This small city is located in a bowl in high desert country, at about 6,000 feet (about 1,820 meters). The original town was founded close to the mine, about two kilometers west of the current site. However, it was soon moved to its present location. A highway leads southeast to the city of San Luis Potosí, the state capital. The main highway between Saltillo and San Luis Potosí lies to the east, beyond a range of mountains. About nine kilometers (about five and one-half miles) east of the city is the main railway line between those two cities. The hills to the west of the city reach a height of 8,000 feet (about 2,425 meters). The name of the city comes from the Spanish word “charco,” which means “small puddle.” Apparently, there were numerous small ponds here when the city was founded.
The city is older than the city of San Luis Potosí, going back to about 1600. The large stone Roman Catholic church, which faces one plaza, was authorized to be built in 1552. Formerly called San Salvador, it is known as San Francisco. The city hall, which faces a nearby plaza, was originally a Spanish home. There are other old Spanish houses. There is a small attractive library along a tiled pedestrian street. It is open for a few hours twice a day. Unfortunately, it was closed for the holiday. In the grocery stores, most items, except for fruits and vegetables, were behind the counter as I remember the stores in Canada when I was a child. The city has a beauty with old buildings of brick, adobe, and concrete. Some streets are very narrow, but some have enough room for two lanes and parking. The surfaces are concrete, cobblestone, or dirt. Streets for pedestrians only are paved with colorful tiling. A large clock, which tolls the hours and quarter hours, stands at the edge of the plaza opposite the church.
The days are hot, but the nights are cool. August days are like those in April. A person can burn quickly during the day, but normally will not perspire much because of the low humidity. A jacket or sweater may be necessary in the evening. May, June, and July are the warmest months.
There are three water stations. One has wells that have been drilled 30 meters (100 feet) to reach water. When the water level is low, the part of the city using this source may have rationing to homes for one hour a day and at public taps for a few hours. When we were there on the first weekend in April 1996, there had not been rain since the previous August. One source has water at 12 meters (40 feet), but the mineral content is so high that it will stain the teeth if one drinks it. Another well has water that is soft enough to drink. Bottled water is available for drinking.
Easter weekend, when we were there, is the busiest of the year, when people return from the U. S. and other parts of Mexico. Even with this increased activity, the city was fairly quiet as the people went about their daily work or visited in one of the plazas. There is very little evidence of Americanization, other than some cars and satellite dishes. There is daily bus service to San Luis Potosí and Monterrey. Tourists to this area are extremely rare. Thus, we stood out.
The church puts on a passion play, on a stage just outside the front door, over the Easter weekend. This draws a crowd. On Friday, there is a procession, headed by someone carrying a small cross, that follows a route through the city streets. Later in the evening, there is a silent procession. New priests who would like to abolish these traditions meet with resistance and possible removal as parish priest.
Overlooking the city on the south ridge is a monument that houses a large cross. This is held to be sacred. On the Sunday preceding May 3, it is removed and taken to the church to be blessed and dedicated again. Then, eight days later, it is returned to the site to overlook the city for another year. There is a festival in connection with this ritual.
Two weeks before October 4 each year, about one hundred people go in a procession to a church on a hill in the town of Catorce, about 140 kilometers (about 87 miles) north of Charcas. The route follows the railroad. It takes two nights and one day, starting at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday and arriving on Sunday in time for morning mass.
The roughest area of the city, where there is fighting and much drinking, is along the street leading up the hill where the monument stands. However, we felt safe wherever we drove or walked.
The area is very dry, with cactus and small palm trees in abundance. In some places, there is no grass. Mining is the chief industry of the area. Agriculture is second and supports the city. The soil is rich with permanent moisture about six inches down. One good, soaking rain will ensure good crops. Without this, irrigation is necessary. The chief crops are beans (banyo and mayflower), corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and alfalfa. Beef cattle raised include such breeds as Brahma, Charolais, and Limousin. There are some dairy cattle, mainly Holstein and Brown Swiss. There are also herds of goats. Milk from the cows and goats is made into cheese on the small farms (known as ranches) and sold in the city. Propane is the fuel that is used.