Travel Blog 16: Mountain Villages
Driving highway 120, Blaze hit a nasty speed bump without any warning. The entire car was shook up, but luckily no issues with tires or noticeable problems otherwise. Knowing the next 165 miles (to Xlitla) would be desolate, mountainous, curvy, and very dangerous for a long distance, I decided to get a room at Hotel La Mansion.
For $35, I had a balcony and private parking beside a swimming pool. I was five minutes walking from centro where I observed locals selling ice cream, tacos, and candy packets. Stores hung shirts from their awning. Speaker stores blasted loud music. “Zapaterias” displayed hundreds of shoes. All of a person’s essential needs are covered in the area around the plaza. I bought an assortment of vegetables to cook on my hotel balcony.
San Jose Iturbide is a hidden gem, full of genuine people with the Guanajuato vibe. There is incredible energy in that state and I would love to stay, but I must go to Xlitla. Four different people along my journey took a sigh in their breathe when they mentioned that place to me. I knew the road would be rough and tough, but I couldn’t pass up this adventure. Highway 120 would be my home for the next six days and 165 miles.
The beginning was pretty challenging with heat blazing up the environment, desert views distracting me from sharp curves around the mountain. My speed rarely rose above 25 miles per hour. Topés (speed bumps) still popped up out of nowhere. Dodging potholes and roadside cliffs is a crucial game for Blaze’s sake. At one point, two individuals appeared out of nowhere, stopping me for information of where I was going. They sat in two chairs under an umbrella to shield the hot sun, documenting all cars that passed. When the woman with a clipboard and man in a police uniform stepped to the car, I had no idea their words. I froze at first. Then I saw the officer’s gun and I grew more nervous. I understood none of what they were saying. I pulled out my papers and said, “Voy a Xlitla.” They wrote my name down, granting me access to one of the wildest roads I’ve ever driven.
Once I finished the first 50 miles, I was relieved to be done until I found myself lost in the village at the bottom. Navigation guided me to some off road route where Blaze had to bounce up and down on rocks and even cross a water stream. Once again, I said, “Sorry Blaze, but this time you can blame your sister, navigation.” We made it back to concrete for more twists and turns. About two hours in, the road climbed to a major elevation change. I reached a parking area that had a viewing deck to observe the entire area. The wind gusted ferociously as the sun was dipping closer to the mountain. Admiring the power of this environment, I knew I needed to find a place to sleep before dark. The only stop I made was to help a guy pulled over on a very small turnoff. He looked frantic, needing help. The only word I understood him say was, “Agua.” I pulled out one of my jugs for him to use. He poured it into the coolant of his car, expressing a great deal of appreciation. I grabbed the jug back and continued up the steep road. When nerves kicked in, I was relieved to see busses dropping off local people in their villages. It’s a reminder to slow my mind down. People live here. It may be extreme for me at that moment, but I must appreciate what daily life is like for them. I continued driving until I reached the highest point of the mountain, seeing a fútbol field filled with locals playing their evening game. I reached a village called Pinal de Amoles. Little did I realize, this “pueblo” was exactly what I was looking for.
I spent the night parked in the plaza, consisting of only a roundabout with a small hotel, an essential items store, and a pizza taco restaurant. Wandering around, I found a path that led to the local fútbol field. With the sky getting darker, a perched rock called my name. I sat, watching locals play soccer, listening to music from surrounding homes, and gazing out at the beastly mountain I had just driven through. Walking around, I observed people that claim this rugged environment home. Gaining the opportunity to understand life in this mountain town, even if just for one night, provided these wonderful moments that I’ll never forget.