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The adventures of the Mel

The most amazing experience...

MEXICO | Saturday, 22 March 2008 | Views [3351] | Comments [1]

Onto the most amazing experience I’ve had yet. We left the lodge in Cerocahui at about 11am and drove on a bumpy ‘road’ for about 2 hours to Urique. Along the way we stopped at several places to look out in awe at the spectacular views of the canyon below. At most places we stopped we encountered the Tarahumara, the indigenous Mexicans. The women dress in the most vividly coloured skirts and blouses that look far too hot for the weather, whilst the men dress like ‘normal’ Mexicans. They are shy and polite, though may often ask for money for being photographed (fair enough too). The children will run up to you with their hands open, saying ‘Peso? Peso? Peso?’ which is pretty hard to resist, though unless you want to be inundated with children you have to try hard!

Generally the Tarahumara are selling their crafts to tourists at these lookout points, as apparently most of them live in caves and live isolated lives in remote communities. They are famous for running long distances very quickly (apparently faster than our champion marathon runners) and have been known to have marathons that are as long as 160km!!

Looking into the canyon below was simply breathtaking. As always, photos never do it justice – it was just amazing looking out into the canyon with no barrier between you and the sheer drop from the road (bar my outstanding case of vertigo).

We continued to drive on and ended up in Urique (50km away, 2 hour drive). It is a quaint little town, but overflowing with people this weekend because of the Easter festivals. They had activities everywhere – even jumping castles (full of water though – awesome in the heat) and a basketball game. We stopped for lunch in a small family-run restaurant (as I guess all businesses are here though), which was good traditional (not too hot either) Mexican tucker.

We then began the 7km drive to the remote community we were headed to: it could possibly be called Guadalupe, but I’m not sure if I’m confusing that name with another place. The road got shoddier and shoddier, but prettier as well. Looking out at the rocks on the road, you discover that they are all beautifully muted colours: it was like somebody, about 20 years ago, had gone to the effort of painting every single rock a different colour of the rainbow. It was a beautiful parallel to the bright colours that paint the Mexican lives amidst the almost monotone barren background.

We came to a river which we had to cross, and Doug suggested that we take the suspension bridge whilst we wait for him to prepare the van to drive through the river. It obviously wasn’t very deep, but it was a freaking flowing river! So I walked up to what I thought was a suspension bridge, but in reality was a rickety old collection of loose wooden planks and suspension cables. I really didn’t want to do it, but hey – I held a freaking tarantula. I can do ANYTHING. I stepped onto the first plank and it was LOOSE. It took sheer bravery/stupidity to push me ahead and I grasped the cables and pushed my weight forward onto the second plank. Note: The first 4 planks were about 70cm apart. Drop below of probably-won’t-kill-you-but-will-break-a-lot-of-bones metres. I ignored my staccato heart beat and soldiered on slowly, gripping the rails tightly, testing each plank, and then moving forward a little quicker, eyes set on finish line, singing Tool to try to make it go quicker. Then, the end of the bridge wasn’t actually tethered to the ground. I had to freaking JUMP. Frick. But, I’m obviously here updating my journal so it wasn’t too bad.

Note: 5 minutes later Pablo crossed the bridge and the first plank FELL after he took his foot off it. Needless to say Norma changed her mind and crossed the river instead. Wish I had have known we could have done that!!

We got back into the van and drove up to the village. We arrived there and not much was happening, a guy was beating a drum every now and then, apparently calling the villagers into the centre to prepare for the celebrations to come. There were many Tarahumara here, walking around in their brightly coloured skirts, many carrying infants in makeshift slings. We sat in the shade (it was pretty damn hot) and watched the world go by. I accompanied Doug around for a little while as I was his wife for the day, ‘mi gringa’ (apparently it’s safer for me that way – didn’t bother me, I finally got some bloody cuddles!). It was great, Doug walked me around the village and told me so much of the history and information on the village and celebrations. In the church, they cover up all the faces of the Virgin Mary so that she doesn’t see her son get crucified, and have piles of offerings (including a can of bloody coke!). He didn’t really know why they performed the ceremony – all he can get out of them is that it is ‘tradition’. One or two men walk around the village beating their drum, calling the villagers in. Then a little bit before dusk, about 20ish ‘soldiers’ join the drummers, carrying ‘spears’. They are the protectors of the church and must defend it against el diablo, the devil. Or the 30 or so of them that are due to come down at dusk. They walk up and down the centre of the village, chanting, drumming, and then starting running up and down. Then, dusk.

Four devils appear, youths painted black and white from head to toe. The devils are not allowed to enter the church, but run around, causing chaos and disorder as much as they can. They have those noisy twisty things and run around, mocking the soldiers and the church.

Whilst this is happening, I have the pleasure of tasting tesquino, an apparently potent fermented corn drink that is not dissimilar to a strong beer. Doug had advised me to close my teeth so that I didn’t get ‘extra’, and I was a little scared of how horrible it was going to taste, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Then, the rest of los diablos appeared. Most were painted head to toe, some weren’t, dressed normally and played instruments. They carried a mock effigy of Christ which they would later burn. They approached the church wildly, hollering and making a lot of noise. Many skipped in and out of the crowd, teasing and tormenting many of the children. The soliders reappeared and they danced a fight of defence and mockery. This went on for some time, traipsing up and down the village centre.

It was just amazing to watch, and I managed to film a bit. I will hopefully put this up on Facebook later…

And then, all too soon, I had to go. Norma and Pablo had gotten us a lift with some locals heading back down to Urique where they had left their car. A hurried embrace goodbye to Doug, and off we went. This was an experience in itself. In the back of a pick-up-truck (more fondly known to us as a ute), there were 16 of us, though mostly women. Some sitting, some standing, some perched on the side of the tray, we began the bumpy descent back to Urique. We held on for dear life as we were not entirely certain that the back of the tray we were leaning against was all together stable. Everybody spoke in rapid Spanish, but thankfully Pablo and Norma translated bits for me and I was able to understand what was happening. This bumpy ride went on for a little while, then they dropped us off in the dark where the car was hiding.

And so to the 2 hour drive back to Cerocahui and the end of the most amazing experience I’ve had so far. We arrived back at the lodge and Norma and Pablo cooked me up an awesome toasted sandwich, with ham and cheese and avocado and bacon and another cheese and something else. I don’t know. But I hadn’t eaten since lunch so it was AMAZING. We met a guy from the States who had ridden his motorbike down from Seattle. This is amazing in itself, but what we then found out was that he had NEVER ridden in the dirt. And he rode to Mexico. Gringo loco indeed! He crashed, rode around in the dark, had no idea where he was going, and by sheer luck found the lodge. Loco, loco, loco! I’m not even sure if I would class that as bravery! Norma, Pablo and I exchanged glances and retired to bed.

So there you are ladies and gents, a traditional Good Friday festival in a ridiculously remote community in northern Mexico. Wow.

Urique Canyon Good Friday photos




What a day. Reading and the looking at the photos, its clear it was a real cultural experience, as opposed to a tourist one. Fantastic

  sally Mar 23, 2008 4:57 PM

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