On July 19, five of us decided to rent a big van from our taxi driver friend Juan (email me for his number) and escape the heat of Vallarta for a couple of nights. Our destination was an old silver mining town that once had 20,000 inhabitants. Now, with just a few of over 20 mines that once operated still in business, the town is a living history book where tourists can step back 200 years to another time. There’s one atm in town now and two local taxis. Prior to this year, not even those existed I’m told. The drive up, passing over the new Rainbow Bridge, is a feast for the senses. Tequila and Rascilla stands dot the road along with fruit and candy stands. Once you’re 20 minutes outside of Vallarta the mountain vistas are simply heavenly with lush, green valleys this time of year. A view down to the old road, underneath the Rainbow bridge, reminds carefree passengers of how hard the driver’s had it just a few years back when they had to cross the river below and wind up steep, rocky, unpaved roads for hours to to get where it took us only minutes to reach. One of my friends tells a story of passing another car on the one lane (barely that) road below and feeling the wheels of his bus start to slide off the cliff. They were saved by a quick thinking driver. Damn, scares me to think of it.
This is a bit of background on the town/area from San Sebastien’s tourism board:
With the arrival of Francisco Cortes and his Spanish conquistadors, mining first began in the area in 1524. It eventually became so fruitful with gold, silver lead, and zinc, that the town of San Sebastián del Oeste was founded in 1605. The town would grow to be one of the principal mining centers for New Spain.
Necessary for the smelting process of precious metals, salt was imported by mule from the small costal town of Las Peñas, now known as Puerto Vallarta. The silver and gold would then be transported to Guadalajara, Mexico City, and eventually Veracruz, where it would be shipped out to Spain once a year.
The prosperity of the mines continued, and by 1785, there were over 30 mines. At one point, San Sebastián was even the provincial capital of Jalisco (now Guadalajara). The town became a city in 1812, and by 1830, it claimed more than 20,000 inhabitants.
We chose the a hotel on the zocalo, or town square, called Hacienda Pepellon. It houses the old general store in front and the stables for horses and crew in back. Of course, nobody stores their horses there anymore but the grounds and buildings are full of rich history of a time when this town was booming, just before bandits took over and pretty much wiped out everything.
The old ramp from the hotel to the stables is paved in cobblestones that stay damp and slick this time of year. The town is covered in a misty haze from about 5pm to daybreak, making everything rather wet and cool. Kinda perfect weather for a mountain town. The stamp on the wood above our head in the hotel said 1855. Some buildings in town are over 250 years old.
I have found a great driver and would be happy to organize another trip soon if anyone wants to go. The Van holds about 6 comfortably. The hotels charge 150 to 300 pesos per room. There’s an Italian Restaurant there that is quite possibly the best I’ve ever tasted. Chef is from Italy and the restaurant is in his charming wife’s home a block off the Zocalo, but it feels like you’ve stepped into a vineyard cafe in Italy. The restaurant is called Montebello now but has been formerly known as Real de Vino, I think. He has quite a following and its an oasis in the middle of a charming, old Mexican mining town. We all agreed it was the best, cripsy thin crust pizza we’ve tasted, bar none! I’m ready to go again! Nearby Talpa de Allende is also on my radar. 🙂
We also stopped for a tour of Pam Thompson’s family’s place, Hacienda Jalisco. I’m really glad we stopped. Amazing stories there. If you want complete isolation, this is the place to stay. If you want to be near restaurants, stay in the town and walk 20 minutes along the river out to Hacienda Jalisco, like some locals did while we were there. It’s so cool, the walk must be a breeze. There are also two taxi drivers in town. Lionelle, is one of them. He was happy to drink with us one night in the old miner bar, which they opened just for us. On Friday and Saturday, its THE place to be in town with live entertainment and Karaoke.