Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Zacatecas Part 2: La Bufa & the Teleferico

Teleferico car appears to dangle between the steeples of the Zacatecas Cathedral. Two of the "must do" activities for a visitor to Zacatecas are a visit to La Bufa and a ride on the Teleferico. They can actually be accomplished at much the same time, since the most spectacular way to visit La Bufa is on the Teleferico, which has a station on the south side of town and one on the peak of La Bufa. During our visit to Zacatecas, Carole and I and our friends Denis, Julika, and Verena decided to take a 1/2 day-tour. We easily arranged this through the desk at our hotel, the Best Western Argento Inn. The cost was only $250 pesos per person (a little less than $20 USD). It was well worth the cost since it included van transportation, all entry fees, and the services of a dynamic young guide, Antonio, who was very well informed and spoke excellent English.

Cerro La Bufa looms above Zacatecas. At 8858 feet (2700m), this steep hill is the most prominent natural feature in the city. Above, you can see the Teleferico cables on the upper left as they dip down toward the city on their way to the station high above. On the peak of La Bufa mountain is a small Italian-built observatory. To its right you can see the strange hump of La Bufa rock. The heights of Cerro La Bufa gained fame as the site of the bloodiest battle of the Mexican Revolution, fought between Pancho Villa and the forces of the usurper-President Victoriano Huerta. Villa's men had to fight their way up the sides of La Bufa and thousands of soldiers were lost in the attack. When Cerro La Bufa fell, so did silver-rich Zacatecas, and so ultimately did Huerta who fled Mexico shortly afterward. He knew that the game was up when the riches of Zacatecas fell into Villa's hands.

A hill named for a pig's bladder. The Spanish, who arrived in 1546, thought the strange, humped rock on the crest of the hill looked like a partially deflated pig's bladder. Basques in Spain used such bladders to contain drinking water and wine and so the hill gained its famous name. Had we more time, and had I worn my hiking boots, I would have loved to clamber up the back of the rock. Maybe next time! At the base of the rock (to the left above) was a long flat plateau containing a number of interesting sites. One we were not able to visit, because it is closed on Mondays, is the Museo de la Toma de Zacatecas which contains material relating to Pancho Villa, the taking ("la Toma") of Zacatecas. We did see the huge statues of Villa and two of his generals on horseback. Villa is shown brandishing his Winchester rifle on a rearing horse. Unfortunately the light was poor, so I was unable to get any pictures of the statue.

The observatory gives a spectacular view. The observatory was founded in 1906, for meteorological purposes. One can see almost 360 degrees around the city.

The view from Cerro la Bufa. For all its other interesting attractions, La Bufa's real draw is its truly breath taking view. You are looking almost due east. On the lower right you can see the spires of the Cathedral and the other buildings of El Centro. There is more of the city to the south and west, as it snakes along the ravine below La Bufa and the others hills surrounding the town. Far to the east you can see the high desert mountains and plateaus. We picked a spectacularly clear day to visit La Bufa. Notice that the tallest buildings appear to be the Cathedral and other churches. The absence of modern glass and steel buildings was pleasing to my eye.

Bungee jumping over an ancient city. Antonio, our guide, told us that the city had just completed the bungee jumping ramp above. He informed us that he intended to have the honor of the first jump. The drop at the end of the ramp is truly awesome.

Capilla del Patrocinio celebrates the appearance of La Virgen on La Bufa. Above, Carole (L.) and Verena (R.) stroll through the long rectangular courtyard outside the chapel perched on the brow of La Bufa. In 1589, local people testified that the Virgin Mary had appeared on La Bufa. People in Zacatecas began to flock to the site to pay homage. In 1728, Bishop Gomez de Cervantes built a chapel to honor the Virgen del Patrocinio. The Capilla fell to ruin over time, but was rebuilt in 1795 by Bishop Rouset. The Virgen is also credited with helping deflect the invasion of Zacatecas by Americans in 1847.

