A February 2005 trip
to San Carlos by wanderluster
Quote: A secret escape on the Sea of Cortez to Sonora's best preserved colonial city, with adventures along the way to mystery ruins, Aduana's mining village, and a jaunt so far off the beaten track that locals didn't know the way to reach the blanket weavers in a remote Mayan village.
And interesting, with plenty of diversions along the way. Fifteen minutes south of Tucson (exit 92) is Mission San Xavier del Bac, the stunning White Dove of the Desert that Ansel Adams liked to photograph. A bit further and snowy Mt. Rightson emerges on the left, a place of Indian relics, oak forests and the Titan Missile Museum (exit 69). Nearer the Mexican border, Tubac boasts numerous art galleries in its small artist's colony, next to Father Kino's historic Spanish mission which can be visited in Tumacacari National Park (exit 29).
Believing that the drive from Tucson to Hermosillo took three hours, I suggested that our group, which included me, my husband, David and his friend, Scott, stop for lunch in Tubac and visit Kino's mission. But Scott, who had experience driving elsewhere in Mexico, thankfully vetoed my naivete. Because our trip took six hours to Hermosillo alone, an hour short of our final destination.
We left Tucson at 1:30pm, later than planned, grabbing lunch on the road before driving south through the desert, past pink sands and scrubby terrain scattered with saguaros, jumping cholla cactuses and pale green palo verdes. Eroded red hills and jagged volcanic mountains peaked in the distance beyond feathery mesquite, ironwood and cottonwood trees. Cactus varieties blossomed. Organ pipe, thin-armed sonitas, and gigantic cardones joined the Sonoran Desert's familiar saguaros.
An hour into our journey we crossed the Mexican border and entered chaos called Nogales. Stores selling boots, jewelry, and clothes lined the one-way street with pharmacies, bakeries, souvenir shops and taco stands. Mexicans wandered through honking traffic, slowed to a snails pace, thrusting garish colored Virgin Mary's, crucifixes, candy, newspapers, and trinkets into open car windows in hopes of making a sale. Beyond the congestion, a conglomerate of concrete structures with flat roofs cluttered the hillsides, partial housing for their 170,000-plus residents. Forty minutes later, we emerged into cleaner air on the other side of Nogales, and drove ten minutes to 21km, the required ckeckpoint for obtaining tourist and vehicle permits.
It was the only place during our ten day trip that really tried our patience. And will yours. Everyone here is in a hurry to move on to their desired destinations but beware, time and lines move extra slow. Expect to stand in lines for two hours on a slow day. It can be a confusing place, and if you get out of sequence you will double your wait. We met an American couple who had been there four hours and were still waiting in another line. Don't expect Mexicans who are also waiting for permits to correct your mistakes if it means lengthening their line.
Going? Here's the sequence:
1) Apply for the tourist permit in the first building you come to from the parking lot.
2) Walk to the long green and white building in the back of the complex and stand in Caja 1&2, lines at the far left under the "Tourist permit payment" sign.
3) Leave that building and go make photocopies of your purchased permit, passports, car registration, license and title at the copy stand near the banos (bathroom).
4) Return to the green and white building and stand in lines Caja 3-7 to apply for your car permit. The sign will read "Temperore de vehiculos." Prepare for a long wait in this line. Computers must be the slowest on earth. There were seven people ahead of us and it took 1.5 hours to reach the clerk. Just as we stepped forward, she began to close her window. Quick thinking Scott slipped her a twenty, and charmed her with his smile, "Por favor, can you help us out?" It always pays to be sweet and respectful. Never be demanding or let your impatience show. She smiled sweetly in return and processed our permit. And saved us an additional 1.5-hour wait in the next line.
5) Exchange money into pesos.
6) Return to the first building to get your tourist permit stamped. You've almost made it!
7) Hop in your car and proceed through the light which determines at random who will stop (red) and who can skip (green) a vehicle inspection. Pay the $1.80 toll and hit the road!
It was completely dark by the time we left km 21. Here it was our first day of ten in Mexico and we had no choice but to break our Mexican guidebook's first rule: Do NOT drive at night. Highways don't have shoulders to dodge careening trucks flying at you with breakneck speed. But traffic was fairly thin. At least it appeared that way in the thickening fog.
