Every Town Has Its Dark Past, Like Zacatecas, Mexico

Charming, Traditional Mexico With A Dark Past

So traditional, the man with the donkey will sell you agua miel

People drink aguamiel (honey water) in Zacatecas. That’s sap from the maguey plant.

“You have to buy it from the man with the donkey. He walks around so I can’t tell you where to go,” shopkeepers told us.

Meet Manuel and his donkey Simón. Manuel produces the drink from the maguey plants on his own property. We paid him $30 pesos ($1.50 U.S.) for 2 cups of it.

There are actually a few of these men walking around the town, selling their aguamiel.

Aguamiel helps lower cholesterol and strengthens the immune system. It’s naturally sweet, but it also tastes like a crude vegetable.

I didn’t like it, but Dan did. I’m glad I tried it, though.

There’s something so charming about buying it from a man with a donkey. The streets in the historic center are preserved and there are a lot of shops That sell silver artisan jewelry. What I love most about Mexico is how people have preserved their traditions. Each region is different, too.

Mexico calls towns like this Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns) and the federal government even provides funding to maintain them. Another equally magical town, and not too far from Zacatecas, is the town of Guanajuato, where you can visit the mummy museum. It’s a must-see. And the famous San Miguel de Allende is relatively close, too.

Zacatecas Invites You To Examine Its Dark Past

Famous view of Zacatecas’ beautiful cathedral, and the pink quarry used in construction

But these towns also have their dark secrets. This blog post is about the difficult past of the town of Zacatecas.

First, let me show you around. Zacatecas is the furthest north we’ve been in Mexico. It feels like an old West Mexican town. The building and the cathedral are made from a pink quarry that’s eye-catching.

Some of the architecture is more elaborate. In the next photo, you can see a much plainer style.

Several buildings in the town are deteriorating

Look through the missing panels in the second floor windows and you’ll see the bright sunlight coming through? There’s not even a roof anymore.

Several buildings are deteriorating, and the situation will only get worse with the pandemic.

Zacatecas was once a wealthy town, built on greed and on the backs of slave labor. I never would have thought about the town’s origins if it weren’t for the main tourist attraction here.

It’s not a museum, it’s a multisensory experience Showing Greed and EXCRUCIATING Laobr

Inside the town’s famous mine, El Eden, a multisensory experience that will make you understand the town in a new way

This experience is called El Eden mine. The Spanish began digging the mine in 1586, and the mine was still in operation until 1960. There’s still silver in here, but the mine is too close to the town. The explosions were causing structural damage to the town, so El Eden was closed forever.

It’s not accurate to say the Spanish began digging in 1586, because their indigenous slave labor did all the work. They shipped most of the gold in this region back to Spain, but many churches here are still filled with gold.

Here we are, 1,150 feet (350 meters) below the surface of the mountain.

The mine feels cold and damp, but so picturesque. Maybe it´s because of the the colorful illumination.

Indigenous children, as young as 8, climbed these ladders with sacks of gold on their backs

Indigenous boys as young as eight years old were forced to work in the mine.

In the accompanying photo, two boys are climbing a ladder with sacks of gold on their backs. Slipping off the ladder meant killing everyone else on the ladder below them.

The state of Zacatecas is full of mines, some gold, some silver, and so is the neighboring state of San Luís Potosí is, too.. The Spanish brought the gold to Veracruz, and then shipped most of it back to Spain.

Figures adorn the mine, illustrating the backbreaking labor and danger over the mine’s 400-year history. We saw the town in a different way when we returned to it. We understood Mexico in a different way, too. Zacatecas, like so many other Mexican towns, was built by greed and on the backs of excruciating labor.

How To Find El Eden Mine

The figures placed throughout the mine show the excruciating labor over the mine’s 400-year-old history

When you visit, a tour guide will lead you through the mine, telling you the mine’s history and the legends.

If you’re bold, do as we did and ask a taxi to bring you to the mine. It’s a short, 5-10-minute ride and will only cost you a couple of dollars. But there’s an easier way to visit.

In front of the Cathedral, you’ll find men dressed as miners and women in traditional dresses. They’re selling you this fascinating tour, plus the tram up to the top of the mountain they call La Bufa.

We only saw La Bufa from below. It towers over the city. And even if you take the taxi to the top like we did, the tour guide at the mine will point you to the tram. It’s right there.

A Hotel That Will Send You Back To The Past

Our hotel Quinta Real was once the bullfighting ring

Our hotel, Quinta Real, was once the bullfighting arena in Zacatecas. 

Quinta Real’s rooms are beautiful.

The restaurant is built on three different levels, and each has a view of the arena and the aqueduct. There’s also outdoor dining, like you see in the accompanying photo. This evening, we were here just for drinks.

A lot of people from Zacatecas come, just to eat at the restaurant. If you stay at the hotel, you receive a discount at the restaurant. But if you stay at Quinta Real, you’ll get the 15% dining discount, even if you come in the evening just for a cocktail. 

Unique Regional Gastronomic Choices

La Unica Cabaña is the most popular restaurant in Zacatecas, according to TripAdvisor ratings. This man has been preparing tacos here for 34 years. Here, he’s preparing tacos al pastor (marinated, grilled pork), popular throughout Mexico.

But there are two dishes that are popular and unique to Zacatecas:

1. Asado de Boda (Wedding roast): roast pork with chile

2. Tacos envenenados (poisoned tacos): large, fried corn tortillas are filled with retried beans, potato, cheese and sausage.

5 comments

  • Enchanting yet sad experience to see how some people HAd to live
    I love the story of the man & donkey!
    He’s giving something healthy & unique to people as he wanders around
    They make a fantastic team , so awesome of it’s country tradition
    I remember seeing women in the small villages
    Near a creek washing their families clothes…beating them on the rocks !
    When they saw us white young tourists walking by,
    They gave us such a beautiful warm smile
    Like they were happy doing this work…without a machine!
    I’m so awed at how much you’ve seen in your travels
    And how you have shown us all the history, & so much of these amazing people culture & traditions!
    The architecture is beyond beautiful, as it’s an incredible style of it’s own
    You have so many wonderful, interesting stories, I’m sure someday you will compile them into a book
    Not only for interested people, but tourists who will gain from your knowledge & experience of this
    Truly fascinating country!
    I was in a few of the cities & towns, many years ago
    I can always say, I enjoyed every bit of it !
    Especially The people were always very kind & helpful to us all !
    Thanks again, for your loving details of this awesome country!
    I can see why you will return to make it your home
    Sara Shaw 🥰

    • I’m glad you’ve had these experiences, too, Sara. What a difference when you experience a culture yourself. That’s how I feel. The connections you make traveling, even if they’re small, are memorable. Thank you for your beautiful comment.

    • I’ve gotten to see a lot of Mexico in the past year and I love it. The people are very friendly and I love how they maintain their traditions. So far, Zacatecas is one of our two favorites towns. We’re figuring out where to live in Mexico. I hope you get to visit one day. Stay well, Bojana

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