Subject: Weekend away from Mexico City - travelogue
Here's my travelogue from the weekend jaunt we took a week ago....

My husband and I had heard about a silver mining area north of Mexico City in the state of Hidalgo, little-known among foreigners, and decided to visit last weekend. We first drove to the city of Pachuca, 90 kms away. Pachuca is a rather ugly city, and, besides an interesting bell tower on the main square, there really wasn't much else worth seeing. The bell tower was a gift from England, built in the early 20th century, and its bell mechanism was made by the clock makers who made Big Ben.

Nine kms north of Pachuca is the lovely little town of Mineral del Monte, also known as Real del Monte. The urban plan of this town dates back to the 16th century, and all over town there are monuments and artwork dedicated to the mining industry and the miners. After the War of Independence, foreigners were allowed to invest in the mines, and between 1824-1849 mining went into British hands. Besides some English architecture, even today there are still some English traditions there - we heard several very English-sounding names, and one of the most popular things in the region is the Cornish pastie, called pastes! We couldn't go more than 50 meters without seeing another sign advertising them for sell.

We fell in love with Mineral del Monte as soon as we first saw it, but decided that, since we had planned on spending the night there, we would continue on first to other towns, and then later come back. We drove on another several kms to the small town of Omitlan, which was described as a picturesque town enclosed at the end of a ravine, but didn't find it particularly picturesque, so we continued on some 10 kms further to the small town of Huasca, a small colonial town which was definitely more picturesque. All along the way to Huasca, we saw signs advertising a hotel called Hotel Hacienda San Miguel Regla, so we decided to have a look at after visiting Huasca, since it was only 2 kms further. San Miguel Regla turned out to be an entire city on its own: a beautiful, 17th century building, surrounded by a lake and forest, with its big compound laid out on a hill, and a swimming pool, tennis, miniature golf, a game room with billards, ping pong and more. It was the perfect place for a couple wanting to get away from the city for a weekend. Within the compound, I saw an advertisement for a tourist excursion to the Prismas Basalticos. I didn't know what it was, but as it looked interesting, I made a mental note of it.

We then headed back to Mineral del Monte. We didn't want to arrive too late, since we still had to look for a place to stay. Also, we didn't want to be driving on winding, mountain roads in the dark.

Driving along the mountain road, some 15 minutes later, from way up high, we could see Omitlan way down in the ravine. It was quite a sight, although it still didn't look particularly picturesque.

Ten minutes later we were back in Mineral del Monte. We stopped in town to check out a nearby hotel, and were surprised to find that it was full. Then we were shocked to find out that, besides the hotel, there were no other accommodations except for a chalet outside of town. We also discovered that Mineral del Monte was a popular weekend destination for Mexicans - I started having visions of having to drive all the way back to Pachuca and spend a night in a hotel in that ugly city!

As we were leaving the town, I saw a sign advertising a room for tourists in a private home, so we stopped to investigate. The room was very gloomy, there were 2 dogs there that didn't stop barking for a second, and the man wanted much more money than it was worth. Still, I would have stayed there rather than go back to Pachuca, but my husband said the place gave him the creeps, so we continued on to check out the chalet. It was called the Villa Alpina Chalet, and we got lucky - they had one family-size chalet left, which they let us have for the price of a 2-person chalet. It was a lovely little place consisting of individual chalets, each one architecturally different and looking like Swiss chalets, complete with some mining statues out in front. Each individual chalet had a fireplace as well as a gas heater. A fireplace and heater in Mexico? Hard to believe, but at 3000 meters above sea level - and the highest town in the country - it gets pretty darn cold! We then went back into town and spent a few hours there before coming back to the chalet to enjoy a delicious dinner in their restaurant (where there was also live music).

Next morning before we left, I inquired about the Prismas Basalticos, and discovered that they were located near Huasca, so since we had lots of time, we decided to visit them later that day. We first headed out to Mineral del Chico, a small village located in the national park of the same name. It was no more than 20 kms from Mineral del Monte, but it was a very windy, mountain road - the only road that lead to the town. Mineral del Chico, built on a steep hill, had a cobblestone road running through it with a church at the bottom, and reminded us of a Swiss village in the mountains. We came across a little silver shop with the most beautiful and original jewellry designs, and my personal fashion consultant (my husband) insisted I buy several pieces. He didn't hear any objections from me!

We left Mineral del Chico and headed back towards Huasca. The turn-off for Prismas Basalticos, a dirt road which we had to follow for 2-3 kms, was just before Huasca, although you'd never find it unless you're specifically looking for it. Prismas Basalticos are rock formations of basalt rock, in the form of prisms, as high as 40 meters and located in a gorge. It's quite spectacular, and are the only ones in Mexico (and only one of 3 in the world). We walked along the top of the gorge, and down to the bottom, at the foot of a waterfall. We crossed the top of the gorge and walked to the end, where we discovered another waterfall and a view down below of what looked like an old village. The village, which we visited after Prismas Basalticos, turned out to be another ex-Hacienda, Santa Maria Regla, which was now a hotel. It was another lovely hacienda in a beautiful location.

We thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, yet we didn't have to travel far from home. Within an hour and a half, we were back home in Mexico City.

I have some pictures from our trip that I plan to post. I'll let you know when they're up.

Laurie in Mexico City P.S. Note: we have no personal interest in the accommodations mentioned in this travelogue.