Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Plans Change in Taxco

April 22nd to 28th

Taxco was originally settled by the Aztes, and then later by the Spaniards after Hernan Cortes inquired about the origins of a coin he was given; he was searching for the source of the tin it contained. On arriving in Taxco, the Spaniards found not tin but iron, but that was OK and they stayed anyway. 200 hundred years later they found silver and now the place has more silver shops than the rest of the world combined.
An estimated 900 silver vendors do business in this town of around 100,000 people. If you're not the shop guy, you're the guy making the stuff, and if you're not that guy, you're the one looking for the tourists to buy the stuff. This is a silver town. Designs are original, craftmanship outstanding and the competition is fierce.

I guess there was no other reason that could possibly persuade sane people to build a town here. Nowadays inhabitants spend more time trying not to slide off the mountain than actually mining it. It's a tough place to ride a fully laden bici....

It's also another of Mexico's "Puebla Magicos" - magic towns that offer the traveler just that little bit more than other, less enchanted destinations....

I like it. Big business has been forced to tone down it's garish shop frontage and blend in. Streets are cobbled and the place has an olde worlde charm with teeny tiny plazas crammed in between miniature buildings. Nothing is large here - there is just no flat land to build on other than the beautiful Plaza Borda where Indian laurel trees provide the shade in front of pink stoned Santa Prisca Church.... 

The rest of the town is precipitous. One museum walks you in the front door and leads you through a couple of rooms overlooking a 4 story drop at the back! It's all steps and higgledy piggledy alleyways that disorientate and confuse....

Bloody difficult to get about with heavy shopping as these locals take a breather in altitude depleted air.

However, plans change when the Swine flu hits. Originally we planned to stay a day or so and then ride the 2 days into Mexico City. This all changes when the panic hits and Mexico starts to close down. It would be pointless to ride there now, and maybe a little dangerous as well, so we decide to stay a little longer and watch the news unfold.

It gives us a little time to sight see at Las Grutas de Cacahuamilpa (big caves) where you are guided into a simply gargantuan cavern. The tour stretches over 2kms into this subterranean expanse and the tour is apparantly hilarious judging by the Mexican's reactions. Unfortunately, my Spanish lets me down in amongst the confounding echoes....

And then all the museums and some of the restaurants here begin to close. Blue face masks are starting to appear and the smell of disinfectant pervades the air as people begin to murmur and whisper. Nothing deters the silver merchant in the various markets and the ever industrious VW taxis though....

However, after 5 days we decide to make a break for it and take a bus around the outskirts of Mexico City (MC). I hate taking buses and this breaks the chain where we ride the whole route, Canada to Panama, but at this point things are looking grim. MC is officially closed, the death toll is 190 and rising. Flights from Peru and Argentina have been cancelled and travelers are leaving before the airport closes down completely. We don't want to leave Mexico, but we don't want to be trapped this side of MC either. So we take the bus to Puebla, figuring if things worsen we can still fly home from this major city. If things impove we are still  on route heading South and East. MC sounds dangerous at this point and in any case is a washout as everything will be closed for the forseable future. It's a bitter blow. I hate breaking the chain and I know how these guys feel. 

Writing now with 20/20 hindsight, the swine flu threat is being played down in the media and the world is on the verge of questioning Mexico's "over reaction". Amazingly, these same people simultaneously forget that they had earlier criticised the Mexican government for not acting quickly enough. The media is as capricious as ever! Taking the bus was the right thing to do given the situation and information available at the time. Even now MC is only just returning completely to normal and nobody then could say for certain what the extent of the threat was.

But the chain is broken and I still hate taking buses!!


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