The beautiful city Hidalgo Del Parral
In the late morning hours after I leave my peaceful camp by the lake, I ride into the city of Hidalgo Del Parral. The city comes to view from the top of a mountain pass. My first impression is wow! This is no Torreón. Mind you, a quarter of the people live in Parral compared to Torreón. But even the city of Monclova that I visited my second day in Mexico which is of similar size to Parral doesn’t compare to the beauty I see here.
The roads and colored buildings sprawl out over a rolling valley below. As I descend into a perfect entanglement of people and streets, I begin to feel the heartbeat of Parral. This is a city of 150 thousand people and yet it retains the quaint feel of much less. Afternoon traffic is orderly and tranquil. Music booms into the streets from open shops. People walk decidedly but without haste.
The GPS leads me to the city center and La Plaza Principal. All the while, my mobile phone nearly explodes with dinging and swooshing and chirping noises inside my helmet as it catches up from a day without data service.
I find parking against the plaza and begin to devour my surroundings. A statue overlooks this area from atop a hill. A massive cathedral dominates the square. Traffic police on each corner whistle to cars and motorbikes. The uniformed men wave their arms and otherwise do what lights would do elsewhere. A few horns honk if a driver ahead is slow to react. Even the honks are polite. It’s lovely to see people acknowledging each other and children playing about the park. Men and women occupy the benches with shade. As the sun moves, they move. Getting up even to put trash in the bin results in the sunward occupant taking over the shady spot.
I quickly decide to stay here for the day. This location is perfect for watching people. I park the bike, climb out of my gear, and post up on a bench with my computer. Never would I expect the next six hours to be the least productive six hours of my life.
The bike and I attract a lot of attention. First, it’s the man on the bench next to me. Then, it’s the taxi driver and his friends. After that, the shoe shiner, Alex, the well-dressed señora with perfect English, the gaggle of school children, the newspaper reporter, the radio reporter, the bus driver, and more.
Every time I sit down to write in my journal, a new face smiles, says hello, and spends the next hour asking questions! I would never send the people away, but being in this city comes with responsibility! I must post updates to the website and call my friends and family. There’s no use looking busy, either. I relent and accept the fact that I’m staying the night if I want to work.
As if serendipity were listening to my thoughts, the generosity of two friends arrives by email Wednesday afternoon. Their combined contributions will put me up in Parral for the two nights I expect to stay. I’m absolutely delighted to explore Parral. The shoe shiner from the plaza recommends the Hotel Acosta, and for 300 pesos a night, I have a quiet place to do my work, shower, and sleep. I’m genuinely appreciative of the support my friends and family offer that allows me to stay and share these amazing experiences.
For now, I decide to spend my days on the streets and leave the computer inside.
Early the next morning, I take to the streets in search of coffee. The phrases I’m repeating in my head, tines café? and dónde consigo el café? should lead me to the morning elixir. I just need to keep asking until I finally hear sí or aquí or ahí. It’s very early and the streets are mostly empty. I see a few intrepid people walking quickly in their jackets and gloves but no sure sign of where to eat breakfast or to buy a coffee.
Near the plaza, I see a roadside kitchen and ask my practiced question. The man behind the steam of a large cook pot leads me a few meters to a barely open door. Inside the dark room of empty tables and chairs, I see a weathered looking man in an apron tending his stove.
I ask him the same question but get a response I don’t understand. He sees the confusion in my eyes and tries again with another volley of Spanish. Not a single world sounds familiar, and I repeat my request as if he didn’t understand me. I finally gather that I need to specify for here or to go when he holds up a ceramic and paper cup! Por aquí, I say, and he fills the ceramic mug with hot water. Next, he presents a carton of instant coffee, a cup of sugar, and another of creamer. Negro, I say, and he looks uncertain. I’m instantly concerned that the instant coffee may taste too terrible without the dressings.
Other men come in for breakfast, and I keenly watch and listen to their banter. Ordering food is something I need to know how to do. Plus, it’s good to see what locals pay for their meals. My coffee costs ten pesos, or about 75 cents.
After coffee, I roam the streets around Parral’s founding feature: the silver mine. I visit shops and churches. Climb hills and take in everything around me. I’m practically a broken record of head nods and buenos dīas to anyone who looks my way. I get a lot of looks and smiles.
Because this is a city, everything is for sale. Food and clothes. Knives and building hardware. Mobile phones, accessories, more shoes!
The prices of things intrigue me. Doing currency conversions is a good way to compare costs to what I know from home, but it’s no good for feeling the cost of things in this country. I like to know how many coffees buy a pair of shoes, for example, or how many haircuts pay for a night in a hotel. These comparisons are important because I see the same kind of wealth disparity here that I’ve seen abroad elsewhere.
When I visited Prague, Czech Republic for my 21st birthday, I saw mobile phones that cost a hundred pizzas and trucks worth a hundred phones! In that economy, the pizza man maybe had a phone, but he definitely walked to work. In the United States, a mobile phone can cost as little as a pizza or as much as ten nights in a hotel. Some pizzas cost more than some phones! And a night in an average American hotel costs about the same as four haircuts.
In the United States, almost everyone has a mobile phone, eats pizza, and can buy a night in a hotel. So today I set out to see what things cost and get a feel for the luxury goods and the basic needs of Mexican city life.
While wandering around the streets, it’s hard not to stop and talk to interesting and interested people. Time seems to not matter here. People seem to take the day as it comes and not fret about the little things my North American culture teaches me to value. Time is money in the North. Time is life, here. I really like the laid back atmosphere of Parral and Mexico in general because of this.
I even find myself having a siesta after lunch. Everything else can wait.
Parral is treating me very well. I’m excited to see such vibrant life in this ancient mining town. It has modernized itself very well. My T-Mobile coverage here is fantastic–fast 3G data all over the city. The accommodations are perfect also with food and services easy to find. I even buy myself a $3 haircut before dinner.
I’m sad to think about leaving but know that another wonderful experience awaits me. I reach out to the people back home who made my stay possible and the people here who made my stay so comfortable. Thank you, and here’s to the next adventure! Salúd!