2015 FEB – DURANGO

The city of Durango, in the State of Durango, is 6000ft up the Rocky Mtns

The city of Durango, in the State of Durango, is 6000ft up the Rocky Mtns

Before the new engineering marvel of the Mazatlan-Durango highway, it used to take a full day to drive between the two cities. The old road was the third most dangerous road in the world: first was Bolivia, second China, and third Durango. Then the MX government decided to connect the country’s west coast to its east coast, and the highway is the first phase of this dream.

Note the tunnels and road stretching back into the mountains

Note the tunnels and road stretching back into the mountains

The new highway consists of 62 tunnels and 113 bridges and it now only takes 2 1/2 hours to drive to Durango on the smartest highway in the world. It has sensors for wind, smoke, weather, wind shear, traffic, speeds… you name it, there is a sensor.

The most impressive bridge on the highway is the Baularte Bridge which is in the Guinness Book of Records for not only being the highest bridge in North America, but also the highest cable stayed bridge in the world, surpassing even France’s Millau Viaduct. It is higher, longer, taller than anything out there and is a testament to Mexican engineering.

The Guiness Book of Records bridge - not that this pic does it justice!

The Guinness Book of Records bridge – not that this pic does it justice!

The interesting thing is that each bridge and tunnel is individually named. I would have called the Bridge #1, #2… And Tunnel #1, #2… But it seems that as a mark of community and respect, they named each one to represent some separate memorable place, person, or event.

When the highway was officially opened, the Press asked the engineers what was the most challenging part of building a total of 175 bridges and tunnels. They said that for each bridge the biggest challenge was carving the sand roads down the sheer cliffs to the bottom of the gorges so that they could transport the materials needed to build the bridge buttresses from the (solid) ground up.

Cable ties.

Cable ties.

 

You can see these sand roads clinging to the cliffs and heading steeply for the bottom. The truck drivers had to have nerves of steel to drive heavy loads down there.

The highway travels over the Sierra Madre mountains, the MX extension of the Rocky Mountains. and through the most beautiful scenery with jaw dropping views at every turn. A camera does not do the stunning vistas justice. Durango sits at an elevation of nearly 6,200 feet (like Johannesburg).

I took one look at this cable car and took the bus back down

I took one look at this cable car and took the bus back down

The city of Durango is over 450 years old and its wealth was built on the fact that them thar hills contain silver. Lots of it. In fact Durango is the #1 silver producer in the world. The mountains are also rich in a variety of other minerals, most notable being gold and copper.

The central plaza - copyright Durango official site

The central Plaza de Armas in olde town – copyright Durango official site

Durango’s architecture is an eclectic blend of all the nations that have invaded them over the past 450 years. These include France, Spain, Italy, Britain, and the USA. And the Cinco de Mayo day of remembrance is the defeat of MX at France’s hands. It’s not a victory celebration, as I supposed.

The most beautiful part is the old colonial section in the vicinity of the Plaza de Armas with the imposing Cathedral Basilica de Durango at one end. The Plaza also has a large central gazebo, a ornamental fountain, and ornamental gardens.

The basilica with the old Mexican coat of arms - eagle on a cactus

The basilica with the old Mexican coat of arms – eagle on a cactus

Central nave

Central nave

 

Durango means “beyond the water”. The center of the city was a huge wetlands until the early 1900s when they planted 18,000 Eucalyptus trees from Australia. Those thirsty trees quickly sucked up the waters of the swamp and the city has since created large lush parks in the former swamps.

 

Overall I was disappointed in the architectural offerings of the city.

Perhaps because of the isolation of Durango, the city fathers did not try to preserve historical buildings in general. Now with the new highway and the surge in tourism, they are restoring around 1,500 buildings. But this massive restoration is not yet readily visible. There are some gorgeous mansions that survived and these are being repurposed as museums, but I didn’t think the old colonial part of Durango compares to beautiful Old Mazatlan.

