Neither of us speak Spanish or have visited Mexico before so we were a bit nervous to drive across the border. As we traveled earlier in our road trip, we met many climbers who raved about their experiences in El Potrero Chico so we had to check it out. Of all the places in North America to spend the winter Climbing, Potrero is one of the warmest with the most stable weather. So off we went to drive across the border into Mexico armed with http://potrerochico.org/, a AAA map, Google Translate and a wad of Pesos.
Much to our surprise, Boris was singled out by US border control while entering into Mexico, but we had no problems crossing back in. We wanted to take pictures while five agents stood around the truck with the hood popped after scanning the vehicle with an x-ray van, but felt that might further delay our entry. After what felt like an eternity, they eventually let us through and we crossed the bridge into Mexico. The Mexican border control agents let us through with barely a search after they realized we didn’t speak the local language and we were off to go find the Modulo CIITEV to pick up our tourist visas, vehicle import permit, and Mexican car insurance. The directions got tricky and after a wrong turn onto a one way street in the wrong direction, we found the correct building and got all our permits in order. Luckily some of the employees spoke excellent English and the process was a breeze. Then we had a scenic 3 hour drive on toll roads which were well maintained to the town of Hidalgo. Along the way we saw a few federal police convoys and one army checkpoint driving on the highway. This was alarming at first glance since they had many well armed soldiers in the trucks (and 50 cal. machine gun turrets), but we realized that our tolls were helping pay for the nice pavement and local security forces. The ride was pretty uneventful after exiting the highway, aside from the window washers who jumped on Boris’s running boards while we were at a red light in town and stayed there until we gave them a few coins.
In general, driving in Mexico off the toll roads is bit like driving off road. As soon as you exit the highways there becomes many potholes to dodge and the lanes also begin to appear and disappear randomly. Turn signals and headlights are optional and cars often travel half in the lane and half in the shoulder to allow for passing. Once you get into the town of Hidalgo the speed limit goes down to 30 km/h (18mph). You really can’t go much faster as there are tons of speed bumps, stray dogs and people walking around everywhere. The cliffs of El Potrero Chico can be seen as soon as you reach the outskirts of Hidalgo and provide a beautiful backdrop to the town. As soon as we checked in at our camping spot, La Posada, we drove up the canyon to check the cliffs out.
The climbing in el Potrero is mainly bolted limestone. This type of climbing is predominately face climbing which requires delicate balance. The large draw to this area is all of the long multi-pitch routes. The longest route is 2300 ft tall and there are many climbs in the 600 – 1200 ft tall range. Since it is sport climbing, you don’t need to carry a lot of gear and the leads move fast allowing you to cover hundreds of feet of climbing quickly. This turns long routes into casual days where we could sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, then climb 700 ft of rock in the afternoon with plenty of time to get down before dark.
During our first week in Potrero our trip happily overlapped with two friends from Boston, Dan and Minyoung. It is always enjoyable to reunite with the Boston crew while travelling! We all stayed at the campground/complex La Posada. With showers, cook area, pool, and a restaurant, this was the most luxurious place we have stayed all trip. It is also only a short walk from the cliffs, making it super convenient. It is also full of climbers, mainly from the US, Canada, and Australia, making it a very friendly social scene.
One of the major attractions in the town of Hidalgo is the street market which happens every Tuesday and Friday. This is where we bought all of our produce, which was super fresh and inexpensive. You can buy many different items here, from produce to pet fish and bunnies to tools to clothing, the list goes on.