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Real del Monte

By Eddie Britz

For those readers unfamiliar with the “pasty”, they are simply diced meat, potatoes or rutabaga, and onion mixed together raw and then baked in a pastry shell. It is widely accepted that the pasty originated in Cornwall, England and became well-known as an easy-to-pack, easy-to-eat meal for hard-working tin miners.

So where does one find pasties or “pastes” in Mexico?

Let me recommend a little mountain village on your next visit to our southern neighbor. This small mining town boasts beautiful 19th-century architecture, cobblestone streets, parks and plazas. Here you will find a unique architecture, cuisine, and history: Real del Monte. This little village not only claims to be the birthplace of Mexico’s first soccer team, they serve pasties here... with chiles.

Let’s go back. The high mountains of Hidalgo, Mexico, rich with silver and gold, had been mined for centuries. And much of the precious metal was mined by Spaniards who sent their exploits back to Spain... until the war of independence which brought two things: freedom from Spain and an available silver mining infrastructure waiting to be rebuilt.

This proved irresistible to a Cornish firm that brought in a large group of tin miners from England. With their eagerness came their architecture, their language, and the industrial revolution, since Latin America had yet to be impacted by it.

They spent months hauling their steam-driven equipment across the Atlantic and up into the mountains, determined to tap the wealth under their feet, and surpass the mule-based methods of the Spanish miners. They were respectful people. They played an intriguing game involving a leather ball and fancy footwork. They built their community and set to work with their new neighbors.

But the terrain and the harsh mountain climate eventually took a toll on the ill-prepared visitors. Floppy sandals and sombreros provided little to no protection from the elements. Plagued by disease and complications, the miners had eventually given up hope after a few short decades. Many died from the dangers of mining and disease. Others returned home penniless. And some stayed behind blending into their new culture.

It wasn’t until a few generations had passed, around the turn of the century, that an innovative American company stepped in. They sent down their engineers and successfully turned the mines into a substantial profit. They were efficient and they were business-oriented.

Interestingly enough, they are not remembered here.

As you walk the cobblestone streets lined with red tin-roofed homes, there is little doubt that the Cornish had left an impression. You will notice a fond remembrance for all that they had given to tap the Mexican silver mining industry and the relationships built through adversity. You see it in their acknowledgment of the first "Cornish" Mexican soccer team, in the spicy pastries that people from all over come to sample. You see it in the preserved English architecture and in the respectfully maintained cemetery. It is no wonder that the city has been affectionately dubbed, “Mexico’s little Cornwall.”
Whether you drive, take a taxi from nearby Pachuca, or take one of the many scheduled bus routes between Mexico City or Pachuca and Real del Monte, make sure you go prepared. Bring a jacket, as it may be cold when you visit. At 2660 meters above sea level, Real del Monte is one of Mexico’s highest towns.

Some places you will want to see:

You will want to visit the Acosta Mine Site, which is an actual mine turned into a museum. Here you will get an up close view of the massive electric motors and winches used to haul the precious metal, and raise and lower the miners to a claimed depth of 800 meters. You’ll get to go down into the mine outfitted as a miner: from helmet with lamp, to overalls and boots, you’ll get a first-hand glimpse of the deep underground. A bookstore with souvenirs and postcards will ensure you do not leave empty handed.

The English Pantheon is a British-built cemetery full of mystery and nostalgia and kept under lock and key. Here, on the city’s highest point, lay the bones of 600 Englishmen, women and children, whose tombstones face Britain, the land to which they had all hoped to return. All but one, that is. A clown, the village entertainer, had a disdain for what he had left behind and thoroughly enjoyed his new home. He preferred his tombstone face in precisely the opposite direction.

For a tip, the caretaker will take you around the graves, adorned with English proverbs and poetry, and share the stories that were passed down to him; stories of good men who died tragically, the families who succumbed to illness, a suicide from an “unacceptable” inter cultural romance and a “good riddance” to a cruel foreman.

For some architectural beauty, visit the Chapel Santa Veracruz, located south of the main plaza. You will find this Baroque beauty to be a precious representation of the 1700’s. Inside you will find beautiful golden altarpieces, and sculptures of Santa Ana and San Joaquin.

Whatever it is you do, stay here for the night. Stay in a room situated above a restaurant, where the pasties are made fresh into the night. It’s a great way to fall asleep amidst the cool mountain air, and the echoes of an interesting piece of Mexico’s history.

Other information: To enjoy Real del Monte, I recommend starting in Pachuca, about an hour and a half drive/bus-ride from Mexico City. This municipality, known as the “windy city” for its strong afternoon winds, boasts one of Mexico’s finest theaters (El Teatro de la Ciudad). It also hosts the nation’s first Soccer University, a large clock tower built by the same company that built London’s “Big Ben”, and stunning baroque and neoclassical-style architecture. In Pachuca you will find accommodations to meet all your needs and plenty of information on (and busses to) Real del Monte.

Some travel options: From Mexico City, which has literally thousands of busses venturing out every day, links you to virtually any city or village in Mexico. For Real del Monte, there is a bus leaving every 30 minutes for the hour and a half trip to the mining village. From Pachuca, a bus leaves every 5 minutes for a 20 minute ride to Real del Monte. Bus tours of Real del Monte are available on weekends.

Hidalgo’s Tourism Office
Av. Revolución Núm. 1300, Col. Periodistas.
Pachuca, Hidalgo
Tel.: (771) 107 18 10 or 01 800 718 26 00

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