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Real de Catorce, and Mexican buses part IV

My other obligations permitting me a vacation for the first time in a year and a half, last week I took a quick jaunt to Real de Catorce, Mexico.

It was just what the doctor ordered: cool and dry, giving me a little break before the full Texas summer sets in. Real de Catorce was once a prosperous mining center of 30,000 people but around the turn of the last century the mines failed and it became depopulated. Now it's rebuilding and is back up to a population of around 1500. The result is a quiet little colonial town, with enough amenities to be comfortable but not totally overrun with tourists. Although every other person in Austin I talk to seems to have made the trip in the past, I only saw maybe a dozen gringos in my three days there, the bulk of the tourists in town being Mexican. During the week there weren't many tourists at all but on the weekend the place filled up, with a good number of middle-class vacationers and many more people of modest means arriving in the backs of trucks. I'm not sure whether the latter category should be considered tourists or pilgrims, as one of Real's big draws is its church dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. The main street is lined with stalls selling religious articles. I was tempted to buy a glowing plastic Jesus but uncharacteristically I wasn't feeling very ironic.

Puente de Jesús, Real de Catorce Retablos, Real de Catorce

I'd been afraid that my out-of-shape lowlander cardiovascular system wouldn't be up to hiking at 8000 feet but I needn't have worried. Although the mountains around Real de Catorce are quite steep, there are mining roads with gentle grades that curve around them for miles so I didn't have to take on many hills. For future reference, the best hike I took started on Calle Zaragoza leading northwest toward the cemetery. There are a couple of steep sections on your way out of town, but just a little way past the cemetery the road levels out. I took it out to where it ends overlooking the plains that go west toward Zacatecas. In three hours I saw six people, a few horses and a couple dozen burros.

Real de Catorce panorama

Whether because of mine tailings or a longer history of overgrazing I don't know, but the hills immediately adjacent to town are the most barren land I saw. A few minutes out of town things became more lush, still desert but with everything under 12" tall in bloom. I guess there had been recent rains. I wished for somebody who could explain the plants to me. Many of them looked like relatives of the Texas natives popular among xeriscapers, especially some salvias, but in miniature.

I also wished for a camera that was working better; none of my macro or low-light shots turned out. But a few pics were good enough to put up on Flickr.

Now what the googlers have been waiting for -- Texas-Mexico bus service, part IV.

On this trip was I think I finally solved the puzzle which has been a perennial thread (1, 2, 3) in this blog: I found a bus line I like between Austin and north central Mexico. It is Turimex, a branch of the large Grupo Senda conglomerate. Turimex isn't quite ejecutivo class but it's pretty good, with clean buses and more legroom than an airplane. I took an overnight bus from Austin to Matehuala (the jumping-off spot for Real de Catorce) and another one back. Both times the bus was on time and the border crossings went smoothly. Austin to Matehuala was about 13 hours and $50 USD. Unlike most Mexican bus companies, Grupo Senda has a website with schedules and, of all things, working online chat with a ticket agent! In Austin the bus stop is at El Dorado Meat Market at 5001 Airport Blvd (next to the Tamale House), 512-419-0300. Turimex doesn't advertise in Austin -- thanks to the commenters who encouraged me to track them down.

From Matehuala, the trip to Real de Catorce has got to be one of the more picturesque bus routes in Mexico. You catch a second-class bus (but clean and in good repair) that goes through a couple of small towns and then turns onto a cobblestone road which winds up into the mountains. It stops at the mouth of a former mining tunnel where you shift to a smaller bus to do the last 1.5 miles into Real under the mountain and in the dark. The tunnel is so narrow that traffic can only go one direction at a time. Matehuala to Real is about 2 hours and $5 USD; the only caveat is that the return leg through the tunnnel can get very crowded on the minibus.

That's the report. I'm happy to say that the pleasure of visiting Mexico is still worth a long bus ride, even at my advancing age. I used the same bus survival techniques as before, right down to a Paco Ignacio Taibo II novel, but with a real iPod this time instead of the hillbilly version. I can't wait for the next trip.

travel 2006.06.01 link

Comments

yay! thanks for clearing up the Great Bus Mystery! This definitely points to a mexican vacation in my very near future, considering that bus drop off is within walking distance of my house (Last time i came home from monterrey on some bus line that dropped me off on east riverside at 4am. It was probably my most uncomfortable moment ever in austin, sitting there on top of a suitcase on the corner of riverside hoping a cab would come by).

Austin isn't listed as a departure point on their web site (though houston and dallas are) so I guess you really have to go through the conversation process, or do you know if you can just swing by the meat market to get a ticket? $50 is more than I've paid before, but for not riding in a (cruddy) greyhound-esque bus, it'd be worthwhile..

fool [_fool cxe livejournal punkto com] • 2006.06.01
I called the El Dorado Meat Market number (512-419-0300) and asked about the schedule, then went in a few hours ahead of time to buy the ticket. They don't take plastic so you definitely have to buy the ticket in person.

