I went on a pre-tour tour to the Valle de los Monjes with Daniela and Chunel and two-and-a-half-year-old Alegría. The Valle is some fifteen minutes from Creel, the Pueblo Mágico, which is full of Rarámuri vendors and women carrying their babies wrapped in their shawls and backpacking tourists. The shops are full of Rarámuri crafts: carved wood plaques and utensils, colorful wolven belts, simple low-fire pottery, heavy blankets made of their own sheep, and, best of all, baskets of every size and shape, made of local grasses and pine needles. We drove out through rolling plains studded with an occasional house, made of block or adobe with a low metal roof and outbuildings made of stacked branches or boards. We passed a pre-school that accepts boarders on week days, the distances being too great otherwise. Then climbed a narrow dirt path into the pine trees, among fantastical sculpted rock formations, and came to the Valle de los Monjes (Valley of the Monks), so-called because the original Rarámuri name meant Valley of the Penises due to the phallic rocks, but because that name would have shocked the Chabochis (white or mestizo people) it was changed to monks with their hoods. A bridge over a dry creek, a building recently constructed and never used. An amphitheater made of concrete. The rocks rose up around us, we hiked a bit into the trees, there were oaks among them scattering dry leaves, and we sat among the flat rocks. Chunel told me about the project he had done with Daniela in the city, working with Rarámuri youth to remind them of their culture, their spiritual heritage, their traditional customs. He told me about the influence of mestizo education, which removed children from their heritage. Daniela came down the hill, carrying Alegría on her hip. The dog Canela was glad to be a dog. It was a beautiful place with beautiful people.
The next day we paid a brief visit to the Aventurero–Eco Paseos (Adventurer–Ecological Trips), a horse ranch on the outskirts of Creel, one of Eco-AlterNative’s planned destinations. The Aventurero offers day- or week-long horseback rides into the Sierra, with comfortable hostal accomodations, and promises sightings of the many rare and endemic species that live in the Sierra, camraderie, and a glimpse into the lives of the Rarámuri people.
And being a pre-tourist, I got to stay with Daniela and Chunel and Alegría, and enjoy Chunel’s excellent coffee, long sessions of reminiscence with Daniela—we once shared an office at a non-profit that works for human rights and environmental improvements in the Sierra—and Alegría’s bustling about and ecstatic smiles. I could not recommend this experience more.