18,000 Eucalyptus trees - no koala bears though

18,000 Eucalyptus trees – no koala bears though

John Wayne loved Durango and kept a home there; he said he loved the clear blues skies. The Duke and other Hollywood stars often filmed there – Elvis Presley, James Dean, Anthony Quinn, Charles Bronson, Jack Nicholson, Charlton Heston… to name just a few.

Francisco Villa (Pancho) museum

Francisco Villa (Pancho) museum

This (now) museum takes up an entire huge city block and was owned by the richest man in Durango in the 1800s. The part that fronted onto the plaza was his stores and warehouse for all his goods, and the back half was his private residence. Take a look at that size!  This is now the Pancho museum.

The most famous Durango person is Pancho Villa, and I paid a visit to his museum. PV was born in 1878 and when his father died, he took over the care of his family. At 16, so the story goes, his mother said the landlord raped his 11-year old sister as part payment of the rent. Pancho hunted the man down and killed him. Then he escaped to the hills of Chihuahua and became a bandit.

He was a modern day Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor hence the people protected and hid him from the authorities. He joined a bandit gang headed by Francisco Villa and when Francisca died, Pancho thought it prudent to take his name. He dropped his given name of Arambula and took Villa since “Francisco Villa” was not wanted for murder in Durango. And Pancho Villa was born, Pancho being his affectionate name.

All the walls I side the museum have murals depicting the life of Panch

All the walls I side the museum have murals depicting the life of Panch

Pancho was quite the ladies man. He has 23 recognized marriage certificates on file and over 40 children. He was married to all 23 at the same time – a wife in every village, it is said.

The first time Pancho appears on the (legal) political stage is when the priest asks for his help in the War of Independence

The first time Pancho appears on the (legal) political stage is when the priest asks for his help in the War of Independence

PV was basically just a bandit until a priest called for independence for Mexico from its current overseas rulers. Since PV commanded a large army of fighting men, albeit bandits, he was brought in to help fight for independence which took 17 years to achieve. Pancho was an effective leader and won his various battles for the war of independence, but he did not approve of the new people in govt. They all promptly imprisoned him – PV was too popular to be allowed to roam as a loose cannon. As various men fell and rose to power over the years in the new MX, Pancho changed sides depending on who he supported at the time. This also cost him dearly in support with the powerful emerging figures of the day.

Stone wall depicting Pancho at the City Community Center

Stone wall depicting Pancho at the City Community Center

In 1913 PV was named Governor of Chihuahua and set about creating an army which became the most powerful and feared military unit in MX.
This upset the MX power brokers so they contrived to clip his wings by attacking his army.
By 1915 PV’s army had incurred major losses and the rest of his soldiers accepted amnesty from the current govt.
PV had a recurring bad habit of aligning himself with the losers. PV was down to just 200 loyal men.
In 1916 PV made the mistake of attacking Texas and New Mexico to obtain arms for his dwindling army. This annoyed the USA who sent 5,000 men to hunt down PV and kill him. They didn’t succeed because the people hid PV.
But eventually he was murdered in 1923 as he drove his car to a function. The assassins riddled his car with bullets.

He was always loved by the common man, and is now revered in all MX.

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Other pics of Durango…….

 

Durango has a SCORPION fetish. Their tourist trinkets all contain (once) live scorpions, like the hands of these clocks.

Durango has a SCORPION fetish. Their tourist trinkets all contain (once) live scorpions, like the hands of these clocks.  Almost EVERY trinket here has a scorpion somewhere!

 

Colonial (old) Durango - now a promenade

Colonial (old) Durango – now a promenade

 

Buildings around the plaza

Buildings around the plaza

Plaza fountain

Plaza fountain

Benches in the plaza - beautifully executed

Benches in the plaza – beautifully executed

 

Building around the plaza

Building around the plaza

 

Beautiful old colonial mansion

Beautiful old colonial mansion

 

 

 

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