Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big Mexico: Coming out of Batopilas Canyon

Typical Tarahumara home in Batopilas Canyon
Wednesday morning, we had another of those 'stuffed' breakfasts at the Riverside Lodge, then piled into the trucks for the long ride out of the canyon. Once again, the trucks were like fish swimming upstream, most of the traffic was coming from the opposite direction. Noel proved to be a very skillful and prophetic driver. He seemed to sense when to slow down to avoid a head on collision with some big truck barreling downhill toward us on the dirt road.  Often we, or those coming towards us, could see some distance and knew that eventually an encounter would take place. Often the downhill traffic would have pulled over in some wide spot to let us pass. Sometimes we did the same, especially if what was coming resembled a gasoline tanker!

At the very top, where the road narrows down to a thread and the curves are something like snake paths in the grass with nothing but bus plunges on the downhill side, we had the scariest encounter of all.

Up ahead we could see men in camouflage fatigues, armed with assault weapons and wearing black masks that covered the lower part of their faces. They were on the side of the road. Beyond them, our fellow truck was face to face with a huge green vehicle with guns mounted on the top.

For the briefest moment, we (the tourists) thought we were about to be robbed and killed by a drug cartel, then dumped over the steep edge of the canyon to be fodder for turkey vultures. Noel was perfectly calm. He rolled down the window and chatted with the soldiers who wanted us to back up so their monster could get by. Noel commented to us that those idiots didn't know how to drive, that's why they'd gotten into this pickle. He began to back up.

Typical of the rugged terrain
through which we drove.

Now, you have to visualize this situation. We are on the curviest of dirt roads. The drop off on the left side is hundreds if not a thousand feet, and that drop off begins inches away from the tires. Noel moved the mirrors so he could see the wheels on both sides. He frequently looked in the rearview mirror to see which way the road curved behind us. It might have been fine except each time he clamped down on the brakes, the truck slid a ways on the gravel, and enough sliding would have sent us right over the edge.  Evan and Dick were buckled into the seats on top, so I imagine they had the most frightening views, though Dick's recollection of it was fairly benign and filled with praise for Noel's skills.

At one point, Judy, watching out the back window, looking straight down the cliff, gasped. Then Felicia went white, and I wanted OUT. I said very forcefully, "I'm going to get out!!" Noel just said "no". He had locked all the doors and made no move to unlock them as he continued to inch his way backwards. I could feel my heart pounding and all I could think of was how could I get out? It quickly became apparent there was no place to go. My door couldn't have opened, the cliff face was too close, and where would I stand if I did get out? The army truck coming down was even wider than our vehicle.

Eventually the road behind widened out a bit, far enough for the army truck to pull aside and let us past, but the soldiers would have none of it. They wanted us to pull into that spot. Then I understood why. The huge truck went past us, then a jeep we couldn't have seen, and then another large white truck that the soldiers said was full of food and clothing for the Tarahumaras in the canyon. It was a relief caravan from the Mennonites with full protection from the military. Some of the young soldiers took our photo as they went past, others waved.

Somehow our sister vehicle had managed to pull aside way up ahead to let the caravan pass, so they were long gone by the time we got back to where the whole scenario started.

Meanwhile, a beautiful young Tarahumara woman carrying a baby in a sling and a load of goods in a cloth sack had walked straight up the hill on foot paths that cross over the road periodically. We had passed her a while back in the canyon, and we passed her again just a short distance from the little town at the top of the canyon.

The Sierra Lodge (the long building on the
left) and the Cusuare River.
Back in Cusare, at the Sierra Hotel, the same one we stayed at three nights before, Noel took us on a longish hike through the forest and over the hills to the cascada. A boy, about ten, joined us and was instantly hired by Noel to be our "guide", though I'm sure Noel knew his way around the area quite well. He pointed out numerous dead apple trees, an entire orchard that died because of the drought, and said he knew the people who owned it. Several fields simply lay fallow, with no crop or harvest in years.

La Cascada de Cusuare

The Cascada would usually be a roaring waterfall during the spring, but the river through there is only inches deep. There have been no snows this winter, so there won't be much of a waterfall this spring unless something drastic changes soon.

Three Tarahumara girls had set up shop on the hotel staircases, selling woven goods, necklaces, dolls, and other handmade things. Most of us didn't have small bills or change, and the poor girls didn't have money to make change with either. I purchased a few items so managed to spend my one $100p bill, about $8 US.

For dinner we had another lovely feast and returned to warm wood-heated rooms. Since we had self-assigned, Lia and I didn't get the same room we'd had. When I opened a chest drawer I found three of the cookies from the Mennonite village that someone had left earlier. Lia made sure each skinny dog around the hotel got a fair share of those cookies.

The path back to the hotel from the waterfall,
no OSHA in Mexico!!

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