The Small Pieces Make the Big Picture

IMG_1561We had the morning to explore the area around Cerocahui before catching the train to our next destination in the Copper Canyon.  Being that we were pressed for time, a hike to the nearby waterfall was out of the question.  Appeased by the promise of a waterfall viewing in Creel, we headed out by van to sites offering the most amazing views of the Urique Canyon, the deepest in North America.  We did not see any guardrails separating the road from the canyon rim along the way.  The potential dangers of the route were made all the more real by memorial crosses, marking accident sites where loved ones had been lost.

Our final destination, Mirador del Cerro del Gallego on the rim of the canyon, was approximately one hour’s drive from our hotel.  The outlook, complete with a glass-bottomed viewing deck and a suspension bridge between look-outs, provided stunning vistas of the Urique Canyon.  I surprised myself by trying both.  Steve, who fears for my safety when I am walking a straight line on flat ground, was panic stricken as I dipped and bounced my way across on the bridge.  But, a little nervous of heights himself, the result of a long ago fall from a rooftop, he had no choice but to watch from the sidelines.  Back safely on solid ground, we looked down on the Urique River and the small town of Urique, 1,800 meters below.  Wow!  Just wow!

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Urique was totally isolated, disconnected from the outside world until 1975 when a road complete with switchbacks and hairpin turns was built.  Telephone service and electricity did not arrive until the 1990’s.  The town now serves as on outpost or hub for distribution of supplies to even tinier surrounding areas.  Mind you, with a population of just over 1,000 people, many of whom are Rarámuri, Urique is pretty small itself.  Temperatures are so extreme due to the tropical climate of the canyon bottom that many families move higher up in the surrounding Sierra Madre during the summer months.  

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The van was pretty quiet on the way back to the hotel as we were all completely mesmerized by what we had just seen.  Steve was in such a state of awe that he initially missed all signs pointing to our first shopping opportunity.  Yes, yes, I know.  Steve anticipated no shopping opportunities.  It had been one of the selling points I used to convince him to go with me in the first place.  The smaller the suitcases, the less likelihood of shopping, right?  However, I did conveniently forget to mention that Ruth suggested we pack a couple of empty garbage bags in our suitcases- -for the beautiful Rarámuri baskets we would find.  (Because, of course, baskets fit better in bags than suitcases.)  And lo and behold, I had packed two of them in my suitcase one day while he was still at work.

But let me tell you.  This was a different kind of shopping altogether, and even Steve was intrigued- -no, no blown away by the works of art offered to us by the Rarâmuri women.  And there is absolutely no other way to describe the baskets displayed in front of us than masterpieces.

The baskets are woven using the needles from the local pine trees found in the canyon, IMG_2147specifically the Colorado pine, and the leaves from the sotol plant (desert spoon, spoon flower).  They range in size from minuscule (perfect for holding earrings and other tiny treasures) to quite large (ideal for books, blankets, and dried flowers).  Depending on size, the baskets can take anywhere from one hour to three days to make.  Many are left in their natural state, while others are dyed using materials like roots and flowers for colors.  Rarámuri women can take their baskets to a special store in Creel, where they receive supplies in exchange for them.  A popular trade is for tissue paper, which is used to create colors not available in nature.  All proceeds from the sale of the baskets taken to this shop support the Clinica Medica Santa Teresita, a medical clinic for the Rarámuri people in and around Creel.

Our friend, Jerry, went a little nuts!  (Thank goodness!  She kept Steve’s attention focused off of me because I might have been going a little bit nuts too!)  It was difficult not to though.  The woman selling the baskets was older, and she seemed tired.  I think we all wanted to buy from her so that she could go home and rest.  I was embarrassed to pay so little for her beautiful handicrafts and had a hard time understanding why the prices were so low.  Yes, she had no cost in materials, but the time she spent on her weaving and the talent required seemed far greater than the 30 pesos she asked for a small basket with a lid.  It was so important to me that she knew how much I valued what she had created.  And when I told her to please keep the 20 pesos change from my purchases 1) because change is often very difficult to come by and 2) because I honestly did not think I paid her enough, the woman insisted on giving me a “regalo”, a gift.  

We thanked her and turned to leave when Ruth noticed an item in a plastic bag that had not been taken out for display.  She asked about it.  The woman shook her head and clucked her tongue.  “No, es may caro.”  She seemed embarrassed by the price she was asking.  We all begged to see it, and the woman pulled out the most incredible hand woven sun hat from her bag, all the while shaking her head and mumbling “muy caro”, very expensive.  This beautiful hat somehow ended up on my head, and you know what is coming.  That is where it stayed.  

The “very expensive”, hand woven, hand dyed hat was $5.00.  I experienced big views all morning, but it took until the afternoon for me to see the big picture. 

Author: acstrine

Amy is a former elementary school teacher, currently living "Over the Border" with her husband. She loves reading, traveling, and learning through new experiences. While she would be incredibly flattered if you choose to share her articles, she asks that her name is kindly included as the author.  

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