A People Untouched


At 5am, perched on the teetering edge of one of six great Copper Canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara, Chihuahua province, Mexico, the Divisadero Barrancas looked out across three of the currently cloud filled chasms. Stepping out onto the dimly lit walkway connecting round the cliff-face I could feel the watch of those hidden in the surrounding rock faces; people whose world was a million miles away from the already surreal one I felt in at that time.

The previous day had been spent on a seven hour train journey climbing up around the canyon of its namesake copper coloured rock and breathtaking flora of thriving oaks and pines . Like a journey back through time we had passed vast plains with cattle ranches and great rock outcrops every moment I expected to see The Lone Ranger gallop across the horizon or a group of Native Americans emerge from the rock-face. Once deep into the canyon though I was not to be disappointed alighting from the train we were met by groups of native people, the Tarahumara Indians, selling their crafts and not far behind staff and guides clad in snakeskin boots, a .45 Colt in its holster and Stetson in place, hustling our bewildered group towards the lodge.

As lightning flashed through the panoramic windows of the lodge that night, we were spellbound by stories of how everyone there had grown up on the canyon cliffs and were accustomed to walking for days to reach the closest town, in the winter experiencing temperatures of 30C at the bottom of the canyon whilst snow sat around the rim. We were told about the native Tarahumara people, renowned for their long-distance running ability due to them still having to cover great areas by foot, who still live as they did 500 years ago however now the women and children walk up the canyon to the stations everyday to make what little peso they can. On the rock face, dwellings could be spotted by the blackening above the caves due to fires having to be lit inside to stay warm at night and the herds of cattle that were still the people primary source of survival. Earlier that day I had seen how eyes had been averted from our faces when the natives saw us; being trapped in their traditional way of life in the canyon meant that our white faces were alien and terrifying to them and I realised that whilst this area of the world may have been like nothing we had ever seen before, we British tourists were just as unique to many around here.

In the cool morning air and gathered outside the lodge as the sun peeped across the rim of the canyon we could have been back in the 1850s, as the wolf-like calls of an indigenous people echoed around us, a group of men in Stetsons arrived for work on horseback and another day began in this virtually untouched landscape.

N Callin

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