It looked to me like they only have a few seats per bus reserved for the Austin office, so if I were traveling at a busy time or with a large party I'd probably go in a couple of days ahead of time. I'm guessing that they could get on the phone and reserve more seats. (Their system in Mexico is highly computerized, but not here in Texas!)

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.06.03
muchas gracias, se~or!

fool [_fool cxe livejournal punkto com] • 2006.06.05
This blog is practically the defacto Mexican bus information blog. In fact, it probably deserves it's own category.

I was hoping to read about some special cactus juice ... I feel like I was walking around Real de Catorce's hazy white streets just a few weeks ago.

Did they ever get an atm?

oso [oso cxe el-oso punkto net] • 2006.06.06
Nope, no ATM in Real. Lonely Planet says only one hotel even accepts plastic. Turns out that at least two do, but there's a service charge. When I got low on pesos I just paid my hotel bill in dollars, which they were happy to accept.

Getting pesos turned out to be an issue on this trip. I had expected the bus to stop somewhere with a currency exchange shortly after corssing the border but it didn't, so I found myself on the outskirts of Matehuala with no local currency. Turns out that the ticket agents at the bus station can buy dollars at a rate close to the official one, or there's an ATM a couple blocks south from the station.

Next time I'll track down a bank in Austin that handles foreign currency and acquire some expensive pesos before I get on the bus. Hmm -- I wonder whether El Dorado Meat Market does some informal trading?

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.06.06
can i go to REAL from ZACATECAS via route 54 by bus ?

edd evans [eddevans cxe bellsouth punkto net] • 2006.06.19
This website is what I've been looking for! Any ideas on the best way to get to Xilitla (on Highway 120 near the San Luis Potosi-Queretaro border). Is it best to go to San Luis Potosi or to Queretaro or is it possible to take a bus at Laredo or another border town to Ciudad Valles. Tampico looks like another possibility...Any info would be much appreciated.

Robin [robinsky2 cxe aol punkto com] • 2006.08.01
Just got back from Real de Catorce and am happy to report that there **is** now an ATM in Real de Catorce at the Palacio Municipal (City Hall). ATM charges are a bit steep (totalling $6 per withdrawal) and on the weekends it does tend to run out of cash...but it is there.

Caroline [carolinehomer cxe gmail punkto com] • 2006.08.05
Hi My husband and I are trying to get from Ciudad Juarez to Queretaro from bus we are driving to el paso we would also like to know a good place to leave our car in el paso any information would be great! julie

Julie Lopez [Stevenson-lopez cxe verizon punkto net] • 2006.08.27
Thank you for sharing your adventures. I am planning a trip to Real de Carorce soon, either the end of October or around November 10, 2006. Where did you stay in Real de Catorce?

Sunshinetx [sunshinetxla cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2006.10.13
This is great information- thanks for putting it together. However, i just called El Dorado Meat Market to ask about tickets and they said they no longer sell them and haven't for several months. I'm trying to contact Turimex directly via the Grupo Senda website but it has not been easy- it tells you to pick another date no matter what day in december or january you pick, and I can't get the online chat to work.

jody hughes [jodyhughes cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2006.12.11
I'm surprised that after all this time people keep coming to this blog for info about bus travel to Mexico. I'm starting to give some idle thought to what a site devoted just to that topic would be like.

If you think that might be interesting, please help me out: Take this short survey on what you'd like to see in a Mexican bus travel site.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.12.12
Jody, good catch. I just contacted Grupo Senda via the e-mail form at gruposenda.com. They replied that the Turimex stop in Austin is now at:

Gasolinera Chevron
2300 East Ben White (map)
Austin, Tx.
Tel. 512-965-7523 / 512-659-6613

Hoo boy. That's enough less convenient for me to think about changing bus lines again. From my part of town, a 3:00 AM taxi ride to Ben White would cost half as much as a bus ticket to Matehuala. :-(

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2006.12.12
An update on our trip to Real: We took a Grupo Sendo/Turimex bus from 2300 E. Ben White that left around 11 pm. It was modern, clean, and fairly comfortable, with reclining seats; round-trip tickets to Matehuala cost $120 apiece. The border crossing took about an hour, with nothing really happening, so people mostly just slept. 2 problems: first, although we bought round-trip tix, we didn't book seats for the return trip, figuring we'd do that when we decided we wanted to return. I called Grupo Senda on a friday morning from Real and was told there was nothing available until sunday night, so we panicked and headed to the matehuala bus station to try our luck there. They initially said the same thing, but 2 tix for that night at 1 a.m. eventually appeared. Ride back was fine except for the SIX HOUR wait to cross the border at Laredo; left matehuala at 1 am and didn't arrive in austin til 7 pm that night. Maybe we'll drive our own car next time...

jody hughes [jody punkto hughes cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2007.01.16
Thanks for the trip report, Jody!