Before we reached the capitol of Hermosillo rain pelted our windshield and never ceased. So now we were now driving at night, in fog, and rain on a highway without shoulders, pulling over on unfamiliar terrain to pee on the side of the road, speeding out of hunger, and squinting at maps under dim dome lights. No doubt breaking numerous rules. Thank goodness the roads were in excellent condition, well-marked and smooth except for unexpected speed bumps that jostled us with sudden ka-booms.
Almost two hours later, we passed through the port of Guaymas, and turned northwest to San Carlos. By now restaurants were closed and we'd given up finding a place for dinner. We stayed on the main boulevard, Beltrones, and continued another six miles out of town looking for Paradiso resort signs. All we saw was blackness. No homes, lights, nothing. And then, twenty minutes later, the billboard. We turned in, relieved that our 300 mile journey was over. Famished and tired, we pulled up to the resort, then slumped in our seats. The gated entrance was closed for the night. At 11pm, we were five hours overdue.
Sinking my toes into warm soft sand, I walked along a deserted beach toward a line of vacant deck chairs. Jagged mountains from the Algodones range framed the picturesque bay that curved into the Sea of Cortez. Turquoise waters looked brilliant against the rocky bluffs and sugar white sand. Distant cries of sea gulls punctuated the sound of waves crashing to shore, gently nudging shells inland. The sun felt marvelous on my bare winter skin, and immediately relaxed me. I sank back and drew in a long breath, taking in the beauty and tranquility around me. There wasn't a single soul in sight. Such solitude.
And such luck. How was it that I had this fabulous beach to myself? The resort's website had lured me here, rightfully promoting it as the choice spot for an active beach holiday on the sunny Sea of Cortez. Certainly the scenery was incredible, activities abundant, food delicious, and prices inexpensive–so where were the guests?
Only a handful of rooms were booked at this isolated resort, miles away from other hotel properties in San Carlos. And all guests, except me, were presently away. A group of motorcyclists were out riding, and my husband David and buddy Scott were scuba diving. I had spent the morning horseback riding in the desert and now had the remainder of the day to lounge or explore the private four mile beach at whim. Being February, the 68 degree water was too chilly for snorkeling without a wetsuit, so I decided to treat myself to a lazy beach day.
But found it hard to sit still. A rocky hill to my left beckoned. Along the base I explored the folds of weathered granite looking for trapped sea life. Snails were crawling about and sea anemones rippled little tidepools. I climbed to the top dodging scrubby desert shrubs and fuzzy-tipped sonita cacti poking between the rocks. Panoramic views of the ocean bay and lagoon fronting the resort were fantastic from here, and I made a mental note to return at sunset.
Leaving this perch, I walked to the far opposite end of the bay to the tiny fishing village of La Monga. Along the way I passed a stretch of newer homes, perhaps 15-20, mostly owned by Americans who have relocated here or are building vacation homes. Their colorful adobe structures were a distinct contrast to the cardboard and metal homes lining the shore of La Monga. Populated primarily by squatters, it's a convenient place for fishermen who return to their shacks after catching giant squid and yellow-tailed tuna. All was quiet. I jogged back barefoot, enjoying the coastal breezes and fresh ocean air, then finally settled into my deck chair.
Hours later, a few American expats emerged onto the beach, walking their dogs or jogging. Each approached me to ask if I was staying there, pointing to the coral-colored three-story adobe structure behind me. One by one they revealed that tourists hadn't visited in January or February for years, and that they weren't aware that it had re-opened for business. Which explained why no one was here! Each added a little Paradiso history.
The action-oriented space and sprawling design of the 62 acre property made sense when I learned that it opened as a Club Med in 1984. It catered to an active, fun-loving crowd for 18 years before selling out to dwindling numbers in 2002. Subsequent hotel owners kept the resort closed during winter months because ocean temps were too cold. March buzzed with college students, and high season lasted through May. Then a hurricane hit and devastated the property in 2003. Flooding waters crashed through the lower floor, filling rooms with sand, debris and broken glass, chasing away the Norwegian owners.
