Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Magic of Pozos

So picture this scenario. You’ve driven close to an hour to a remote ghost town 7,500 feet up in the Mexican alto plano with a couple of friends. You park and get out of the car. As you breathe in the crystalline air you realize an odd sound is encroaching on the silence – and it’s coming from your car. The engine is running. In one sickening moment you realize that your engine can only run with the keys in the ignition and you distinctly remember locking the car door from the inside when you got out. That’s what happened to me on Saturday.
All the facts are true; but that’s only part of the story.
We were in Pozos: to use its full name, Mineral de Pozos (Mineral Wells). It is a ghost town but not the kind you typically see in Westerns, with a saloon, a jail, and hitching posts.

The area is rich in minerals and since 1540 has had a checkered boom-and-bust history as a succession of peoples have exploited its silver and gold. By the late 1800s, there were reportedly 500 mining operations fueling a city of more than 70,000 people. It was the first city in the region to have a railway and electricity and boasted a “model school.” But the early 20th century dealt Pozos a one/two punch as the Mexican Revolution siphoned off workers and then disastrous floods rendered many mines unworkable. The wealthy mine owners packed up their picks and shovels and abandoned the place.

An Abandoned Mine

Now the hills are strewn with their detritus. There are hundreds of fabulous stone ruins of mining operations, haciendas, homes of the wealthy and poor alike; and municipal edifices in various states of decay and reclamation by nature.
Nature Gets Back

The fabled railway station and model school are massive hollow shells: the first for sale and the latter reportedly sold for developing into some kind of art school: because a place so historic and hauntingly beautiful cannot stay forsaken for long.

The Old Railway Station (it could be yours)

Consequently, Pozos is now experiencing yet another renaissance. Some years ago, it was put on the National Registry of Landmarks. A few charming bed and breakfast inns and restaurants have been fashioned from the ruins and the town square has been spruced up. A lavender farm as been established by a group of women. The population has crept up to about 2,000, about 200 of whom are ex-pat Americans and Europeans.
I was taken there for the first time a few months ago by renowned Australian sculptor, John Osmond, who lived in Pozos for 15 years, and who provided an invaluable guide to the history and people of the town.
John Osmond and one of his sculptures

Those who have gravitated towards the rarified air of the ghost town tend to be of a more pioneering and intrepid ilk even than those who land in near-by San Miguel de Allende. Understandably, many of them are artists.
And that brings us back to the story. Barbara, Wendy and I were in Pozos for an art walk. The little town was packed as buses had been laid on from San Miguel. There were 12 official galleries on the map, but it seems like many other places participated. We stopped in on the family that makes pre-Columbian musical instruments; the women’s collective that dresses dolls in traditional Mexican costumes; and the roadside stand selling local crystals and geodes.

Entrance to one of thegalleries in a fixed-up building

The three of us enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a margarita at the posh Hotel Posada de las Minas before getting back on the art route. The last stop of the day was at a remote gallery – an artist’s studio actually – a little way out of town. We bumped along a barely-there road and pulled up outside the small stone building. That’s where I locked my keys in the car
Almost simultaneous with realizing what I’d done, the following thoughts flashed though my mind: this is the worst possible place this could have happened; I’m an idiot; why did I even lock the car in such a remote place; I’m an idiot; I’ve stranded two other people out here in the wilds and we’re all going to die; I’m an idiot; I should call John Osmond and ask who in Pozos could help me but none of us has a phone plus I don’t have his number with me; I’m an idiot; the only way out of this is to break a window. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed. Barbara, who is lovely and gracious and with the hint of a South Carolina drawl turned out to be the epitome of a Steel Magnolia. The only saving grace was she and I both had left our front seat windows open by a couple of inches. While I swung on mine with all my weight in a futile effort to push it down further (well done, Toyota), she went into the studio and asked the artist in residence if she had a coat hanger. As chance would have it, the artist actually had brought a change of clothes with her from her house for later that night and her dress was on a wire hanger. Barbara straightened it out, got it through the window and with me guiding her – down a bit, to the left a bit – actually managed to unlock the door! Thank goodness I have an old car; it wouldn’t have been possible with a more sophisticated lock. The entire incident had transpired in less than ten minutes.
Giddy with relief I twirled my keys on my finger and joked that this had happened because Pozos didn’t want me to leave. Indeed, like many places rich in minerals and crystals, Pozos seems to exert a strange magnetism that you feel either drawn to or repelled by. I’ve been drawn there five times now, twice this week alone and once by accident when I was on my way to somewhere else!
Stay tuned.

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