shotgun to the little ones. It was explained that no excavation with tools takes place, it is all done by the rains of July and August. "Mother natures does the work here so we let her as we have lots of time". A very logical approach to a very slow moving village.

As we sat eating our second round of sandwiches it finally occurred to us that we did not really think about our exit strategy. We were 4 km from Santa Ana and then another 8 - 10 km to the main road so our best chance to catch a ride back to Tehuacan was to walk up to 14 km in the dusty desert. Well of we went into the desert cauldron

I am blocking the road, go around bitches!
What could possibly bother us as we walked 14 km through a hot, arid and dusty desert? Apparently lots of things such as thirst, heat stroke, sunburn and snakes just to name a few. Ramses and Elizabeth started walking a bit slower then Lucy and I which was fine. There was lots to see and view, photos to take and water to drink. Lots and lots of water.

It was when we stumbled around our snake friend that we all realized that this was going to be a long walk. Ramses suddenly became a typical spoilt 19 year old with his " I am so tired, sooo tired" but naturally got no sympathy from any of us. More than a few cars passed us going to the other way and the one car that was going our way the driver was staring into his phone pretending not to see us. Then as if on cue a small pickup rolled by and a friendly voice with smiling faces said, "jump in". It took no convincing and we had no idea where they were going, we just knew walking was no the answer.

As it turned out this young couple were from Puebla and were just on a road trip to the desert. They agreed to drive us back to Tehuacan. I love the randomness of travelling!

This was a stroke of luck and it was going to get better. We stopped at the Botanical Gardens to pick up a guide for what reason we had no clue. We drove down the highway for about 20 minutes and turned off onto a dusty side road (like there is anything else in the area) where we stopped to overlook a nice valley and what turned out to be salt pools. Yes an actual salt mine in front of my face.

With a bit of explanation and photo ops we hopped back into the truck and drove down a steep and windy road that lead to the pools which sounded like a fun side trip. Near the bottom we stopped and found 3 large holes in the side of the mountain. I immediately thought "sure a bit of cave exploring sounds fun". Nope, wrong again. What I thought was a cave turned out to be an old and abandoned underground church dig into the side of the mountain. "Whaaat".

Excitedly and a bit confused we hopped out and sure enough there it was, a church built into the side of the mountain. Based on the beauty of the paintings I could only imagine how gorgeous this church was in it's day. There was a main alter room, a few dormitories and a storage room. The walls as it turned out were made of pressed salt and they were adorned with ornate painted pictures that were all complete by the children of the time. That was quite a statement. This country is filled with small stories and interesting moments in time.

The guide was speaking quickly so I could only pick up on bits of the conversation but our new friends (whose names I have already forgotten) filled me in with their perfect English.

I do not stand in awe of a church any longer having seen so many spectacular churches  throughout Latin America but this one was special. Deep underground it held the same reverence as any ornate cathedral splashed with gold and polished wood. This was catholic worship at its most simple and most stunning.

The carnival ride was not over yet. We wandered down to the salt pool and learnt how nature was used for both production and purification which was interesting enough and information I will soon forget. As with so many things in Mexico it is the simple of designs and use of natural elements that works. We then came upon a random door which peaked my interest and I was not disappointing.

Inside were small artifacts that have been dug up over time in and around the salt pools. These were Aztec (not Mayan) and Popoloca (my favorite indigenous name). This was insane. Ornate carvings so small they fit into the palm of your hand. There we also bowls, fossils and the one that caught my attention, a huge molar from what must have been a large scary animal, probably a carnivore I was told. OK then who am I to no believe that. This is dinosaur country after all.

Random happenings, my favorite thing in the world based on a decision to do something as "see what happens". Sometimes nothing and sometimes the oddest of things. We went from walking in the desert to seeing dinosaur footprints, then back through the desert a bit exhausted, to seeing miniature Aztec relics all because we said "YES, lets do it". It is never a competition with me but it saddens me when there is so much to explore and fellow teachers were sitting home counting there Peso's and worried how devalued they became because of the American Election. This entire day priced out was about $240 pesos, $16 Canadian including our final beer and dinner.

Back in Tehuacan we hit up Cerezos for a well deserved and I cold litre of beer and a 1/2 kilos of tacos. A well deserved rest from an eventful and exciting day including the 45 minute drive down the highway in the back of a pickup truck, transportation Mexican style and I would not have it any other way.

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