Mexicos Tarahumara Indigenous People

Looking for something to do I walked around Creel, Mexico early yesterday morning, locals hitting me up for tours along the way. Earlier I decided I would tour the area on my own by taking the local bus to surrounding villages. Creel is the tourist destination along the Chepe railway. Chepe being the last Mexican passenger train in operation, chugs along from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, 36 kilometers short of the Pacific ocean connecting central Mexico to the coast. Making its way through the Copper Canyon, four times larger and deeper in areas than the US Grand Canyon, which is home to the Tarahumara Indigenous People known for running long distances barefoot, upto 20 hours and 400 miles at a time without stopping. This includes all family members, men, women & children. They are known to live in caves and small adobe homes although I found they now mostly live in small houses throughout the canyon. Alternating homes according to the planting cycle.My mind running wild I hoped to see these people in their natural environment. Walking around Creel I noticed these people, women wearing colorful skirts with babies on their backs. As I walked around Creel looking for something to do I noticed a family sitting along the roadside outside a restaurant, the kids dressed in colorful skirts and the father wearing a loin cloth and sandals made of recycled tires. I quickly realized they must be a Tarahumara family. Walking by I asked the father where they were headed. Although they speak Tarahumara, an indigenous language, in Spanish he told me they were headed to Batopilas about 160 kilometers away. Having read about Batopilas and surrounding communities I decided right there and then this was a perfect destination for the day. He explained where the bus office was located and I immediately headed there to purchase a bus ticket. Upon arriving the office the older lady staffing it told me I’d missed the bus to Batopilas for the day as it left at 7:30am and it was now 9:00am. I would have to wait till morning. Returning to the restaurant where the family waited patiently outside, the kids sitting along the sidewalk and the father lingering nearby, I explained to him that we missed the bus, he seemed surprised. He was sure the bus departed at 11:am.Frost on the ground it was cold outside, he asked if I might invite him for coffee. Feeling he must be freezing in his loincloth and huaraches (sandals) I invited the family to breakfast. They accepted my offer and we walked into the warm inviting restaurant. Ordering coffee for the adults I asked what the kids would like to drink. Coffee responded the father. I’ll have to admit his response took me by surprise and without thinking I suggested hot chocolate. When he translated this to the kids a smile appeared on their faces. The menus arrived, the father reading out some choices and stating the prices out loud. I suggested eggs but he quickly countered with beef soup as it was cheaper and would satisfy their hunger for the remainder of the day. No problem , beef soup it would be only the restaurant didn’t have any ready so they suggested chicken soup to the approval of the father.

We talked about where they were headed and he confirmed that the Tarahumara people do indeed run upto 20 hours barefoot or in huaraches without stopping as he did in his younger years, he also informed me that most of the people no longer live in caves but rather in small adobe houses. There are still a few families living in caves throughout the canyon but no longer so many. To my surprise he then invited me to accompany them to their house where he would show me how they live, what they eat, how their food is prepared, what plants they use as medicine, how they weave baskets to sell to tourists in the surrounding villages and anything else I may want to learn about their culture. He offered me all this for a small price of my offer. Asking how much he would charge he explained that he would accept any offer I suggest. He then explained that the previous year he met a guy from Chihuahua almost in the same circumstance we met and he was paid 2000 pesos, the equivalent of $95USD. Quickly I offered him the same and he accepted just as fast. We made plans to meet at 1:00pm to catch the 1:30pm bus to Samachique. We would then try to catch a ride by hitchhiking to Qorerachi then walk eight hours through the copper canyon to his home in Munerachi, none of these villages being on my map.I ran to my hotel, El Real de Chatupec to ask the owner, Mario, if I could leave a few things there while I went on this unexpected journey. Feeling my excitement Mario graciously accepted, warning me not to be scared upon arriving Batopilas due to the sight of armed marijuana farmers and to treat them as I would treat anyone else. He stressed that I not travel at night and whatever I do not to separate from Rodrigo. I ran upstairs to my room emptying my backpack of a liter of Tequila which can only be purchased at the Jose Cuervo distillery in Tequila, Mexico earlier on my trip. All unnecessary clothing and anything heavy went into my daypack as I charged my iPhone. Rodrigo, the father, who invited me to his home, explained there is no electricity nor running water where he lives. I then ran off to meet him but to my horror neither he nor his family were where we agreed to meet. I looked for them all over town but couldn’t find them.

