Monday, March 01, 2010

Cuatro Ciénegas

We finally got where we were headed, Cuatro Ciénegas, the town that marks the beginning of the National Park. The sides of the roads were alive with mounds of hairy cactus fingers, the limp kind you find on sale in pathetic little green pots at the supermarket. The land between the mountains couldn't have been flatter, plains of pale, tall grass rippling in the wind. We made it into the park, the first signpost indicating a white track leading off into nowhere, the second was the visitor's centre. We went in and asked about Becerra, the place we were hoping to camp. It's closed. It's closed?! Is there another place we can camp? Rio Mezquites, the track you just passed, but I'm not sure if it's open. If the gate is locked you need to go back to the town to find Don Arredondo to ask permission. The kids were dying to get out of the car. It was four and we'd been driving since nine. We pulled off onto the track, veering left and right to avoid the massive ruts. The open ground was entirely white. Suddenly the plaster factory we'd seen off the main road made sense. Through one unlocked gate. A little further along another gate, this one closed and beside it a pickup parked in the shade of a palapa. I jumped out with Felix and started the pitch. Can we camp? He pointed into the distance (you can see a long way in the desert), back at the town, that white building, you can camp THERE. But....we've come from so far and we're going back to Canada on Sunday. Please, please. We don't need water or showers or toilets. He was considering it. For a special price? The gears started whirring. He called over his employee to discuss. They talked it over for a few minutes and then proposed a price. Sold. He handed over a key to the gate in case we needed to get out in case of emergency, pointed down the left hand track and said that Juan would be back in the morning to collect the key. Yeehaw!

All we could see from the track were very basic palapas and these strange white conical shapes in the distance. We had no idea where we were going. The road snaked through the grass, past some of the structures and then into an open area surrounded by palapas. We pulled in to have a look. Beside every palapa was a little opening in the grass with a tiny set of wooden steps that led down into the rio, a shallow, crystal clear river of palest green and blue, the banks tall gold grass. The Rio Mezquites is a desert river, not the kind I've ever seen before, that emerges from the ground and then disappears, only to reemerge a few hundred feet away. The bottom of the river is firm, with bulbous white rock formations, tiny minnows flicking around the shore, bigger fish slinking around the rocks. The grass is so tall and the land is so flat that you'd never know the river was there unless you fell into it or clambered up one of the mountains and saw the sun reflected in its surface.

We drove to the end of the track, parked the vans and stepped out into paradise. A bowl of peaks hazy in the late afternoon sun, the mountains look as if they were shaped by the wind. We set up camp, the kids hurried into their bathing suits and jumped in the river to explore. The sun was hot but the wind was cool. We started squeezing limes for cocktail hour. The moon rose, not quite full (unlike at home here the moon fills out from the top down) but casting a crisp light on everything. The kids all went to bed and we sat around enjoying the margaritas. Once the sun set, the temperature plummeted and the wind picked up, driving a chill into all of us. We crawled into our van. Coyotes sang us to sleep. It got quite cold in the night but we all slept well. The sunrise was phenomenal, painting the craggy mountains behind us a million shades of pink. Wil coaxed me out of bed with coffee and we wandered around marvelling at everything. We watched two giant white herons staking their claim to the minnows and a cloud of birds wheeling overhead and landing on the surface of the river, a synchronized splash in this incredible oasis on the desert plains.

When Juan came by for the key we asked him for another night and he said that Don Arredondo said that we could. We made a half-hearted attempt to go to the plaster dunes a few kilometres down the road, where you can walk through 6 to 10 metre chalk white dunes but when we were told it cost quite a bit and that we'd have to bring a guide with us, the magic of the idea died. These country kids (and adults) have been enjoying the freedom of being in the outdoors without being reined in. We decided to go back to our private paradise.

The kids collected tall reeds and built themselves a teepee. They flew Felix & Lyne's kite, taking it high up into the blinding sun. They were in and out of the bracing water all day. The adults were a little more reluctant (especially me) but we all got in. The pale bottom of the river was warm, donut-shaped puffy rocks dotted the bed and it smelled just like a hot spring. Standing in the river, the rugged mountains shaping the horizon, the hot desert sun beating down. An entirely new kind of happiness.

The desert is so very quiet. The silence is welcome but almost eerie after a trip through one of the loudest countries I've ever been in. We very sadly put the Mexico guidebooks away this morning. I can't quite believe our adventure is nearing its end. Good thing I'm not PMSing. Enough said.

We all watched the sun rise this morning. We had a quick breakfast, said goodbye to our new friends and pulled out of the desert on to the highway heading for the border.


kelli ann & lorie said...

We are going to be glad to have you back, hear about your adventures. Happy driving, see you soon

Jenny Wren said...

Go little van - go. You have almost made it. Can't wait to see you all. I am cheering you on and sending love.