Real de Catorce is a bit off the beaten path to say the least. It is a place we have wanted to visit for quite a while and this year we decided to cross the border back into the U.S. at Laredo so that we could include Real in our travels.
Driving to Real is interesting and for us it could only be done by car. We drove about 17 miles on paved roads, then 15 miles on a rough cobblestone road.
It was a beautiful day and since we believe in the philosphy that it's the journey, not the end, that matters we enjoyed the drive. Just before reaching Real we drove through a 1.5 mile tunnel. The tunnel is one way and traffic is regulated at either end.
Pretty cool but probably not a place for those with claustrophobia.
Once we got through the tunnel we found ourselves in the remnants of what was once one of the premier silver towns in Mexico. In the early 20th century Real had a population of 40,000 with several newspapers, a theater, a grand hotel, and an electric tramway. When the price of silver dropped drastically the town was virtually abandoned until only a few families remained.
Today most of Real's income comes from tourists, and it appears the government is making a concerted effort to encourage a revival of tourism. It has been the setting for numerous films including The Mexican with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, Bandidas with Selma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart.
In early October thousands of pilgrims visit the Parish of Immaculate Conception to express gratitude to St. Francis of Assisi.
The church has been very well maintained for the yearly visit of the pilgrims and is particularly amazing when one considers where it's located.
Another pilgrimage is made in the spring by the indigenous Huichol people. They walk across miles of desert to leave religious offerings in the Catorce valley and to gather a year's supply of sacred nourishment in the form of peyote, which they regard as the magical cactus which guides their path and consciousness.
At other times of the year thousands of tourists arrive to experience their own mystical communion with the magical cactus. So many come that the government has mounted a campaign to protect the cactus from the "peyote tourists". It is illegal for anyone but Huichol Indians to gather, or possess, the peyote cactus. They do, however, capitalize on this for the tourist trade by selling peyote related items.
The walls and building we saw were typical of some of the other stonework we have seen in various parts of Mexico. The buildings are made of large stones held together by an intricate pattern of smaller stones.
We had a really interesting day exploring Real and took way too many pictures to share all of them. Here are some of our favorites ...