••• The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks Adventure Travel
Taxco-City of Silver
Fred C. Wilson III
“Tequila doesn’t solve any problems, but then again, neither does milk."
The ride through the Mexican countryside couldn’t have been better. Taxco lays along Federal Highways 95 and 95D the latter a toll road. The weather was made to order; lots of sun, not too hot nor a rain cloud in sight. Who wants to go sightseeing in the rain? Aforementioned in previous articles I’m a one man tour group. Before I visit a country I read up on the place so once I get there I know where most sites are. After I reach my destination I usually take public transportation to get to selected sites. Sorry to say some places you just can’t hop on a bus or subway and go there. Taxco’s a considerable distance from Mexico City my temporary home base during my stay. I had to sign up with a tour group. My distain for being with flocks of know-it-all tourists has nothing to do with personal vanity. I just don’t like tourists especially the American, Japanese and the French variety for personal reasons but if I wanted to see Taxco I had to swallow my pride at least for a day.
Traveling by limousine is the classy way of getting around. Not having to drive our guide stopped along the way so our group of four could experience the land first hand, take pictures, mingle with the locals and purchase souvenirs. Prior to my visit to Taxco I’ve never seen an iguana up front except in zoos, the movie ‘Night of the Iguana’ and pet shops. We came across a group of kids who had a very large lizard in tow. This animal was larger than a baby with a tail at least 5 or more feet long; it was huge! Being an avid animal lover I asked the kids if I could hold it; they agreed and wanted to sell it to me for $15.00 which I thought was a steal considering high pet shop prices for lizards a fraction of the size. It was a bargain but getting it through U.S. Customs would be hard. I had to return the beast back to the boys. I didn’t like the inhumane way the boys treated the animal tugging it dragging it on the ground with a rope around it’s’ neck. Undoubted this caused the poor thing a lot of pain. One of our group took a picture of me hugging the animal like a little child. I still have that old 35 mm photograph.
Once in Taxco we were on our own. Our driver established our rendezvous time and place. Years before my mother and her friend made a similar trip to this fabled city. Having wetted my appetite for adventure I wanted to see this city famous for its world class silversmiths and scenery for myself. Taxco’s transportation consists of taxicabs, converted Volkswagen vans called ‘burritos’ or ‘combis;’ both serve as minibuses; however the best mode of transportation is on foot. When in Taxco you don’t do 'drive throughs’; you take your time and enjoy yourself.
Taxco de Alarcon (Taxco) is situated in the Mexican state of Guerrero; one tough place. The city is 170 km (107 miles from Mexico City my tour groups’ point of disembarkation. Taxco has been associated with silver, other minerals mining and silver smiting since pre-Spanish times. Though the last mine was boarded up in 2007 due to depleted reserves and labor disputes; silver is still the city’s mainstay.
I’m an artist; ceramicist, pencil artist, mixed media, photography; you name it I dabble with it. Seeing fellow artists at work put a broad smile on my face. Taxco’s excellent artisans’ shops are all open to the public for viewing and shopping. Observing these crafters at work was something else. They were the epitome of patience. Watching them work with tools that best befit a wielding site replete with wielders masks, blow torches, soldering irons with silver strips, acid, boxes of precious/semi-precious stones told me that a basic knowledge of wielding wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Like all crafts silver smiting can be very dangerous. From the way those guys worked I deduced that this art form isn’t for klutzes. I quit wood and linoleum carving because I kept slicing my fingers. Accidents can and will happen if one isn’t very careful.
Computers are marvelous machines bar none. There are several wielding tutorials on line in case you’re serious about learning the craft of the silver smith. For introductory courses in this art go to: ‘Youtube Silver Smithing-Video Results’ and take things from there. These free online tutorials will give interested viewers a basic run down on the how to aspects of this fine art. Here in Chicago we have excellent schools that teach this art form. For two decades during my ceramist years we had various classes in jewelry making at the ‘Lill Street Art Center and Gallery.’ Prior to watching these skilled Mexican artisans work their silver, I once watched Navaho crafters/merchants do their stuff with silver and turquoise in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Old Town center. Me personally I admire the love and dedication that goes in to jewelry making; however I’ll stick with my fine point pencils, markers, inks, paints and poster boards and hang on to my fingers for a few more years.
|The streets are filled with an abundance of high quality silver markets. When I walked through the streets I toured a number of shops where silver and other precious metals were crafted into jewelry, sacred liturgical objects and tourist souvenirs of varying prices. Since I’m not rich I was satisfied with a few postcards and small inexpensive gifts I eventually distributed to the folks back home. I satisfied myself with picture taking. Taxco’s well earned global fame for silver crafting and it's surrounding hills and colorful buildings have made tourism Taxco’s economic life blood. I just can’t get over the way the local smiths worked sheets of silver into top quality art objects. If tourists like me who couldn’t afford pricy precious metal objects there’s always the usual cheap ceramic pots, vases and faux marble statuettes for the home folks.
