Thursday, August 20, 2015

Traveling the Back Roads of Mexico - La Trinidad - The "Fire" Opal Village

A couple of years ago, my friend Shannon wrote a blog about visiting a village near Tequisquiapan where the mine for fire opals is located.  You can read Shannon's post back in 2013 by going to her blog on the sidebar under Rat Race Refugee.

While in Tequis in June, I remembered that, and at some point contacted her about where exactly this village was.  It is NOT on a map.  At least not on Guia Roja, the book we use for traveling in Mexico.  But, Shannon's husband Todd, also a fellow blogger, gave me Google directions along with these instructions.
"Look for San Nicholas.  Then a billboard that says Spa something or other.  Then a Pemex station and do a retorno back to La Trinidad."  Now with THREE landmarks to look for going about 50 MPH, we made it.
We made the retorno, turned at the sign for La Trinidad and went down the road that turned into a dirt field.
Hmmmm, something was not correct.

So heading back to the tienda for "mine tours", I rolled down the car window and said "Donde esta Senor, es casa para Sr. Hector Montes".  He pointed down another road and off we went.  And we went and went down this beautiful country road with boundary trees on one side and a field of corn on the other.  Eventually we came to the village of La Trinidad.  Pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  In fact, when we left, we had to go back the way we came as there was no other way to get out.

But, it was all worth it for what all happened next.
As we came into the village there were several signs that said "se vende opalos".  On the side of the road up ahead were several men working on a car so we pulled over and again, I rolled down the window and repeated my question about Sr. Hector Montes.  A young man stood up and said he would lead us to his home!  Of he went with a University of Colorado t-shirt on his body.  That is him above leading our van down the road.

We arrived at the home of Sr. Montes and I was relieved to know he was home and, as usual, oh so gracious.  His wife led us back to his work space.  He wanted to know if we wanted to see the process or the finished product.   Since Shannon had said it was a lengthy process to take a rock, find the opal and then remove it, we asked to see the finished fire opals.   It was interesting how small his work space is as seen in the photo below.
 Sr. Montes showed us small orange fire opals.  It's amazing all the work to get these tiny gems from something that has to be mined first from the mountains surrounding the village.
                                              The "fire" was definitely in each of these stones.
 Sr. Montes took us  through the courtyard and into his home where he has a room with finished opalos
and other stones made into jewelry.  Beautiful pieces with either 18 karat gold surrounds or sterling silver.
 He proudly stood and showed items to us and told us the special features of each gem.  Everybody bought something or more.  Everyone would have liked to have purchased much more.  There were some beautiful earrings with a cherry red opal in 18 kt gold that were exceptionally beautiful.  Cost?  About $80 USD!
I asked if I could photograph Sr. Montes and his wife, along with the young man who led us to his house.

The young man told me he had lived near the University of Colorado for seven years.  He crossed the border when he was 18 and worked as a carpenter.  But, then, he wanted to come home and he did.  Sr. and Sra Montes are his aunt and uncle.  It is not unusual for men to go to make money but then, they come home to Mexico.

I asked him if he was happy to be back here and he said, "Oh yes".
 As we left, we saw this new billboard right past Sr. Montes home with information about the opals and the mines.  If you want additional information, I even found info by going on the internet to read about La Trinidad and the famous fire opals only available there.

If you ever want to take a back roads journey to La Trinidad, it's a fun  day trip from Queretaro or San Miguel de Allende. It is in the State of Queretaro.  It is also about 45 minutes from San Juan del Rio.
These were my "partners in the adventure".  Fred, Ron, Trey and Bill.  What fun!


Steve Cotton said...

As Fred and Ron will attest, "off we went" is a euphemism.

Droelma said...

I had completely forgotten and without your post might have not remembered that I visited La Trinidad in 1977.
I bought a ring that at the time cost me something like the equivalent of 30-35 dollars ( there were 18 pesos to the US$ at that time) and I cherished it for years.
Then I got older and the ring no longer fit and for a pinky finger ring the setting is too big. It went into a box with jewelry I no longer can wear and have not opened since I moved to this home in 2002.
That is probably why I forgot.
I just got out the ladder, got the box from it's hiding place and checked it; the ring is in there and still would make an impressive, but not wearable pinky-finger ring.
Thanks for kick starting my memory, because I also remembered that on that trip somewhere a short distance from SMA we stopped and enjoyed a thermal bath, which was virtually unknown. I also have not thought of that for at least a couple of decades.
Thanks !

Barbara Lane said...

