Week 40: San Luis Potosi & Real de Catorce. Mexico

I decided I wanted to do some volunteer work to relax and recharge the batteries.  I thought I was going to the mountains but obviously didn’t do a tap of research and ended up in one of Mexico’s most religious towns; San Luis Potosi. Trying to make the most of my time here I figured I could volunteer in a restaurant to get some experience. I had looked up cookery courses but they were working out really expensive. So I thought this was an excellent way at getting free food, free cookery classes and a chance to improve my Spanish that was until I met Regina…..

One of the many churches in San Luis Potosi

I looked up on my lonely planet authentic Mexican restaurants and Cafe Pacifico was top of the list so with no deliberation I decided to give it a go. I was interviewed on the spot by owner Yuan. Trying to explain myself in Spanish was a bit of disaster. He was more obsessed with the fact I was travelling solita. He finally agreed and said I would be safer in the kitchen than on the streets! Anyway I wasn’t arguing and we agreed I would start the following day at 9am. I was absolutely delighted with myself and really excited to learn about Mexican cuisine. My excitement was short-lived when I met Regina, the head chef. I tried to introduce myself  the response was just a grunt. She was the type of woman who looked 70 but was actually 50. She made it quite clear she was pissed off having me there. I tried to be as positive as possible which pissed her off even more.My first job was to cut a couple of hundred chilis. My hands were on fire for the rest of the day and subsequently my eyes (and other body parts!).

Regina may as well have been speaking Hebrew that’s how impossible it was to understand her Spanish. She would shout random words at me one of which being ‘pollo’ repeatedly. The girl doing the dish washing translated for me saying that  I actually needed to boil 50 chicken carcasses (delightful). This was a disaster as I ended up dropping one of the carcasses by slipping in  a puddle (I’m blaming my cheap Colombian shoes on that one). There was blue murder when she witnessed the chicken incident. Regina regularly commented about how slow a worker I was! Progress was made later that day when Regina asked me how old I was and asked me if the soup needed any more salt. I said no it was perfect and subsequently a fistful of salt was lashed in!

I will say one thing I was impressed with Regina’s stamina. The woman was as thin as a rack and told me she didn’t really like eating. In fairness to her although she was like a demon the Woman worked like a trooper and watching her made me dizzy. She has worked in Cafe Pacificio for almost 35 years so I completely understand why she didn’t want me lurking around the place. The hygiene standards left a lot to be desired with raw fish, chicken and vegetables all  being chopped on the same boards (naturally). A lump of meat fell on the floor and was just thrown back into the pan with the rest of it.  It was incredible nobody took a break  during the day.  I was literally about to keel over with tiredness that I kept pretending I needed the loo just so I could sit down. These women work like machines and get paid pittens. Serious respect especially for the dishwashers. They never once complained and had one of the toughest jobs.  It brought me back to my days working on the belt in the MPH except for the minus craic. I had agreed 2 weeks work with the owner but after that hellish day I happily through in the towel after day 1 and said Hasta Luego. Raging I don’t have a photo of Regina but it was too risky she probably would have cut off my fingers!

It turns out the hostel didn’t actually need me to work for a few days so I decided to make the most of the free time and go to Real de Catorce. This place is incredible and not like anything I’ve seen before. It previously had a population of 40,000 because of the silver mines in the surrounding hills. Once mining declined the population dropped to almost zero. It is famous now with the hippy population who come here searching for Peyote. Peyote is a hallucinogenic cactus (not my kinda gig). The village is built-in a high mountain valley located in the middle of the desert.

Hippy Central
This view was just above the place where I pitched my tent

The only way to get into town is through this incredible 2 km tunnel. It feels like your going through a mine with only one car able to pass at a time. A lot of miners were sadly killed during the building of this tunnel.

Trust cocoa cola to be found in the middle of the desert

I decided to camp here because the scenery was spectacular and accommodation was v expensive. I know I promised to put the tent in the bin but I figured one last outing wouldn’t hurt. I instantly befriended the most adorable dogs; Cracker and Cookie. There was no one else camping which is always a little scary especially during the night. But I knew I was in good hands with my new dog friends. My tent and sleeping bag were still wet/sandy from the camping expedition in Panama. It was a stunning afternoon so I left them out to dry and explored the town.

Typical buildings in Real de Catorce
Local lad just having a sit
Entrance to the local church

Myself, Cookie and Cracker went for a few beers. We were then joined by Iv, a Mexican friend I made on the bus. Iv was a gem and brought me all the freebies from her lovely hotel like fruit, yogurts and shampoo. She completely gets the backpacking life. Iv it was lovely meeting you and I will see you in Merida. We went wandering around the town to find somewhere for dinner when  a massive thunder-storm broke out. It actually took me ages to realise that I had left my tent open and my sleeping bag was outside ‘drying’. Disaster!