Disappointed I headed back to my hotel with two extra battery packs I purchased to recharge my iPhone. Explaining to Mario that I couldn’t find the family. He told me that it was only 12:00pm and the bus doesn’t leave until 1:30pm. The family most likely just went shopping around town and I must have just missed them. Mario went on to explain that I was headed into prime marijuana country and not to be scared upon arriving Batopilas. He said I would be meeting many narcos and that I should talk with them and treat them as I would anyone else, stressing that I not be afraid and that under no circumstances should I separate from the family. Regardless what ever I do, do not travel at night especially without Rodrigo. He explained that as long as I’m with Rodrigo my safety is assured but he couldn’t guarantee it if I decide to travel on my own upon leaving Creel. He than said it’s ok for me to travel to Batopilas tomorrow if I don’t find the family but not to go alone today as it’s too late, stressing the entire time for me not to get scared upon arriving the place. He said I will be seeing things I am most likely not accustomed to seeing such as men walking around with heavy arms, luxury vehicles and people wearing expensive jewelry. Again he said to just talk with them as normal people and all will be fine. Leaving my extra belonging with him I went to my room, unplugged the batteries which had only charged 30 minutes, grabbed my trusty backpack and headed into town to search for Rodrigo and his family.
It didn’t take long to find them shopping for candy. Relieved I joined them as we headed to the bus. The older women I met earlier at the bus office arrived, collected our fare of 100 pesos for the trip from Creel to Samuchique explaining to people that they couldn’t take up extra seats with their belongings as she needs the seats for people. Punctual the bus departed at 1:30pm winding its’ way further up the copper canyon an unbelievable scenery unfolding before us. The hour-long ride passed along a river leading to the heavily advertised waterfalls. Many guides in town tried coaxing me into paying them to take me there. The bus snaking its way up the canyon views to the valley floor coming into sight around every corner. Snow covered peaks dotting the landscape. The scene unfolded like a John Wayne western. At one point snow-covered the road as the bus driver slowed assuring our safety as the canyon dropped thousands of feet along the roadside.Arriving its destination of Samuchique we off boarded the bus and waited along the roadside hitchhiking to our next destination of Seway, a small rural village deep in the canyon. The rarely used dirt road seeming awfully lonely, Rodrigo explaining that we may have to spend the night here. I headed to the small tienda to purchase batteries for my headlamp and baby wipes for when nature calls. On my way back I met a couple of guys along the road who were very interested in my journey. They then told me to run and catch a flatbed truck that was coming up the intersecting road as it was headed where we were heading. I missed the truck but the driver seeing me running and waving my hands stopped and waited. Calling out to Rodrigo as I ran by the family explaining that the flatbed truck was heading to our destination. Sure enough it was and we boarded loading all our belongings on the back. We rode an hour over a snow-covered pass on a muddy dirt road crossing streams, picking up several other people along the way. Rodrigo called out to the driver as we passed Seway notifying him we had arrived our destination as the sun sunk behind the canyon walls. We offloaded and the children quickly ran off onto a dirt trail, Rodrigo explaining we still had a one our walk before we reached one of his homes high atop a canyon ridge, this being one of several of his homes was not our final destination but his harvest home where he plants his crops. We would spend the night there after walking an hour from 6pm to 7pm. Remembering what Mario told me about not traveling at night but also not to separate from the Rodrigo I felt a bit uneasy. Having no real choice as we were out in the middle of the Copper Canyon as night fell we walked along in single file, Juan, an 11-year-old boy leading the way the 16-year-old girl with a baby on her back following, I next and Rodrigo with a pack of blankets and a sack full of items they purchased, on his back bringing up the rear. The moon lighting our way I realized I hadn’t changed my headlamp batteries. The moonlight being strong enough I didn’t need it much of the way as the canyon dropped hundreds and at time thousands of feet beside the trail.We arrived a small adobe house atop a ridge the canyon dropping thousands of feet on either side, the moonlight unable to reach the depths of the canyon and beauty around us, the stars shining bright covering the entire sky with ambient light nowhere near us millions of stars shone brightly above, Orion coming up over the horizon on our left, Rodrigo explaining that I was in for a surprise in the morning when the sun light unmasks the beauty of the copper canyon all around us.To say that this location is planet earth on steroids would be doing it an injustice. I awoke before sunrise, wrapped a blanket around me and walked just a few feet from my campsite outside the back of their adobe house as dawn broke, standing in awe, a beauty seen only in movies appearing before me. Pine covered canyon walls dropping thousands of feet to the rush of a roaring river below which I still cannot see. Small adobe homes on farms dot ridge tops below us, rock formations reaching to the sky all around. The sun rising reveals a deep blue sky as Orion disappeared over the ridge to our right. Little house on the the praire comes to mind.The Tarahumara people live a simple life in one of the most beautiful places on this planet. Rodrigo grows corn, beans, chicharo, wheat, potatoes, squash and pumpkins, all the food they consume minus the occasional candy he purchases for his children. Families blessed with a good