For about 50 miles, the scenery from Mex 120 was pretty much the same as what we had seen since leaving Real de Catorce, 500 miles or so further north; rolling semi-desert, filled with cactuses and scrub, and with mountains in the distance. Slowly the mountains in the distance became the mountains in-front of us, and before long we were climbing again, up into the Sierra Gorda. Whereas previous ascents in Mexico had been long curving uphill drags, the climb we were now making was different. Mex 120 is a small, narrow road, not leading to any large population centres or cultural attractions, and so instead of forging a straight corridor up into the peaks, the road snakes its way up, following the contours of an increasingly steep and dramatic area. As we continued into the mountain range, the road gradually became steeper and more convoluted, and the arid scrub made way at first to larger deciduous trees, and increasingly to dense tropical forest. At the beginning of our days drive we were pegged at 55mph on a straight and flat highway; by the afternoon we were crawling upwards at 25mph, winding our way through the northernmost rainforest in the Americas.
Our planned destination had been Jalpan, but by 5.30pm we were only just reaching Pinal de Amoles, the steep climb had finished off one car and we had been delayed for about an hour as the burning vehicle blocked traffic in both directions. The most winding section of the road is no place to be driving at night, and the final 25 miles could easily have taken us two hours. We stopped for the night at a Pemex station a hundred meter or so above Pinal de Amoles, having climbed almost a kilometre from our departure point, to an altitude of 2,600 meters. A walk into town quickly showed us that we’d landed on our feet, a huge sound system had been set up in the central plaza and the town was beginning to fill up as people from miles in all directions gathered for the annual Huapango (folk dancing) festival. The streets were filled with food, drink and craft stalls, and there were men and women dressed in an array of traditional costumes. We watched an array of dancing from contemporary to traditional and saw a local band playing folk music; I regret that I was so tired after a long and sometimes difficult drive, and wish we’d had the energy to stay all night.
The next day started with a plan to head to Jalpan and find someone who knew some interesting places to visit in the biosphere. Not more than half way to Jalpan we saw a sign to the Cascada el Chuveje waterfall and thought we’d take our chances