Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 174. México, creo en ti

México, creo en ti, porque nací de tí,
como la flama es compendio del fuego y de la brasa,
porque me puse a meditar que existes,
en el sueño y materia que me forman,
y en el delirio de escalar montañas.

I spent a good time of the day cleaning my parents’ house of the junk that we three children had left behind in the course of our travels. Mercifully I found a stack of old photos and that gave me a perfect excuse to avoid cleaning duty. Among them were assorted photos that I took when I traveled throughout Mexico as a backpacker in my misguided youth.

I remember, for example, the stark beauty of northern Mexico, with its vast deserts, alpine mountain ranges, and eerie coasts. The Baja California Peninsula is one of the most desolate places I have ever been, but there are few views more exhilarating than that first look of the Mar de Cortes, with its incredibly blue waters lapping unto the harsh peninsular desert. I understand that Mexico is now investing a lot of money in enhancing or creating 18 “stops” along both coasts of the Gulf, to promote tourism, marinas for sailboats, and ports of call for big cruise ships. I think it is a good idea, both to share with others its beauty and to inject a shot of prosperity to the region.

Another unique area of northern Mexico is the Sierra Madre Occidental, an almost impenetrable volcanic mountain range that separates the western coastal region from the central altiplano. You may have heard of the famous train ride from Chihuahua to the Pacific, through El Cañon del Cobre. Alas, I have never taken this train ride, but once I took a rural bus from Parral to the heart of the Tarahumara region, in the heart of the Sierra, to visit the even more remote and impressive Cañon de la Sinforosa, which in extent and beauty sees eye to eye with the Grand Canyon. It was a beautiful but hellish trip, and I still wonder how that rickety bus managed the almost inexistent trail. Many years later I worked as a geologist in the Sierra Madre Occidental, prospecting for uranium for CFE (Mexico’s Power Company), and had the opportunity of discovering many other fabulous (and scary) scenic spots in this province, which is a treasure trove of natural resources for modern Mexico.

Moving farther east, but still in northern Mexico, I must make a stop in the Sierra Madre Oriental, Mexico’s eastern cordillera, and its power hub, the city of Monterrey. To start with the geology, the Sierra Madre Oriental is a folded mountain belt, dominated by Mesozoic carbonate sequences. When I was a geology student in UNAM, Mexico’s National University, we had the contract of doing quadrangle mapping for PEMEX, Mexico’s Petroleum Company. Nobody in PEMEX had much confidence on the work of a bunch of whippersnappers, but we proved that many eyes could find things that their own exploration teams could not. I remember, painfully, the many injuries inflicted by the sharp thorns of the desert plants in the calves of innocent geology students. Monterrey, la Ciudad de las Montañas, holds many dear memories for me and my family. We lived there when I was a little kid (3 to 7 years old), so I have very fuzzy early memories of running amok in the very arid hills that seemed to start at our backyard (more than once me and my brother were at the brink of dehydration!). I came back to Monterrey many years later, again as a student of geology, to stare in awe at the magnificent folds that form the Cañon de la Huasteca. Another memory belongs to my daughter Faby and her husband DJ, who spent together five happy years in Monterrey, where she completed her doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Finally, I will mention that my brother and his family have made their life in the nearby city of Monclova, and that my nephew Armando, his wife Monica, and their 9-month old son Armandito call Monterrey home. Isn’t he a darn cute baby?

Central Mexico is a land blessed by the good God, from its beautiful western coast (I will put my money on Puerto Vallarta over any other coastal resort in the world), through its beautiful central altiplano, to the spicy and lively eastern coast (Veracruz is still the most popular destination for national tourists). The altiplano is host to some of Mexico’s most beautiful cities including, from west to east, Guadalajara, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Queretaro, and Puebla, to say nothing of la Ciudad de los Palacios—our crazy but always interesting Mexico City. Central Mexico is a volcanic heartland, and it was here that I cut my teeth as a mountaineer and geologist climbing the beautiful volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, to name but the two most famous. The photo is from a 19th century painting by Mexico’s foremost landscape artist, José María Velasco, who found much inspiration in these volcanoes.

I could go on for pages dreaming about my early travels through Mexico, but I will close this entry with two final thoughts. First, southern Mexico is a world of its own, with impenetrable and misty jungles, ancient temples, rugged mountains, dreamy coasts, and fabulous people. Second, don’t take my word for it; come and see this wonderland by yourself!

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