I love traveling in the lowest class of collective transport - a minivan, collectivo, combi, marshrutka, sherut or whatever they may be called - the vehicles that start only when full and stop wherever people flag them down. These are usually quite systematic, but for a visitor like me, these seem chaotic, crowded and confusing. Add to that one of my favorite thrills of traveling in a foreign country - the language barrier, the resulting combination of these random factors is often unpredictable and curious. On my recent trip to Mexico, I had a number of such incidents and strangely I ended up 'discovering' something new each time.
From the city of Pachuca near Mexico city, several combis (mini vans) depart for the village of El Chico, some a 40-45 minutes away. The mini vans are marked 'Mineral del Chico' and leave every hour or so. I got in mine and waited for 20 minutes as I was the first one there.
When I woke up, I was in the middle of mountains, lush and green. The Hidalgo region around Mexico city is quite dry and arid but in the El Chico national park, everything changes to green. The abrupt change in scenery caught me by complete surprise. How long was I in the van? I checked my watch - 30 minutes.
I saw a sign that said "El Chico" and asked the driver to let me out. At that point, I did not know that 'El Chico' was the generic name of that area and not the name of the village I was looking for. Bummer. I think the driver tried telling me many times that this is not the village of El Chico, but it looked so beautiful outside that I wanted to get off anywa
The driver was right (duh), I was nowhere close to the village. I started walking along the road that zig zagged its way up to the mountain. The air was crisp and fresh, and being early morning, the birds were quite active too. You have to understand that I came from snowy Toronto to arid Mexico city and this was the first time I was in the middle of a forest. It was minor, but wonderful!
Now, after walking uphill for over an hour, I was sweaty and desparate to get to somewhere despite the pleasant walk. Although this aimless wandering was nice, it was getting kinda “inefficient” and so I decided to find some transportation. I began flagging down vehicles, hoping to hitch a ride. Alas nobody would stop.
The collectivo passed through a small village. I wasn’t sure if it was Mineral del Chico or not because there were no signs and nobody said anything. So I stayed put. It was a nice village – narrow cobblestone streets, hilly, little houses and everyone-knows-everyone kind. The village passed, and then there were a bunch of houses, nothing looking spectacular. More random houses between vast stretches of hilly road and woods. Finally the van entered the last village and this time the driver turned his engine off.
This was a cute little village – at the end of the road apparently. No possibilities of more misses, or so I thought. Only one street, half a dozen stores (one of which was broadcasting music at full volume) and people gawking at me as if it was their first time seeing a foreigner in their village.
I walked up the street… not ‘a’ street, but ‘the’ street. School children were playing football and waived at me, and pointed at the camera. I took their pictures. Where do all these kids come from? I spotted a lone hut with a kitchen and simple setup – two tables, four chairs and bottles of coca cola in the corner. Nobody except a lady who was now starting at me.