Camping in El Chico National Park, Hidalgo

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It felt good to leave the monstrous Mexico City behind and escape the smog and chaos of the big city life. We weren’t headed far, just an hour and a half away to Pachuca, in the next state over, Hidalgo. This was a stop over for some nature adventures in the state we were excited to explore. Our stop over ended up being extended a few days however, as we fell in love with our oh so comfortable king size bed and quiet guest house. We hadn’t slept too well our last few nights in Mexico City in our noisy budget hotels, so finding a place with a good bed and no noise was a welcome respite. We decided to extend our stay mostly to just relax and catch up on some writing and sleep. Our host was so wonderful and welcoming and there were no other guests so it was extra quiet. She even got wine (and grape juice for me!) to share to help her celebrate the opening of the place, whilst burning copal. I highly recommend staying at this cute little place, ‘Downtown Pachuca’; Gina is the host and her place can be found on booking- definitely get the King size room!

Every morning we had breakfast at the Benito Juarez Market. We found the best enchiladas verdes we ate in all of Mexico here, and I mean best by a landslide! Each day we would grab a strawberry banana smoothie from a sweet old fellow at his market stand to help take down the burn of the spicy enchiladas – the perfect breakfast! I really wanted to explore El Chico National park, just northwest of the city, perhaps camp a night or two in the park, but it was really hard to find information about camps and cabins, so we decided to just do a day trip to scout it out.

We grabbed our enchiladas and smoothie for breakfast, and then found a collectivo just passed the Benito Juarez market and hopped in the last two seats. The 45 minute drive was only about 20km, but the twisting mountain road demanded a slow pace. We left little Pachuca behind and climbed steadily into the mountains and forests, soon within the beautiful park. As we cruised into town, white ornate derelict lamp posts lined the road, seeming strangely out of place. We parked behind the church and set out to explore pretty little town of El Chico. Cobble stone streets and high rock walls covered in ivy gave the place and enchanted feel. We walked away from the square and followed a narrow deserted road which eventually showed us to a pathway into the woods. Naturally, we took it!

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The path took us to old, abandoned crumbling stone work of what used to be some sort of castle or fort. Most of the walls were knocked down and what was left didn’t make sense, structurally, but it was fascinating to be able to climb down into and explore. The structure looked down over a farmers field, where locals were working away. We continued on along the path and eventually it returned us back out on to a town road on the other side of town. We followed it until it took us back to the centre. There were several signs advertising cabins for rent as we walked along the road, but we wanted something a little more in nature so we decided to look just outside the town. A short  2km walk back on the road we drove in on, brought us to Dos Aguas camp park. We hiked off the highway and into the forest and shortly came to the camp. Five cabins were spaced beneath the towering pines and one small cabin for the park keeper stood at the end of the trail. We asked the park keeper about prices, took a peek into one of the small bare bones cabins, asked about trails and then decided we would return tomorrow to camp for the night – this place was perfect!

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We walked back to town, caught the return collectivo, and then did some shopping for supplies. Since we didn’t have a cooler or fridge we packed peanut butter and honey sandwiches, apples, bananas, nuts, cookies, water and some cooked macaroni – plenty to keep us going for a day and a night! After packing our day packs with our sleeping bags, mats and some necessities, we went to sleep with dreams of the forest. In the morning we grabbed our usual smoothie and enchiladas breakfast and then caught the collectivo back out, but had the driver drop us at the Dos Aguas camp just outside town instead. The place  was deserted when we arrived, but eventually the camp keeper emerged from the woods and we purchased our park passes, some bundles of fire wood, and our cabin rental for the night. The cabins are as bare bones as they get – two bunk style cots are attached to the walls and a tiny little wood stove is huddled in the corner – and that’s it! But what more does one need?! We decided to pack a small pack with a picnic and head out on one of the trails to hike to Mirador Peña del Cuervo, one of the most popular little hikes. And while this hike was ‘popular’, El Chico National Park isn’t exactly a bustling place, even on a Friday, so we didn’t encounter a single other person on our quiet hike.

A narrow trail hugged the dry riverbed for a while before cutting up steeper into the soaring pines. The hike was about an hour and a bit all uphill through the peaceful forest. We were at around 2600 meters at camp and climbed to near 2900 meters at the mirador. It wasn’t a hard climb, but we found ourselves unusually out of breath and sweaty, likely from our few lazy days of spending far too much time in that glorious king size bed! At last we peaked, and walked out on to a circular cement platform perched over the cliffs. The panoramic views were spectacular. The tiny village of El Chico, its red tiled roofs, stood peeking out from between the green forest valley snuggled in the mountains. And beyond and all around  – mountains, everywhere, as far as you could see until the distant peaks looked blue from the expanse. I unpacked the picnic and we feasted, having worked up an appetite from our hike. Nothing is more satisfying than eating on the top of a mountain you just climbed, soaking in the beautiful views!

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We debated looking for another trail, but it was already late afternoon and we were totally unfamiliar with the area, so we decided to just head back down. It was 4pm before we made it back, too late to start any other trials sadly, and the only other trails were significantly long ones, full day treks. My tiredness hit me hard when we got back and I crawled into my sleeping bag and snuggled up. Travis joined me with the iPad and we started a new show, Sinner, and got REALLY into it. Hours passed and darkness came before we snapped out of it and decided it was time to start a fire. We got one blazing and it surprisingly didn’t leak smoke into our cabin despite the gaping hole in the chimney. We let it burn down to a hot bed of coals while we pulled out our meagre dinner and feasted. Travis had miraculously found two gigantic home made marshmallows in Pachuca at a tiny little hole in the wall shop where we bought our water and thus saved the entire camping trip. What is a camp in the forest without roasted marshmallows?! The coal bed was absolutely perfect and I roasted each mallow, again after again, as I would peel off the perfectly browned skin and eat it, leaving most of the mallow intact, ready to re-roast. Those two marshmallows must have been the equivalent of 8 regular ones!

With rosy fire cheeks, we headed outdoors to the privy for one last bathroom break before bed and to brush our teeth. The stars were dazzling, and the auroral glow of the moon blanketed the pines in pale white light. Oh, how I do love the forest!  As John Muir said, “Going into the woods, is going home”.  Indeed John, indeed.

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I was a bit obsessed with keeping our fire stoked that night, as I was terrified of getting cold; the temperature at night dipped down to just 5 degrees Celsius. So I read my book a while in bed, and got up every hour to stoke it some more. I was also paranoid about the cabin burning down as we were unable to close the stove door, and some of the logs hung out. So until they all burned down enough that I could shove them in and close the door, I stayed awake. Alas I was able to drift off in peace and sleep a wonderful cabin sleep warmed by the wood stove.

The next morning, we ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches for breakfast, washed them down with some water, ate our apples and packed up. We even started the fire again and got the cabin nice and toasty. We read our books a while, until around noon when it was time to ‘check out’. We hiked into town – which on a Saturday was an entirely different place than the ghost town the day before! The place was bustling with people, all the shops were open, and the vendors were out. It was beautiful and sunny and on our way in we took a different route than last time and saw a whole part of the town we hadn’t seen before. This tiny little town is so  just so beautiful! Alas, in the afternoon we hopped back on the collective and drove back to Pachuca, rejuvenated and ready for our next adventure!

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