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  • Jennie Bjarnason

THE OPENING OF THE OGARRIO TUNNEL

Updated: Apr 9

ON THIS DAY IN MEXICO



An engineering masterpiece of its time, the Ogarrio Tunnel was the result of intense manual labour during the reign of Porfirio Diaz, and nearing the end of the silver boom. Constructed under the direction of Vicente Irizar Arostequi of Ogario, Spain, this tunnel measures over 1.9 KM long, but is only wide enough for a single vehicle. Large buses are unable to pass-through, due to the low ceiling and sharp corner near the Real de Catorce side of the tunnel. Due to a lack of parking and narrow streets in the small, ghost town of Real de Catorce, most guests who arrive here during festivals and celebrations must park near the entrance of the tunnel, and walk underground, past many mine-shaft openings that have since been boarded up, to reach this incredible town, which is seated at 9000 feet above sea level, and feels very much like arriving at the end of the world.

It should be noted - during the Festival of St. Francis of Assisi, which begins in September and ends in October, the tunnel is closed to traffic - which means you should expect to carry your belongings into the town.


The Ogario tunnel serves as the only entrance to the Pueblo Magico of Real de Catorce, though there is a rough path descending to the Peyote desert from the other side of town, down what is called "The Hill of the Repentant." This road is also single lane, built by hand, and is the route visitors take via Jeep Willy's, for an exhilarating experience on a hair-raising journey that includes a road that in parts, is crumbling over steep cliff edges, making it unlikely fun for anyone who doesn't love a bit of an adrenaline rush. Consequently, we highly recommend the tunnel - especially considering we have never driven to any main highways from the desert-side.


The mines that were accessible from the Ogarrio Tunnel include Ave Maria, Santa Ana, El Refugio and Boqueiro. When you visit Puebla Fantasma, you will be above the Ogarrio Tunnel, and can actually climb into the small portion of the entrance of a mine that filtered down to the tunnel (though of course, you cannot enter the mine).


There is a very minimal fee for entering the Ogarrio Tunnel, and there are only guards at either end from around 8 AM until 11 PM. Outside of these hours, vehicles must risk traversing this tunnel without the guarantee of oncoming traffic.


Each year, the town of Real de Catorce hosts the Ogarrio Festival on April 2, to celebrate the opening of this tunnel. We are still trying to find out what exact year it opened - please message us if you have a source!


If you are joining us for our Silver Road Tours, please let us know if you are claustrophobic, as we want to be sure you can manage getting into the town!



CONFESSIONS OF AN ART DEALER - JOURNAL EXCERT FROM 2018


Arriving in the Pueblo Magico of Real de Catorce has been one of the most memorable of all travel experiences, good, bad, challenging and rewarding. I dare say, I am fortunate to have guardian angels watching over me tonight.


I arrived at the Casa Grandes, Chihuahua bus terminal yesterday afternoon at 1 PM, with a straightforward journey that would have been much different, had the first bus to arrive at the Casa Grandes station not been full. Alas - I was stuck in the terminal until the following bus arrived at 9 PM. As there were no lockers, and I was travelling with 7 boxes of art cargo plus my backpack, there was no opportunity for me to go anywhere on foot - so I eventually called a taxi and hauled all of my belongings with me, to a restaurant where I had WIFI and somewhere to charge my phone!


The 9 PM bus departed Casa Grandes, and I waved farewell to this curious town - with the intention of sleeping on the overnight bus. Alas - a newborn baby on an overnight bus does wonders for keeping one awake until the sun comes knocking on the skyline, piercing through the cracks of the drawn curtains. I changed buses in Chihuahua City, and by then was wired for the next leg of my journey. I surrendered to insomnia - and upon arrival at the Torreon Bus Terminal, all I could do was laugh when they told me the next bus would not depart for Matehuala until 3 PM, which inadvertently didn't leave until 6 PM. At least they had lockers, and I found a wonderful restaurant across the freeway.


I was shocked by just how many people were already on the bus when it arrived, and feared that my experience in Nueva Casa Grandes was about to repeat itself - leaving no seat for the tourist. It took some explaining through Google Translate, and begging with the driver, for them to let me stack my many boxes onto my lap for the trip to Matehuala - for the carriage below the bus could only manage my backpack and two of my boxes. I spent the next 5 hours with 5 heavy boxes of fragile Mata Ortiz Ceramics on my lap.


By the time I reached Matehuala, I had been travelling for 33 hours with no sleep, with plans to catch a bus to Real de Catorce. Luckily for me, the last bus to Real de Catorce had just departed the station about 10 minutes before my bus arrived from Torreon. At first, I thought I was cursed - but upon arriving at the entrance of the Ogarrio Tunnel by Taxi, I realized just how lucky I was - for I could never have carted 7 boxes of baskets, ceramics, purses and textiles (plus my backpack) through a 2 KM tunnel - and there is no way I could have handled walking through that tunnel alone, especially having had no sleep!


Though I had done a lot of research on getting to Real de Catorce, I hadn't read about the buses dropping guests off at the entrance - nor did I have a clue as to how long the tunnel was. Though it was a very exhausting journey, the road that brought me to this entrance was so dark, and the stars were brilliant. The handmade stone road was illuminated by moonlight, and it honestly felt like I was in a different world. By the time the taxi shot-out of that tunnel, and into the ancient, crumbling cobblestone streets of Real de Catorce, I felt like I had travelled back in time - and though I have not slept in over 40 hours, I am wide awake on the patio of Amor y Paz at 4 AM, listening to the winds of the Sierra sweeping the hillsides around the town.


I am in love, and daylight has yet to fall across the face of this enchanting little town - and I believe the ghosts of many years past, are wandering the streets here tonight...

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