Down Into The Gulch, The Barrancas of Cuernavaca

Cuernavaca is a hilly city, with its deep dark barrancas (ravines) seemingly everywhere – not that you really get to see them as houses (some, more shacks) are precariously packed along winding ravine edges, dense with vegetation, with the distant sound of running water far below in the Dante‐esque abyss. Some of these houses look extremely grand, some extremely decrepit, and with one small terremoto (they’re frequent here), and you’d imagine it’d be like a pack of cards collapsing.  

As previously mentioned, Cuernavaca is known as the ‘city of eternal spring’, with the pleasant climate attributable in part to the cooling effect of the 46 barrancas, which have a combined length of some 140k’s, running through all parts of the city like deep gouges in the landscape, largely hidden from view. 

In another description I’ve read the ‘barrancas are the connective tissue of the Chichinautzin biological corridor, in which the city is situated, helping to sustain the high levels of biodiversity by allowing plants and animal species to pass through the ever-expanding urban area’. 
– The Nature of Cities, Janice Astbury

In recent years, due to much pollution of the barrancas (think open sewer and rubbish tip), the residents clinging to the tops now complain about the intense heat, the barrancas seemingly having lost their moderating influence. 

We went looking for the houses where Malcolm Lowry lived and frequented when he was here in the 1930’s on Calle Humboldt (or Nicaragua in Under The Volcano), but Humboldt is now a very busy main thoroughfare that traverses the city, clinging to and running alongside a steep dark barranca – that essentially cuts the city in two. Sadly, Humboldt 24 and 62 were unrecognisable from the novel’s and biographies’ descriptions, but a hotel along Humboldt claims in a plaque to be the ‘Casa de Malcom Lowry’, which is actually opposite the unrecognisable Humboldt 24, so a tad confusing. Could this be where Lowry lived? Possibly (We’re in touch with a local Lowry especialista from the Fundación Lowry who might have answers). 

The drive widened to a small arena then debouched into a path cutting obliquely across the narrow sloping lawn, islanded by rose beds, to the “front” door, actually at the back of the low white house which was roofed with imbricated flower-pot-colored tiles resembling bisected drainpipes. 
– Under The Volcano

We wandered into the hotel which was completely empty of people and staff, enabling us to walk past the pool, past the small casitas/rooms and to a look-out point, down to the deep dark barranca below and across to the other side. 

“The Consul was guiltily climbing the Calle Nicaragua. / It was as if he were toiling up some endless staircase between houses … Never had it seemed such a long way to the top of this hill. The road with its tossing broken stones stretched on forever into the distance like a life of agony.” 
– Under The Volcano

There’s a short road bridge at the top of Humboldt with a yellow metal cage-like structure over the footpath, presumably to prevent people from either falling over or sadly jumping into the depths. There’s a flower market on the other side, packed with bouquets ready for Valentine’s Day – which surprisingly, is a big thing here. 

“The barranca, the ravine which wound through the country, narrow here…Trees, their tops below them, grew down into the gulch, their foliage partly obscuring the terrific drop. From the bottom came a faint chuckling of water.” – Under The Volcano

There are massive residential compounds along Humboldt with high stone walls containing hidden lush gardens and swimming pools, particularly along the barranca side of the street, though also seemingly abandoned ones too that appear to have fallen victim to the barranca.

We came across an open car park space along Humboldt and thought it might have a good view across and into the ravine, so we walked in, only to be challenged by a man half chatting on his mobile, half watching us approach. We asked him if we could have a look at the barranca and he reluctantly agreed, but then became quite enthusiastic, telling us how dangerous they are, how unsafe they’d become in recent years. Reaching the edge he showed us buildings and a terrace that are now too unstable to go near and said that in a few years most of the buildings hanging over (cantilevered is too nice a word) will eventually fall in. 

Today we visited another barranca, Cascada El Salto de San Anton that has a stunning waterfall with a 40m drop into a wide circular pool. You descend 100 metres down broken concrete stairs through darkening vegetation, looking back up, not only at the waterfall, but to the many houses clinging for dear life at the top, right on the edge. Sadly, cascade aside, this site is in a terrible state. It’s as if the locals don’t see it for what it is, an incredible natural spectacle. Instead, they use it as a sewer and garbage dump. The water is putrid. The steps and balustrades are crumbling. In our travels around Central and South America, it’s quite common to come across stunning natural sites that are completely trashed, particularly in Chile. But here in Mexico? I guess that Cuernavaca is off the tourist trail, so no attention is paid to this absolute travesty.

Sadly, the City of Eternal Spring, without immediate action, will become the City of Eternal Stink. 

One Comment Add yours

  1. Bevanlee says:

    Your prose made me positively smell the corruption of the water etc. A sad example in miniature perhaps for what is being done by man to the World. On a side note, we must work to bring the word debouche back into common usage. It fills the mouth so richly in the utterance. Debouche 😍


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