I’ve quickly learned to not ever say “no” when an invitation comes from my newly acquired group of friends, as I am sure to regret it. At the conclusion of a recent violin concert, I am chatting with Karen, the friend I hiked with in Santa Rosa. She asks if I would be interested in joining a group of friends on an upcoming trip to “spanish, spanish, spanish.. ‘it’s like a National Park’…. more spanish, spanish, spanish.” A National Park?? Say no more!
I have long heard my brother Don speak of a national biosphere reserve near San Luis Potosi, but other than hearing his plans to visit, I knew nothing about Huasteca Potosina. I couldn’t even pronounce it, let alone find it on a map. That alone seemed like reason enough to skip a week of class..
A group of five of us, plus Erik and Cristina, tour operators and proprietors of La Casa De Los Espiritus Alegres, a beautiful B&B located in an ex-Hacienda in Marfil, nearby suburb of Guanajuato would be traveling in an 11 passenger van to make one big circle around the Reserva de Biosfera Sierra Gorda. The plan is to visit several waterfalls and rivers, travel on to Xixitla to visit the Los Pozos Sculpture Garden, then return across the Sierra Gorda mountain range with stops to see a couple of Spanish missions, and ending up the Puebla Magico of Bernal as our last stop before returning to Guanajuato. Sounds like fun, right?
It’s a long drive to get where we’re going, so we have a 7:00am departure time on a Tuesday morning so as to avoid the weekend crowds. Being the only solo in the group, I hesitate to encroach on the bench seats with the other couples, so I take the back seat in the 3-bench van, which will end up being my “nest” for the next five days. This is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing in that I have the whole back seat to myself with a nice big window where I can look out. The curse being the ride over the rear axle. I quickly learn to “brace for impact” the minute I feel braking. It only takes one unseen tope (Mexican speed bump) to net a stiff neck for the next few days, enough to restrain me in a rarely used safety device in the US, let alone Mexico…the backseat seat-belt.
We stop along the way for a gordita breakfast, but soon are back on the road bound for Laguna de Media Luna, or “Half Moon Lagoon.” A crescent shaped lake near the town of Rio Verde is to be our first of several swimming stops. Driving through the area, I am skeptical about this lake, as our surrounds look like the high desert with nothing but mesquite trees, scrub brush, and a few pock-marked cactus…hard to imagine any kind of lake in this dusty, dry, desolate area. But I am ever hopeful. Having now dropped over 3,000 feet in elevation from the high hills of Guanajuato, it’s warming up fast, giving me the urge to submerge.
My skepticism is assuaged at the first sign of the crystal clear canals radiating off the lake. Two words, “spring fed,” along with the large SCUBA diving shop at the entrance assure me it will be a delicious swimming experience. We do not actually stop at the 150 ft deep, spring-fed lake, area of the SCUBA sites, as the canals are the more popular spot for swimming.
Erik, our guide continually stresses, “Don’t ever try to come here on the weekends!” This is confirmed by a sign at the front gate stating that during peak holiday periods, admittance is limited to 2,275 visitors per day. Wow.
I have spoken before about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Mexican people in that you are never far from what you need, as a vendor is sure to set up shop with items for sale before you even know you need them. Shacks line the entrance to the park selling everything from fancy aquatic shoes to swimsuits and beach towels.
We walk alongside the maze of canals until Erik finds us a secluded spot with our own deck. Soon, an “entrepreneur” shows up with a table and chairs in a wheelbarrow. Oh, and menus. We are far from the concessions. He will be delivering our lunch, six pack of beers, and round of Micheladsas in his wheel barrow.
The water is perfect temperature…cool enough to be refreshing but not so chilly as to feel like a gut punch upon submersion. We swim, drink, eat, and swim some more. No one is ready to leave when Erik breaks the news that we need to move on to arrive at our hotel by dinner.
We are going to base ourselves at the Hotel Taninul and Spa for the next three nights while we explore the surrounding Huasteca Potosina area. The hotel accommodations are nicer than I anticipated. It appears to be an older-style hotel, yet with modern comforts. Located about 5 miles outside the town of Ciudad Valles, the hotel’s claim to fame is being in the heart of the nature reserve, with green parrots flying about the lush vegetation. The “spa” part of the hotel is built around a natural sulfur spring and mud pit for mud baths. Yes, I did partake, but the camera stayed back in the room. I have to say, the sulfur spring and mud pit was an excellent exfoliation agent and relaxing experience…as long as one is not put off by the smell of rotten eggs. 😉
For the next two days, we will explore the surrounding rivers and waterfalls that make up the subtropical rain forest that is Huasteca Potosina. Stay tuned…