Recently reopened under new management in 2005 as the Paradiso, (we might have been among the first guests) there were lingering reminders of its destruction. Painted signs were barely discernable, the fitness center was vacant except for a heap of sand under a ballet bar, and the discotheque was empty, save its mirrored ball. Grounds were in top shape but tennis and basketball courts were overgrown with weeds and in weathered disrepair.
Owners have clearly concentrated their renovation efforts on main areas. The stone-terraced pool facing the lagoon was beautiful, as was the adjacent open-air restaurant. Trellised plants hung from arched entrances as if they'd always been there. Guest rooms appeared spotless, both those facing the lagoon and ocean. The only lingering clue in our lower level room, yards away from the ocean, was a slight musty smell. The real surprise was discovering that my husband and I would be sleeping in separate beds–as oversized twins are built into staggered nooks on opposite walls–no doubt a leftover from its Club Med days. (I didn't realize at the time that I could've reserved a queen or king for $10 more.) But listening to the hypnotic rhythm of the crashing surf through our open window made sleep sweet.
Although dancing and tennis are temporarily on hold, there are activities galore to fill the day. Kayak in the lagoon or along the coast past sea caves, islands and cliffs. Hike the canyon in the nearby Algondones Mountains, or mountain bike the rugged trails. Wind surf or kiteboard from October to May at La Manga, known for it's wave sailing and starboard ramps. Go whale watching year round as orcas, pilot, sperm and fin back whales frequent the area. Snorkel with sea lions or scuba dive wrecks off the coast in San Carlos, a short drive away. Sail a Hobie Cat or 40' sailboat around secluded coves. Take the margarita sunset cruise, fish for marlin, or ride horses through Hollywood's movie set, Catch 22. Or simply lounge on the beach.
An open-air restaurant/bar serves delicious Mexican meals from breakfast to dinner. Daily lunch specials ($5) vary from Steak Ranchero to chicken enchiladas served with roasted tomatoes, onions, peppers, warm tortillas, rice, beans, soup and limeade. Most guests dine here out of convenience, as the closest restaurants are a 15 minute drive away, but we sampled both and found the Paradiso quite comparable to San Carlos' best.
All meals are included if you book a package deal. A 5 night stay in a lagoon room, including meals, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding and the margarita cruise is remarkably low–$385 per person, double occupancy. Couples booking the Romantic Discovery Package have a 3 night stay in an ocean view room with the same perks and a private dinner for just $450. Check out Paradiso for additional fishing and scuba packages.
Standard rates for rooms are just $69 for a lagoon room and $79 for an ocean view room. At these prices it's hard to believe that there's any rooms left. But this retreat is still a secret—go while you can!
To get there:
Located in Sonora State, northwest Mexico along the Sea of Cortez, it is a 7 hour drive south of Tucson on Mexican Fedral Highway 15, an 1.5 hour drive from the Sonoran capitol Hermosillo, or a 15 minute taxi ride from Guaymas airport. Flights are direct from Phoenix on American West, or connected in Hermosillo from other destinations.
I wouldn't have known about riding had I not flipped through a photo album in the hotel lobby while waiting to check in. The next morning while David and Scott were scuba diving I wandered around the resort, and found the stables.
A lean woman with a ponytail swishing her waist followed me into her office where a dog snoozed in the only chair. She introduced herself as Astrid, the manager of El Rancho del Desierto, and smiled when I inquired about the next group ride. She was available from sun up to sundown, anytime anyone wants to go!
She clearly loves her 15 horses and can't ride them enough. Guests determine the ride length, the most common being one hour. She charges a flat fee of $18 US per hour, and no minimal size. Guests also determine where they'd like to ride–through the desert where Hollywood filmed Catch 22, or deserted picture-perfect beaches. I chose a two-hour ride, combining the two.
She suggested that I run back to my room to grab my camera and switch out of my sandals while she saddled our horses. When I returned my saddled horse was watering at a fountain with two others. All looked heathy, calm and gentle.
