Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore...


Scarlet bourganvillea trails down the pastel walls of Batopilas's colonial townhouses.
There is a faded, understated beauty about this tiny village, which lies at the bottom of Mexico's Copper Canyon.
Paint has chipped from the buildings in the same way that makes Old Havana so romantic.
Cobbles pave the only street and farmyard animals have as much right to be in the plaza's bandstand as any tuba player.
But a rural idyll it is not.
Just a stone's throw from this seeming tranquility are the marijuana plantations Presidente Felipe Calderón Hinojosa has vowed to destroy.
The canyon's nooks, crannies and crevices make it a perfect spot for growing weed and not being discovered.
Batopilas's magnificent location has placed it at the very heart of the country's violent drug wars.
Three guards armed with submachine guns appear at the small cantina bar where we're sipping on cold cervezas and eating guacamole.
We walk past them on the way out, avoiding eye contact, keeping our heads down, returning to our guesthouse just a few yards away.
It's quieter than a back road in the Cotswolds in the early hours of a Monday, but a quick glance behind shows the men are following at a distance. Their guns are held across their chests, ready to fire.
They want to make sure we get back safely. Dead tourists don't make good publicity.
The mayor has launched a crackdown on the banditry and that includes turning the village virtually "dry".
In England, being bottled in a bar brawl is considered a serious assault. In Batopilas, you get shot when the night turns messy.
About 100 km away, at the lip of the canyon, sits the bigger town of Creel.
Nine coffins have been placed in the main square outside the government building.
They represent the lives of the innocent residents murdered six months ago, caught in the crossfire between the drugs gangs and the military.
The father of one of the victims - a girl in her 20s - brought in the wooden caskets as a powerful call to end the narco crisis.
Back in Batopilas, pigs continue to snout among the flowers, women sweep their front steps free of dust and flies buzz among the blossoming cacti in the late-afternoon sunshine.
But in the words of Dorothy Gale when she landed in Oz: "Toto, I´ve a feeling we're not in Kansas any more".

R Fitch

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