Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarahumara Indians, Chapter 2

Hard Traveling / Extreme Agri-Tourism

In the hotel in Los Mochis I was still keyed up from the excitement of the adventure and I decided to see what Mexican television had to offer. There were quite a few channels dedicated to soccer and I paused at one for a few minutes listening to the rhythm of Spanish speakers and trying to pick out words and phrases here and there.

I flipped through some more channels and landed on a show that consisted of two stunningly gorgeous young men and two almost mannequin-like young women. The women reminded me of a full-size Corona beer poster that hangs on the wall of the Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood. The young women had an overly stylized beauty. Heavy on the makeup, with skimpy clothes that revealed impossible cleavage. Were those things real, or all silicone? Their incredibly short shorts made me wonder why they bothered at all.

The Train Station in Los Mochis

Whatever these four were doing I couldn’t exactly tell but about half of the time the camera just panned up and down the women’s legs. I concluded that Mexican television was on par with, or possibly worse than, American television and I turned it off. Whether I was tired or not I knew I should go to bed as I was going to have to get up at 4:30 am the next morning to catch the train. The train ride was one of the more relaxing and pleasant aspects of the trip. There was almost nobody in first class (a.k.a. tourist class) of the train. Apparently, a lot of people had read that article in the NY Times about the increasing violence in Mexico and the train was essentially empty. There was a small group of tourists with a guide, and this was about the only time on the whole trip that I saw any other Americans at all.


Marjory in the light of the train door – way too early in the morning

The train ride is spectacular and it certainly felt safe. At times it seemed almost as if there were more guards than there were tourists. The guards walk the length of the train regularly in their black combat outfits carrying AR 15s and side arms. Whenever the train slowed into a station, I would see one or two of them slip off and patrol the entire length of the train from the ground presumably to make sure that nobody sneaked on or off.


View of train and rugged country

On the Train to Creel

Practicing my Spanish I chatted with the guards for a bit. And between my broken Spanish and their broken English, we managed to exchange some pleasantries. When I asked them if I could take their photographs they suddenly froze up and it was very clear that that was not a good idea. I asked them why, but I couldn’t quite understand what they meant when they kept saying something about ‘salud.’

Later I was told that there’s incredible friction between the military, the police, and the mafias. And these guys were with the military, and they could be in real danger if their photographs got into the hands of the rivalry police or mafia.


Security police on train

The scenery is stunning and Anthony and I spent quite a bit of time between the cars where the top half of the door was open to the outside. There was a safety sign, which everybody ignored. I guess they figured if you were stupid enough to stick an arm or head outside and get it knocked off by a branch or possibly the entrance to a tunnel, well that was your problem.


Safety sign on the most fun part of the train


Anthony is a brave videographer

Tarahumara Running Sandals

In preparation for this trip, Doug Simons, the herbalist, had made me a pair of Tarahumara style sandals – ‘huaraches tres pontas,’ or ‘3 point sandals,’ as they are known. Sure enough, I would see these being worn everywhere on this trip. I had been having some problems with the straps and keeping them tied. Later, I would learn from the Tarahumara themselves that my straps were too thin, and they would teach me the best knot to tie them on. But at this time I didn’t know what was wrong. When I saw the logo for the train ‘El Chepe’ was a running sandal, I thought it might shed some light on my shoe problems. But no such luck. The logo is simply a stylized thing that doesn’t reflect how sandals are worn or tied. Dummy me, huh? Trying to gain useful info from a marketing piece.


The logo for el Chepe is the Tarahumara running sandal.

By the way, there is a complete tutorial on how to make these sandals in the 2016 Home Grown Food Summit, including the additional info on the correct size of straps and the best knot. The entire Summit has a series of free presentations that will be shown in March of this year. You can sign up to get free access by clicking here.


Beautiful rugged country

Arriving at the Train Station in Creel

Later that afternoon as we pulled into the station at Creel, I girded myself emotionally. I had been warned that there would be a mob of scrawny children begging for food at the train station. That is certainly the most difficult part about traveling in an economically stressed area. Small children surrounding you with their hunger showing in their ribs and the desperation in their eyes. Their dirty palms open. Such a situation is so hopeless; you can’t give to all of them and you certainly can’t give to one. It is really hard to live with yourself after experiencing that.


Creel sign at the train station

I started to ‘toughen up’ inside.

But I was hugely relieved that while the train platform was certainly crowded, there were only a few scraggly looking dogs that were begging.


Crowded train station platform

Meeting Up with Our Guide

Anthony stood by our pile of luggage while I went out to scout to for Dave. I was just about to give up and figure out how to get to Margarita’s Hotel when I heard a familiar call, “eee, yyyyouuuhhh.” It sounds like the cry of a red tailed hawk. I immediately answered back “caa caw, caa caw.”

For the past several years Dave and I have led groups of teenagers to spend a night out in the Sonoran Desert with nothing but the clothes on their backs. No chapstick, water bottles, flashlights, knives, or tools. We would build a fire using Stone Age techniques from things we would find, and make shelter as best as we could – or not, as was usually the case.

It is pretty hard-core; it gets really cold, the ground is hard, no one sleeps very well, and everyone reaches some breaking points.

Dave starts out the evening telling the kids that people all over the world would be doing this tonight. Refugees from Syria, Africans caught in the crossfire of civil wars, and victims of volcanoes or tsunamis – all would be walking as far as they could tonight with their life’s possessions on their backs. They would try to get as far away as possible from the danger, and when they could not walk any further, they would find a place to sleep. In the morning, they would have no home to return to, but would pick up their meager belongings and keep walking.

We were lucky. Although we would suffer this night, we had loving families and warm camps that would have breakfast ready for us after the sun rose.

When Dave put it that way to the group of teenagers, none of them ever complained.

I went along not because I was any great wilderness skills expert but because they needed a female chaperone for when the girls would be separated from the boys into their own camp. Funny huh? None of the other parents volunteered.

Dave and I had developed crude communication signals that traveled well over long distances in the night. His call was of the sound of the hawk, and mine was the song of the crow. Although I still couldn’t see him through the train station crowd, his familiar call announced he was here, and it lifted my spirits.

The adventure was really on!

After a brief introduction to Anthony, Dave didn’t waste a moment getting us swept into realities of gunfights, stolen properties, indigenous prejudice, and life in Mexico.


This article is Chapter 2 in the series “Extreme Agri-Tourism: Off the Grid with the Tarhumara Indians.” You can read the rest of the series here:

Chapter 1: Extreme Agri-Tourism
Chapter 2: Hard Traveling
Chapter 3: The Tarhumara Girls School
Chapter 4: How To Lose 30 Pounds In 10 Seconds
Chapter 5: Gunfights Don’t Usually Last That Long…
Chapter 6: The Vomit Comet Through Tarahumara Country
Chapter 7: Don’t Ever Do This When Traveling In Strange Territory
Chapter 8: Nice Legs Really Scare Tarahumara Men
Chapter 9: Living Sustainably Is An Everyday Thing Here
Chapter 10: The Biggest Surprise of the Trip
Chapter 11: Another Tarahumara Myth Busted
Chapter 12: Sleeping with Rats is Better than Freezing
• Chapter 13: COMING SOON


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This post was written by Marjory


  • Lisa says:

    Come on, who shot J.R. was less compelling! Looking forward anxiously to the next installment!

  • Sandy says:

    This is a spectacular and intensely dramatic adventure. I would almost say it is the trip of a lifetime, but I don’t think all the entries are in on the escapades you will have in your precious life. I’m hooked! Thanks for sharing this wild treasure with us, Marjorie!

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