Mind Scraps: Bound for Mexico

Bob came by for lunch. He has treated me several times so this time I cooked him a veggie stir-fry with my infamous salad. Of course, I’ve learned yet more about Bob and his most interesting life pursuits. Looking forward to kicking it with him this weekend before I go.


Had an invigorating swim and sauna today thanks to Brad. I love moving through the water. I do miss the natural spring pools of El Pilar in Gutemala though. My eyes burn right now from the heavily chlorinated pool at 24 Hour Fitness.


Further conversation with a representative from the Norawas de Rarámuri organization and plans are moving full steam ahead. I am scheduled to rendezvous with her in El Fuerte March 2nd!

Word just in from my friends in San Antonio: Come on over!

A man involved with a new film project involving the Tarahumara has contacted me. The film “Being the Diablo” should be appearing in film festivals around the world soon. Here’s his synopsis of the film:

The story is about Mickey Mahaffey, a 50 something year old man. Mickey was a successful high school athlete, spent some time as a preacher, got married, had kids, owned a home, had 2 or 3 businesses of his own. Then life went down the tubes.

He has some health problems…then some psychological problems. Wife and Kids left……business failed. Mickey ended up in a mental hospital. Finally realized the only way to heal…was to heal himself …in his own way.

Sold his house, car, and most possessions. Found a camp spot in the woods near Asheville and lived outside. Became an advocate for the homeless. Attended City Council meetings. Ran for city council…and lost. ALL while living in a tent with the homeless folks on the street.

Then he started walking …..first short hikes, then long hikes.

Then longer hikes.

Walked down to Mexico and basically stumbled into a Tarahumara village. Stayed down there. Developed a relationship with the people. After living there for some time he was invited to participate in their Semana Santa ritual celebration…which is a mixture of indigenous spirituality and the Catholicism brought in to the region in the 1500s by the Jesuits. Mickey was the non-Tarahumara to be invited to “be a diablo” during Semana Santa. Mickey basically found his soul…his salvation ….living among the Tarahumara.

He now lives part time down there…and part time in Asheville.

The documentary is about Mickey …his life here….his life there….his attempts to mend broken relationships with his family here.

View the movie trailer:


Mind Scraps: The Legendary Tarahumara

It’s been all about delving deep into the rabbit hole today. I’ve been investigating a visit to the Chihuahua region of Mexico. I knew next to nothing about Mexico’s largest state/department before this morning. Now, I am pretty darn stoked about the region’s highlights:

  • 1. Home to Mexico’s two largest waterfalls – one of which is the 10th largest in the world

2. The Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon) is a river/canyon system larger and more magnificent than the Grand Canyon lies in the Sierra Tarahumara

3. The Tarahumara people are an indigenous population that lives in the mountains. They are legendary runners and are considered among the best runners in the world – running on scraps of tire laced with leather. The Tarahumara have managed to keep much of its ancient pre-Spanish rituals and traditions alive by fleeing deep into the nearly inaccessible gorges of the Sierra Tarahumara. They still live in caves and adobe huts.

I’ve compiled a massive collection of notes about the Tarahumara:

For at least 2,000 years the Tarahumara have lived in the mountains of northern Mexico, resisting outside intrusion by retreating, when necessary, to ever more inaccessible territory. In this way the Tarahumara have been better able to retain their traditions than many native peoples in North America.

The Sierra Tarahumara, is an immense and diverse region spanning the south and west areas of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is home to North America’s tallest waterfall, Basaseachi, and also its deepest gorge, Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon), which is visited by tourists who ride the Chihuahua-Pacifico train.

…The Tarahumara continue to live much as they have for centuries because of their separation and the difficulties in reaching them. They are a people rich in culture, dedicated to their families and extended families, who live in widely scattered collections of small adobe houses or caves. (Radio Tarahumara)

When it comes to the top 10 health risks facing American men, the Tarahumara are practically immortal: Their incidence rate is at or near zero in just about every category, including diabetes, vascular disease, and colorectal cancer. Age seems to have no effect on them, either: The Tarahumara runner who won the 1993 Leadville ultramarathon was 55 years old. Plus, their supernatural invulnerability isn’t just limited to their bodies; the Tarahumara have mastered the secret of happiness as well, living as benignly as bodhisattvas in a world free of theft, murder, suicide, and cruelty.