Leaving the stables we rode through the saguaro garden fronting the hotel entrance. Normally saguaro cactuses do not grow so close together, but these plants were transplanted from elsewhere in the desert to clear space for an airstrip and movie set thirty some years ago. Stately ribbed columns reaching 15-40 feet practically touched each other with their curved arms. They were remarkably healthy for their age, easily determined once learning that their first arm appears only after they reach 70 years of age. I counted up to eight arms a piece.
Astrid led us through what looked like a forest, rather than a garden, of spiny saguaros. Red-cheeked Gila woodpeckers peeked out from nests they had pecked out of saguaro tops, their mates never far away. Astrid's little dog joined us, dodging jumping chollas and prickly pear cactuses in the way.
We crossed a road and followed a dirt trail through a desert colored with blooms. There were purple flowers on sage bushes, miniature yellow daisies splattered all over brickle bushes and tiny Mexican poppies creating bursts of orange in the sandy landscape. In the distance, jagged tips of craggy mountains were cloaked in cloud cover but skies were blue above us.
"Ready to trot?" Astrid asked. I hesitated. "Just stand in the stirrups, push against them, and gently bounce. Feel the rhythm of the horse," she said, her voice trailing off as she left. Not a huge fan of trotting, which feels more like jarring, I nevertheless conceded each time she asked, "Ready?" Hoping, perhaps, that this time I could finally get the hang of it like I had galloping.
Between all of the starting and stopping over the course of our ride we trotted a good hour. And sadly, I never quite mastered the proper technique. No, Hollywood wouldn't have used me as an extra in their movie. Unless it was a comedy.
A hapless ragdoll flinging against the saddle with every bump, that was me. Not exactly graceful. A few wincing blows were so jarring that my camera's polarizing filter and watch flew off. How, I'll never know. My filter had been screwed on, and the links in my watch had been firmly secure. Or so I thought. Backtracking, we eventually found my watch, which was no small feat considering that the coral- flecked metal band blended nicely with the reddish desert rocks. But the filter, no.
We rode over the air strip now overgrown with plants, though none of them saguaros. The set built for the military parody, Catch 22, was already in ruins. Walls and roofs were missing on the stone bricked buildings, leaving arches, doorways and windows in partial walls. I hadn't seen the movie to put the ruins in perspective but could understand why Hollywood filmed here if they wanted easy access to desolate deserts, mountains and coasts.
We trotted to the ocean, and galloped the final stretch home along the coast. Holding tight to the saddle I closed my eyes, feeling the rhythm of the horse as sea spray misted my face.
The next thirty minutes were a bit rough between San Carlos and Guaymas as our truck ka-boomed into potholes and swerved to dodge concrete debris. Reaching Highway 15, a divided toll highway smoothly paved, we followed a straightforward route southeast across the Sonoran desert, between mountains on our distant left and the Sea of Cortez on our right. There were cactus everywhere, snake-like sonitas, cardones, saguaros and organ pipes.
Three sights became familiar as we passed through small towns, speed bumps, taco stands and locals poised at intersections holding out bags of vegetables, orange juice or pan (flat bread) for sale.
At some point, we spotted an unmarked road leading through tall crops to our right, and turned off the highway to follow it, searching for a private place to pee in the flat treeless terrain. Instead, we discovered ruins of a two-story brick building not far from a ranch where cows were grazing. We got out to poke around. The roofless structure no longer had interior walls. Just empty space between exterior rows of windows, twelve on each side, and grand arched entrances with decorated columns. Couldn't tell what is used to be. Peering through one of the arches, we saw a church with a white cupola. And more ruins beyond. Two Mexican men sat near the entrance of the church facing a simple cemetery. Being Sunday, there was a service likely going on.
Reaching Obregon, almost halfway between San Carlos and our destination, Alamos, we stopped for lunch along the main drag, Alemon. We stepped inside El Contijo restaurant. It looked clean, modern and empty. It's never a good sign when you enter a restaurant and discover you're the only patron. But in this case, the rule didn't apply. It was the highlight meal of our trip to Mexico, and one the guys still talk about six months later.
