Beginning on our journey through the colonial cities of Mexico’s heartland we headed to the state of Zacatecas, a dry, rugged, cactus strewn landscape bordering Mexico’s northern semi-deserts. The state is known for the wealth acquired through silver mining and the Spanish colonial buildings and opulent cathedrals created by forcing indigenous slaves to toil in the mines under horrific conditions. That being said, these towns and cities designated as Unesco World Heritage sites or Pueblos Magicos by the Mexican government to encourage preservation and tourism are sure pretty to look at.
Jerez de Garcia Salinas, Zacatecas (Jerez) is a charming Pueblo Magico town of 43,000 about 30 km southwest of the state capital Zacatecas. I’ve heard it been said that Jerez is as Mexican as a tortilla and from our point of view we couldn’t agree more. Among the exceptionally fine buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are small specialized family owned businesses without noticeable USA influence.
Older gentlemen congregate in a sun drenched square to play dominos. Occasionally horseback riders trot through the narrow stone streets alongside the cars.
We’re staying in a small hotel in the corner of the main town square which is typical of most Mexican pueblos or towns. This town is immaculate. There is little to no litter on the streets and sidewalks and business owners not only sweep the sidewalks in front of their stores but they wash them as well, with a bucket of soapy water and a mop. The sidewalks are old but gleaming and fresh all the time.
There are orange trees all over the place, lining the roads, in front of homes and even in the yards surrounding the cathedral. Sunday is market day and people fill the streets buying and selling food and goods for blocks on end.
There are shoe shine stands all around the square and it seems everybody gets their shoes shined on Sunday.
Troubadours and musicians roam the square and play music in and around the restaurants as well. A typical “band” has a stand-up bass, a guitar, an accordion and a single snare drum; everybody sings. Some bands are big however with trumpets, clarinets, larger drum sets, multiple guitar players and even a tuba. I didn’t notice any women; it was all men.
We get looks from the locals, not of disdain but just sort of surprise. When we engage with them they are kind, pleasant and curious.
The air is fresh, the days are bright and sunny at 6,000 ft. altitude and we’ve eaten very well for very little. This would be a great place to linger if one wanted a truly Mexican cultural and language emersion. In six days we haven’t had a conversation in English with anybody but each other.