So how do they do it? How is it that we, in one of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth, can devote armies of scientists and terabytes of data to improving our lives, yet keep getting fatter, sicker, and sadder, while the Tarahumara, who haven’t changed a thing in 2,000 years, don’t just survive, but thrive? What have they remembered that we’ve forgotten?…

Alejandro leads us behind a cluster of cacti, where we find a tiny, three-sided hut, with nothing else in sight in any direction. As far as Tarahumara settlements go, this is about as bustling as it gets; the Tarahumara are even reclusive with each other, keeping their homes concealed and a holler’s distance apart. “The Tarahumara are so bashful, even between husbands and wives, that if they didn’t get drunk, they might not be able to perpetuate the race,” one anthropologist notes…

I don’t understand it: How come they’re not hobbled by overuse injuries? How do they get away with pounding beers and all that carb-loaded pinole? And I have no idea what any of this has to do with cancer, suicide, and stroke: Even if there is a magical, bulletproofing benefit to being in amazing shape, how are the Tarahumara pulling it off with a diet and training worse than mine?

Then, the Tarahumara tell me about a stranger named White Horse. A lone runner of the High Sierra, “Caballo Blanco” often visits the village during his long, rambling journeys through the mountains. When I track Caballo down, he turns out to be an American named Micah True. Ten years ago, True met a Tarahumara runner at an ultramarathon in Colorado, and it changed his life forever. Shortly after the race, he left behind his life in America to move down here, slowly turning himself into the world’s only gringo. (Adapted from Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, Men’s Health Magazine: The Men Who Live Forever)

Micah invited me to stay and film the race which would be held the following weekend. He told me about the Tarahumara Indians who come to participate in the race. They call themselves “Raramuri” which means “fast runner” in their language. They are known as being some of the best long distance runners in the world and he organized the race as a way of encouraging them to keep their tradition of running alive. I told Micah that I would consider returning to Urique to film the race, but first I had some exploring to do in the canyons. (Vagabiker: It’s all downhill from here…)

I left Urique a day later than I anticipated. Riding back up the spectacular cliff edge road, the temperature gradually dropped until once again I was at 6,000 feet of elevation in the cool and refreshing pine forests. I went back through Cerocaui, and found roads that took me to San Rafael, where the pavement began again. A short while later I stopped in Divisidero, where the Chihuahaua Pacifico (called the “Chepe”) train stops so that the visitors can get off the train and see a view of the canyon below. The train ride itself is supposed to be quite spectacular as it traverses the canyon country across a number of bridges and through many tunnels. Ironically, the stop at Divisidero is the only place where the train riders can actually see the canyon itself. It only stops for twenty minutes and I witnessed the parade of tourists get off the train, run through the gauntlet of Tarahumara Indians selling their crafts, take a few pictures of the canyon and then get back on the train and leave. I felt like my own experience was the inverse of theirs. While they had been spending all of their time onboard the train, with just twenty minutes to see the actual canyon itself, I had been spending all of my time in the canyon, and had just twenty minutes to see the train.(Vagabiker: Creel, The “Hub” of the Copper Canyon)

I couldn’t tell who was in the lead for most of the day. What really inspired me however, was noticing that there were several Raramuri women in the race. They were wearing their traditional pleated skirts, even in the marathon. Many of the Raramuri were also wearing huraches, sandals made out of recycled rubber tire treads with leather fastenings. Not surprisingly, most of the gringos favored their expensive, high-tech, running shoes. (Vegabiker: Caballo Blanco – 2009 Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon)

Excerpts from National Geographic’s A People A Part by Cynthia Gorney Continue reading “Mind Scraps: The Legendary Tarahumara”

Tijuana Pics

More Tijuana pics are now uploaded to flickr. You can check them out by clicking the link below. I was going to include the audio from Fr. Tom about the border in this post since I have finally looked into how to get audio on this blog. However, I can’t find the file. I’m very disappointed about this. The file was sitting on my desktop forever. I just did some desktop organizing and cleaning the other day and I am praying (literally) that I didn’t accidentally trash the file…

Tijuana Mexico 2007

La Llaga

There is rusty metal wall in Tijuana that not only marks the border between Mexico and the U.S., but visually defines the sharp division between the two countries. Large portions of that wall, on the Mexican side, are canvassed with crosses, coffins, memorials, even altars honoring those who have died by simply trying to cross it. Los Tijuaneses know the wall as La Llaga, or “the festering wound.” And behind that wall, there is another. The other wall is taller, stronger, sterile. It is guarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

One of our hosts, Fr. Tom, brought us to the border, to the walls. Walls that represent a horrifying amount of suffering and loss. As we simply drove by it, I couldn’t help but feel oppressed by it, taunted by it. I wanted to cross it just because it’s very presence was telling me not to. But I can cross it. Freely. And those that can’t cross it… or those that must risk everything to cross it… have a real reason to try. They risk losing their lives… so they can have a chance at living.

When we visited that wall we saw names; names just like those honored on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. And these weren’t just the names of men. I also saw the names of women, children, infants. Yet, what’s most disturbing… is this is a living memorial. More and more names belong on it each day. As we drove away from one part, we witnessed a group of Mexicans jumping over the wall in the very spot we were standing just minutes before. Seconds later they came scrambling back. But we were assured these men would have went for it if they had seen a real opportunity. Our group was baffled. Why there? Why risk it? It seems so secure.

