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”