Zacatecas is famous for having once been a very strong provider of silver, hence it’s nickname “The Silver City”, but it’s also famous for having a lot of buildings built with the same pinkish material: “cantera rosa”. So although the buildings are majestic, big, full of glorious detail and homage to the past, they look pink (a light, slight tanned pink). That’s not to say it takes away any of the majesty, hugeness, glory and detail, but it was very impressive change from all the brown, grey, brick and stone we had witnessed so far. I kinda loved it. Plus the three days we were there the sky was always blue and with cotton looking clouds, almost like a painting, so it was perfect for our picture taking addiction. We gave it the honor of our seal of approval in photogenicness.
Here we were unable to get in contact with any Couchsurfers, so we had to settle with a hostel. After having not done enough (by our standards) in Guadalajara, we were determined to do the most we could in Zacatecas. So the day after arriving we got up relatively early and ventured the city. We started with the cathedral, which is famous for all it’s elaborate decorating, but the front decoration is where it’s true beauty lies. It was a sight for sore eyes. Coming from a city in which our big cathedral is mostly plain, I am constantly impressed with all that the religious missions left behind, and each major city has a different one to boast.
Next was the Zacatecas museum, which is in the old Casa de la Moneda. It’s a beautiful (fairly new) museum, and we spent three hours there. Later we also visited the Mina de Eden, which is a silver mine that has been abandoned since the government revoked it’s permit (too close to the city, therefor too dangerous); then we went to the top of Zacatecas through the Teleférico, climbed to the top of the famous Cerro de la Bufa, and then walked all the way down to witness the city at night. So I think it’s safe to say it was a productive day.
So far we had mostly been in cities where everything had been accommodated for the buildings, so it was mostly flat and criss-cross. But Zacatecas was built in a way that it’s labyrinthesque and it wraps itself around the hills with no concern for gravity or the human pace. It climbs and dives softly enough to tire us out after only 10 minutes of walking, and it asks us to make a bigger effort next time. We struggled to keep our breath at moments, but through effort and adrenaline we kept going everywhere.
We only fully got to know the centro histórico of Zacatecas (a bit of the rest on our way out), but as backpackers in our own country, this is more or less the point. We’re not looking for the neighborhoods and commercial areas that are now a days a copy/paste version of what we see in Tijuana or any other city in Mexico (with small differences). So we go looking for the original authenticity that came with the early settlements and conquests that had little mixing to do with the neighboring states. We are honestly getting a better historic and cultural education than we ever got at school just by walking around, reading the notes, listening to people talk about their town, hearing a local guide, and witnessing the buildings and historical inheritance ourselves.
It’s part of the wonder of Mexico: climate, surroundings, building materials, and Indigenous people vary every two hours of road or so. Every city is different, cultural heritage is different, point of view on historic events are different, and obviously the food is different too. Zacatecas was very different from what we’d seen so far. As I mentioned, Guadalajara felt like a Mexico City Jr, Chapala was a once colorful pueblo being dominated by tourism, Uruapan and Zamora were very similar, Morelia was a less busy city with a peaceful feel to it, and Mexico City is… Well… Mexico City (it’s an incomparable monster). But Zacatecas had a different spice to it, like being a little lost in time while running forward to the future, strongly acknowledging the indigenous people that leave behind their own patterns and colors, remembering the Spanish influence, and keeping everything else Mexican clean, ordered and in it’s own little space.
Although, as a Mexican, the culture everywhere in my country is not foreign to me, it’s practically a stranger I’ve been introduced to only once when I was young. So the experience of noticing the differences that arise as we move states is more than rewarding. And all the knowledge that we are sponging up is the better reward we get from our efforts in traveling on the cheap.