It puzzled the Tarahumara that we were so much bigger, we ate so much more, and yet we couldn’t carry as much nor go as fast.
No matter how big of a room, or how crowded, if Dave Holladay is there you know it. He wears a big wide-brim straw hat and every inch of him below that is just as striking.
The Tarahumara Girls School in Creel
“Instead of spending your money on Margarita’s Hotel, there is a Tarahumara girls school with some extra room that could really use your help,” Dave suggested. I looked at Anthony, and as his head was nodding, I said “sure.” Dave scooped up about half of our luggage and strode off across the railroad tracks.
“Well, what are your first impressions of Creel?” Dave asked me as I almost jogged along to keep up with him.
“Uh, the smell?” I said hesitantly.
“Yeah, isn’t it great,” Dave replied with genuine enthusiasm, “I love the smell of Mexican villages. It is a combination of something dead, something burning, something cooking, and shit.”
I had to admit that he had the combination dialed in perfectly. And for a brief moment his enthusiasm was so infectious I actually could smell his point of view. But in the next second, I came back to my original conclusion that it simply stank. I decided not to mention my opinion to Dave.
Seeing the Sights in Creel, Mexico
In all fairness, I would later discover that the downtown part of Creel was clean with no ill smells. There were beautiful little churches, nice shops, and colorful murals.
Dave was off on another topic anyway. As we walked he filled me in on the plans he had for us. In the short time we had in Creel, he would introduce us to several Tarahumara who were living in town so we could see what their lives were like. Tomorrow we would get on the bus to spend time with the Tarahumara who were living far out of town, but still pretty close to the road. The next stop after that we would go further out requiring a good bit of hiking to reach other Tarahumara living even more remotely in the canyons.
Our first stop would be where we just agreed to sleep for the night. The place was a dormitory set up for Tarahumara girls. The Mexican government offered education scholarships to the Tarahumara but very few of them could take advantage of the offer as the schooling was in town and most of the Indians live out in the rural countryside. None of them could afford to support a child to live in town. A kindly group from the Methodist church had set up a dormitory situation for girls that offered them free room and board. But the organization was struggling. While they did have buildings, facilities, and occasional shipments of beans and rice they still needed so many other things such as fresh food, medicines, and clothing.
We barely had time to drop our luggage and meet with the older couple Javier and Luzdivini, who took care of the girls, before Dave whisked us off to the next place.
Meeting the Local Tarahumara People
We walked at a quick pace through an impossible maze of ramshackle buildings to the home of Faviola. As best I could guess it was a two-room building of about 300 square feet total. As soon as we came in she put a pot of water to boil on the wood-burning stove and then got another pot and started cooking some popcorn to offer us as refreshment. With Faviola’s help, David began to tell us her story.
She grew up and lived on her father’s land which had been a nice homestead far away from town. They had beautiful orchards, good soils in the fields, a herd of goats, and some chickens. Now there happened to be a really bad guy in the region; a Mafioso bully who is known especially for his love of raping women. All of the women and the girls in the area were deathly afraid of being out at night or away from their fathers or husbands.
What happened one night was that this bad guy was at Faviola’s father’s house and the bad guy was using his truck to ram the wall of their home. Faviola’s father had an illegal gun (although it was only a .22 caliber). He decided to use it to fire a warning shot to hopefully scare off the intruder. Well, as fate would have it, the random shot landed right between the eyes of the bully. He was paralyzed and could not move. Of course nobody would touch him or offer any help. And apparently it took about six hours for him to die a slow helpless death.
Everybody in the region considered Faviola’s father a hero. But he was still sentenced and served a term of seven years in prison. And while he was gone, the Mafia took over his home and property. They kicked the family out and apparently they were still there today. Faviola moved into town and made a meager living by baking bread and selling it to the hotels or other places.
“Isn’t there any recourse through the law?” I asked.
Faviola sighed heavily and I wasn’t sure if it from was her own hopelessness, or at my naïveté. “They are one and the same,” she said.
Recruiting Help for Our Expedition
Next we went to meet Pedro and his family in his small but comfortable home. They were also all full-blooded Tarahumara. David had arranged that we would hire Pedro for $20 a day to help carry our packs and gear. David suggested that we hire as many Tarahumara as we had packs. In that way, we would not have to carry anything and these men could be offered meaningful work. After hearing how narrow and steep the trails were, both Anthony and I were completely fine with that suggestion.
Dave told me that on other trips he had taken ultra athletes into the canyons to meet the Tarahumara. Those athletes were a bit proud, but the Tarahumara would end up carrying everyone’s packs regardless if they were paid or not. Even the fittest of us slow them down. It puzzled the Tarahumara that we were so much bigger, that we ate so much more, and yet we couldn’t carry as much nor go as fast. How could we be so inferior and yet have so much more influence in the world?
When Dave asked me how many men I thought I would need I told him three or four.
Now normally when I travel, I am a minimalist. But on this trip I was loaded down with gifts. High-quality steel knives, sewing kits, bolts of cloth, guitar strings, seeds, para cord, school supplies, headlamps, and a bunch of tennis balls to hand out to the kids. By the end of the trip we would even give away the packs themselves and the two tents we had brought along. I wanted to learn from these people and I wanted to offer them something in return. Carrying a lot of money certainly would’ve been easier (and we did pay out quite a bit of money as wages) but just throwing money around seems so crass.
On his scouting trip, David had not been able to find us suitable men. “There were some young bucks I know that are certainly healthy and strong enough,” Dave said, “but I just wasn’t sure if they would really be there to meet us at the bus. You know, if they got wind of a really good race going on in another valley they would be gone. They are beholden to no one.”
Dave also wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems with drugs or drinking, and that whoever would be on the trip would be fun to be around. Pedro was the only guy Dave could find who fit the bill.
So we were way overloaded with gear and only had Pedro to help. But the solution to that problem turned out to be surprisingly easy.
This article is Chapter 3 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
Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.