Obey the Curfew – El Potrero Chico

“U.S. government personnel and their dependents may travel … only during daylight hours on toll roads, and must return … to abide by a curfew of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.” directs the US Dept. of State its personnel in Nuevo Leon, MX. As if coming straight out of Orwell’s 1984, this puts a damper on our trip. We start in a somber mood the 3 hr drive from N. Laredo to our first destination in MX, El Potrero Chico.

The journey is uneventful, save for a near miss with a semi-trailer, the driver asleep at the wheel. I reconsider my driving and shake off the softness and gallantry acquired in the last two months in the US. It’s back to Bulgarian driving habits. It feels nice to swim again in familiar waters.

We arrive as planned, eager to discover Mexico. Our campground, la Posada del Potrero Chico, is encircled by walls of cliffs and spires towering over half a kilometer above our heads. Little do we know that we are soon to hug them.

La Posada itself is both a curse and a blessing. Its few casitas and manicured lawn, set against the background of the rocks, host many campers from different parts of the world, united by their shared passion for climbing. But it sets the bar too high. I doubt we will be staying in such a nice place in the foreseeable future.

Vistas and amenities get lonely without company, but company we found. We met Gustavo and his family shortly after arriving. In no time, we were gathered around a camp fire along with many others. Carne asada sizzled on the coals and wine bottles exchanged hands. Soft conversations sparkled new friendships as a guitar weeped into the warm night.

Morning comes abruptly and finds us staring at a massive wall of rock. We reluctantly strap into harnesses, hastily rehearse a few key knots and start our ascent. Serenity is the word that will define my first climb. “Breathe!” Gustavo suggests in the beginning and it’s the best advice I’ve gotten in a while.

It’s interesting how the mind, as it focuses on a perilous task at hand, slows down and magnifies the surrounding details. Finding a good point to position a foot or a crack to wedge a hand in becomes an entire experience. As you look for that point of support, you’re able to see and admire a small cactus on the wall – “Avoid!”, the mind says -, a palm tree high up on the ridge – “I didn’t know palms grew on rock”. The stone comforts the body with its warmth, the wind cools off and you can’t help but feel at ease. Counter to reason, there is no fear. The sensation that you’re 15–20 meters up on a vertical face is present somewhere, but it’s accepted as a fact. No adrenaline, just serenity.

Julie and Lilly both love it and they fight for turns to climb the next pitch. The gentle approach of Yann, Boris, Miguel, Gustavo and their families – all experienced climbers – helps a lot. “No pressure, just enjoy” and we do. They omit to tell us we’re climbing 11 grade pitches, certainly not for beginners, but hey, what the heck. Thank you, everyone, for the experience.

Another day. We spend time lying in hammocks above the pool, meeting new people, making small talk. I stumble upon two young guys in a beat up yellow Beetle straight from the 80’s. “Hot wheels” reads the sticker on the back. The guys are curious about our camper so I invite them in. We get asked if we need anything from the local grocery store. We do, so I decide to tag along.

The Beetle is about to lose its tail pipe as we drive over speed bumps. Still, we manage not to spill our Tecates and I learn a bunch of Mexican lingo and a few local customs along the way. We empty the beetle from cans and make a small mound of empties on the sidewalk. “It’s easier to retrieve and return them this way”, explains one of the guys.

On the way back, I am offered to get some ink done, skulls, folklore ornaments and all, free of charge. A souvenir. One of the guys runs a tattoo shop and it’s a good one, judging by the elaborate tattoos he’s sporting and the respect he gets in town. I consider the offer and decline. No offense, none taken. Before we part ways, they give us a small handmade painting to hang in our camper, point out a bunch of good places to visit, some to avoid, and wish us good luck on our trip.

Back at the camp, the night settles in. We gather around the BBQ. The party is interrupted at midnight with news of two US chicas stuck on top of a rock.  A multi pitch face, several hours of climbing. A rescue team led by Gus and another professional climber from Canada is quickly organized and vanishes into the night. By 5 am everyone comes back safely. I can’t speak from experience, but it mustn’t be easy climbing in the middle of the night after a few tequilas and beers… Hats off to the entire crew.

Next destination: unknown. Then Torreon to see our new friends Gustavo, Miguel, Yann, Boris and their families. And do some more climbing over there!

Ciao and enjoy life!

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  1. Olga
    October 31, 2016

    “shake off the softness and gallantry acquired in the last two months in the US. It’s back to Bulgarian driving habits.”!!! No softness, get into shape. 🙂

    Climbing is cool – def so. Itching to do some climbing – as am reading this!

    • rustycamper
      November 2, 2016

      We should organize our own group some day

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