We entered Real de Catorce through its tunnel. To the tunnel we decided to return.
The pioneer crossing had, in the end, proved too quick and insipid. A tunnel with the past and the history of Ogarrio deserved another kind of attention.
When we reach the mouth of the village, the queue of vehicles waiting to drop you off is short.
With walkie-talkie in hand, Norma Martinéz watches over her, one of the six girls in charge of managing entrances and exits, avoiding simultaneous crossings in opposite directions and consequent collisions.
Norma begins by finding it strange that we are there. When we started a conversation, she realized that she could speak with us in Spanish and at ease.
Calm down. He answers us, without ceremony, to the successive questions. “Why are we all girls? Well, I don't know, I think the idea was also to contribute to a more sympathetic reception of Real.
Now we are six. Some work the morning shift. The others, in the afternoon, until eleven at night. From that time on, people cross on their own.”
The last of the cars arrives on the other side of the mountain. Norm interrupts. Press OK for the next queue to proceed. Little interested in going through the 2300m of the tunnel on foot, with cars rushing by, we approached a family about to leave.
In good Mexican fashion, agree immediately to take us over there.
We do it in a good mood. To begin with, we were interested in that end of the tunnel, because of the chapel that blesses it and that, before, blessed the work in the mines.
The Monumental But Late Work of the Ogarrio Tunnel
The Ogarrio tunnel was excavated by Vicente Irizar Aróstegui, a native of Ogarrio, west of Bilbao, Cantabria.
Years before, in 1895, the Mexican president Porfírio Diaz was present in Real de Catorce, for the inauguration of machinery ordered in San Francisco, United States, which would boost the extraction of silver from the Santa Ana mines, one of the most profitable.
Upon arriving, Porfirio Diaz was forced to ride his horse up and down the Catorce mountain range that hides the village.
From this penalty to which the leader of the young nation was forced, the idea of opening the tunnel, starting from the already existing basement of the mine and ranch Dolores Trumpet.
The work lasted from 1897 to 1901.
In its extension, the tunnel had connections to the mines that facilitated the dispatch of ore tailings and the flow of silver to the so-called benefit haciendas that the authorities defined to transform the raw silver, in order to extract from it lead and other non-precious metals.
From One Side to the Other of the Tunnel
We walked to the chapel near the tunnel entrance.
We positioned ourselves at a wider point, suitable for taking our photos of that kind of cave dug by hand, which, to contrast, the artificial lighting gave a golden tone.
Once satisfied, we return to the starting point, also blessed by an image of the Lady of the Dolores.
With another line of vehicles at our mercy, we were able to get a ride again in three times. In the box of Sebastian and family's pick-up van, who were traveling for a few days of escape in Real de Catorce.
We filmed the entire route. The play of light generated by the lights on the roof interacting with those of the cars. When we peek into the cabin of the pickup, we noticed that Sebastian and his people did the same, each passenger with their phone.
Back in the open sky, we descend and thank you for your kindness. We said goodbye to Sebastian. And Norma Martínez, who resisted on her shift.
From the mouth of the tunnel, we head towards the almost contiguous mountain path that leads to the abandoned mines.
Today, the thousands of visitors who give in to the suggestions of the jeans de Real, in permanent promotion of its guided tours.
In Search of Ghost town Above Real de Catorce
To us, it had seemed more suitable to go up on foot. We quickly reap rewards from the decision.
Early on, we managed to photograph one of these jeans who was towing horses, as he passed one of the largest trees of Joshua that we have seen to this day.
Little by little, the slope reveals the vast but compact houses of Real de Catorce, crowned by the Parróquia de la Purísima Concepción.
Here and there, seen among cacti, other Joshua trees and related desert bushes.
Some first ruins leave us confused. Deciding that it couldn't be just that, we entered the top of the mountain range.
A cobbled ramp appears from the path. When we followed it with our eyes, we detected a coyote.
Wandering, the creature stops. Examine us.
Then resume your steps. She stops on the slope again, appreciating us.
It only departs once and for all when we sketch an approach that would allow us better images.
The ruins of one of the haciendas miners don't take long, still tarnished by mercury stains and other waste and debris from which cacti and old chimneys protrude.
all one town abandoned and ghost, This is how the natives of Real de Catorce treat it, also aware that the terminology encourages visitors to pay for horseback rides.
The treatment seems to have spread to Real de Catorce in general. With its almost 1400 current inhabitants and 570 thousand registered visitors, during 2021 – an absolute record in a pandemic year – ghost town will now make little sense.
This was not always the case.
Real de Catorce: the Trambolhão of the Valor da Prata that dictated the abandonment
In 1900, the US government decreed the end of so-called bimetallism and decreed that the US dollar would be indexed to the value of gold.
From one moment to the next, the price of gold soared. That of silver has collapsed to numbers never seen before.
As if that weren't enough, the mining of the more accessible veins of Real de Catorce had already been exhausted. Its continuation proved to be complex and costly.
Faced with this dooming league of factors, property owners haciendas decided to leave the village and the region.
Their employees and miners followed suit.
A few years later, there were only a handful of inhabitants resistant to change, who subsisted on some silver that they managed to extract and – instead of, as before, giving in to the bosses – sell.
That was the height of the real ghost town of Real de Catorce.
We return to the edge of the slope, overlooking the village. We see the sun about to spread beyond the houses and the Chihuahua.
Like the great star, the temperature also plummeted.
The Night Return to Povoação
we resist admiring Real de Catorce responding to the pitch black, with a myriad of little lights generating gold on the facades and walls.
When the celestial vault was already almost in all its splendor, we inaugurated a clumsy return to the town, trailing a retinue of knights, stumbling and repelling.
At the corner of Calle Lanzagorta and Morelos, the RealBucks Café logo, emulated from the famous Starbucks, shone like never before.
Standing at their stalls, vendors offered champurrado e atole very hot, cozy alternatives, popular throughout Mexico.
We shared one of each, undecided as to which traditional drink we preferred.
Exhausted from the steep 12km of the day, we took shelter and recovered energy in the room at the Ruínas del Real hotel.
Real de Catorce: the Palenque, the Cemetery and the Chapel of Guadalupe
Dawn brings a new sunny day. We dedicate it to exploring another wing of the town of which we knew little or nothing. At first, in a desperate demand from the Palenque of local roosters.
He erected it, in a pretended Roman style, without peer in the country, an aficionado of cock fighting named Diego González Lavin, in order to profit from one of the pastimes that, along with bullfighting, best entertained the miners.
Restored in 1977, the palenque remains hidden and protected behind huge doors that, finally, opened to us by those responsible for tourism in Real de Catorce.
From the palenque, we point to the Real cemetery.
The Death and Celebration of Quiceñera Youth
When we get there, a funeral is taking place.
It is celebrated and played with guitars, trumpets and other wind instruments, some metallic and strident themes after others, with pauses that we thought were the end of the ceremony, but which always gave way to a few more.
Residents of Real de Catorce have long been buried around the chapel of Guadalupe. The temple floor even has gravestones that identify some of the Spanish pioneers in these parts.
The mourning entourage thus commemorated the death, among statuettes of Christ and gaudy plastic flowers.
At the same time, just below, overlooking another hill covered with Joshua trees, Paris Kimberly, a visitor from the neighboring town of Cedral, celebrated the youth of her life.
She was posing, clad in a scarlet dress, for a whirlwind of family photographs.
On the edge of the weekend, the new crowd would bring many more quinceñeras and their fun-seeking entourages.
WHERE TO STAY IN REAL DE CATORCE