As a child on a Saturday, I was sitting alongside my grandmother, Romana Cortez. I always listen to her stories about her migration from Mexico and how she lost her children along the way. Among those stories was her vivid recollection of her stay in the town of Real de Catorce.
I was fascinated with the name because I knew catorce meant fourteen in English. Being young I didn’t question it further. I was to find out about it later in life, and after I had retired. This is when I started to work on my family tree.
I went to the cemeteries to get names of deceased relatives and their dates of birth and death. To find out more about my grandmother and grandfather, I had to go to Monterrey, Mexico to visit my grandfather’s nephew, Raul Cortez. I found out there that he had gone to the civil authorities and wrote a statement about my grandmother being born in Real Catorce in the state of San Luis Potosi because there were no birth certificates. That pique my interest of that town and recalled my memory with my grandmother’s stories about her birthplace.
Afterward, a few years later, we had a chance to go on a tour to Miguel Allende, Mexico. We had our first overnight stop at a town called Managua or something like that. We found out that there was a small bus tour going to Real de Catorce. I didn’t know that it was a tourist sight and we jumped on it. Finally, I was looking forward to seeing the actual town where my grandparents were born.
The road trip was exciting. It was about 15 to 30 miles of a stone embedded road, and we felt every bump. We had to drive up a mountain road to get to the town which was high above the clouds. When we got there a small group of children climbed aboard and started reciting in a sing song fashion, the story of Real Catorce. Right after, we went into a mile long tunnel that led into the town and the only way you could get in by vehicles.
Imagine my surprised when we found that Real Catorce was almost a ghost town. However, there were vendors selling their wares. Going through the town which resembled the ruins of Pompei with no roofs, we reached the center which had a church, city hall and other vendors. Aside from that, there were small Mom and Pop restaurants which sold snacks a maybe a taco or two. There was no electricity nor water. Water had to be caried from the mountain spring. The roads were cobblestones and most of the town was hilly. I was disappointed.
As a tourist sight, it was not much. However, I understand that every year thousands of people come to this town to celebrate Saint Francis Day. I also found that the Huichol Indians lived here in the area. This was my first trio to Real Catorce but, I did buy a booklet and a video on the history of the town. In short, this town was a thriving community for the Spaniards because of the mines located here back in the early 1600s. They had their own orchestras, bull fighting and concerts befitting the conquering, Spaniards. Royalty visited here during its heydays. The tunnel was built by enslaved Indians to make it passable.
On my later trips, the town had changed. This was due to a movie being filmed there called “The Mexican” with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Celebrities wanted indoor water and electricity for lights in their room. So, water and electricity were brought in and that changed the environment. Soon there were more hotels and better restaurants. However, the streets and building have not changed. The festivals are still ongoing, but the tourist trade continues.
There is a cemetery on a hill which I didn’t get to see too much of it. I plan to go once more to see if there were more Cortez’s buried there.