29 Jan Real de Catorce and Hiking the Huicholes’ Sacred Mountain
We arrived in Real de Catorce on Dia de la Virgen. It was unexpected and perfect. As soon as we got a room, businesses began locking their doors and the streets filled with pilgrims, walking the image of the Virgen of Guadelupe to the church for mass. The syncretism of Huichol vestments and dance with Catholic imagery struck us as interesting, a real statement about the impact that the Virgen of Guadelupe has had on Latin America and its indigenous people.
The surprising part for us was that it was literally every business, including our hotel which locked its doors without a second thought – something we didn’t realize until the procession had finished and we moseyed back to get cleaned up before dinner. Irritated though we were after a long day of traveling in the cold open-air, it was this chance happening that led us to meet an amazing travel team, Olga Medrano and Claudio Giovenzana, brilliant motorcycle maniacs, lovers of travel, exploring Mexico on their moto guzzi.
We struck up a conversation in the only café open – Real Bucks, a quirky Starbucks slam, where the recommended the hotel they were staying in, which was half the price at twice the size (see A Day in Real De Catorce). Stoked for better accommodations and new nomadic friends, we planned to swap hotels and reconvene for a hike to the top of the Huicholes’ Sacred Mountain, known as the Cerro Quemado.
When we set off to hike the mountain, we descended where all the Willys, a nickname for the Willis Jeep, were parked in abundance, winding down a trail into the “Wirikuta“, a name for the desert below Real de Catorce considered holy to the Huichol people, and almost immediately climbing again, looking down over the ruins of stone structures in the valley below.
At the top we arrived at an open landing, surrounded by mountains, desert and cactus, an expanse of land given to the Huicholes by the government. We snaked between the mountains following a path usually taken by horses, stopping to photograph landscapes and fascinating local flora.
Finally we reached a little stone house where we paid a dollar each to climb the last stretch to the holy site of the Huichol people. The Huicholes (Wixarika), an indigenous people of Mexico, walk across the wide expanse of desert from Nayarit, Durango, Jalisco and Zacatecas to the valley of Catorce in spring in order to present religious offerings at the “Cerro Quemado”, the place said to have welcomed their ancestral god, “Tatewari” or Grandfather Fire, to the world. Many ceremonies take place here, often associated with the religious use of peyote.
At the top we rested, peering out from the top of the world, a view seen and revered by so many generations of Huicholes.