crop share their bounty with families not so fortunate. He explained this morning that they do not buy food, he grows all their food, water is non-existent her on the canyon, they carry all their water from a river we passed along the way, via mule in 5 gallon plastic containers. Making his adobe house was tough as he had to carry all the water here this way. Asking if he collects rainwater he explained that the plastic barrel cost 1500 pesos, too much for them to afford although he does collect what he can in the plastic container he does have.As the sun rose the children in their brightly colored hand-made dresses came out. Each beginning a chore, one cutting wood, another starting a fire, while the mother removed dried corn kernels from the corn cobs. She then showed me how they make quoriki, a soupy watery cornmeal pinole drink they have for breakfast. This of course after we drank coffee, the children included. Quoriki is made by stripping the corn of its kernels, mixing them in a pan with sand and toasting them over an open fire, some of the kernels popping making a small amount of popcorn. The toasted kernels & popcorn are then separated from the sand and ground in a grinder with a small amount of water making a dry corn meal. The mother husks the corn and toasted it while one of the young girls and I ground it. The dry cornmeal is then stone ground on a metate, a rock and mortar device fashioned out of stone, water being added until it makes a wet pasty mixture. This being done by another one of the children, This mixture is then combined in a plastic bucket with large amounts of cold water making Quoriki which we then scooped out with plastic cups and drank for breakfast.At about 10:00am Rodrigo mounted his horse and went to the neighboring village to gather supplies, taking my batteries along to use the neighbors solar power to recharge them, along the way. He dropped them off, continued to gather supplies and pick them up on his way home. All this as the mother boils a white and purple corn mixture and one of the girls makes beans on a separate fire, adding lard which they all took turns tasting much as we would cookie dough.  The corn mixture is then scooped out a bit at a time, washed, ground in a hand operated grinder then ground with water on the metate and made into masa which will be turned into tortillas after sitting in the sun to dry. Work making food continues from the time we wake throughout the day. Lunch consists of beans mixed with lard and gorditas, thick corn tortillas and a sucker brought to me by Juan for dessert. Very tasty and filling!I now lay in my hammock and rest awaiting Rodrigo, upon his return we are to hike around and meet his neighbors. Tomorrow we hike an additional 8 hours to Munirachi, where he has his second home, then onto and finally to Batopilas. Along the way we were to hike up the canyon to Romayne Wheelers home in a cave for a concert of a lifetime. Romayne, a concert pianist composer, writer and researcher in 1992 decided to live in the remote copper canyon alongside the Tarahumara bringing his piano with him he went there to study the music and dance of the Tarahumara. Mario had explained at the beginning of the trip to ask Rodrigo to take me to see Romayne. Upon bringing his name up with Rodrigo he obliged and setup a plan. The plan however would never come to fruition as we reached the roaring river at the canyon floor after an eight our hike I realized there was no way I would make the 8 hour climb back up the adjoining canyon to Romaynes cave then back down the canyon and back up the other side to Rodrigos house. One eight our trek down the canyon side on a goat trail was enough for my legs now throbbing with pain, my feet in special shoes to accommodate my planter faschitas now in excruciating pain I was thrilled to have reached the lower canyon river and be walking on mostly flat rocky ground. Explaining which plants they use as medicine, crisscrossing the river by hopping over rocks and at times having to take off my shoes and walk through the river, Rodrigo showed me the different foods available along the trail, chilies, little refreshing sweet orange berries, laurel and at the lower altitudes, orange, lemon, papaya and banana trees we continued for eight hours until we passed a couple of young farmer leaving their crops.The sweet smell of weed in the air it didn’t take me long to put two and two together and realize what these young farmers were growing. Rodrigo introduced me to them as we talked for a few moments while we rest and drank water directly from the river. We continued on to Munirachi where the farmers caught up to us, an alarm of a new Chevy pickup truck beeping in the background, Rodrigo was excited to explain what the noise was. I then noticed the farmers coming up behind us as Rodrigo asked me to ask them for a ride. Happy to oblige I quickly started a conversation with the young farmers and they were happy to take us 30 minutes up the road cutting 2 hours off our trek. Upon arriving Cerro Colorado they asked us to hop out and catch a ride with a beat-up old pickup truck as it was headed closer to Batopilas. Thanking them with Tecates we unloaded our packs and waited for less than 10 minutes as a family approached the beat-up truck. They too gave us a 30 minute ride cutting another 2 hours of walking down the canyon. They dropped us off a few kilometers from the highway to Batopilas. We crossed a bridge, hiked up the hill and onto the new roadway already destroyed by gigantic boulders the size of houses clamoring down the canyon sides blocking the entire road in places. Four miles or so later we were crossing the bridge into Batopilas where we went directly to the plaza, found a restaurant and hotel room for the evening. We had a Res Ranchero a beef & been chili for dinner, I then showered and passed out while Rodrigo went off to take with friends, the 4am wakeup call coming way too early we got up, boarded a van with goats on top for the 5 hour ride back to Creel.

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