This past Monday, two orange-clad, barefoot and rough-toed Buddhist monks from Thailand elaborated on the finer points of basic meditation. We were a motley group of interested people, already considerably more relaxed after spending the last fifteen minutes releasing muscle tension and trying to focus as best we could on an imagined bright, lunar-like sphere glowing two finger-widths above our belly buttons. For the host, an Asian woman with years of meditating in her body's memory, the older monk had a bit of advice: Keep going further in. If focusing on the sphere comes naturally, go inside of it, and inside and inside again.
As far as meditation goes, I'll have to store that bit of helpfulness for a time ahead when I have more and better experience under my invisible belt. But I think that those words apply perfectly to travels around Copper Canyon. I may have returned over a month ago, but the sensory recollection is still very present. And I'm sure that I wouldn't have left loving it so much if we hadn't, unknowingly, taken the monk's advice to go further in.
The small town of Creel, celebrating a century of incorporation this year, is easily the best place to call home base when exploring the Sierra Tarahumara. Arriving on a crowded bus--banda music streaming over the speaker system, most boarding along the way for the ride, a few to sell burritos or "soda" as they call them up north, candy, stickers and chips, the Tarahumara woman next to me patting me on the leg before getting up to leave--the main square is right across the dusty street. And that square was crowded for the next few days with participants and onlookers in the centennial celebrations, programmed with dance, song, salutes and speeches that included performers from our very own Tlalnepantla and a visit from the governor of the state of Chihuahua.
From there, I made day trips to a waterfall, cave dwelling, lake, small villages and incredible rock formations in the soft volcanic tuff. The area around Creel is much drier before the rainy season begins, but it looks so much like the terrain in northern New Mexico that it wasn't hard not to feel at home. The main difference being, of course, that I didn't grow up in a region named for an indigenous people who still live there, conserving traditions most easily observed in speech and in dress. Creel was also where I boarded the Chepe train to Los Mochis, winding slowly through the Tarahumara landscape of Copper Canyon, afforded breathtaking views and conversations in the windy spaces in between cars with friendly, flirty locals from towns like Temoris, rural and far removed from roads that are even paved.
Los Mochis, in the coastal state of Sinaloa, offered a warm and humid dusk to walk through its old, colonial streets. The place seems forgotten by tourists in spite of its popularity as a stopping place; the pace of life seemed slow, like the deep mosquito breeding river that ripples wide behind the plaza, with families under street lamps watching children play and eat popsicles, the man who ran the small hotel playing cards with friends on a round table near the kitchen--the same table where he would ask if I could take a cooler full of trout back to a fellow hotelier friend in Creel the next day.
And the next day was when the plans were fixed to go farther in. Squeezing into a mercifully air- conditioned van, an intrepid Martín drove us five hours down into the canyon, on a virtually one-lane dirt road, winding past views that the train necessarily missed, showing a lacy pattern of unguessably old trails that crisscross the steep hills. The Tarahumara have their homes perched in high, often hidden places, walking from there to water or to town, like the one to which we were headed, Batopilas, in the bottom of the Canyon where miners once worked.
So far from anyplace, where junior high girls still want to grow up to be actresses, where beer is only sold in bars and bootleg liquor sold in plastic soda bottles, where swimming in the river below the gorgeous hotel is the perfect antidote to a sunbaked six kilometer walk toward a mysterious and acoustic marvel of a mission church, where the food tastes better because our own folks prepared it, where delivery boys will gladly give a ride back to town in the back of their truck, where the night shows a moon between the high canyon walls. Batopilas was more than a cherry on top. It was where going further in meant finding a state as beautiful as meditation. Which is why I'm writing so little about it all. The heart of the trip is something beyond words, except for a mantra, perhaps, like "See it. See everything."