Our tour was approaching the halfway mark. Our rendezvous point was a fancy buffet restaurant. Warning: ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ is alive and well! Drink only bottled water and never tap water. What many travel sources don’t stress enough to tourists is that fruits/fruit sauces can also wreak havoc with your digestive system. Point: about 20 minutes after I left the restaurant it hit me. I doubled up in pain and nearly dropped to my knees in the middle of the street! My guts started to churn! I had to get to a bathroom or else have an ‘accident.’ I ran from place to place in search of a toilet. I focused my mental energies on my rectum. With my knowledge of Spanish marginal at best I was in deep doo-doo. Luckily for me I spotted a tourist hotel that had modern comfort room facilities. I was in no condition to wait until I found my way back to the restaurant. After I took care of ‘personal business’ I felt well again; my error; while I didn’t drink the local water I did eat about a spoonful of a local green mango sauce. So you won’t make the same mistake please go to: ‘Destination Tips-19 Things NOT to Do in Mexico.’ You have been warned.
Don’t be taken aback by the warnings; they’re for your safety. Mexico’s people are like people everywhere; exceptionally nice, warm and very accepting; for the few exceptions our paths never crossed. You be nice they’ll be nice. Potential tourists with attitudes stay home. Remember all the bullshit you may have heard about prisons south of the border; guess what; it's not bullshit; Mexican jails are hell holes. Obey the laws!
Taxco lies on a very rugged terrain. The streets are irregular, narrow, lacks sidewalks which can be quite dangerous but the city is pretty. If you’ve ever walked the streets of San Francisco you have an idea of what its’ like touring Taxco on foot. Here’s some city history; the current city of Taxco was not located where it is today. In pre-Hispanic times the name referred to a village about 10 kilometers to the south a place now called Taxco El Viejo or Old Taxco. It was the seat of the Aztec governor whose job it was to collect taxes and lay down the law; not a guy you wanna’ mess with. The modern town was founded by the infamous conquistador Hernan Cortes. The area previously known as Tetelcingo was always associated with silver.
The jewel of Taxco is it's huge and grandiose Santa Prisca church. Built in the Baroque style between 1751 and 1758 the church was a gift from Jose de la Borda who made his money in silver to his son upon his ordination to the priesthood. Not a bad start to his clerical career. I had the privilege of visiting both the historic church and go ‘backstage’ to the sacristy (vestry) to marvel at the liturgical robes and other sacred objects used in the Catholic Liturgy the first pastor’s super rich daddy bought him. Being a Catholic town and tourist attraction the town puts on ‘the dog’ (shows off) during Holy Week and Easter attracting tourists from all over the globe with its elaborate religious rituals befitting the holiest time of the Christian calendar.
On a more personal note what galls me is that Latin countries, including the Philippines in my opinion, is overloaded with some of the most magnificent church and civic architecture on earth bar none yet in olden times and now native peoples and later Blacks were and are still marginalized to the point of hopelessness. Though formal slavery is long gone with Brazil freeing it's slaves as late at 1888, poverty and squalor on epic scales still dog Hispanic countries. I could never understand why so-called religious/enlightened countries could permit their people to live in abominable conditions. Despite Taxco well noted for its fine silver I saw the hovels of the working underclass. The city’s poor people may be hidden behind the ornate façade of prosperity extreme impoverishment is still present and on a grand scale.
||The Zocalo, the town’s main plaza is home to a variety of establishments. There’s the Cultural Center (Casa de Cultura) where they teach languages, the martial/fine arts. The usual bars, eateries and silver shops occupy the rest of the plaza. The buildings of Taxco were built in the Spanish-style with their red tiled roofs that lend color and charm to the small city. Our group was on a tight schedule so I didn’t have time to see and do all the things I had wanted; maybe next time.
Corn is a primary food ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Such delicacies such as Pozole, the ever familiar taco, mole, bean tamales and other Mexican staples are all readily available in Taxco. A local favorite berta is a drink that goes with all of the above foods.
Taxco is a center for the area’s favorite sport; basketball followed closely by volleyball, tennis, and football (soccer). In pre-Hispanic times the locals played the Aztec version of the modern ball game racquetball. The Mesoamerican ball game Ollamaliztli and racquetball use rubber balls whose aim is to keep the ball in play. The pre-Hispanic game called Ollamaliztli was played during religious festivals and as preludes to human sacrifices. The game was also played by the general populace for casual recreation.
How safe is Mexico; it isn’t, so be careful. As you might have guessed there is a U.S. Government Advisory on Mexico. The Republic of Mexico is the epitome of pretty but damn dangerous. The Mexican countryside is moving picture postcards. The urban centers are citadels of squalor, poverty and vice. Point: during my second trip to Mexico the Taxco segment was a small part of my overall trip south of the border. I had traveled from Chicago to Laredo via Greyhound where I linked up with Mexican carrier Transportes del Norte. My destination was Guatemala City. I didn’t make it; aforementioned in previous articles on Mexico a labor dispute turned violent erupted at the bus depot. The bus terminal that I had planned to connect me to Transportes del Sur to complete the final leg of my ‘expedition’ was seized by angry strikers. Several lives were lost. I hightailed out of the Mexican capitol back to Texas and safety.
Today Taxco is officially known as one of Mexico’s ‘Pueblos Magicos’ Magic Towns thanks to its excellent crafters, colonial buildings and magnificent scenery. Having traveled there I concur completely; Taxco is just that; a magic place; a jewel in the national crown. Enjoy your trip to sunny Taxco; God bless, be careful but watch your ass!
© F C Wilson Oct 2016
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Fred C. Wilson III
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