Fr. Tom shared more of the realities of the border with us. I have some great audio but apparently blogger doesn’t offer audio hosting. I am still trying to figure out how to get audio up on this site… and I’m getting frustrated because I really want to share his comments with you.

Listening to Fr. Tom speak, I become less hopeful, more disturbed. But then Donna Eisenbath, the leader of this trip, reminded us “that walls do come down. The Berlin Wall did.”

30 Minutes to a New, But Somewhat Familiar World

Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it takes to get from the border of the U.S. to Tijuana. That’s how long it takes to suddenly find yourself in the midst of a Feed the Children commercial. You know, those commercials that feature mangy children, dirt streaked across their faces, swollen bellies. The poverty of Tijuana was evident immediately. As we rounded the corner to the street of the oblates’ house where we would be staying, I glimpsed a mother watching her pequeño muchacho, clothed in a just a t-shirt and diapers, rummaging through the trash.

But when I looked again, and really looked instead of merely glancing, I found the beauty of Tijuana to be just as evident as its poverty. I wandered around the grounds inside the gates of the oblates’ house and found treasure after treasure. And as I wandered, I overheard one of our hosts, Fr. Salvador Chava, inform us that our neighborhood is considered middle-class, “When I first moved here, this neighborhood didn’t have electricity,” he explained. “Now they have electricity.”

Tijuana is just hills and valleys and every inch of ground is covered with houses. Some are sturdy, others are just shacks thrown together for some sort of shelter. Some are more impressive than most houses of affluence in the U.S. And those can be found amidst a cluster of shacks. I gaze up at the hills, where it seems houses and shacks are practically built one upon the other, and I can’t help thinking one big downpour could easily wash away everything these people own. A sentiment most of those in my group share. Their wealth, or lack there of, seems to be at the utmost mercy of the weather.

There is so much to tell. So much that I’ve seen and learned in just two and a half days. My days are full. What time I can spare, I share with the muchachos; the kids who already greet me with hugs so full of love and excitement that they match those of my sister, Serena.

We must carefully watch the amount of water we use. We are advised not to flush any toilet paper. The cost of draining septic tanks, something I have never even thought about until now, is a large expense for the residents of Tijuana. The city is growing rapidly, at times entire neighborhoods popping up literally overnight. The city’s water system cannot support this rampant growth, so all drinkable water is shipped in from outside sources. No one drinks the tap water here.

The first night I spotted some ninos playing futbol (aka soccer). Of course, I had to go join them. And for my simple interest in playing futbol with the muchachos, I am rewarded with big, warm hugs every time I step outside or return to the house. Those pictured with me are Adrian, Lupita and Toni. Adrian is so sweet and lovable. Lupita has a contagious laugh. Pequena Toni simply stares at us all with a huge grin, darting into our games every so often and darting back out just as quickly.

But that is just one stitch in the tapestry of life here. Forgive me for using such a cliche, but I’m tired and don’t have the energy to be creative with my writing right now.

I can’t wait to share more about our work at the oblates’ Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, hearing testimony from Mother Antonia – the mother of the prisoners, serving food at the Missionaires of Charity soup kitchen, munching on street-side tacos… and more.

Roosters crow at three in the morning… but their calls merely work seamlessly into my dreams.

He Will Deliver…

As I’ve been praying to God for Him to lead me to where he wants to use me next… He’s provided an answer to my prayers! I’ve been feeling compelled to travel and explore foreign places and cultures for as long as I can remember. Already, I’ve been blessed to visit so many wonderful places and encounter so many people, cultures and experiences. I’ve grown from each one of them. But, the more I travel the more I feel called to include more in those travels. For the past several years I’ve felt called to serve through travel. I’ve explored various options such as the military, the Peace Corps and others. I’m still strongly considering them… but, God has opened up another opportunity that I’m very excited about! My previous youth group leader has invited me to join her and her ministry in a mission trip to Tijuana the last week of July. We will be visiting a very poor community, offering whatever help we can and we will be sharing the truths about God and Christ. I think this trip will be particularly interesting in light of the growing controversy over immigration from Mexico to the U.S. It’ll be interesting to hear the stories of those struggling just across our border.

An added bonus is I’ll be working with my former youth leader to film our trip. I’m very excited about this! One of my biggest goals is to film a documentary and this trip will most certainly let me try my hand at documentary filming. I’m not looking for anything spectacular… just the chance to get my feet wet and see what I might come up with.

This opportunity is an absolute answer to my prayers… and as I said before…. I am eager to be God’s faithful servant! I’ll be compiling information on Tijuana as I find it.

Less than 20 miles south of downtown San Diego lies the world’s busiest port of entry –
the international border crossing between San Ysidro, CA and Tijuana, Mexico.