Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big Mexico: Down in Batopilas Canyon

Valley of Satevo
The guides organized two different hiking options for everyone on our tour. A older man named Manuelo, wearing street clothes and regular leather shoes took the avid hikers on a very long hike up into the mountains overlooking Batopilas Canyon. Noel took the rest of us down a dirt road leading to a small town called Satevo, famous for its Lost Cathedral.

A couple of centuries ago, all records of this church were lost in a fire, and apparently even the Catholic church forgot about it. The people of the town have kept it up and it was recently updated, painted, and repaired. It sits like a little jewel above the river.

The hike led us past the sewage treatment plant (a particular interest of mine, best not to ask why...) for Batopilas. Sewage is piped to a rectangular concrete containment basin full of sand where it percolates through. The water dribbles out through cracks in the side and down into the river. It's a major step above the usual Mexican practice of dumping sewage into the nearest ravine or river, and probably does a pretty good job due to the Mexican practice of not flushing toilet paper. There were many trees and bushes growing in that basin.

One of many goats along the path.


Noel says the fuzzy things will ripen
into very delicious fruits.

Felicia looking into a capilla.


Rudimentary stock pen.




Unfinished home on the side of a hill.

We went past stockades for livestock, many native plants and trees which Noel was exceptionally good at identifying, and the homes of local Tarahumara people. Often families would walk past us, dressed in their usual colorful clothing, the men sometimes bareskinned in loincloths and tunics. They were always friendly and Noel addressed them in their native language. His grandfather is Tarahumara and is still alive at 96 living way up on a hillside with one of his daughters, near Batopilas. Noel said it takes four hours to hike up to their house, so he and other family members go there only a couple times a year.

Satevo is a survival town. There is no market and just a tiny tienda selling staples and junk food. It was a relief for us, after three hours of hot hiking to down a cold soda. There were many abandoned homes and some well-cared-for small houses, but no sign of a business other than growing food in orchards and small plots. Donkeys, goats, chickens and sheep were more numerous than people. In the school yard a teacher was drilling some boys in basketball.

The Lost Cathedral
The church was locked but Noel asked around and got a key so we could go inside. It was simple and white, benches pushed aside, with hand crafted saints and primitive ladders leading up to the choir loft and bell tower.

Back in town, some of us went to Carolina's, a small restaurant in the old plaza that served up the best seafood soup many of us had ever tasted. The town seems so depressed, and Carolina's husband, who is running the place while she works in Chihuahua, said they are barely staying afloat. There are so few tourists anymore, some days they only have two or three customers. Business is down more than 75% due to the drought and lack of foreigners. It's a clean beautiful town and has such potential, it's awful to see it going downhill.


Inside the church, signs of devotion.

Abandoned homes in Satevo.



Looking up into the tower of the church.


Friendly donkeys looking for a scratch.