This post is proof of why YOU are a gem! Thank you so much. Another to add to my bucket list!

Retired Teacher said...

Another interesting post about someplace in Mexico off the "typical tourist track".

Babs said...

Steve, sorry I don't understand your comment. In fact, I looked up euphemism to see if I misunderstood the word but I didn't. Hmmmm, you'll need to elaborate.

Bill, thanks. I'm a back roads person and thoroughly enjoy being in places where no other tourists are least during the week! ha.

Barbara - You're so kind. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Droelma - How great to know you were there so long ago! And, I know where you went, probably, for the thermal baths. Many many places about 10 miles outside SMA.
Have the ring resized to fit. A jeweler can do it........enjoy.

Anonymous said...

A friend in Mexico gifted me with an unusual gold pendant holding a shimmering Queretaro opal with several small fire opals at the bottom. Few people in San Antonio know what the stones are, but, if I happen to be wearing it when I'm at Central Market in San Antonio, Mexican nationals will stop me in the aisle to comment on it. Loved reading about the source of the fire opals. Thanks.

Shannon said...

You made it!! It is worth the trek isn't it? The Montes family are absolutely charming and Hector is a real master. I so enjoyed our visit with them and the show that Hector put on for us.

LynnB said...

Hi Babs! My husband and I are renting a beautiful home for a month next summer in San Miguel and a friend told me about your blog. This is the first post I've read and now I am more excited than ever to get down there! I am a jeweler and have purchased Mexican fire opals, but not directly from the mine. I will definitely make it a point to meet these lovely people and purchase some of these fabulous opals! Thanks for the post :)

Babs said...

Ahh, Postcards, thanks for sharing that story.I bet it is a pretty piece of jewelry.

Shannon, it WAS worth the trip. The family could not have been nicer and Sr. Montes was a joy to meet. We went on to Tequis for lunch and to the mercado to look at more minerals. There is a huge malachite piece that is exquisite.

LynnB - Welcome to San Miguel. Since you make jewelry, you are coming to the right place. You can't buy fire opals from the mine but from the men and women in the village of La Trinidad. It is a delightful experience. You can also find fire opals in the City of Queretaro and other places. I like going to the source and seeing the process as well as hearing the stories.

Thanks for commenting, Lynn.

Droelma said...

As far as I know, the 70's were " the times " for mining opals in Mexico. I even knew about some people from Japan who were so enchanted by fire opals that the father bought an opal mine here in Mexico and as far as I know ( or knew about ten years ago ), the son still runs it.
Mining and sales have declined since, because hundreds of mines have been exhausted. I was glad to read in your post that gemstone mining is still alive.
I have not re-sized my opal ring as well as a few other pieces, because I decided shortly after I came here to the capital that as a single woman without a family here ( meaning if something would happen to me I would have little support ) I would not wear gold jewelry in public ( especially since I always travel on public transport and work in areas of the country and now city where wearing jewelry is not such a good idea ) to attract attention. So far I have been spared, but I know many women who have been robbed in public transport and had to give up even their very modest rings and chains. And now that I am twenty years older and slower not not attracting attention is even more important for me.

@LynnB: I do not live in SMA, but have an almost life long connection to this most wonderful place and would like to suggest that you google " Instituto Allende " a Visual arts school just a few blocks off the town center. In summer they often have among all kinds of courses also jewelry courses and I took a" lost wax " course one summer. Maybe you find something you like and even if you don't, it's a wonderful place to visit and look around. You will have a great time in SMA !

Babs said...

Droelma, great minds think alike. I never wear gold jewelry. Not necessarily out of concern for being robbed, but, I think now it is ostentatious. I've never been robbed or even seen anyone robbed either in Mexico or NYC or anywhere other then a pickpocket in DeGaulle airport. Thankfully.

Unfortunately, LynnB, the Instituto Allende has very few classes or workshops anymore. When the woman who owned the instituto died, about 10 years ago and left it to her sons, there was a war over it between them. Now it is used for special events and every now and then a lecture or something, sadly. BUT there is a very well known man named Billy who works with want to be or jewelers who make exquisite things. Irene Pagan is a friend that would be a great person for you to meet as she knows everyone in that arena. Contact me when you do get to SMA, and I"ll make the introduction.

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HowardGrace said...
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Babs said...

Yes, Howard Grace, it is BlogSpot via Google. My son set up my main page and blogspot has templates for all of that. Good luck and good writing As you can see, there is no advertising on my site. So, once you've seen my response, I will delete your message as you did advertise at the end, unfortunately.