We started the trip by road, led by Pedro Palma Gutiérrez, a guide and adventurer in the region.
We crossed a vast plateau, at an altitude of over 1500m. Still, we climbed through the endless orchards of apple trees that supply much of Mexico.
We arrive in the vicinity of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, at 2060 m, considered the gateway to the Sierra de Tarahumara.
Instead of entering the city, we continued through a cultivated prairie and, at one point, dotted with houses and other buildings, of sober tones, even a little dismal.
At the wheel, Pedro Palma, tries to reorient himself, in search of the property that interested us. We passed warehouses where large TIR-style trucks were parked. And, ahead, by another elongated building with a prefabricated look.
On a Sunday morning, men, women and children gathered there, arriving in pick ups farms and bulky vans. “This is where they meet for the religious service.”, informs us Pedro Palma. “Our host's house is already there, he did us the special favor of welcoming us.”
We cleared the door of another open farm. A black Chihuahua is strange to outsiders. He darts to the estate's threshold, determined to protect his turf with shrill barks.
We walked some more. Pedro Palma takes the lead. It takes us inside the farm that follows.
The owner had not yet come from that conviviality, so we searched and photographed the most interesting thing we found there, an old wagon overflowing with yellow corn cobs, toasted by the winter sun.
Pre-Scheduled Visit to the Home of a Mennonite Family
We are in this worship, when the rancher appears, parks his van and greets us. Pedro Palma, introduce us to Abraham Peters, our host. The only official host and guide for countless visitors who arrive intrigued by life apart from the Mennonite community of Cuauhtémoc.
Welcoming and guiding them became a passion complementary to Abraham Peters' agricultural work in 2003, when a team of German reporters knocked on his door, asking for directions on the most interesting places around.
Abraham invites us to his home, an unpretentious home, made of non-organic materials, furnished and decorated with a mix of modern objects and treasures, diplomas, old images of the family and other ancestors.
The elder stands in a corner of the house, next to a poster of his family tree. Framed there, he explains that his wife and the only daughter who still lived with them were meeting at that Sunday morning meeting, the reason why only Abraham received us.
Several questions later, he tells us how he and the Mennonites had ended up there, all by itself, a dazzling history lesson.
From the Netherlands to Chihuahua, the Mennonites' Long Demand for Peace
As with the Quakers and other religious groups, what moved these Anabaptist followers of Frisian theologian Menno Simons to Mexico was the urgency to protect themselves from the forced recruitment generated by the spread of World War I.
In their long and continuous diaspora, the Mennonites first moved from the Low Countries to Prussia. From Prussia to Russia, from where, in the second half of the XNUMXth century, they went to Canada, above all to Manitoba, and to the United States.
“Everything was going fine…”, Abraham tells us “… until World War I came on the scene and Canada started sending reinforcement troops to the Allies. Some time later, the Canadians disagreed with us not being recruited. Under pressure, the government pushed us to the wall. We were forced to look for other stops.”
Months later, a Mexican dignitary of President Álvaro Obregon made it known that Mexico needed people to cultivate vast areas of the North and that it would facilitate the reception of the Mennonites.
In 1922, the Mennonites purchased large tracts of land from what is now state of chihuahua. About 1300 families settled there, each with their horses, carts and agricultural knowledge.
The same one that enriched the largest Mennonite community in Mexico, today, with 45 thousand inhabitants, producers of the apples we saw along the way, cattle and dairy products, agricultural machinery, furniture, metallurgical products and, more recently, even shopping centers , hotels and restaurants.
After a generous amount of time had passed, Pedro Palma intervened and put an end to the visit.
Carlos Venzor and his Vast Rancho Museum
We bid farewell to Abraham Peters when one of his non-Mennonite neighbours, Dom Carlos Venzor, a rancher collector, who suggested to Pedro Palma that we visit the museum section of his farm.
Pedro Palma agrees. There we found a little bit of everything: old tractors, vans, gas stations, furniture and TVs, music instruments and, in some cases, who knew what.
Dom Carlos Venzor dreamed that the museum would be part of the unusual tourist route of the Chihuahuan Mennonites.
In our own way, we contribute to making it a reality.
