We drive a few more meters and catch the attention of a young man in a cowboy hat wooing a young girl. "Sure, you can camp there. Plenty of space. Let me take you." As he gets into his huge new Ford truck, we suddenly realize this seemingly poor town is full of huge American trucks. Migrant workers sending money back home? Perhaps. Drug money? We hope not.
We drive to the other side of town and we settle on the grounds-a perfectly acceptable place to pitch our tent, cook some chicken and potatoes, and have a beer or two. As Megan starts to get the tent ready, Laurent goes over to say thanks, and to double-check on the security: "Oh, yeah, no problem to camp. But you might want to know that some time ago, a man was killed here."
"Some time ago?" Laurent asks, "How long?"
"Oh, some time ago. But don't worry, I'll watch out for you. You'll be fine here."
As the night proceeds, heavy Chevy and Ford trucks proceed to make their rounds around our campsite checking us out while music blares from the town. What sounds like gunshots are heard intermittently throughout our dinner, and before heading to bed, we see military spotlights searching the hills. One restless night later, we're glad to chide ourselves for being so foolish.
Or are we? Two kilometers out of town, we run into a military checkpoint. The soldier stops us, and while doing a quick check, we ask him why the search. He looks at us as if we are really stupid tourists, "Don't you know? This area is heavy in drug trafficking, arms trafficking, you name it. Lots of unsavory characters. Be careful."
Our hearts settled back into our chests, we decide to now try to let only cultural and natural wonders raise our pulse rate. As we conquer the incredible depths of the Copper Canyon (four times the size of the Grand Canyon), and head towards the ghost town of Real de Catorce-set high in the Anahuac Mountains along possibly the longest cobblestone street in the world-we figure that we can get as many thrills by off-roading in this dry and high desert than by tempting fate on the roads at night.
Driving the narrow streets of Zacatecas, the first of several colonial cities that garnered their fortune through silver mining for the Spanish Empire, we feel danger melt away and instead marvel at the city's magnificent architecture. What a difference!
The road is high and dry, making for fast time between Zacatecas and our next stop, San Miguel de Allende. Our trailer rattles behind us as we slowly make our way down possibly the narrowest street we have encountered in a long time, the tires squeaking on the cobblestones. The town of San Miguel de Allende slowly greets us in an array of colors. After the arid landscapes of the high plateau, it is a feast for our eyes. The town is known for several reasons: Ignacio Allende, one of the leaders of the uprising that started the Mexican Revolution was born here; and in the 1940s, with the opening of the School of Fine Arts, many American artists flocked here, in part due to the fine sharp light that pervades the surrounding hills. Today, the town is known for its university, its laid-back lifestyles, and as a popular setting for films. Navigating the minuscule alleys, called callejones, with a student group of singers and musicians, we are treated to the legends and stories of this quaint city before we take off towards the maddening mess of Mexico City.