This article is from the February 1996 The Mexico File
Back to Articles List
Mexico By Train
by Bill Wilcox, Scottsdale, Arizona
"Don't take the train in Mexico" was the free advice I'd gotten in Mexico City and elsewhere. The trains, it was argued, are slow, bumpy and almost always late. It seems like a challenge, don't you think?
So I took up the challenge last summer. I'd spent several glorious days visiting museums, buying masks and even peeking into a girlie show or two down near Garibaldi Park. The view from the terrace restaurant of the Majestic Hotel across to the magnificent Cathedral or down to the political protesters parading in the Zocolo, along with the evening military retreat with the flag lowering to shouts of "Viva Mexico," conveyed a feeling of awe and reverence!
I visited the Buena Vista railroad terminal a day early to be sure I had a reservation. It turned out to be a splendid idea. The train I wanted was scheduled to depart about an hour earlier than the published schedule at the hotel.
The next day, after purchasing my ticket for 28 pesos in the cavernous railroad terminal, I had some difficulty finding the proper level for the gates. My next step was to visit the station master's office to see if he had a "mapa" of the Ferrocarriles Nationales de Mexico. Expecting a map of perhaps 8 1/2" by 11" of the main passenger lines, instead he presented me with a map of the railroad systems of Mexico of over a yard in width and almost as long. He would accept no payment. This is a map I cherish. I shall use it for later train travel in Mexico.
My next visit was to a little, casual hole-in-the-wall restaurant where I had scrambled eggs and a delightful chat with the lady there. She was enchanted by my Lonely Planet guide book.
Perhaps because of language difficulties, I was first sent to the wrong platform and then to the wrong car.
Our departure was about 1 5 minutes late - not bad for any train I've ever taken. I was headed for the city of Queretaro, the capital of the state of the same name. From there I hoped to get to Tequisquiapan, where I had a week's time-share reservation at a resort called La Rinconada.
Initially, the train chugged through heavy industry with groups of slum dwellings made, in large part, ofcorrugated steel. Later some agriculture was evident. Horses and plows were the main instruments of soil preparation. Some agave was in cultivation -- no doubt for making tequila. The terrain, while unceasingly arid, varied a great deal. For a while there were extensive limestone outeroppings, then again wild ravines. Next were limitless smooth boulders of a size and shape that all buildings in the region are made of. Towns had such Aztec names as Huehuetoca and Tlalteoxco. Main streets were dirt. People, goats and cows gathered at the crossings when the train stopped.
When we approached San Juan de Rio, men wearing t-shirts and blue jeans with blue baseball caps with the word 'Policia" began searching luggage. One said to me as he pointed to my duffel one word, 'ropa" (clothing). I answered with one word, "si." Actually, had I known better, I would have detrained here. Instead I stayed aboard to the historic city of Queretaro, and thence by taxi (by far the most expensive part of the trip) to Tequisquiapan, a pleasant colonial style city with winding lanes and Spanish architecture.
In summary, the train was a little bumpy and a little late. Notwithstanding these minor inconveniences, it really is the way to see this beautiful and varied country. This test experience has made me enthusiastic for Mexico and its passenger rail system.
See you aboard...soon, I hope!