Real de Catorce (or “Villa Real de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Guadalupe de los Alamos de los Catorce”, to give it its full title), west of Matehuala, is an extraordinary place. Mines were founded in the surrounding hills in 1772, and at the height of its silver production in 1898 the town had 40,000 inhabitants. But by the turn of the twentieth century mining operations had slowed, and in 1905 they ceased entirely, leaving the population to drop to virtually zero over the next fifty-odd years. For a period, a few hundred inhabitants hung on in an enclave at the centre, surrounded by derelict, roofless mansions and, further out, crumbling foundations and the odd segment of wall. Legend has it that Real was “discovered” in the 1970s by an Italian hippie searching for peyote (which perhaps explains the town’s curious Italian connection), and particularly since the mid-1990s, an influx of artists, artesanía vendors, wealthy Mexicans and a few foreigners has given the town impetus to begin rebuilding. The centre has been restored and reoccupied to the extent that the “ghost-town” tag is not entirely appropriate, though Real de Catorce certainly retains an air of desolation, especially in the outskirts; the occasional pick-up shoulders its way through the narrow cobbled streets, but most of the traffic is horses and donkeys. There’s not much in the way of sights to visit: simply wandering around, kicking up the dust and climbing into the hills are big and worthwhile pastimes here.