The following is from a journal kept during my recent trip to Mexico, taken in the winter of 2015.
(Addendum) We visited Hidalgo in December of 2015, as perhaps two hundred other international travelers had, for the rock climbing that the mountains of El Potrero Chico offered. Interest had waned for the area on account of Mexico's ongoing cartel situation, which had resulted in a mass assassination and death of a few tourists near Hidalgo four years prior. Me and Josh, with two weeks PTO, utilized the Christmas holidays of our respective offices to meet our friend John, who, with a fluency with the language and local connection, insisted that the risks were overblown.
I showed up to the terminal expecting to kill time for an hour before boarding. I quickly realized that the central Dallas greyhound station is sketchy! It was an unpleasant reminder of class disparity and how fortunate I am. By 4:00AM, I was in San Antonio, where I had to kill another two hours before the bus departed for Laredo, TX. Not pleasant. By 10:00AM I had arrived in Laredo, where we were informed in Spanish undecipherable to me that the border would take six hours to cross. Needless to say, the majority of the bus vacated. With little desire to change travel plans in a foreign language, I stuck it out. This turned out to be in my favor as the border crossing took less than an hour, meaning we were running according to schedule. Perplexing.
I'll admit the language barrier seems more serious that I had imagined. I have taken other trips to South America, but this was definitely the first time I went totally native in choice of transportation. A friendly man with his son helped me vaguely understand what was going on, but it was very much a gesture heavy day. Unrelated to this, the border was ridiculously easy to cross as an American; I was worried about the thirty pounds of coffee and twelve-pack of beer I had brought with me (as well as all the metal climbing gear) but no one batted an eye through customs.
Passing through Nuevo Laredo in a bus was haunting; ghost towns and shanty villas with wood cook fires smoking in the distance dotted the "tollroad." The first toll-booth was abandoned; whether from disrepair, staffing problems, or danger was unclear. The next stretch of road was typical prairie lands and far mountains reminiscent of the deep hill country and Big-Bend areas of my own state; brush on sagebrush with Joshua-Tree like cacti and brown grass for days. Scrub-oak and the occasional hay bale were spread throughout.
As we entered Monterrey, we passed the Federales compound with its high walls, barbed wire, and watchtowers. The outer city was littered with the crooked remains of concrete structures that seemed to have been hit by mortars. The national police were seen riding in kevlar, standing in the back of moving pickups whose beds where encaged in steel railings that supported their rifles.
Upon arrival in Monterrey, I had to haggle my way from the bus station to the airport. I found a kind man who exchanged twenty dollars for three hundred pesos (a fair rate) so that I could catch a cab. (I had expected a money exchange in Laredo, but had not had time to exchange what with the border crossing confusion). The cab ride was as all cab rides are in dis-established nations, terrifying until you realized everybody is driving as manically as your cabbie. For example, a man was juggling bowling pins in the middle of a four way intersection (presumably for the exposure). We barreled straight at the man, who, finally realizing predicting our collision, simply sidestepped.
I then met up with Josh Moorman at the airport, John Brothers picked us up in his truck, and we headed for the small town of Hidalgo that was our ultimate destination. The first evening drug on. We visited John's residential workplace, El Buho, and for some reason sat down with a group of twenty strangers from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to watch the first Star Wars movie on a projector, before making our way to the lodgings we had arranged, where we crashed hard into bed.
Our first day of climbing was relatively eventful. After a late start, we got a few climbs at Wonderwall and the Scrutinizer out of the way before launching up a multi-pitch route named Dope Ninja (600', Grade 5.7) at roughly 3:00PM. We were imagining linked pitches, where the leading climber would cover 200' instead of 100' at a time before bringing his partner up and switching leads, but this was impossible on account of the traversing features. We instead ended up taking a long-ass time to summit as we had to lead each of the seven pitches individually; I lead the final pitch in the dark by headlamp as Josh followed by the light I threw from above, since we hadn't the forethought to bring two. Slowly, safely, we finally got down at 10:00PM after three and half hours rappelling the 600 or so feet of the climb. I doubt we'll be jumping on another multi-pitch in the afternoon after this debacle.