We left our cozy beach spot near Mazatlan and headed for the Sierra Madres along the cuota road. We looked at the libre road, and read the reviews about Espinazo del Diablo. We opted for the recently completed, newer highway with 115 bridges and 16 tunnels along the 140 mile route.
Let me pause to explain the word “cuota”. Along the major highways in Mexico there are generally two roadways. The LIBRE road is a free highway. Often it is a bit rougher surface, more potholes, narrower and less patrolled. The CUOTA road is a toll road that usually has a smoother surface, fewer obstacles and tends to be patrolled. We have found exceptions to this, so these (as with much here in Mexico) is just a finding not a fact.
The new road was completed in 2013. And I use the term “completed” quite loosely, as it is still under construction in many places. It is quite heavily used by the large trucks, because the twists and turns and steep grades of the old road were nearly impassable for the double-trailer rigs that would run this route. This heavy, large traffic makes it a different kind of adventure.
The heavy, double trucks are either blazing downhill, directly towards you, or chugging uphill just around the next bend (so slowly that you drop your speed and get stuck behind them)
But the views of the Sierra Madre are fantastic. And down each canyon and dirt road is nestled a dusty, little Mexican village. Most are clinging to the hillsides of these imposing mountains. Their lives and futures have certainly changed with the completion of this new, efficient roadway. The Devils Spine is forever changed.
We arrived in Durango on a busy market day. The streets were filled with shoppers and visitors (Semana Santa was just getting started) so we lost ourselves in the crowds and wandered around. The Plaza de Armas was holding street market and also a workers protest. That was interesting. Across the street we snuck into the cathedral while it was open for a service. Durango is still a historical colonial city below its bustling trade center surface. It has clearly struggled with the changes to modern times and needs of the residents. The contrast between old and new is interesting.
Much of Durango was designed in a Baroque style, as it was conquered by the Spaniards for the reported deposits of silver in the 1600’s. But later it was discovered to actually be iron deposits in the area. We will tell more about that later in this story, as we discuss La Ferreria. (are you signed up to follow our blog? You will have new stories emailed to you as soon as they are posted!)
Our curiosity led us to the large Mercado Gomez Palacio. This huge indoor market sold everything from cheap Chinese imported plastic bits to beautiful, handcrafted leather saddles and boots. You could literally buy ANYTHING here, including pets, drugs, food, clothing and more. Following our noses to the scent of spicy food, we found the center section. They were selling freshly prepared gorditas and we proceeded to burn off our lips and tongues on the spicy, shredded-meat filled pockets. The banana licuados soothed the burn. It was a yummy lunch and we were ready for the museum.
The archeology museum was reportedly the best museum in town, so we headed that direction. We found it easily and enjoyed the displays inside the cool space of the thick, stone walls. All of the information is in Spanish, but we made sense of some of it. The focus was on the native people of this region of Mexico. It explained how sites were excavated and then displayed some findings. One of the most interesting displays was the information on the use of head-binding to change skull shape. The shapes of the skulls indicated the affiliation with a group of people (loosely translated to “tribe”) Each infant’s head was bound to produce the desired shape. In the photo below you can see a collection of skulls. Each one has a characteristic such as a protruding brow, bulging side, flat rear skull, flat forehead or high skull. It was startling, yet interesting.
Returning to the truck (which was had parked in a grocery store parking lot) was a simple walk and the dogs were happy to see us. I am sure they had a busy day of people-watching. We set our maps for La Ferreria and left the bustling city center.
Next up— An archeological site with the Northernmost pyramid site ever excavated. The area includes a ball court, and various housing structures with courtyards.