The menu listed various combinations for groups of 3-4 to share, listing descriptions in Spanish that we had a hard time comprehending. Our waiter, although attentive and friendly, couldn't translate it for us, so we selected one at random. Three smiling waiters in fancy white shirts brought course after course to our linen-clothed table–spicy grilled whole peppers, jalapenos stuffed with beef, BBQ ribs, tortillas, guacamole, assorted salsas, chili rellenos, chicken, steak fajita meat, refried beans, and meat dishes we couldn't begin to identify. Just when we thought we'd burst, they brought out flan for dessert.
Our feast lasted an hour and a half, and still we were the only patrons there on that busy street. Hard to believe when the food was that exceptional, service personable and prices so affordable. Our entire meal, including Mexican beers and sodas, was $12 a person.
Back on the highway, heading south of Obregon, the land was still flat but vegetation became more lush with bushes and trees. Even the medians bloomed with Black-eyed Susans. Shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary decorated occasional hills.
Outside the tiny town of Navojoa we paid our last $5 toll where children sold wooden chairs, pan and cookies at the speed bumps. In town, we easily found the turnoff sign for Alamos, and followed it east for an hour, knowing it would deadend at our destination.
Our final diversion was a stop in Aduana, six miles shy of Alamos to visit the region's richest silver mining site from the 1680s. Scott's rugged four-wheel drive got a solid workout bumping along the two mile route over hilly dirt roads that looked more like mountain-biking trails. We saw holes high in the hills once used as mines.
Two churches, two souvenir shops and a restaurant/inn bordered Aduana's tiny central square. A few homes were scattered beyond, though hardly enough to call it a thriving community. Tourists however often visit here. The main reason is to visit the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Balvanera. It is famous among Catholics who follow a procession each November to see the cactus that still grows in the brick wall of the church, where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to the Yaqui Indians back in the 17th century.
Casa la Aduana is the other reason people visit. And originally, ours. Touted the best restaurant in the state of Sonora we thought it would be an excellent choice for Valentine's dinner. But after our lunch in Obregon none of us were the slightest bit hungry, so we missed the opportunity to sample the prix-fixe menu of four course gourmet meals. The French chef also rents out three bedrooms in his restored customs house.
We wandered around trying to spread out the five minute walk around the square. We found the cactus on the side of the church, although the afternoon shadows made it difficult to see against the mottled building. The cactus, about ten feet high in the wall, had ribbons hanging from some of its branches. Inside the adjacent Cooperativa Artesanai, we shopped for local handicrafts in a store jammed with fabric dolls and crocheted blankets, doilies, purses and simple garments. On one corner of the square there was ruins of a former property. We passed tumbled walls on the way back to our truck.
And then it was back to the bumpy road, and on to Alamos six miles down the road. Our 172-mile trip, not counting lunch, took 3 hours.
Alamos is a national historic monument. It's a colonial city decorated with a Baroque cathedral, mansions and sprawling haciendas that have been lovingly restored from their original silver-booming days when 30,000 Mexicans filled the narrow cobbled streets. Today, with a population at only a third of that size, many of the residents are Americans who snatched up colonial mansions in the 1950s, when Mexicans vacated their homes ruined from silver-seeking rebels and Yaqui attacks leading up to the Mexican Revolution.
Overnight guests have a nice assortment of mid-range to top-end accommodations in former mansions, haciendas and even a jail, all located within walking distance of Plaza de Armas, the central square. Our first choice was the dungeon room and casita in Alamos' oldest building, the jail. But the American family running the La Ciudadela were either closed for business or the winter as emails went unanswered--not uncommon in a city half-filled with expatriates.
We chose to stay in the lovely La Puerta Roja Inn, a lovely, beautifully decorated hacienda owned by an American chef. She has a flair not only for cooking, but design. Each of the four guestrooms are uniquely decorated with Mexican tiles, antiques and funky art. The common room, a brilliant red, has an eclectic assortment of pottery, paintings, books, and sculptures.