Tiled portales run the length of both sides of the courtyard in front of the Capilla. Portales are arched, open hallways that are features of many colonial era buildings. They allow one shade on a hot day, and protection from rain when the weather is inclement. A beautiful volcanic stone known as red cantera is the building material here, as it is on many lovely old buildings in Zacatecas.

The shoe makers' coat-of-arms. Various trades and occupations were organizied into "gremios" centuries ago and these gremios still are active in religious and social life. So many people wanted to visit the Capilla during fiestas, that the authorities decreed that people should visit on particular days according to their gremio. The various gremios in Zacatecas placed plaques with their coats-of-arms on the walls to indicate the devotion of the members of that occupational group. The plaque above was placed by the Gremio de Zapateros (shoe makers).

The Altar of la Virgen del Patrocinio. Inside the Capilla was a small sanctuary with a gorgeous altar at the head. La Virgen is obviously still held in high esteem.

La Virgen del Patrocinio, herself. At various times of the year, the statue of la Virgen is removed from the Capilla and moved around from church to church and even from town to town in religious processions with thousands of participants.

El Cubo Aqueducto was constructed more than 250 years ago. The major source of clean water in Zacatecas for centuries, the aqueduct fell out of use when the city grew too large. In 1921, local authorities decided to preserve El Cubo Aqueducto for its beauty and architectural value. This aqueduct is not significantly different in design or function from those built by the Romans 2000 years ago. The orange-colored, semi-circular building just in front of the Aqueduct is the Quinta Real Hotel, built perfectly into the 17th Century structure of the old San Pedro bull ring. This is one of the world's most unusual hotels, but a little spendy for my taste ($400-500 USD/night).

Cathedral de Zacatecas. This photo, shot from the balcony of the Capilla del Patrocinio, shows the dome and steeples of the old Cathedral from the rear. Notice the arched "flying buttresses" along the sides. This was an feature created by medieval architects to allow very tall walls without the necessity of making them too thick.

Templo Santo Domingo. The Templo is located on the street just behind our hotel. It was built between 1746-1750 by the Jesuit Order. The architect was Father Ignacio Calderon. The sponsor was Don Vicente Zaldivar, whose wife, Dona Ana Temino de Banuelos, was daughter of one of Zacatecas' founders. The Templo was abandoned in 1767 when the Jesuits were expelled from the New World. However in 1785, the Templo was taken over by the Dominican Order. Among Zacatecas' many religious buildings, the Templo Santo Domingo is second only in importance to the Cathedral. Unfortunately, the interior was undergoing renovation while we were in Zacatecas, so I couldn't photograph inside.

A jaw dropping ride through the sky. One of the cars of the Teleferico rises toward Cerro La Bufa station. We took the tour van to the top of La Bufa, then rode the Teleferico down. The ride was smooth, gentle, but spectacular as we drifted hundreds of feet over colonial El Centro. Riding the Teleferico gives you a perspective on the city you can find no other way. The Swiss-built Teleferico was opened in 1979.

Cerro La Bufa station. The station at the top contains a gift shop and a restaurant/bar. We talked about returning for a drink at sunset, but never got around to it. Definitely, next time. The red-topped tower of the observatory is behind and to the left of the station.

The tiny car rises above a pastel colored Zacatecas neighborhood. You can see from this photo how high the Teleferico car rises above the city, and how the neighborhoods are built right up the sides of the hills surrounding the ravine.

View of the Cathedral from the lower Teleferico station. The two steeples are topped with domes that are covered with blue tiles. The cantera is turning a deep rust color in the late afternoon sun.

Zacatecas basks in the evening sun. The photo was also taken from the lower Teleferico station. Again, you can see the low profile of the Zacatecas, which gives it a human scale lacking in more modern cities.

This completes Part 2 of my Zacatecas series. In the next installment, we will tour the Eden Mine, a hell-hole in its day that was far from its unintentionally ironic name. I hope you enjoyed this installment as much as I enjoyed preparing it. Feel free to pass the link to this blog to friends and family, and also to comment either below or by emailing me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section below, please be sure to leave your email so that I can answer you.

Hasta luego! Jim

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