The romance of gold hangs over the mountains of Northern Durango like and old perfume There, it is rumored, was that mythical Ophir whence the Aztecs and their mysterious predecessors drew the red gold that Cortex found in the treasury of Moctezuma. Before the dawn of Mexican history the Indians scratched these barren hillsides with dull copper knives. You can still see the traces of their workings. and after them the Spaniards, with flashing, bright helmets and steel breast-plates, filled from these mountains the lofty treasure-ships of the Indies. Almost a thousand miles from the Capital, over trackless deserts and fierce stony mountains, a tiny colorful fringe of the most brilliant civilization in Europe flung itself among the canyons and high peaks of this desolate land; and so far was it from the seat of change that long after the Spanish rule and disappeared from Mexico forever, it persisted here. The Spaniards enslaved the Indians of the region, of course, and the torrent-worn, narrow valleys are still sinister with legend. Almost anybody around Santa Maria del Oro can tell you stories of the old days when men were flogged to death in the mines, and the Spanish overseers lived like princes.
John Reed - Insurgent Mexico
From Durango we made our way across yet more prairie country down to Zacatecas, the northern bound of Mesoamerica, one of the worlds six areas where ancient civilizations independently arose - the second in the Americas.
We decided to pay a little more and take the rare opportunity to stay in a hotel that was a converted bull ring. It was pretty plush accommodation which we soaked up, even ordering room service on one occasion. Unfortunately the experience was somewhat sullied by reception providing some incorrect information that meant that the calls I needed to make to the bank ended up costing us around the equivalent of £100. But I'm over it, it's cool.
It's a pretty old colonial town (as most of them are in this area), rich from the days of silver mining with a grand cathedral. It's built into a steep valley a couple thousand meters above sea level. There's a cable car that runs above the town and up to La Bufa (apparently the Basque word for wine bladder) where there are monuments to Villa and other revolutionaries.
Perhaps the highlight was an old Jesuit monastary that had been converted to beautifully display 3000 of the 8000 masks in Rafael Coronel the personal collection from right across Mexico. The inventiveness of the masks was awe-inspiring with some absolutely mesmerising examples. And they don't muck around when it comes to the devil. We could help but hurry our way through the dimly lit room labeled Máscara del diablo.
The other highlight was Museo Pedro Coronel (a relative of Rafael or just a common name?) which contained an impressive collection of paintings by Miro, Dali and Picasso amount others. Quite an unexpected little gem - again housed in a former Jesuit monastary.
Our next stop was San Luis Potosi. Again, another old colonial city made rich by silver mining and crammed with grand churches and old colonial buildings.
Still on a high from Museo Rafael Coronel's masks we had to check out Museo Nacional de la Mascara which was better curated but with a less impressive collection. This time there was even some signage in English which was illuminating but as seems to be the case in lots of places, the English translations get shorter and shorter as you move though the museum until they just stop all together.
The unexpected highlight of San Luis Potosi though was Museo Federico Silva - a sculptor who does huge, distinctly modern, concrete sculptures which are heavily influenced but the designs and patterns of Mexico's indigenous population. I know, I just rolled my eyes re-reading that last sentence as well, but trust me - they were really impressive.
San Miguel de Allende was next on our tour of the Silver Trail. If we had our time again, we'd have spend three nights here instead of Zacatecas but such is the nature of hindsight when traveling.
Again, it's an old colonial town made rich by silver mining but it was probably the prettiest of the three and, with a large, largely American ex-pat community was well set up for tourists. It was the first time we'd seen English on a menu for a while which just makes life easier. It's also full of lovely boutique shops and no shortage of restaurants and bars with a wide range of cuisines available. You could easily settle in here.
Really the only tourist attraction that we went to was Museo del Juguete Popular Mexicano, a toy museum showcasing toys from across Mexico. It was really fabulous with full Lucha Libre scenes set up and toy Zapatista rebels.
There are a few 'craft' markets - one of them converted from an old cotton spinning factory which housed a more bourgeois, or as Ariane described them, 'less accessible... financially', collection but awfully pretty to walk through.
Our travels now find us in Guanajuato where we've got a week. It's also on the Silver Trail but I'll save it for another post.