Canwest News Service
It’s a simple enough matter to hire a guide and a mule in this town and go riding off in search of buried treasure in the caves of the Sierra Madre mountains- but you had better beware of The Curse of the Sunken Mine.
San Sebastian is a mere 70-minute drive from the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta, but it takes the traveller four centuries back in time, deep into Mexico’s colourful colonial past.
Nestled in the folds of mist-wreathed mountains, the former gold and silver mining town is a living museum of the 16th-century invasion of Mexico by the Spanish conquistadors who uprooted an ancient Indian civilization.
Today, only about 600 people still live in the yellow, mud-brick cottages lining the narrow cobble-stoned streets. But, at its peak, the town had almost 50,000 residents. The New York Life Assurance Company maintained an office here, the only one in the entire country.
So important to Spain were the precious metals unearthed here that during the late 18th century, King Charles IV dictated the town’s affairs by personal fiat from his palace in Madrid.
A handful of Spanish families controlled the mines, inter-marrying to produce a “pure” line of succession through several generations whose descendants survive to the present day.
The immense fortunes in precious metals exported from the area are incalculable.
How many lives were lost in the process is equally unknown. Legend has it that in one incident alone hundreds were buried alive because of an angry priest’s curse.
According to a local historian, the priest had gone to a mine to solicit funds for his church.
The miners refused to surrender their hard-earned cash.