On our short train ride between Bahuichivo and Posada Barrancas station, I found out exactly what does happen when one does not have a Ruth or an “Authentic Copper Canyon Guide”. A couple already on the train when we boarded, realized after we left the station that they were supposed to have gotten off. Yikes! Fortunately, two north and south trains run each day. And each of these trains stop in the small town of San Rafael, where train crews switch out.
While the couple exited the train in San Rafael to wait for the train coming from the opposite direction, so did our crew. They were not planning on boarding the incoming train; however. When I write “small of town of San Rafael”, I mean small. All that is there are barracks for the employees to rest and relax in until their next shift begins.
And because there is a wait while the crew changes, this stop provides the Rarámuri
women with another opportunity to sell their baskets. Passengers do not normally get off the train here, so all buying and selling happens through the open windows. The women who sell are part of a group of Rarámuri who have left their own communities but have not learned Spanish or chosen to live in the Mexican towns scattered throughout the Copper Canyon. They are no longer accepted by their own people and have not been accepted by the Mexican community either. In many ways, they are even more isolated than the Rarámuri who choose to keep themselves separate from “modern” civilization. The situation of these women seemed even more precarious to me as they have 15 minutes, four times a day, to earn money to support their families.
Once the new crew was in place, we continued down the track until we came to Posada Barrancas station. We did the “hurry up and grab luggage and get off” routine again, and climbed into a waiting van. Sometime between exiting the train and entering the van, the luggage we worked so hard to drag off with us disappeared! By the time we arrived at the hotel (truly a five minute ride) and checked in, our luggage had already been placed in our room. Our hotel sat right on the rim of the Urique Canyon, and from our terrace we could look straight down into it.
We spent our afternoon with Martín, a Rarámuri runner. Martín continues to live with his Rarámuri family, but he has also learned Spanish and works outside of his traditional community. Martín led us along the rim of the canyon as he explained the running game, Rarájipari, to us. The game is played between two teams. Each team uses a wooden stick to send a ball out ahead of the group. The teams chase the ball. They do not get a chance to ever catch up with it though because a front runner continues to move the ball forward once he reaches it.
Sometimes the teams decide on a relay, where the ball is “thrown by foot” to groups of runners constantly moving forward along the course. Martín demonstrated his foot throwing technique. He used his toes to pick up and then position the ball on the flat part of his foot. He made it look effortless- -and it was extra impressive to me, as the one who always popped out to the pitcher in neighborhood kickball games.
The game can last several hours or several days, depending on the parameters the teams have agreed upon. The winner of the game is the group that crosses the finish line first. The Rarámuri run in huaraches, a shoe consisting of nothing more than a sole and simple straps. I struggle walking in my name brand tennis shoes.
Right about question and answer time, I started hearing a lot of “dinging”. It took me a moment to figure out what it was- -I had not heard the sound since we entered the canyon. Yep. Cell phone text messages and e-mails. Up until this point on the trip, we had absolutely no connection with the outside world. Apparently, Martín just happened to stop in the one spot in the entire canyon that had cell reception to give his presentation. And every phone was letting its owner know.
I wish I could say that everyone ignored them- -what was three more days anyway at this point, right? Unfortunately, that was not the case. Even standing on the rim of the deepest canyon in the Copper Canyon system, learning about a traditional game played by the Rarámuri since before the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500’s- -a people who are still living in caves and growing their own food, cell phones had the power to break the spell.
While the rest of the group was busy checking their phones, I bought a beautiful pair of hand carved wooden earrings from a young Rarámuri girl and had the rock outcrop to myself for canyon gazing and picture taking. And there was absolutely no sound other than birdcalls as I stood on the edge and said a silent prayer of thanks that the volume control on my phone is broken.