Montezuma's Revenge isn't a thing of the past, no matter what the official Mexican tourism website says. I have never been with group of people that talked so much about their gastro-intestinal problems. We all assume this is just a transition period - new food, new water, mas picante, sin pasturizado - but as time passes, more trainees fall victim. Ana began the week by being the second or third Mexico volunteer to ever get amoebas, which kept her from going on the long-awaited tour of environmental projects in San Luis Potosi, a state north of Queretaro (the scotty dog of Mexico).
We would learn that Mexican national parks are not like US national parks. They are no less beautiful or ecologically important, but many have such little investment that they exist only on maps. Where Parque Nacional Cimitario in Queretaro had its problems with misguided reforestation projects and a lack of telephones, these parks had even more basic shortcomings. None of the national parks we visited had signs, or gates, or trails; they were simply forested mountains in the distance or endless stretches of desert plains. Access was impossible, unless you already live inside a park, which many people do. Like in US national parks, though, cattle were still the most privileged visitors.
Hacienda at Gogorron
First, after a long bus ride, we entered an ejido (communally owned land - part of the land redistribution program from the revolution) called Gogoron, just on the border of and partially within Gogorron National Park. We arrived on a tour bus to a small, one road community, that ended in a beautiful, gated hacienda, with gardens, statues, courtyards, and water-filled canals. The hacienda was the filming location of the first Zorro movie with Antonio Banderas, and much of the set is still intact, although starting to crumble. We were greeted by fifty ejidetarios, mostly old cowboys interested in meeting us who later showed us their reforestation projects around their property.
Meeting house at Kilometro 58
The second day we went up into the mountains to an ejido called Kilometro 58, named that because it marked the 58th kilometer on a railroad that once connected it to the larger town of San Luis Potosi. When we entered the town it was cloaked in clouds. We were treated to a large meal of moles, gorditas, cheeses, and other strange foods. We were escorted through the town by a guide that showed us reforestation projects and erosion control projects. The guide knew a lot about local plants and animals. When asked if I thought the town had tourism potential, I responded "yes" for its scenic beauty and wildlife, although there are no hotels and no transportation.
The third day we visited one of the more developed and successful ejido projects - Media Luna. Blessed with a deep cavern filled with clear, warm spring water, the ejido has done well for itself by charging for access to the pool of water, hosting diving classes, and setting up restaurants, cabins, and camp sites.
The Altiplano in Matehuala
On the fourth day we drove far into the altiplano, or high plain, until we came to a community in the middle of the desert that had started a fish farm. With little water and many other less obvious technical problems, they were struggling to make the project a success. They were gracious hosts, and one family fed all forty of us with cabrito (baby goat), mole, tortillas, and helotes (maiz criollo, local corn).