We had heard from many that outsiders were not welcome in any of the Huichol settlements but we did hear from one source that the pueblo of San Andreas de Cohamiata was different and they were open to having foreigners come into their town. All told it was a 10 hour drive that took us high into the remote mountain ranges east of the Pacific ocean. The first 3 hours were mostly flat but as we got into the foothills the paved road was extremely curvy. Then we wound our way slowly upward into the mountains going over 2 or 3 passes that were 6,000-7000' in elevation. It was extremely green and jungle like for 3-4 hours until we crossed over the first high pass that was around 7,000'. As we proceeded down the back side of that pass and for the remainder of the trip the landscape changed and took on a much more high desert look and feel.
Lunch in Ruiz along the way.
This little piggy didn't go to market, he just wandered about the luggage from a bus that had stopped for lunch in Ruiz.
Doing wash down in the river bottoms near Jesus Maria.
Typical landscape east of the first major pass heading up into the mountains.
The remoteness and sheer vastness of these mountains was astonishing. In 10 hours we passed a couple of small towns, Jesus Maria being the largest and maybe had 5,000 inhabitants. All along the way we saw foot paths that led off the road and up into the canyons and arroyos where there might be a small hut or two with families living out their simple, yet beautiful lives. As we crested over ridges we were greeted with expansive views of deep canyons of red, brown, white and green striations and topped off in the higher elevations with beautiful green Ponderosa pine trees. On a small scale it felt a lot like home in southern Oregon...if you took away the deep desert canyons.
Louie and Heather taking in the expansive views at Eco Turismo where we spent two nights.
This view is just a few yards from our bungalo. Looking south into these remote mountains.
The Huichol territory is expansive, covering major parts of different 4 states, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Durango and Jalisco. We saw many, many Huicholes walking the roads as we progressed along. If you could see how remote we were, you too would wonder “where did they come from...and where are they going to”? The road was paved the majority of the way but there were two sections, each about 5 miles, that changed to dirt/rock. The non-paved sections were quite rough and slowed progress to almost walking speed at times. We did see other vehicles every 20 or 30 minutes but we never saw any that were not an SUV or a pickup, which speaks to the roughness of the road. Not knowing what lie ahead or for how long, there was more than one occasion that we almost threw in the towel and turned around, thinking we were not going to make it. However, we kept plodding along slowly and we are SO glad we did arriving in the town of San Andreas de Cohamiata late in the afternoon.
San Andreas sits on a plateau at about 6,500' in between two very deep canyons. As we came into town three young boys laughed and ran in the thick dust behind us. Before we knew it they were sitting on the bumper and riding along. No invite, I guess it just looked fun to them. Once in town our first order of business was to find a place to stay, we were hoping for the best but knew that there was a strong possibility that we might all be sleeping in the car. There are no hotels or hostels but after asking a couple of the very shy locals we finally learned that there was a place called Eco Turismo to the southwest of the town on the edge of the canyon walls.
Marne on the edge of the canyon.
Louie enjoying the amazing sunset.
s/v Caramba's bungalo.
Deep canyons, unique pine trees and a sunset...great photo ingredients.
After a short one mile drive or so we arrived at Eco Turismo and we were super excited about what we saw. Several small bungalos along with some larger structures graced the grounds and it looked like they catered to small groups from universities, researchers, etc. It took a while but we finally found Lauro, the caretaker, a Huichol native who also spoke Spanish and was overly gracious and kind. The private bungalos were 200 pesos a night (about $10.00 USD). They were simple but extremely clean and complete with beds, bedding a locking door, and running water, although cold. Once settled Lauro helped us find a place to get a modest meal. It was the only “restaurant” in town. Actually just a local woman's home that opened her doors for visitors and offered them whatever she happened to have available at the time. We ate there for dinner and breakfast as there were no other options but we were very happy with her simple but delicious meals.
Huichol is actually a Spanish name but in their native language they call themselves Wixiritari (pronounced Wee-ree-ree-tar-ee), or Wixi (Wee-ree) for short. They are a very quiet and shy people and their traditional dress is extremely colorful. I don't remember seeing any women, from young girls to the oldest, that were not dressed in the traditional colorful blouses, skirts and head covers but the men were a mix of traditional and western clothing, like jeans and t-shirts. Traditional dress for men consists of loose, white cotton pants and white cotton shirts with bright, colorful stitching and designs. Whether in traditional dress or not, almost all of the men, from young boys to old sages, carried a square bag with a strap over the shoulder, some small, some large. Some women carry these bags as well but practically every male in town had one. The bags are hand sewn with beautiful and elaborate designs always depicting their “gods” or life givers to their world. The main ones being corn of various colors, deer, especially the blue deer, the Peyote flower, the eagle or feathers representing the eagle, the sun, the moon and the arrow or arrowhead. All of these things are very sacred to them and appear in every piece of art that they wear, carry or paint.
El venado azul (the blue deer)
A building in the town square.
Although San Andreas is a fairly large town of about 1200 people, most Huicholes or Wixi are scattered about the remote canyon lands in smaller groups of 1-10 families. The canyon lands are remote and vast and serve the Wixi people well in keeping them protected from the outside world and therefore protecting the lifestyle and customs that they have lived for hundreds of years. Religion is very important to the Huicholes. Their religion consists of four principal deities: the trinity of Corn, Blue Deer and the Eagle, all descended from their Sun God, "Tao Jreeku". As mentioned before, these deities along with the Peyote flower and the moon are seen in all of their artistic creations that adorn their clothing, handbags and other art. Most Huichols retain the traditional beliefs and are resistant to change. They appear to be a very shy people and most will turn away from “foreigners”, not facing them, many times not even responding to direct questions. Many times as we passed them walking the remote dirt roads of the mountains, they would turn and face the forest as we passed. Then, we we had passed them by, they would return to walking the road. We tried very hard to respect their privacy, never taking photos without permission and mostly just tried to observe and not interact as it appeared that they preferred that we didn't.
Huichol women in typical dress.
A young boy carrying his younger sibling at a soccer match near town.
Young Huichol girls playing volleyball...and they were good!
This man's hat obviously represents the eagle diety.
Marne's shy friend.
Several of the men wore these unique hats.
Our host/cook at the only "restaurant" in town.
After a couple of days with these wonderful, yet somewhat mysterious people we headed back down the mountain toward San Blas. We feel very blessed for the opportunity to have had a glimpse into their lives and culture. They are truly a beautiful, colorful, quiet and true people.
Until next time,
Bret and Marne