The indigenous people that populate the hills, canyons and small towns that surround Creel are easily identified as I cruise through the town and the surrounding area by their colorful brightly patterned fabric. The women wear long pleated skirts and some of the men loin cloths and long-sleeved shirts. In the faces of the older generation I can see years of hard work in their squinting eyes and wrinkled skin. The subsist on basic agriculture of corn and beans.
On my day trip today I decided to visit the old mission San Ignacio and through several valleys surrounded by unique rock formations including Valley of the Frogs, Valley of the Mushrooms and Valley of the Gos or Monks. But the rising spires of rock give reason to the native true Tarahumara name for this valley: Bisabirachi, meaning the Valley of the Erect Penises.
Along the way men are grazing goats, tending to cattle or working the corn fields. Young children sit on fences and wave as I ride slowly on the dirt road through these valleys. Jeremiah and I are riding identically motorcycles with the same luggage and even down to carrying the same tent and toting similar apparel. Even more, he’s been on the same trail, more or less, than I have since Alaska. So the two of us take an opportunity to shoot photos of each other as we ride through the scenic and pastoral valleys of the Tarahumara.
Interesting about the Tarahumara is that they live in old log cabins, caves and simple dwellings. A pick up truck bounces past us hauling a stack of corrugated metal now replacing the thatched roofs of the older log cabins. Rising a small crest and descending toward the Valley of the Erect Penises we spot an old cabin now used to store maize for the hard winters in this nearly 8,000 foot enclave isolated by the Sierra Madre. I rode my bike past the old building then turned around and rode by another time to give Jeremiah a second shot at capturing me riding by. That’s when I spotted her.
Her garb a bit faded from working in the sun, she moved faster than I’d expect a woman of her age. By the time I rode up to Jeremiah she was already engaged in a conversation. Turns out she wants to be paid for the pictures we were taking of her building.
“Vente pesos,” she mumbles. Her hands wrinkled and worn through years of hard work. Her round face framed by a handkerchief holding her hair back. She wanted 20 pesos for the privilege of shooting her building. I step in on the negotiations and offer her 10 pesos, about one US dollar. She balks, shakes her head and points to the old building. Jeremiah picks up on those words I can’t understand. She tells us in Spanish that it’s worth more because the building is extremely old. She won’t accept the 10 pesos and goes on to explain what she uses the building for. Jokingly, I suggest that for 20 pesos that I would be able to not only take a photo of her building, but camp in is as well. She senses the humor but answers seriously with a no. Considering we took these pictures and could simply ride off, I decided to have some fun with her. Wishing my Spanish was in better shape, I explained to her in Spanglish. Meanwhile, Jeremiah moves toward his bike and pulls his camera out while my conversation distracts her.
“I’ve taken pictures of many buildings much older than your cabin for free!” The translation wasn’t working. “The Coliseum in Rome, the Palace in Sevilla and Notre Dame in Paris.” Soon she starts rambling at me in fast Spanish and I simply ramble on in fast English. She’s having as much fun as me and Jeremiah.
“Ok. Ok. Ok.” I finally bring the negotiations back to reality. “I’ll give you twenty pesos but would like to take your picture with your building,” I ask in Spanish. She appears to consider this, but quickly turns her head and says no. We go on for a few moments suggesting that this is a good deal. She turns this back to me in Spanish and asks “Says who?”
We finally pull loose change out of our pockets and dump 14 pesons into her weathered hand. Her short stubby fingers squeeze the pesos and she says, “esta bien.” She’s happy with our offer and we move on.
“I think we’re going the wrong way,” Jeremiah quips. I think so too. I’ve taken the road to the bottom of one of the Canyons and this road appears to be a bit more than we were ready for. Through some major effort on this very narrow road we turn around and climb back up the canyon. Later we open a fence and travel through a forest to approach Lago Areko, a pristine blue lake. We meet Alicia and her kids Jesus and Maria, local Tarahumara who sit by the lake and make and sell local handicrafts.
Photos: (1&2) Contrast in age, Tarahumara elder and young girl; (3) San Ignacio Mission outside of Creel; (4) Jeremiah and kids hanging around the mission; (5) I’m riding through the Valley of the Erect Penises; (6) Negotiating with Tarahumara woman, photo by Jeremiah St. Ours; (7) Maria and Alicia (l to r).