But most guests, and the resident cat, lounge in the courtyard, an enchanted space filled with trailing flowers, gardens, fountains and colorful art. It is here that owner, Teri, serves breakfast, homemade scones, baked fruit and huevos rancheros, and her gourmet dinners on Wednesday nights. And tucked into a back corner is a pool framed by banana palms for privacy. Teri's dog Bettie was the first to greet us on the front steps. She wagged her tail as we passed under the arched entrance and disappeared behind the metal gate. An American friend of Teri's ushered us in and gave us a tour. Scott's quarters in the Laundry Room, at the back of the courtyard, was surprisingly spacious with a separate sitting room, charmingly decorated. But our Pink Room couldn't be more fitting for our Valentine night stay.
A king-sized featherbed draped in mosquito netting took center stage against faded pink walls and carved shuttered doors. Mexican antiques, rugs, soft lighting and a bedside fireplace added romance to the pretty room. Even the adjacent bathroom was pretty, with handmade Hildago tiles and an open-design shower.
We spent the afternoon wandering around town, admiring the architecture of homes and elaborate markers in the cemetery. After dinner in the square, we hung around the Plaza de Armas where cowboys leaned against wrought iron fences, children played under a Moorish gazebo, and locals drifted in and out of the cathedral.. We couldn't find any guides to take us on ghost walks (guidebooks claim locals offer this nightly at the square) or any live music to listen to. For a happening place, it was rather sleepy.
We returned to our inn and conversed for awhile in the courtyard, before retiring to our rooms. Inside ours, someone had lit the little fireplace beside our bed. A fire crackled as we snuggled into flannel sheets on our featherbed. But sleep did not come easy.
The music we had searched for earlier in the central plaza was now starting, around midnight. And although they were several streets away, the Mexican mariachi band sounded a good deal closer. At first it was pleasant. Then the tubas and accordions became louder. Heavy handed oom-pahs lingered until the wee hours of morning, then finally subsided, the silence lingering just long enough to accentuate the loud cockadoodle doos from resident roosters announcing dawn at 4am. Dogs began howling in chorus, raising such a commotion that I sprang to the shutters to see what was the clatter. But the streets were dark, lifeless. I returned to bed, burying my head under the covers. Was I on Candid Camera? Because now a donkey was braying and a horse was clomping down our street.
Our room, on the apex of two converging streets, heard everything. And the 17 foot ceilings only magnified each sound. The next thing I heard was sweeping. And then a low voice greeting, "Buenos dias!"
My eyes flew open. Nobody there. I got up and peeked out the shutters. A man was sweeping our porch in the dark, calling out to locals in rumbling trucks or on horseback. Might as well stay up, I thought, it was almost daybreak. So I grabbed my journal.
David gradually stirred. How, I wanted to know did he sleep through all that?
"What, did you say?" he asked, removing plugs from his ears.
At breakfast, we joined Scott in the courtyard. He was spreading homemade marmalade on warm scones. "I slept great," he said. "How ‘bout you guys?"
I just glared. "Suppose you had a hot shower, too," I said.
"As a matter of fact, yes, I did," Scott said. "A never ending supply."
A cat jumped down from the fountain beside me. I smiled and shook my head, picturing my three-year-old daughter singing her silly song about "Bad luck, bad luck..." One of Teri's employees brought out our breakfast–sliced melon and huevos rancheros on vivid painted plates. It looked divine.
Had we stayed a second night no doubt my luck, and rest, would've improved. For one, live music was reserved for Sundays and holidays. I glanced around the flowered courtyard. The hacienda was so romantic, peaceful and appealing. I slowly sipped my coffee, ingesting false energy for the day, wishing I could stay to snooze on the cushy lounge chairs by the private pool.
Located off Highway 15 halfway between Oberdon and Los Mochis, it's a bit tricky to find. We left Alamos at 10:30am, turned south on Highway 15 and looked for a small sign indicating the turn (left) soon after the toll booth at 11:45am. The dirt road immediately forks, stay right. It was so rugged with washboards and ruts that a bicyclist had blown a tire. After stopping and trying to help him fix it we followed the road three miles until it reached an unmarked paved road. Turn left, and continue past the first obvious village you see on your right for one more mile. Another village appears on the right. This is Masaica. Turn in, drive past the tidy concrete homes with stick fences, and gradually make your way left through the village. Look for a snack stand, your best bet for finding someone who knows the directions for the dirt road leading to women selling "carpetes."
