The Queretaro Mushrooming Mission 2006 -
"Mission Accomplished" with Fun, Fungi and Excitement
Our first group foray into the central Sierra Gorda mountains in the state of Queretaro began when all 12 of us gathered one weekend at the fine Quinta Santiago hotel in the centro historico of the capital city of the same name. On Monday, July 10, we had grown to 13 as hotel manager Vicente decided to join us. We boarded our passenger van and headed for the hills, with a refreshing stop at a nearby champagne winery and later to admire marble and leather-crafts at the cool, dusty village of Vizzaron. Our first forest accommodation was at rustic forest lodge cabins, Campo Alegre, in the secluded town of San Joaquin. Nearby is the Totonac pre-hispanic site of Las Ranas, where we explored the vast ruins in a gentle drizzle while always keeping eyes out for fungi. With our cheerful local guide Alfredo, we were successful in all respects.
That evening's dinner was a surprise presentation of (stealthily imported) French confit of duck with frites accompanied by foie gras with truffles and nice wines.
The next day it was on up to Jalpan de la Serra, with stops on the way to examine the myriad cactus varieties on the spectacular route and lunch in the charming, former mining town of Pinal de Amoles. With a pool-equiped hotel on the main square as our base for the next four days, we first set out to a forest, El Madrono, near the San Luis Potosi state line, and were rewarded with a plenty of edible Boletus and other specimens.
We drove on for a quaint lunch in a comedor, owned and run by a syndicate of village women, in the town of Xilitla and then went to explore the surrealistic jungle ruins of Dali contemporary and benefactor Edward James. Again, some exotic tropical mushrooms popped up among the outlandish architecture.
With the kind help of the administrators of the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda, led by young eco-enthusiast Roberto Pedraza, we forayed in another private forest near Jalpan and later enjoyed an informative visit to the Reserva's research facilties.
Saving an exotic challenge for late in the week, we all mounted docile, dedicated mules in the desert village of Santa Maria de Cocos to start a 2,000 ft.-elevation climb through rugged, rocky forest trails as we ascended, finally reaching the rim of the Sotano del Barro - the cellar of clay - which is the largest natural sinkhole in the world. In the walls of the mile-deep crater lives the last remaining colony of guacamayas - green military macaws - in central Mexico, and we watched with wonder from above as the majestic birds circled slowly below us. The ride back down was even more challenging than the climb and some opted to walk/hobble down the steep rubble-path, leading their gentle mules.
That evening, we reveled in a well-earned feast of acamayas (no, not the parrots - instead, huge freshwater shrimp from local rivers).
Saturday, it was back to civilization, with an enjoyable, fancy lunch (and shopping) stop along the way at a charming little restaurant in the village of Bernal, at the foot of the world's second largest rock monolith - akin to being the protruding opposite of the previous day's Sotano hole.
Then, a final gala dinner at an elegant hotel in downtown Queretaro and several group members were off before dawn to catch planes back up to El Norte.
With our technical expert/leader Dr. Joaquin Cifuentes and his botanist/cactus-expert wife Rosalva, our small group had a rounded adventure of sights, nature, historic culture and, of course, mushrooms (found, studied and eaten - with the help of participant mycochef Patrick Hamilton). Oh, and along the way, we visited and were awed by, four different mission churches, built 500 years ago "in the midst of nowhere" by Franciscan Junipero Serra, who later went on to found missions in the then-wilds of California, including San Francisco, San Diego and Carmel.
"Muchas gracias to you both! I had a great time on this trip and on so many levels. Yes, we were ahead of the mushroom flush but I learned so much about other flora and fauna as well as history, politics, sociology, ecology and anthropology - oops, let's not forget geology of Mexico. It was a very interesting time (with the election and all) to have Vicente, Joaquin and Rosalva as well as your Canadian ex-pat perspective on things. I came home with a much better understanding of and empathy for, the many Mexican citizens who are in this country for work. I look for travel to be expansive for me personally and this trip certainly was that! It was also quite an adventure at times. Though the mule trek was difficult I was determined to finish the ride because it is not something that comes up for me very often. I (and Connie) wanted to send my mule (I called him Muchacho) DHL to home."