Train and bus from L.A. are the best options for getting to Mata Ortiz. From L.A.'s Union Station, take Amtrak to San Diego's Santa Fe Depot. Walk across the street to the San Diego Trolley's America Plaza Station and board a southbound (blue line) trolley to the international border. Follow the crowd across the border to the taxi line for a $10 cab ride to Tijuana's Central Bus Station.
Transportes Chihuahenses offers first-class bus service linking Tijuana and Nuevo Casas Grandes, the closest city to Mata Ortiz. The bus company says the trip takes 18 hours. Don't believe it. Our outbound jaunt took 26 hours; it took only 23 hours to get back. But the journey itself wasn't half bad.
One-way Tijuana/Nuevo Casas Grandes bus fare costs about $86 at current exchange rates. There's no discount for round-trip purchase. A cab from Nuevo to Mata Ortiz costs about $30 and takes about 25 minutes. (Settle on a price before getting into the taxi.)
You need a passport for travel into Mexico and a Mexico Tourist Card for travel to Mata Ortiz. Tourist permits are available at border crossings and cost about $21, payable in pesos.
If you prefer to fly and drive, Tucson or El Paso are your best jumping-off points. From LAX, nonstop service to Tucson is offered on Southwest, United and American, and connecting service (change of planes) is offered on US Airways and United. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $164. To El Paso from LAX, nonstop service is offered on American and Southwest, and connecting service is available on US Airways and Southwest. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $290.
You can rent a car at either airport. Be sure to report that you'll be driving into Mexico. Buy Mexico auto insurance from the rental agency and ask for written permission to take the car into Mexico. You'll need this, the vehicle's registration and a credit card to get required permits at the border. (Don't even consider driving without the permits; you'll be asked for the papers at a checkpoint several hours away and will be sent back to the border if you don't have what's needed.) Be sure to read the State Department's cautions on driving in Mexico and in the state of Chihuahua at http://www.travel.state.gov. (See Safety in Mexico, below.)
SAFETY IN MEXICO
"Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day," the most recent U.S. State Department warning on Mexico, issued in November, notes. But drug-related violence continues to cause problems, including in the state of Chihuahua. The State Department says Americans should defer non-essential travel to Chihuahua because of narcotics-related violence. It points out that Cuidad Juárez and Chihuahua City are of "special concern." Mata Ortiz is about 175 miles from Ciudad Juárez. Read more at http://www.travel.state.gov.
WHERE TO BUY POTTERY
Pottery is for sale almost everywhere. Juan Quezada's gallery is in his home, across the street from the old Mata Ortiz train station. There are several other very small galleries in town, mostly offering a few pieces by family members. Pottery is also for sale in homes you may be invited to, in the courtyards of inns where artists display their wares on blankets and in grocery stores. You may even be approached while on the street. U.S. dollars are the preferred currency; a few potters accept personal checks. Pottery purchased for personal use is duty free but must be declared at U.S. Customs.
To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 52 (country code for Mexico) and the local number.
WHERE TO STAY
The Adobe Inn, (562) 431-9856 (U.S. number; international codes not needed) or 636-661-7135, email email@example.com. Co-owned by master potter Jorge Quintana and American trader Jerry Boyd. Eleven rooms, each with two queen beds and private bath. Three daily meals are included. Singles $45; doubles $75.
Casa de Marta, 636-661-7132, is half a block from the old plaza in Barrio Central, the heart of Mata Ortiz. Owner Marta Veloz offers simple rooms in her home or adjacent adobe outbuildings, with private or shared baths. Meals are included. Singles $40; doubles $70.
Posada de las Ollas, 636-661-7048, is a block north of the old plaza in Barrio Central. Five double rooms with private baths; meals are included. Singles $40; doubles $65.
WHAT TO SEE
The ruins at Paquimé, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are about 15 miles north of Mata Ortiz. The vast network of ancient ruins, most archaeologists agree, represents one of the Southwest's largest trading centers and home to the culture that inspired Mata Ortiz pottery. Admission to the ruins and the adjacent Museum of Northern Cultures costs about $4.
Colonia Juárez, about 15 minutes northwest of Mata Ortiz, is a historic Mormon community settled in the 1880s by U.S. Mormons seeking religious freedom. The town was the birthplace of George Romney, governor of Michigan and 1968 U.S. presidential candidate.
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