Don't be surprised if the locals don't know the way. It's not a store you're looking for.
We got directions from employees at the second snack shack and followed a sandy bumpy road that took us out of the village past a few scattered homes, and down through two arroyos, or gulleys. As we ascended the second hill, the landscape reminded us of Africa. Wide open barren land with scrubby trees and little concrete mud huts. A woman emerged from a home and approached us to see what we wanted. Her children, in somewhat tattered attire, trailed behind her, eyes wide and listening. She motioned for us to follow and led us to a patio, where a few garishly painted turtles and frogs were sitting on a bench, and gestured us to stay. Her husband came out with an armful of plastic containers and began demonstrating their dandy use.
But where were the carpetes?
We were having a bit of a communication breakdown. We wanted Mayo rugs, not plastic egg baskets. An uncomfortable pause lengthened. We looked at each another and attempted other stabs at our request. Was our pronunciation that bad? They weren't understanding our Spanish, or at least not acknowledging it. They just stood there watching us. Perhaps, we decided–conversing in English–should we make a few purchases and hightail it out of there?
Unbeknownst to us, a young child had run ahead to other villagers. Just when our feigned interest in their souvenirs was waning, we saw three women shuffling across the sand, balancing something on their heads. Aha!
They presented us with four choices. All were thick and heavy. Each rug took approximately four-six weeks to weave from homemade yarn. They shared the same natural colors–gray, brown, blue and beige–but differed slightly, as all Mayo rugs do, unless they are commercially mass produced. The largest two had brown and cream stripes with fringe for pesos equivalent to $600 US dollars. The other two, roughly 4x6, had zigzag borders with differing butterfly patterns, the traditional design of their region, for $300. David bowed out of the debate, leaving Scott and I to decide. We selected our rugs, and I agreed to a heavy oversized poncho, but too large to actually wear, from an elderly lady.
The money exchange turned out to be rather humorous when we realized that we might not even have that kind of cash on hand. What were we thinking? That they'd take Visa, Mastercard? Maybe have a cash machine? We rummaged through the truck looking for pesos, and dollars, combining our resources and sorting our money in little stacks.
We gathered quite a crowd. Once we thought we had it, one of the Mayo ladies counted it, but came up with a different amount. Scott counted it again. So did the lady. Again, different amounts. Soon they were spreading the cash all over the sand and were counting again. The repeating scenario struck me funny. I pictured us as a cartoon, entitled, "What not to do in a foreign country."
We would've been mortified to have every cent we owned strewn out in front of anyone but these gentle Mexicans. And as it turned out, the peso dollar conversion confusion was finally understood. The Mayo woman counted out a wad of pesos and firmly placed them in Scott's hand. There was laughter all around. We had been trying to overpay by eighty.
Returning to our truck, an elderly lady followed us, and asked where we were going. "Los Mochis," Scott said, thinking of the four hour drive ahead.
She muttered something about needing a ride, and proceeded to get in the front seat. Scott shot David a look. A ride where?
"Is it far?" David asked her in Spanish.
"Si," she said, pointing ahead.
Scott began to panic. She couldn't ride all the way to Los Mochis with us. With wide movements he waved his arms, "Ohhh, no, no, no."
But she fastened her seatbelt and looked straight ahead. David asked where she needed to go.
"La tienda," she said.
"Hey, she wants to go to the store," David said. "To buy soap. That's just up the road. Not far from here but a long walk for her."
Scott shrugged his shoulders and climbed in. Anywhere was a long walk from here, he agreed. We could at least take her there.
We bumped along the dusty landscape, passed through the first, then second arroyo, and came to a general store on the outskirts of the village. Was this it?
She shook her head no and pointed straight ahead.
We continued through the village and she settled back, content. The last concrete home disappeared as we pulled out onto the highway. Scott became nervous. Okay... now what?
But her intentions soon became clear. She tapped Scott's arm and pointed to the side of the highway where people were gathered at a bus stop.
"Do you want to stop here?" David asked in Spanish.
She grinned. "Si!"