It was a long trip out last Sunday, and everything went gloriously wrong. The Diplomat and I were planning a trip to the Volcano in Colima, going on to Laguna de Carrizalillo, maybe finishing up in Comala. We planned for it to take the whole day. It did.
We started out early with the Diplomat driving. It was about 5am and I told him I was going back to sleep until Ciudad Guzman. When I woke up a couple hours later, we had passed Ciudad Guzman by 45 minutes. At that point it was easier to go on to Comala and make our way back North, starting at the last planned stop of the trip.
We started off at a museum dedicated to a local artist who began restoration and preservation in the area on his own. The roads are all cobblestone, the car vibrating as it rolled through. The houses looked old, but well maintained. Most of it looked like it was from another age, with only the satellite dishes and endless wires to show the real era. It will be interesting to see what happens when we can transfer electricity without the wires. Mexico has the ascetic beauty to be amazing, but it’s been wrapped in the ugly parts of modern technology, but without order or maintenance. I hope they pause as a society and take the time to make the place functional and beautiful again.
The museum and garden were closed that early, so we wandered past, walking up a cobblestone road that headed into the mountains. There were a number of farms and old structures, some collapsing, others looked like they were still lived in. It was beautiful, every step taking us further into the feeling of old Mexico.
Comala itself is a nice place, small town, good street tacos, nothing going on on Sunday mornings. There was a beautiful old church, oddly empty for a Sunday morning. I’m still used to people going to mass in the morning, getting it out of the way so they can have their day free. The people here tend to go later, after family breakfast and before family lunch and dinner. Sunday is family day, a day to share, laugh, and talk in a way Americans only do on a holiday.
After, we headed North on one of the old highways, away from the modern toll roads. We passed a couple small towns, including one that was supposed to be our dinner spot. One of my students told me about a restaurant in the woods called Los Portales de Suchitlan. I doubt it was open when we passed through around 9am, so we continued on to La Laguna de Carrizalillo.
The lagoon is surrounded by a small park, very old, slowly being eaten by nature. There was a tower where you could get a great view, but the ladder was old and rusted. As always in Mexico, there were no warning signs, but reason triumphed over stupidity and we walked away through the woods. We made our way down to the water where you can see both peaks of the Volcano. The two are commonly called the Fire Volcano and the Snow Volcano. The Fire Volcano was just starting to smoke, earning its reputation of constant activity. As the day went on the cloud continued to expand, covering the peaks like a storm.
We continued on, passing through Queseria, a town that was once a cheese making village, but now is just an old rusting factory surrounded by a few blocks of houses on all sides. We hit a dead end, overlooking the valley below. In some ways, old Mexico looks a lot like the Italian countryside in all those old movies. Expanses of farms and fields, with a few trees scattered around, surrounded by mountains in the distance.
We continued along old route 54, back tracking after we passed San Marcos. There is an old road that leads to the 54D, the new toll road that cuts across the countryside. One recommendation, when a road is listed as Unnamed Road in Google maps, and is only paved with dirt and gravel, don’t try and take it in a Nissan. It was a slow ride, and part of it was amazingly well maintained for an abandoned road that is just a series of dead ends and decaying construction. On the way back I got out, trying to keep the car from repeatedly scraping on the massive speed bumps placed every fifty meters along the road. I got some amazing pictures, and I named the car Belly Scratch. I call that an excellent failure.
We got back on the main road and continued on, passing through an area where a new bridge is being built to bypass the old winding roads in the mountains. It looks like something out of fantasy, massive columns meant to hold up a highway when it’s done. Amazing, and yet still taking away from the natural beauty of the mountains.
We entered Atenquique around noon, stopping to get caffeine and snacks. It was a long time in the car, and we hadn’t slept much the night before. The town looks like it once was a mining colony, the buildings looking nothing like the colonial Mexican buildings you find in the Pueblas Majicas and the tourist towns. It was simple, clean, beautiful, and old. Not everything was well maintained, but not in a way of pure neglect. It looked like a lack of funds preventing real repairs, a bit worn around the edges, but a town where people lived, not expecting unannounced guests. The church was a strange style for Catholicism, and some of the statues inside had a 1970’s feel to them, the Holy Family stretched to unnatural height and proportion, but still beautiful. The Diplomat said the style reminded him of old Russian architecture, like you would have seen in the Cold War. It reminded me of Orsen Wells movie 1984, like there was a strange distance, almost fear, emanating from the statues.
From there the trip back to Ciudad Guzman was relatively short and easy. It’s a city like Guadalajara, but better maintained, cleaner, and a bit smaller. They were setting up for an event, some religious festival. We stopped for dinner, finding a pizza place for the Diplomat to earn my disdain in. Really, who the fuck puts French’s mustard on pizza, for fucks sake. This was easily the most aggravating part of the trip, an almost futile effort of self-control on my part, trying not to slap the food out of his hand. I have no respect for people who fail to grasp the importance of pizza.
We went back into the city, asking for directions to Nevado de Colima, the park on the snow peak. The directions were simple, go straight with one turn right and left to take the road up the mountain. I use the word road in the loosest sense of the word. It was like the Unnamed Road that went nowhere, but up the mountain with massive tracks cut into it by the runoff from storms. It never seemed like a good idea, but we tried until the engine started to heat up. We abandoned the trip after about fifteen minutes, because going up a dirt road on a mountainside in a Nissan is a stupid idea. The car can’t deal with the stress.
We stopped to let the car cool a bit before going back down the mountain, giving up long before it redlined on the thermostat. Unfortunately, the rubber hoses were not new, and one of them blew apart under the pressure, dumping all the coolant and severely limiting our ability to leave. There was no laughter, minimal blaming, and a discussion on what we should do after the park rangers failed to answer the emergency phone line. Fortunately a family was passing by in the other direction and they were nice enough to take us back to the gas station on the highway where we could try to get in touch with the insurance company.
The benches in Oxxo are not comfortable, and the insurance agent was moderately stupid. It took three different tow companies before the agent understood the concepts of “on the mountainside,” “dirt road,” and “no, not on the highway.” It started to get aggravating after a couple hours, but still not as aggravating as French’s mustard on pizza.
We eventually got a cab and headed back into Ciudad Guzman after we found a company specializing in towing cars off the mountain. Fortunately we didn’t make it far enough to be really dangerous for the towtruck. Still, night had fallen, and the ash the volcano was spewing covered the mountain like a storm, making it impossible to see well enough to go after the car.
We discussed ideas, trying to decide if I should stay in town or head back and leave the Diplomat to deal with the problem. The thing was, I could distract him for the night, but my presence in the morning would just interfere with him dealing with the car. He was going to have the car towed back to Guadalajara, and most towtrucks are simple trucks with a cab, not really designed to hold more than two people. I wound up grabbing the last bus back home, which worked out since there were two towtruck drivers, meaning we would have been trying to cram four people into the front of the truck.
It was an aggravating end to a day of amusing frustration and beautiful mistakes. The one lesson I will take from this is, no matter how bad life becomes, there is nothing as frustrating as watching someone cover a piece of pizza with French’s mustard. Not like a few dots, but almost completely obscuring any glimpse of the slice. Fuck that.