La Gloria: Mexico’s High Mountain Retreat
By JOHN DeMERS
If you want to think about border drug violence and swine flu, stay home in Houston and watch TV. But if you want to live their opposites and a whole lot more, let Aureliano Ramirez drive you across the border at Presidio and then deep into the high mountains for a stay with Gloria Rodriguez Page just outside the tiny village of San Carlos.
Nothing here is what you’d expect.
San Carlos, for instance, has officially been named Manuel Benavides since Mexico’s anti-religion 1930s, but everyone still calls it San Carlos. Your taxi driver isn’t exactly a taxi driver, since Aureliano spent 31 years as a banker in Texas, ending up a bank president in his hometown of Presidio on the border. And even Gloria herself, who seems the benevolent queen of her 10-room, 25-acre high mountain kingdom, lives and works part-time at a diner in Alpine to make ends meet. She’s had some very good times since creating the getaway she calls La Gloria B&B in 1996 – but few of those good times have been recent.
First and always, for nearly two decades, there has been media coverage of drug violence along the border. Gloria insists that nearly all of that takes place far away in either Nuevo Laredo across from Laredo or Juarez across from El Paso; and whether you’re walking the quiet streets of Ojinaga to pick up bread baked in a wood-fired oven or relishing the peace of La Gloria itself (an escape without phones, television or Internet), you’d be hard-pressed to doubt her word. And then there was media coverage of the swine flu epidemic, which turns up all over the world but somehow only discourages Americans from visiting Mexico.
And finally, as though the commerce gods had truly aligned themselves against her, the U.S. shut down the old Lajitas border crossing as a counter-terrorism measure several years after 9/11; you can now go into Mexico there, but you
can’t get back. That turned an easy 20-mile drive from a popular resort area near Big Bend National Park into a trek four or five times as far, through a matching pair of border towns few Americans ever visit.
You’d never know any of this, based on Gloria’s smile.
The lady of the house may accompany you across and into the mountains, having alerted her small staff – a young married couple that lives with their children on the property. Or she may be too busy in the kitchen, making sure dinner is ready when you arrive. You heard that right: La Gloria is a bed and breakfast that actually serves you dinner. On one particular night, that meant both Gloria’s signature chicken mole and her cheese enchiladas in a lush green chile sauce, accompanied by freshly cooked pinto beans and savory tomato rice. And oh yes, there was a cool, crunchy macaroni salad with kernel corn, guacamole, pico de gallo and endless stacks of warm, fresh corn tortillas.
La Gloria being a B&B, Gloria does cook you breakfast each morning. On this day it’s a flavor epiphany disguised as chilaquiles – corn tortilla chips blanketed in red chile sauce with two fried eggs on top, then last night’s beans turned refried, with plenty of pico de gallo and a platter of cantaloupe so sweet you’d think you grew it yourself. For those few guests who can think of lunch in between such a breakfast and the dinner they know will come, Gloria encourages a stroll into San Carlos. You can certainly grab a quick taquito or two, and enjoy the villagers sitting, walking and laughing around the main square during siesta time.
A visit to La Gloria, however, is about so much more than the incredible food. A trail leading right from Gloria’s garden (which took 20 guys upwards of two years to terrace with stones and plants) leads to one of the most remarkable canyons you’re likely to ever see. With Aureliano as your guide (and if you’ve got pretty good legs), you can hike along the canyon, climbing over boulders and splashing your tennis shoes through rapids. Early on, you stroll past several generations of village families cooling off in the shallows, with the youngest kids swimming in crystal-clear pools. Eventually, though, you are on your own. Just you, your banker-turned-tour-guide, and the occasional riders on horseback herding goats up the steep canyon trail.
A short drive (maybe five minutes) from San Carlos, you find Las Pilas, a foam-bright series of waterfalls and pools formed as H2O moves naturally from high to low. Again, you have to do your best mountain-goat imitation to climb, slip and slither over rocks to reach the bottom, and then quicken your breath to make your way back up. Heading to the bottom of Las Pilas is a wonderful adventure, and a great investment of the calories you over-consumed at breakfast.
Times have been tough for several years around La Gloria in San Carlos, while Gloria’s two kids in Texas have needed college money and all the rest. Now, given new enthusiasm by Aureliano’s transport venture – making it easy to get to La Gloria from the Gage Hotel in Marathon or from the Paisano in Marfa – Gloria has cut back on her hours in Alpine to concentrate on her business in the cool, misty high mountains of northern Mexico
In the future, there are special trips planned tying a stay at La Gloria to the famous train trip deep into Mexico’s Copper Canyon, and even multi-day horseback trips conducted by Lajitas Stables just across on the U.S. side. Perhaps some culinary weekends will follow, along with stays themed around other special interests.
The general sense around these mountains is that things will work out, as they have for a thousand years. The specific sense is that Gloria Rodriguez Page, in keeping with her faith in God and in return for all her work, investment and generosity, absolutely deserves them to.
For more information on La Gloria Bed and Breakfast, see the website www.lagloriabb.com. To call Gloria’s U.S.-based mobile phone, 432-294-4137.
Photos: (top) Herding Goats in the canyon, (middle) The Veranda at La Gloria; (bottom) a waterfall at Las Pilas