Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Zapotitlan Salinas

Tehuacan is not a major stop on any travelers' itinerary and the EXPAT community's name is Eric (the tall guy in the photos with the great hat). This is a working class Mexican city and only makes the news for all the wrong reasons. However, in April of 2018 the entire Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The recognition makes Zapotitlan Salinas a double UNESCO World Heritage site, a very unique qualification as it is now recognized for both its Natural and Cultural heritage. It was time for a revisit to what is one of my favorite places I have ever been to.

Today's intrepid group consisted of Neimh (Ireland), Lauren (England), Adam (USA), Tom (Wales) and of course Eric (USA and is now the Expat community in Tehuacan). You may remember both Tom and Eric. Both were teachers here 2 years ago. Tom decided to come back for a semester the same time I did. Eric now works at the local university. Familiar faces in all the right places.

The day started with a 7:30 am meet up at the Zocalo (city square) and as none of us went out after work the night before we were all fresh faced and eager to go. From there we walked to Eric's house, about 20 minutes towards the Purisma market area. A place that is notorious for pick pockets and petty crime, but whatever. Walk the streets like you own them! He had the oatmeal cooking and coffee brewing and I brought some bananas (yeah I know, a big surprise). We then settled into basic locker room talk torturing the girls but they were good sports and could give back just as fast. This was going to be a good group to spend the day with.

We found the bus, paid our 12 pesos (80 cents Canadian) and settled in for the 45 minute ride. Needless to say we were the only foreigners on the bus full of locals heading out into the countryside. They were either heading out to work or heading home after being in the town markets for a few days selling whatever they grew or made in their little communities. Their serious looks turned lighter and there were even smiles when we loudly boarded the bus but started rambling back in forth between Spanish and English to each other. It was obvious that we were teachers because those are the only westerners here with the exception of a handful of university students. Tehuacan had a huge university population since it does have 2 of the top universities in the State of Puebla.

I had been here a few times in the past and as a hiking freak I became the defacto guide. We paid our 45 pesos and were prepped by an actual park ranger about the Reserve including the do's and do nots. Remember this is more than a cactus reserve. It is thousands of square kilometers and is filled with Aztec and Poco Loca ruins, dinosaurs bones and foot prints. This entire area was an ocean a few million years ago it is loaded with aquatic fossils and sea shells. Yes, there are sea shells all over this desert.

There was the standard well marked trail that circled the entrance and touristy shops and we wandered that for about an hour. Adam and Lauren climbed a 2000 year old holy tree that could have gotten all of us arrested, but you have to have those selfies. The views were great from a few of the viewing points and towers and the morning was easy. The sun was shining and it was getting hot by 10 am. I mean Mexican desert hot. Most of us had already drank a couple litres of water. We needed more because I was about to take them out of the main part of the park. We went back to the centre where we bought water and cactus flavored popsicles. Trust me they taste better than they sound.

The back-country hike started down a gravel road that lead to a camping area. There are fantastic cabins that can be rented with hot showers and they are solar powered. We also picked up free wifi on our mobile phones. The serenity and eerie quality at night must be overwhelming. The amount of stars viewed would be extraordinary in such a remote location with no city lights for miles around. We were told by the park panger that the coyotes would howl all evening but would never come into camp. There are large cats, puma or lynx like from what I could understand. The setting would be the ultimate overnight in the desert. Naturally none of us thought to ask the price.

We spent about 5 hours hiking past the camp ground, heading towards a few lookout towers where we had snacks and just relaxed enjoying the situation. We then saddled up and hiked through hard desert dunes that held large deep crevasses and unsteady footing. I remembered the route and we wound our way down an eroded gully that lead into the valley. We walked along an old riverbed and were surrounded by high almond colored cliffs. There were restrictions, as in the area there is a working salt mine in the area. This being Mexico when you come to a No Trespassing sign, you obey it.

Along the river we did come across paw prints that were neither dog nor any hoofed animal. They were cat, a very large cat of some type. Time to turn around. We climbed back up through the dunes and through trails surrounded and overgrown with as many varieties of cacti as you could imagine. Yes we all yelped in pain at one time or another. Stopping at the watchtower there were eagles gliding in the updrafts, large iguanas dashing from boulder to boulder and other critters scurrying about. It was on the way out that we came across a huge spider that we were unsure we gave it a wide birth. There are snakes, spiders and scorpions here that can and will kill you.

A good lunch in town with a few large cold beers capped a great day. I have every intention of coming back. There are a few long hill hikes that lead to ancient ruins which both Eric and I will get to. We will need a guide but it will be worth it. Then there is the camping. Secure cabins in the middle of the World's largest biosphere surrounded by hundreds of varieties of cacti, yapping coyotes and billions of stars. Pot is now legal in Canada. I might just have to take one for the team here in Mexico.

Happy 420 Canada, Mexican style.

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