Doesn’t look the prettiest but does the job (kind of)

Dinner was as authentic as it gets in a local Woman’s kitchen. I went for the enchiladas de los mineros, a local delicacy and a cafe oyelo. It is coffee sweetened with some natural plant. Iv went for the reliable gortditas.

This summarises Mexican dining in one

That night was always going to a rough one. The winds were incredible and I thought the tent was going to blow away. Both of us were looking a little worse for wear but we made it through a sleepless wet night. I was greeted by Cracker and Cookie full of the joys of life waiting outside my tent. The three of us set off together to get some breakie. I had planned on trekking into the desert into one of the nearby towns. It was stunning and Cracker and Cookie decided they were game and tagged along.

Walking to Estacion
Some of the views along the way
Desert style graffiti

We lost Cracker along  the way poor fella was beefed and had to go home. Myself and Cookie made it to the pueblo where naturally enough there was nothing to eat. We were both starving. All that was on off offer was stale bread, beer and water. So that’s exactly what was on the menu. Cookie looked as if I had given him a T-bone steak.  After our feed we made our way back up the dreaded hills.

Cactus at every corner
The most delicious tuna fruit
A very drunk Caesar and the legendary Cookie having a beer

En route back Cookie was in a heap and ran toward any shade he could find. We ended up taking about 3 siestas and plenty of breaks in between until we crawled back into the town and went to the only open restaurant.

Trekking to Estacion
Cookie full of beans trekking around Real de Catorce

We caught the tail end of a storm so we were both freezing. I ordered Menudo what I thought was a rich vegetable soup turns out it was quite the opposite. It was a very typical Mexican dish of cow’s stomach. It was Cookie’s lucky day I  wasn’t able to stomach the soup (if you will pardon the pun) so Cookie got to finish the goods after I requested a doggy a bag!!!

Minging Menudo aka cow’s stomach soup

I got chatting to Sipriano, the restaurant owner. He was most entertaining albeit extremely deaf. We were both essentially screaming at each other in very bad Spanish. We definitely  scared a few customers off. After some cafe oyelos myself and Cookie made it back to the tent absolutely beefed. A fab day with the best company.

Catalina was very proud of her food ( and rightly so)
Sipriano an 83-year-old Mexican messer

After another sleepless night I was awoken by Cracker and Cookie sniffing out my tent. The three of us set off for a breakie of gortditas and a mosie around the stunning town.

The stunning town of Catorce
Central Plaza

To get the bus back to San Luis I had to make my way through the 2 km tunnel the issue was Cracker and Cookie hadn’t left my side in 3 days. I tried to say my goodbyes to them urging them not to follow me but to no avail. The tunnel is narrow and pitch black so I was worried for them. Afraid of missing the last bus I hadn’t much choice but to go through. I tried to keep the dogs safe but all of a sudden a motorbike came out of no where and ran over Cracker. I starting screaming at the motorbike as Cracker was still under his wheels as he kept driving. Words can’t describe this asshole. Miraculously Cracker was ok and just had a big chunk taken out of his coat. He immediately sprinted out of the tunnel shaking with the fright. We all followed to see was he ok. I figured the bus could wait. We went for corn on the cob to settle the nerves. I had no idea how I was going to leave Real de  Catorce without adopting two  new furry friends.

Cookie the amazing survivor!

Luckily I found a bus going through the tunnel. Cracker and Cookie desperately tried to get on the bus with me until they were kicked off. It was really emotional and I could hear them crying from inside the bus. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the other end of the tunnel to transfer onto the main bus to San Luis. To my amazement who was waiting excitedly for me outside but Cracker and Cookie. I still have no idea how they made it through the tunnel that quickly. It was so sad and I pleaded with the bus man to take him back to the town safely. Bus man agreed…..

Leaving Real de Catorce
Trekking through Real de Catorce
Always time for a bit of bird watching

I was so sad on the bus and really worried about Cracker and Cookie’s safety when the Man next to me kept tapping my shoulder and pointing out the window. Who do I see but Cracker and Cookie sprinting after the bus.  This went on for a solid 15 minutes until the bus stopped to pick up an auld one. The dogs made one final attempt to get back on the bus until angry sombrero man kicked them off with his walking stick. It was heart breaking stuff. These were without a doubt the most loyal dogs I have ever met.  I felt like I was in a movie. I absolutely loved Real de Catorce it was such an authentic experience but it was Cracker and Cookie who made it so special.

Saying our goodbyes (Cracker)
Cookie my best travel buddie in 10 months

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