The bus depot in Monterrey, Mexico, was packed with thousands of people on the morning of April 4, 1996, the first day of the four-day Easter long weekend. Despite the number of people and the number of buses, ours left on time, shortly after 11:00 a.m. It was a comfortable second-class bus with washrooms and air-conditioning.
The scenery was varied in the six-hour trip to Charcas, a small city in the northwest part of the state of San Luis Potosí. There were trees, no trees, grass, no grass, a few orchards, irrigated fields, mountains, valleys, and deserts. Small villages dotted the way. Common sights in these communities were restaurants, small houses, a school, a church, and cactus fences. Passengers were picked up or let off at numerous of these communities. In the surrounding countryside were small palm trees and cactus plants of various kinds and sizes. There were several herds of cattle and goats in the fields.
The only larger city was Matehuala, where we had a rest stop for about fifteen minutes. The large city of Saltillo was by-passed, but it could be seen in the distance. There were good four-lane and two-lane highways until a short distance south of Matehuala. Then the bus turned onto a good secondary highway to Charcas. Near the main railway, which crosses this highway, was a siding where probably one hundred old diesel locomotives were stored.
When we arrived in Charcas, Sean’s father-in-law Luis and his Uncle Tomás, whom Sean and I had accompanied, looked for a hotel room, but there were no vacancies at the two small hotels. They took us to the plaza near the church, where we stayed with our luggage, while they searched for relatives.
The weather was very pleasant. People wandered about the square. Numerous vendors’ stands were located along the sides nearest to the church. Everything seemed to be so peaceful. A man stopped and asked us in English if we were Americans. He had lived in West Texas for over twenty years. He had also lived in Arkansas and North Carolina. From him we learned much about the agriculture near Charcas. On his ranch, about five kilometers away, he raises cross-breed beef cattle. We were invited to stop at his ranch, but we were unable to do so.
Luis and Tomás found no relative or friend. Our new friend, Arturo, and Luis talked for some time in Spanish. Then Arturo said that he would check with a friend about a place where we could stay. While he was gone, a brother and sister under the age of ten approached Sean, having heard him speak English. They asked him how to say several words in English and told him about themselves. Two or three times, they ran off to another bench to tell their mother what they had learned.
When Arturo, his wife Judith, and their little boy returned, they took us to a place about two blocks away. Their friend María led us into a vacant house. We passed through a small room into a patio area. She showed us a room where we could stay. We gladly accepted as there was no other place. The alternative was either a park bench or the ground outside the city. Whenever we met María, she was very friendly towards us. Although her home was a few doors from where we stayed, she worked in Laredo, Texas, where she could earn more.
The room was about fourteen feet by twelve feet; the ceiling, about fourteen feet high; and the doorway, a little less than six feet high. In it were two chairs, a single bed, and an old three-seater couch. The latter two items, along with the concrete floor, were used by the four of us for sleeping. Needless to say, we all missed the comfort of our beds at home. At least, we had shelter from the sky, not that there was any chance for rain. Three of the four other rooms had either no ceiling or a broken one with a large hole. We understand that the house was in the process of being repaired.
To go to the washroom, we went into another tiny room off the open patio. It had a ceiling, facilities for running water, but no door. Pails and tubs on the patio floor contained our water for the washroom. It was necessary to refill the containers at a tap at the end of the street because of rationing. On the top of the room at the entrance was a sapling whose roots came down the wall, inside and out.
We went to the bus depot on Thursday night to buy our tickets to Monterrey. We were not allowed to purchase round-trip tickets in Monterrey. Although extra buses were running, we had a choice of 9:20 a.m. Saturday or midnight Sunday. We took four of the last six tickets for the Saturday bus. On Friday morning, we went to the plaza by the church. Luis talked with a taxi driver, Benito, about going to see the mine. For fifty pesos, he took us to the mine area (no tours allowed) and on a tour of the city, giving us much information about Charcas and the mine. He suggested that we talk with his father, Francisco, who loves to talk about the mine. In the afternoon, we went to see Francisco, who provided us with more information.
Later, we walked about a mile north of the city to the edge of the river, which had very little water because of a dam upstream. Rivers and creeks in this intermountain region do not have outlets to the sea. Near the bank of the river was a large cemetery which had been moved a few years ago from the downtown area.
In the city, we saw a number of burros, the chief animal of burden in the area. We had expected that these might provide our transportation if we had gone into an area that is not accessible to motor vehicles. However, our plans were changed. There were numerous American-made cars in the city.
Saturday morning, we boarded our bus back to Monterrey. For a short distance both ways, it was standing-room only for local passengers. At the railroad crossing, a long freight train had stopped, blocking the highway. Our bus waited thirty minutes before the crossing was cleared. Despite the delay, we arrived in Monterrey on time. We know that the driver was not exceeding the speed limit consistently as the red light above the windshield flashed only occasionally. As the bus came near the summit of one pass, we saw what appeared to be smoke from a forest fire. Descending from the summit, we realized that it was not smoke, but low clouds. What was happening was that a cold front had entered the pass and the water vapor in the air was condensing as it climbed into the cooler and thinner atmosphere.
We are thankful that Arturo and Judith came to help us when we had no place to stay for the night. We are thankful that María provided us with a place. We are thankful that we were put in contact with Benito and his father, Francisco, who gave us much information about the city and the mine. We are thankful that we went with Luis and Tomás. I am thankful that Sean had the ability to speak Spanish and to translate into English. Otherwise, I would have had no story.
Although we had some apprehension about taking a trip to an out-of-the-way place and we did not have the most comfortable place to stay, we are happy to have gone. It was a valuable learning experience. We met very friendly people. We saw living conditions that are different from where tourists themselves live. The lives of these people are dominated by their religion. We would like to go back someday.