Hildago de Parral and Durango – Riding the Sierra Madre
I broke my cardinal rule number one this evening as I rode into Hidalgo de Parral, a small city halfway between Creel and Durango in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Riding in the dark. A late start compounded with mile after mile of tight and twisty turns, a few hours of rain and a hail storm caused a 4 hour ride to last more than 6.
Rolling into this town where Pancho Villa, the notorious bandito turned revolutionary was murdered. Later his corpse was decapitated and in the mid 1960’s his body was moved to Mexico City where visitors can visit his grave today. I’ll always remember Parral, as it is referred to by locals, as the place I had the worse dinner in Mexico to date.
Our goal for today was to make it to Durango before nightfall. A modest goal punctuated by the fact that the roads are less twisty and in good shape. But another late start and more rain has us rolling into Jeremiah’s sister city during nightfall. We’ve been riding in the same direction and sharing meals and road talk with the couple from Indiana, Dave and Deb. But we get hammered by rain once again. Fortunately, I haven’t taken the GoreTex liner out of my riding gear. From the experience over the last couple days, I better keep it in and prepare for longer rides and lots more rain. And while slightly scary, the rough weather system moving from the coast to the Sierra Madre is ominous with dark brooding clouds, dramatic lighting bolts and booming thunder.
Durango is spectacular at night. The streets lit up celebrating the anniversary of the revolution. The center of town is rich in colonial architecture, punctuated by the Plaza de Armas and the baroque Catedral Basilica Menor, constructed between 1695 to 1750. Durango was founded in 1563, just a scant 70 years after Columbus made his maiden voyage, by Francisco de Ibarra who named it after the Spanish city of his birth. Jeremiah is especially excited to be here from his home in Durango, Colorado.
Sundays on the Plaza de Aramas is when the local people pour out of the Catedral and stroll along the plaza. Usually a live band performs on the bandstand in the plaza, but today it’s an opportunity for the national healthcare agency to promote healthcare and birth control. A Spanish jingle is repeated dozens of times as the healthcare services mascot, a fictional Dr. Simi bops and dances to the music while workers hand out miniature dolls of Dr. Simi, small first aid kits, free condoms and offer free medical consultations.
We walk to the south side of the plaza and are taken back by another colonial structure that once served as a Jesuit monastery and now houses the administrative offices for the University of Juarez. Closed on Sunday but we convince the “guard” an older man with thick glasses and walking with a cane to lets us roam the building. Passing through the tall double doors we walk into an open courtyard lush with greenery and sporting tall palm trees.
Perhaps what I like most about traveling is taking my time and walking through the neighborhoods that flank my hotel. This morning we stumbled into a small hole in the wall cafe where “grandma” works on a traditional stove to cook us breakfast. With only 4 or 5 seats in the entire place, grandma takes here time to meticulously prepare our breakfast of huevos, jamon, chili’s and frijoles. She wraps each of our forks in a napkin and clumsily brings our breakfast to the table. It’s the type of a place that I feel most tourists would be afraid to go in. Not there is any place to “go in” as the entire eatery takes up less than 200 square feet. The meal is fantastic. And with full stomach’s Jeremiah and I head to Zacatecas, in the heart of the Spanish colonial Sierra Madre.
Photos: (1) Catedral Basilica Menor at night in Durango, Mexico; (2) Dr. Simi promoting population control, safe sex and health for the people of Durango on Sunday in the Plaza de La Armas; (4) view of courtyard and tower in former Jesuit Monastary now administrative offices for the University of Juarez in Durango; (5) Grandma Victoria cooked us a legendary breakfast. Her hole in the wall cafe is on the west side of the cathedral.