Monday, March 14, 2011

Durango and Dolores del Rio

After our very brief foray into and through Mazatlan, we broke the golden rule of driving in Mexico: DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT. We headed for Durango, over a mountain road that defies logic in the USA. Twists, turns, lots of 18-wheeler truck traffic, no shoulders, no lines, narrower than any we'd ever been on, steep drop-off, but drop-dead gorgeous views (the little that we saw). Sorry, no photos. The road crosses the Espinazo del Diablo, the Devil's Backbone, and there were times I wish we had a car with even a shorter wheelbase. A few times an 18-wheeler rounded a curva peligroso (dangerous curve, as if a sign was needed) well out into the on-coming lane, and the approaching car had to back up to give clearance. The most amazing part was when we would come up behind an 18-wheeler chugging up a hill at a snail's pace, the driver would put on their left turn signal to indicate it was OK for us to pass. Yeah, right, like they could see around the curva peligroso dead ahead. It was one of those "had to check your shorts" drives...and I was only the passenger.

Once we arrived in Durango, several hours past our anticipated ETA, our vague map had us driving in circles. We kept narrowing it down, but realized that several streets surrounding the Hotel Don Miguel were blocked off and Policia were standing guard. I took my reservation sheet up to one group of policia and asked them "donde esta Hotel San Miguel?" Between gestures and a few words, a female officer asked where we were parked. She accompanied me to our car, and indicated that she would personally escort us through the barricades to the hotel. I crawled in the back with Ferg, she in the front and off we went. I kept hearing izquierda, derecha, again and again to tell Doug to turn left and right. Then, miraculously, we were there. I, of all people, was ready to praise the saints! She may have been one of the corrupt policia we always read about in Mexico, but at that moment I was singing her praise.

For a city that doesn't even get a mention in Fodor's and only a few paragraphs in other travel guides, we found Durango Mexico a charming colonial place that has been neither discovered nor abused by gringos.

Durango seems to have two claims to fame: Hollywood in Mexico and Dolores del Rio. Many Western movies starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Jack Nicholson were filmed in the area. Dolores del Rio, star of both Mexican and Hollywood cinema, was born in Durango. The sign confirms her great beauty, claiming something to the effect that in the history of photography, the two great beauties were Dolores del Rio and Greta Garbo.

The downtown or "centro" area is studded with high-end shops, restaurants, and a pedestrian street. Brightly colored facades on a crisp clear morning were very welcoming after the harrowing drive from Mazatlan, and we never strayed far from the hotel that day.
The only written English I saw in Durango was the plaque across from their famous Catedral. Read the story of Beatrice the Moon Nun, and you can decide for yourselves whether you believe it or not. Since we weren't there during a full moon, I can't confirm. But it is one of those stories that a veteran guide loves to be able to tell her group just when everybody is starting to fall asleep on the bus.

Beatrice the Moon Nun chose a fine church. It's architecture exemplifies the Churrigueresque style, which is characterized by "dazzling surface ornament that conveys flowing movement and obscures the form beneath." Thanks to the DK Eyewitness Travel series for that explanation. We concluded it was pink sandstone.

House #89, not particularly important, just a strikingly beautiful, though well eroded entryway, I thought.

Mexico's history is quite convoluted. The first uprising (unsuccessful) was in 1810 with the famous call to arms El Grito (The Cry); another four years later led by Jose Maria Morelos, also unsuccessful. Independence from Spain was finally achieved in 1821, but Mexico suffered quite a shady series of presidents until the Reforma in 1857. The Mexican Revolution was launched in 1910, and in 1917 the revolutionary constitution was passed. This woodcut, which was approximately 15' X 10', depicts several of these historic events as noted on the plaques in some of the angels hands.

We wandered into the Mercado Gomez Palacio, a huge, enormous, covered market. We took Fergus with us, which was a scary proposition for both him and everyone he encountered. The aisles were barely wide enough to squeeze through, it was noisy, there was absolutely no organization, rows of stalls veered off in all directions like spokes on a bicycle, and merchandise was displayed from floor to ceiling (12' tall). This shoe and boot repair individual must have been rather religious, based upon the posters hanging on the back wall.

The woman was furiously stirring some sort of seed or bean in a galvanized pan over a burner. I have no clue what the end product was to be.

There were lots of kids hanging out with family members, some even riding bicycles or tricycles through the maze of aisles in the market---little Tour de France competitors in the making.

Karla was very proud of her kitchen. I love the bowls in the foreground. Around the corner was the counter where she served all her patrons.

I don't think there was anything you couldn't buy at this market. The big problem was finding it. Leather chaps hung on display for Mexican caballeros. These things were thick.

We ended our evening with a nightcap at the Belmont Bar. We were definitely the only gringos in there. The wall behind the bar was plastered with photos of Hollywood movie stars and other famous folks. There's even a huge photos of the Beatles. Not sure if the Beatles ever played the Belmont Bar, but I doubt it.

At one point in the Belmont, four strumming musicians entered and started playing a little. They sounded real good and we wanted them to continue. Doug went up to the bartender, asked him to turn off the radio, paid to buy each of the band a drink and asked them to play. The radio was turned off, they drank their drink, but they never played. We finally left. But we did get to sit under a great photo of Dolores del Rio (on the left).


Bill Minckler said...

Great shots! By the much did you pay the woman in San Miguel de Allende in exchange for taking her picture? (Or did you even pay?)

North of Andorra said...

I gave the lady ten pesos, which amounts to about a dollar. It was the only change I had in my pocket. I would otherwise given her something like 5 pesos.

Peggy said...

I see lots of material for watercolor travel journal in your pictures. I love the boots, and yes the house numbers make a nice picture.