We arrived at lunch time.
Without straying too far from the planned route, we stopped at a pizzeria owned by Mennonites who served pizzas made from ingredients produced by the community, especially the famous Chihuahua cheese, served there in abundance.
By Chihuahua Above, in the Direction of Creel
After the meal, we continue towards Creel, always in curves, a significant part of the route, faithful to the meanders of the Oteros River, between villages and somewhat shabby villages, wedged between both banks and the bases of the valley.
Creel, already at an altitude of 2350 m, right at the top of the Sierra Madre Occidental, will not take long. That's where we'd sleep. Until dark, we went on a tour of the most emblematic places around.
Lake Arareko reveals itself to be a very green body of water, surrounded by a befitting pine forest.
There, we see, in the distance, some visitors who ply it by rowing boat.
As soon as we get out of the van, we have our first contact with the prodigious Rarámuri or Tarahumara ethnic group, the second name, adapted from the sub-mountain (let's call it that) that makes up the Sierra Madre Occidental.
They are women and children. In a chatty conviviality that helps them to pass the time and take care of their children, while producing the colorful handicrafts that support them.
The Strange Rocky Spires of Monks Valley
From the lake, we travel in off-road mode, zigzagging between pine trees until we reach the base of another notorious stronghold in the region, Vale dos Monges.
Rarámuri children and women welcome us again, this time more determined to do business.
Pedro shows us the beginning of a trail that snaked between slender and high rocks, some with sixty meters, highlighted against the blue sky, well above the surrounding pin-immensity.
A small family of Tarahumara follows us at some distance, with soft but determined steps, marked by their gentle and stoic way of being and living.
We ended up finding ourselves at the foot of a formation of friars overlooking the others. Irene and her daughter Angélica, Mirta and the descendant Elsa show us bracelets and the like, or that we photograph them.
We gladly give in to suggestions.
While we choose the bracelets, we renew a good-natured chatter that the sudden and bright sunset warms.
The Mission of San Ignacio, on the Ultimate Road to Creel
The twilight was still blue in the sierra when Pedro stops again, next to a church of piled stones, in the heart of a field full of humble houses.
The temple was the main building of the San Ignacio mission, established by the Jesuits during the XNUMXth century and which, moreover, preserves its tombstones at the back of the church.
Unsurprisingly, the atrium was also disputed by Rarámuri women and girls, dedicated to their particular mission of selling handicrafts.
It is already dark night when we enter Creel.
Creel was founded in 1907, while Creel Station, little more than a deposit and source of supply of wood from the chihuahua al pacific railroad, named after the governor of the state of Chihuahua at the time, Enrique Creel.
Today, it remains a central station on the line and the most important logistical base for those who come to discover the Rarámuri territory and, with plans to travel to El Fuerte or Los Mochis in the CHEPE Express.
We warm up in front of the fireplace in one of the most popular hotels in town, the Eco. Despite the name, we recover from the cold under a collection of insinuating animal heads.
But we slept cozy and pampered by the comfort of wood and stone of the place.
Dª Catalina's Cave House, still Entre Rarámuris
The following morning, already a good kilometers from Creel, we deviated from the main road in order to witness how some Rarámuri continued to use caves as homes.
A house-cueva of Dª Catalina became the most famous example. We went back to snaking through pine trees. Up to the edge of the vast ravine of the Oteros River.
There, on a hidden top of the cliff, we find a room made of logs set against a stone wall and an old tree with twisted trunks.
It lacked the careful decoration of the Eco hotel.
However, in addition to Dona Catalina, some family members lived in it at that time.
Including granddaughter Rosenda and great-granddaughter Melissa, a one-year-old baby who slept soundly, little or nothing disturbed by generalized chatter.
Some outsiders were betting on understanding, from the hostesses' mouths, what it was like to live there, when the temperatures of the Sierra Madre down to minus ten, twenty degrees.
Rosenda limits herself to pointing at the firewood and the kind of salamander that heated the house grotto. She completes her explanation with a shrug of indifference, as if such awe doesn't make sense.
In the following days, at the doors of the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) inhospitable conditions to which the Rarámuri have adapted, the wonder we were all in would only be reinforced.