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Missing Potrero Chico, Mexico

Fond Memories of Potrero Chico, Mexico.

View of the El Toro cliff. Potrero Chico rock climbing area, Mexico

El Toro, Potrero Chico, Mexico

  • Soaring limestone cliffs over 2,000 feet tall.
  • Warm pleasant temperatures in February.
  • A laid-back international climbing community ready to make new friends. Generous and friendly locals happy to see us year after year.
  • Delicious homemade burritors barbacoa at Checo’s place.
  • Stray dogs that follow you to the cliff and spend the day with you as your temporary crag dog.
  • Being greeted at my casita by a family of cats.
  • Swilling a giant caguama cerveza after a hot day in the sun, and passing around a bottle of El Compadre tequila late in the evening.
My friends doing synchronized swilling of caguamas (huge beers) in Potrero Chico, Mexico

Ethan and Scooter doing synchornized caguama swilling

The highlight of my winters from 2002 to 2010 was rock climbing at Potrero Chico. I only missed one winter, 2009, because I had an opportunity to go to Ecuador and the Galapagos instead. Each time I’d be there about 7 to 12 days and hate to leave. But 2011 was different. Monterrey is where we fly into, and travel about 45 minutes from the airport to Potrero Chico. We read in the news that drug cartels had begun fighting in Monterrey, and dead bodies were hung from bridges, piles of massacred bodies were found on the side of the road. I was hoping to bring my girls to Potrero for the first time that winter, but my husband nixed that idea and I admit I was too nervous as well. So I stayed home. Then I stayed home again this winter (early 2012) and worked long days in the office.
Cliffmama flexing at the top of 7 pitch rock climb Snot Girlz in Potrero Chico, Mexico.

Cliffmama at the summit of “Snot Girlz” (5.10d, 7 pitches) in 2002, Potrero Chico, Mexico

I can’t bear the thought of waiting all winter until spring arrives at the Gunks to climb outdoors again. I’m always easily chilled and my hands take forever to warm up – so I’ve never had any desire to ice climb. My idea of winter climbing is going to Mexico and climbing in a tank top in February.

Hanging out drinking with a big group of new and old climbing friends at La Posada, at Potrero Chico, Mexico.

Hanging out with new & old climbing friends at La Posada.

Isn’t Mexico Dangerous Now?

I have a number of friends who kept going to Potrero each winter anyway. They haven’t seen any problems. They say arrive during the daytime, get a ride directly from the airport to Potrero, take the toll highway, and don’t spend time hanging out in Monterrey – and I’ll be fine. Well it’s time to return to Potrero this winter. I bought my plane tickets and I have a couple of months to practice what little Spanish I know and try to lose a few pounds, recover from some scrambled muscles in my neck and shoulder and get in shape.

Museum of Mexican History in Monterrey, Mexico

Will have to skip visiting the beautiful museums of Monterrey.

The Locals of Potrero Chico

Sure, the climbing community is bumming because a favorite winter climbing destination (and an inexpensive one at that) has been taken off the list because of the fear of violence. But the real victims are the locals. Potero isn’t a major tourist destination. It supports local groups in the summer who come to enjoy the large pool complex in the canyon and it hosts climbers in the winter. Tourists don’t go there, climbers do. When I started going to Potrero in 2002, it was still fairly primitive. There weren’t that many places to stay (Rancho Cerro Gordo, Homero’s and La Pagoda were there, La Posada was just getting started). There was only 1 restaurant (Checo’s), but it was very tasty food and we were happy to go there every night. The water supply was a series of black hoses that went from a tank filled by the aqueduct across the sidewalks to each person’s house. They were always leaking. But you could drink the canyon spring water from the tap and it was delicious. I never had the “Mexican ass flu” on any of my trips there.

Potable drinking water in multiple hoses along the sidewalk from the aqueduct to homes in Potrero Chico, Mexico.

The former water supply in Potrero Chico, Mexico

With the climbers came the climbers’ money. The little area quintas added restaurants, built new casitas to rent, refurbished their swimming pools and business was great. Then the violence started happening in Monterrey and the crowds of foreign climbers disappeared just like that. Friends who kept going anyway told me the place was empty. Restaurants closed. You’d have to hitch or walk 45 minutes to Hidalgo, the nearest town, to buy food at the market. It made me so sad to hear this. These local business-people have always been so nice to us, and so generous.

Sue and I having a cerveza with our friend Gilberto from La Pagoda, Potrero Chico, Mexico.

Sue and I with Gilberto

Our friend Gilberto from La Pagoda would drive us to Hidalgo to go to the market and meet us an hour later to drive us back. He would refuse any gas money. On cold days, we would return to our casita and he sometimes would have already made a fire in the fireplace for us. He’d hang out with us and give us Spanish language lessons. I remember when I got injured, the police car escorted us to the clinic in Hidalgo to make sure we didn’t get lost. Everyone was so nice to me in the hospital. Luis from La Posada said he was so worried about me and he had been praying for me. Luckily I only suffered bruised ribs. On rainy days Tami would welcome us into her little cafe to relax and chat and give me little presents to bring home to my daughters.

Collage from Superbowl watching party at Homeros, Potrero Chico - garden hoe supported satellite dish, tiny TV and climbers on the patio.

Superbowl party at Homero’s (the satellite dish was held up by a garden hoe and all of us were watching this tiny TV set!)

We enjoyed a fun superbowl party outside at Homero’s where we chowed on steak dinner. One year, my friends were invited to a superbowl party and the locals took them to a friend’s house where they watched it on TV sitting on some guy’s bed in a small house. Story after story of friendly and caring locals. Now, the hundreds of climbers weren’t coming to Potrero anymore to support these businesses.

Cliffmama climbing on Sancho Panza (5.11a), Potrero Chico

The beautiful limestone face climbs in the Virgin Canyon (me in green shirt on Sancho Panza, 5.11a)

Potrero Chico, Here I Come

Well it’s time to return. I want to bring my spending money to Potrero and help the local businesses. This time we won’t be spending a rest day touring the beautiful museums of Monterrey and having drinks in the old town district. But we will return, we will climb, and we will do what we can to return the love.

Cliffmama dancing while rock climbing the Spires, Potrero Chico, Mexico.

Dancing with joy on the perfect 2nd pitch arete of Aguja Celo Rey (5.10b) on the Spires. My favorite pitch in Potrero.


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