Monday, November 28, 2016

Zapotitlán The Directors Cut

 Every sunset gives us one less day to live but every sunrise gives us one more day to hope.
-- Ritu Ghatourney

Zapotitlán Salinas is a small highway town 45 minutes from Tehuacan that is in the heart of The Biosphere Reserve of Tehuacan-Cuicatlán. Last weekend I found myself walking in the desert heartland of the reserve in San Juan Raya and today it was a return to The Botanical Garden Zapotitlán Salinas with the Biosphere. I was here in June on an organized tour with the school and knew that there was more to see. With that in mind Keane, Lucy, Eric, Wendy and myself met downtown with packs filled with a days supplies for the local bus to explore the valley.

1 litre of  fresh pressed orange juice for 15 pesos
 I can not think of a better way to start a journey then with a litre of fresh pressed Orange Juice for $1. If you think Tropicana or whatever other store bought brand is fresh squeezed then you are sadly mistaken. It  is crazy what we are marketed into believing what is real food and I am as guilty as the next person in bowing down to all the bullshit.

The ride out was uneventful with the exception being a huge boulder that was parked on the roadside along the way. Lets move beyond huge and call it massive. As is the case most of the times these tumblers of death release themselves from their perches on the surrounding mountains and spring free crashing down towards the fairly busy roadway below. It was not there last weekend when I came out this way so this was a new roadside attraction.

Image result for boulder on the side of the road zapotitlan

The 13 Peso combi dropped us off at the side of the road in front of the park and with a few hop on and offs along the way we were there in 45 minutes. This road is beautiful no matter how many times you travel along it. The park cost 40 Pesos without a guide and we were all good with that. We knew the standard tour and we would blaze through that for Keane and Lucy as it was their first time here. We were breaking Keanes cactus cherry so that was that.

Lucy: Keane, welcome to the cactus park, the biggest in the world
Keane: Wow there are allot of cactuses here, or is it cacti...who cares there are allot of them-
Lucy: Your a genius, thank god you pointed that out.

 And there they were in all their glory, cactus as far as the eye could see. Up over mountains, down through the valleys, towering in front of and behind me and not just the tall ones that are easy to spot in the photo. There were so many varieties of shapes and sizes that although I have been in this desert oasis a number of times now I still get put into a state of awe, as in "ah shit, I better not trip and fall into any of these brutes".

The main walking trails are clean and well marked with access to so much. As you climb higher the pictures you take seem to occur faster knowing that no two would be the same. The first part of this trip was fun and it was good to be back but the reason we came today without a guide or the  organized school trip was "what was beyond the touristy trail." There was a car access road that we had easy access which led down into the valley. We could see tall cliffs looking down into the dry riverbed and a few observation / fire towers that were great markers to head to. Off we went not really caring where we were going but knowing it was going to be interesting.

As the area leveled off we stumbled across the camping and cabin area which I had forgotten that was possible here. Modern cabins, what looked like a party bungalow, a restaurant and a few other out buildings all scattered over a wide area which allowed for all the personal space anyone could ask for. What a sight the stars would be here on a moonless night or how brilliant a full moon would be illuminating the desert below. No peyote for me, thank you very much, with with all these cactus soldiers guarding the fort and dancing in the moonlight.

Further along we broke off the road to a side trail that lead to the lookout towers. Once on top we could see the entire dry river bed that was surrounded by steep cliffs, tall trees and eroded side banks. They could only be compared to giant ant hills or termite nests which led to insane and somewhat scary conversations about giant termites climbing out all around us and devouring our scared, trembling bodies. Screw the giant termites there was climbing and exploring to do. There had to be a way into the valley from where we stood. When climbing the Giant Termite Home I was more concerned about the dirt giving way into crevasses that ranged from a metre to five or so metres. You could disappear rather quickly if you were not careful.

Giant termites could be anywhere as Keane suddenly realizes
There was a riverbed and I was going to find a way down. We were now challenged by the fear of being eaten in a Stephen King novel, deep crevasses that could open up at any time, the 40 foot drop that originally looked climbable from a distance and the determination to find a way a down, what could possibly go wrong?

I will find a way down to the damn valley below
Ever the billy goat and while walking, tripping, stumbling, bleeding, shaking hands with thorny cactus and a little bit of luck brought victory. A steep and hidden gully showed itself as a gift for our hard work. It's bark was worse than it's bit but careful navigation was still the rule of the day. A twisted or worse broken ankle, although not life threatening considering we were in a national park, would have been a situation we were probably not fully prepared for. Who am I kidding, we were fully not prepared for it.

I was exploring ahead of everyone and when I came across it there was only one thing to do, so off I went and there I was on the valley floor looking up. I love those proud outdoor discovery type moments where you feel you have just done what nobody else has ever done, regardless if it's the truth or not. It is the feeling that is important. After a bit of wandering I called out to everyone from below like I had just discovered the Fountain of Youth and not some dried up and stinking riverbed. I climbed back up and showed them the way down during which time it was decided that Gully was a great name for a dog

Lucy and Keane carefully climbing down the gully
The day was getting long and with our valley victory behind us it took no convincing at all that it was time for a beer. Eric knew of a great place in the town of Zapotitlan where the beer was cold and the food was good but a bit unusual. We hiked back, piled into a cab which was just some guy that the park attendant called and 20 minutes later I had a cold beer in my hands, Mexican Style as 1.2 litres of Victoria disappeared pretty quickly. Lucy, Wendy and Eric dug into a plate of fried grasshoppers while Keane and I just looked on in disgust then ordered the only thing we thought edible, another beer.

I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing and talking about our adventure watching the sunset over this small Mexican highway town with Lucy, Eric, Keane and Wendy. The entire day was positive and recharged my drained batteries. There were a few shenanigans on the bus ride back to Tehuacan but that is for another day.

A well deserved 1.2 litres of Victoria

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