January 24, 2017

Taking Kids to El Potrero Chico, Mexico

Domestic travel with a kid is one thing, but international?

We took our toddler to El Potrero Chico, Mexico, for 10 days over Christmas and I'm here to tell you: international travel with a kid is not to be feared and you should totally do it.

When our dear friend mentioned rock climbing at El Potrero Chico, which is quickly becoming famous after Alex Honnold free-solo-ed El Sendero Luminoso, we said Let's Do It. The flexibility of my freelance work and Mr. Go's joblessness allowed us to pick up and go.

All we had to do was pick dates and find a dog sitter (for which we used MindMyHouse.com again and it worked wonderfully). We overpacked the car and, with me and Babs in the back and Mr. Go and Our Dear Friend in the front, took off.

We stopped off for a quick snooze, then continued on through Texas for another seven thousand hours. That state is enormous.

Crossing the border into Mexico required nothing more than...driving over the border. A guy peeked in the hatchback. Then of course, you have to navigate several miles to the CITEV, to obtain a Tourist Permit.

The only time we were almost hustled was right there, literally 10 feet over the border. Two men in orange construction vests flagged us down as we were trying to pull away and told us they would take us to the CITEV 'for tips.' We were discombobulated and they looked semi-official in their vests so we said, "Um. Ok."

The men went to their car and Mr. Go rolled up the window, saying to us, "We're not doing that." We waved goodbye to the two dudes and found the CITEV ourselves.

After Mr. Go obtained the Tourist Permit, we didn't stop driving until we arrived at El Potrero Chico. ODF's buddy, wife and daughter had arrived the day before and booked everyone lodging at La Posada.

The road leading up to the canyon is filled with compounds that offer camping and housing. At La Posada our friends got a little concrete house, while we got a truly tiny jail cell with a bed and a bathroom. The bed was like a rock but why would we want to be pampered in Mexico anyway.

Babs and her new friend C, one year older than her, were instantly overjoyed to see each other and hugged upon the first meeting. By the end of the trip Babs began to refer to her as 'my sister.' Aw.

ODF, the climbing expert and all-around Tour Guide of our group (we like to call him Guide Book), took us all up to the crag every day. Some days I stayed back or left early, to get Babs to nap and avoid a late afternoon meltdown. Totally worth it.

Guide Book took us up a 2-pitch on Chico Spire, my very first multi-pitch climb. Pls ignore my finger in the following picture, I was white-knuckling my phone at the bottom of the second pitch.

After Christmas there was a major influx of climbers, and everything got really busy, but for the first several days it wasn't crowded at all. We had our pick of routes and we'd set up the girls with a play tent and snacks at a safe distance. It took us a couple tries to get that part right. Some of the climbs began on the side of the mountain, with no flat area for anyone to sit and relax.

First day, not a good base camp
We found an excellent base camp just below Cat Wall, at a shrine that looks like it's filled with water in the summer. Of course, it's Mexico, so you had to jump a fence to get to it. Just ignore the signs saying not to enter. Everybody's doing it.

Climbing with a group of 5 climbers and 2 kids is a lot to coordinate, and we usually only got in 2-3 routes in the morning. They'd go back out in the afternoon to climb, but I stayed in with Babs. She was overstimulated by like the third day.

After our daily lunch from El Taco Loco, the taco truck down the road in the tiny town of Hidalgo, it was naptime, then margarita/dinner time at 5, play time for the girls and a decent bedtime for all exhausted parties.

the girls dancing at the market
Many of the hotels and restaurants hosted a special Christmas dinner. We stuck around at the restaurant at our hotel. It was fun, but possibly the only thing that wasn't worth the pesos we paid for it. The place was jam-packed, hot and we had to pay full price for our 2-year-old even though she didn't eat a single thing. But I won a shot of tequila in the raffle afterward, so. Feliz Navidad.

We had to swap hotels halfway through the trip. One of the newer establishments, Lemuria was touted as the 'nicest' place in El Potrero Chico. And it was much nicer than the last place. But the mirror in the bathroom was still not attached to the wall, instead simply leaned against it behind the faucet, and the random holes in the building seemed strange to me, a first-world middle-class American.

The grounds at Lemuria:

But the owner made us elote one night (an ear of corn with mayonnaise and hot sauce) and the communal kitchen brought all the climbers together.

Toting Babs around this little patch of Mexico was not hard. I brought a pack of wet-wipes, snacks and a couple toys with us everywhere we went and she was fine. C kept her entertained; they pooled their toys together and ran around like nutjobs.

The local folks mostly adored the kids. Those who had to put up with us for a length of time, like those who worked at our hotels, maybe got a little sick of them running around screaming. But almost everyone we met crouched down to say Hola, rub their hands over their heads and faces (a unhygenic charming regional quirk) and call them muñeca.

I got to use some of my poor high school Spanish. Most of the hotels have at least one person who speaks decent English, but once we ventured into Hidalgo, it was all Spanish. I blundered my way through a transaction at the market (to purchase a lovely pair of fleece-lined leggings that were all the rage) and it was simultaneously embarrassing and exhilarating.

Our lodging felt a little bit like staying at a resort (except without all the luxuries) because we were in a little island of English-speakers. All the guests were rock climbers. That's why people come to this part of Mexico. It secluded us a little bit. But it was a unique opportunity to meet climbers from all over the world. And all we had to do was drive down the hill for tamales, coffee and groceries to get the true flavor of rural Mexico.