Bienvenido a Agua  Caliente de Garate.  I couldn’t pass up a sign welcoming me to a town whose name translates to “Warm Water,” especially when that sign is inlaid with tile into a thirty-foot high concrete arch over the town’s entrance.   Immediately off Mexico 200, just south of Mazatlan on Mexico’s Pacific coast lies a town that doesn’t appear on the map.  And why would it? 

The residents there seem to have little interest in visitors and certainly belied the invitation on their arch when I rolled into town.   Both the spectators and players at a neighborhood soccer game stopped and stared at me immediately after I turned off the main road.  Making my way along the bumpy and uneven cobblestone streets, I met with similar stares from everyone I passed; old women sweeping the sidewalk, old men in cowboy hats sitting on metal folding chairs outside of a social hall, and everyone sitting on their front porch.  Most of the town seemed to be sitting on their front porch.  Even a dog gave me the stink-eye,  quickly giving chase and running alongside my bike while barking at me in Spanish.    The only welcome I got was from a group of children playing on an old car at the end of a dead-end street.  They seemed particularly amused once I realized it was a dead-end street and was forced to slowly turn my bike around in the dust where the pavement came to an end.  They waved and laughed as I rode past a second time.

It soon became clear why these people felt guarded and suspicious.  Agua Caliente de Garate is an absolute gem.   Small brightly painted concrete houses lining cobblestone streets.  Children playing on the steps outside of an old-folks home unabashedly adorned with a painting of an elderly woman knitting in her rocking-chair while a small white kitten snoozed at her feet.   A magnificent pink and white Catholic church dominating the town plaza.  Inside, amidst ornate icons, rare relics, and softly flickering candles, three women chant quietly in homage before a statue of the Virgin Mary.  Outside, hundreds of small green, blue, yellow, and red flags hanging from lines strung across the streets.   I leave Agua Caliente with no plans to ever return,  but thankful that such a place exists at all.