A question: what was the date of your return trip? I'm wondering about how long into January the holiday rush lasts.

This raises the idea again of getting off the bus in Nuevo Laredo and walking across for the northbound leg -- even if you had to switch to a slow, smelly Greyhound it would beat that six-hour wait. Or you might be able to hang out in Laredo and rejoin the same bus.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.01.16
Hi, My goal is to get to San Miguel de Allende (with 2 dogs) in April or May this year. I found a bus line in Denver that takes dogs but they only go as far as El Paso-Juarez for $50. What if any Mexican bus will take me from Juarez to San Miguel de Allende with 2 dogs? I am not picky. The trip sounds very long and also mentions a turn-off 40 miles from Queretaro. Hmm...Do I stand on the road and wait for the bus to Queretaro? It seems like getting to Laredo from El Paso would be an ultimately faster trip. Dog question still applies to every bus. Many, many thanks, Denver Nancy

Denver Nancy • 2007.01.21
Nancy, even if you can find a bus line that accepts dogs (I'd be surprised if there are any), I doubt that you or the dogs will be comfortable without any control over the timing or location of your stops along the way.

I'd recommend that you get on Craigslist and Lonely Planet and try to find a dog-friendly rideshare. There may even be bulletin boards specifically for travelers with pets, dunno. Given a two-month travel window I'm sure you'll find something.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.01.21
Hi,
I am planning to travel from austin to monterey.yesterday I went to eldorado meat market to ask about turimex bus,I found out that this place is no longer a stop for turimex,then I called these two numbers for chevron,2300 ben white ,and I got no answer.Is there any body who can give me an advice?
Thanks

m. salama [m punkto salama cxe netzero punkto net] • 2007.01.30
Hi,
I am planning to travel from austin to monterey.yesterday I went to eldorado meat market to ask about turimex bus,I found out that this place is no longer a stop for turimex,then I called these two numbers for chevron,2300 ben white ,and I got no answer.Is there any body who can give me an advice?
Thanks

m. salama [m punkto salama cxe netzero punkto net] • 2007.01.30
My friends and I are traveling by auto to real de catorce. i am interested in reasonably priced lodging the week we are there. any information will be very appreciated. thanks in advance.

Lanelle McCollum [nellemc cxe msn punkto com] • 2007.02.22
Prentiss,
This blog is fantastic. My son is trying to get from Austin to Monterrey. We have read your whole blog and it seems that the consensus is that Turimex is the way to go. However there is no current information on where the Turimex Bus Stop is now located in Austin. We would love some contact information.
Hope you can help!
Sue

Sue Lovegren [sulovegren cxe juno punkto com] • 2007.05.28
Prentiss,
This blog is fantastic. My son is trying to get from Austin to Monterrey. We have read your whole blog and it seems that the consensus is that Turimex is the way to go. However there is no current information on where the Turimex Bus Stop is now located in Austin. We would love some contact information.
Hope you can help!
Sue

Sue Lovegren [sulovegren cxe juno punkto com] • 2007.05.28
I was trying to locate the Austin location since its been about 6 months since I used Turimex and came across this site.

I located their phone number and address and hope this helps people searching for the same.

FYI: The Austin location is connected to a Chevron or Tetco Gas Station if my memory serves me right.

FYI2: They only stopped ONCE from Dallas to Austin @ Waco for 5 minutes at a Taqueria Restaurant.
TURIMEX BUSES (MAP & PRICES)
$20 Each Way

AUSTIN:
2300 Ben White Blvd E
Austin, TX 78741
(512) 707-1115

DALLAS:
501 E Jefferson Blvd
Dallas, TX 75203
(214) 943-1612

John Valadez [j punkto valadez cxe gmail punkto com] • 2007.07.20
Thanks for the updated contact info on Turimex. I lived in Real from 2003 to 2006. I now live in Austin again. Turimex is by far the best there is. Although Christmas/New Year 2006/2007 I had problems with overcrowded and mechanically unsound buses, it was still waaay better than Lucano or Americano. For this reason, they are sold out more often than not. So, remember to book ahead of time. You can order tickets and reserve seats online, but only one way. When you arrive in Matehuala, be sure to buy your return ticket so you don't end up stranded there like I was on the 4th of July weekend 2007. There were no tickets back to Austin until 3 days later. I had to get a bus to Monterrey. I figured there would certainly be something to Austin from there. No luck, I ended up on an Americano to San Antonio. It was miserable.

Kanya Lyons [kanyagrace cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2007.08.03
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