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Sierra Tarahumara
A visit to Creel and a Tarahumara artist.

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By Martin Slusser
Posted Friday, July 18, 2003

Hey, folks,

I'm saving money for my next trip to the Sierras. I've never been much interested in the Tierra Caliente as I grew up in a swamp in Pennsylvania (Pocono Mtns :). The Sierra Tarahumara are reputed to be one of the healthiest areas in the world. the high mountains, the dry air, are all conductive to curing lung and skin problems. Tall pines whisper peace, yet the culture still hints at why Pancho Villa loved the montaneros del Norte.


On Saturday nights it was guaranteed some vaquero would have a little too much tequila and race his horse around the small plaza, whooping it up until the police chased him off into the hills.


While there in 2001, I stayed a week at Hotel Margarita, in Creel. It cost a hundred bucks for the week and two meals a day were thrown in. We had the choise of eating in the dining room or the kitchen. As the kitchen was that much closer to the food, you know where I ate! Delicious, but rather more mild than the usual. This is due to the large number of English speaking guests. If you want more fire, the cooks are happy to help. Much of their food comes out of the local fields.

I am an early riser. Standing on the balcony watching the people go to mass I would enjoy my first cigarette of the day and sniff the smoke of pinewood as those still at home made breakfast.

Enrique Penela lives in Creel and his art work is still alive and popular. A man working at the hotel was an old childhood friend. Juan picked up a case of Tecate and we caught a lift to a small mansion Enrique built on the cliffs above town. Enrique also has a smaller house in the valley, but Juan assured me he would see us if we sat on the boulders jutting out from the cliff and waited. Several bottles later a lean, wang-leather tough older man came out of the manzanita brush shouting insults at Juan and laughing. Juan introduced us and we became friends. By the time the case was gone we were in the house and he was telling me about his youth in the mines and ranches of central Chihuahua.

His wife, a Tarahumara lady in her fifties, came to the house. She took a shortcut up over the cliffs with their three-year-old grandson, teaching him how to free-climb, something all Tarahumara learn at a very early age. I was told (not asked by her) to come to supper. I agreed, stating I had a taste for fire, and down the cliff they went.

Before leaving Creel, I went to visit Enrique again several times. When I return, I'll get the abrazos. The town is small, friendly, and the sights fantastic. I went on several tours of the barrancas and still am in awe. The Tarahumara are expert desert rancheros with hanging gardens and peach orchards that lean out over canyons more than a mile deep.

Having known Tarahumara while working on ranches in Arizona, I was mildly surprised to find them so open. I asked Juan. He said any friend of Enrique's was a friend of Creel's. Rather hesitantly, he added, the rain follows me. Well, it did rain every evening, cooling the air and making it a delight to sleep after the heat of the day. While up in the canyons I saw a cloud formation that appeared exactly like Cual Chac. I snapped pictures of it and can you believe it, not a single picture in that roll of film came out! Mexico is indeed an ancient and mysterious land.


Martin H. Slusser

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