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12 - La Pena of Bernal And Mexico Magico

Christina Nealson

It is like a scene from a Fellini movie. Shrieking laughter of women. French music from a boom box. Chop chop chop of a machete. And we, hunkered down in our sleeping bags.
Journal, June 13


We exit San Miguel de Allende, travel up and out of town past movie complexes, shopping centers and stoplights. The lake is in the distance as we point our way toward the small town of Bernal and her rock monolith. I need a power spot. A hearty, sheer climb to work the last few days through my body. To sweat.

La Peña of Bernal juts 2000 feet into the sky, second only in mass to Ayers Rock in Australia. Like Bernal to the Aztecs, 'Uluru' holds a central place in the cosmos of the Anangu Aborigines. Both rocks are core to stories and legends from creation to present time. Both stand as gathering points for people across the ages. According to myriad legends, Bernal Rock contains ' las energias'. She heals. Her core contains amethyst crystals, say some. Treasure, proclaim others, who also say a giant snake presides over the origins of the human race.

It is a steep hour's hike to the capilla, where only rock climbers are permitted to continue. There are seven routes to her top. I stop and sit on the monolith's thigh, where stone, sweat and sun pervade.

Opting to stay clear of towns, we drive north from Bernal and look for a camping spot. We did not know that this drive would be one of the most splendid we have experienced anywhere in the world. "It is like the Alps," says Tom. Precipitously terraced, mountainside fields. Isolated villages, little clusters of huts and homes, mere specks at mountain's bottom. Serpentine roads far, far below that appear and disappear around cliffs.

Day wanes, as we wonder if we will find a place to camp before night falls. As we drop towards a little town, we give in to civilization and decide to look for a place to stay when we suddenly come upon a little park-like camp and picnic area with playground swings. We pull in and drive as far off the highway as possible, away from truck and bus engines, and from the parking lot. We spread our camp upon the cloud forest hillside. A little Indian man and his serape-wrapped wife graze sheep. She crouches against a tree, chain-smoking cigarettes as he cuts wood with a machete. Darkness falls as they, their loyal dogs, and eight sheep pass through our campsite on their way down the mountainside. Smiles as full as the orange cream moon that rises through cloud and birdsong.

We walk around the mountainside, following glimpses of birds. We have the place to ourselves, until a large van pulls into the area and a half dozen white folks scramble out and comb the park like kids on an Easter egg hunt. Teens and adults who speak French, their favorite homeland tunes emanate from the vehicle stereo. The happy bunch sets up camp by the road and takes to its tents as darkness descends.

We settle into our sleeping bags ready for shut-eye as another vehicle drives up. Out pile several Mexicans. Boys and girls, laughing hilariously. They joke and cajole themselves to the swings, carrying beers, intent on pure fun. It's contagious. We giggle away inside our tent. I close my eyes.

Suddenly, from the mountain beside us: chop, chop, chop. A campesino, we guess, chopping wood with a machete. The French turn up their music. Spanish yips and hollers come from the swings. Strange forest birds screech. Chop. Chop. It moves closer. The machete from the dark hillside. We turn on the flashlight, sit up and look at one another, as if caught in a Fellini script. It is full moon. Friday the 13th. La mujer's shrill, squeaky laughter fills the dark.

And then, silence. The climax of chaos ends. As if some cosmic clock struck midnight, teenagers make for their car and speed away. The campesino disappears. The French tent goes dark.

México mágico leaves me to percolate dreams.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2004 by Christina Nealson © 2008
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