World Cruise 1996
Milan & Memory Repression
Nestled high in the
Mountains of Mexico,
is an isolated little village with no electricity or running water. But Santa
Matilde is somewhat of a Shangri-La, enjoying a moderate climate because of its
8,000-foot elevation, high above the Sonoran
Desert below. My adventure in Santa Matilde was
actually about as likely as finding a real Shangri-La.
My aunt and uncle, Bob and Nell Mishler,
were missionaries in Navojoa, Sonora
and I spent a month with them in 1983 to work on my Spanish. A year later I
returned to do a little traveling and explore the Mexican interior. Before
heading out I spent a few days with Bob and Nell and met another missionary who
was visiting them. Allen told of Santa Matilde and how there were a few
Christian families up there who loved to have visitors. It was not far off the
rail line, Chihuahua al Pacifico, and since I was headed for the
anyway, it sounded like a good little side trip to take for a day. Allen
promised it would be a different experience for me. He wasn't kidding.
I boarded the train and told the
conductor I wished to get off in Santo Nino. He raised his eyebrows a bit and
asked if I'd ever been to Santo Nino. Of course I had not, but when I queried
his reason for asking, he just said, "Oh, nothing." An hour later the train
stopped in the middle of a steep canyon and the conductor informed me, "This is
Santo Nino!" There was not a building in sight, just a small concrete platform
next to the train. The only other person to exit the train was a 10 year old
boy and I asked him if he knew the way to Santa Matilde. Yes, he was going
there and I was welcome to accompany him.
Relieved, I started up the mountain
with him. To say it was further than I expected would be an understatement. It
was hot and dry and after a couple hours, the water I had with me was gone and
the top of the mountain was nowhere to be seen. We finally came to a stream with
a little trickle of water. It wasn't exactly clean - the cows had been in it
and there were bugs all over the surface -but I didn't care. I was so thirsty I
took water in my cupped hands and nearly drank that stream dry. Then I pulled
out my trusty little bottle of vinegar that I carry in such parts of the world
and took a swig of good apple cider vinegar. I never did suffer any
consequences of that thirst-quenching drink.
After four hours of climbing straight
up the mountain, we arrived. As hot as we were, it was noticeably cooler at
that elevation. Santa Matilde was a scattered cluster of houses and we made our
way to the home of an old man, who welcomed me like a long-lost relative. It
felt so good to sit down and to have a cool drink of clean water. I was
conversant in Spanish, though by no means fluent, and the gentleman and I had a
nice chat. He told me that he had become a Christian through an American radio
broadcast and there were now several families who met regularly to study the
Bible. In fact their next meeting was the next evening.
I asked who preaches and the old man
replied, "You will, of course." I almost went into shock, but instantly knew
there was no point in contesting his assumption. Of course I would preach.
Isn't that why I took the time to come visit them? I had no idea how I would
pull it off, but didn't bother to mention to the grandfather that preaching in
Spanish was not exactly in my plans when I climbed the mountain. Fortunately,
he had a Spanish-English New Testament, so I took that with me and started
gathering a few ideas.
In the meantime, some of his family
members showed me around the village. There actually is a road that winds its
way through the rugged mountains to Santa Matilde, but it's a crude logging
trail, and it is so far to town by road (five hours), that few people besides
loggers use it. It's much easier to go ten miles straight up and down the
mountain, though most people ride a mule instead of walk.
There was no electricity, but people
had battery-operated transistor radios for their connection to the outside
world. The absence of television did not detract at all from the quality of
life, and newspapers only reached the village when someone returned from town.
Somehow they had gotten garden seeds from the US and with the combination of a
mild climate and a rich soil, they grew incredible produce. Annuals like corn,
pumpkins, tomatoes and beans grew to giant size and fruit trees bore
magnificent specimens of peaches, pears, apricots, oranges, mango, papaya, chestnuts,
and even apples. Lemons grow the size of grapefruit! There were just enough
frosty mornings in the winter to allow seasonal crops to flourish, but not cold
enough to kill subtropical plants that grew in abundance among the houses. From
the village elevation upwards, the mountains were covered with pine forests. I
loved the great variety of flowers and flowering shrubs. They farm with a team
of horses and a single-blade plow. There are lots of big rocks, but they just
plow around them.
Naturally there was no indoor plumbing
and the outhouse was set on the side of a hill with the door on the up slope.
The lower side was open and I was dumbfounded to see that the pigs kept it
cleaned out! In the kitchen they used an old fashioned stone mortar and pestle to
grind corn into flour, but once they mixed the flour into dough, they popped it
into a modern aluminum tortilla press from the "real world" to make a perfectly
round, flat tortilla! They carried water from the well and kept a jug full on
the kitchen counter. Everyone drank out of the same cup, which hung on a nail
on the wall next to the jug. However, since I was a guest, the gnarled old
grandmother got another glass out of the cupboard and filled it for me with the
cup everyone else drank out of! I suffered no ill effects from that either.
Well, the next evening came and I had
a small group of eager listeners gathered in the living room of one of the
homes. I went through the first chapter of Philippians with them and spoke for
nearly an hour, which even surprised me. I don't believe I have ever spoken
Spanish as well as I did that night, before or after that incident. At any
rate, for those people I might as well have been a prophet, the way they
listened to every word I said.
My "one-day" trip turned into three
days and even then I was reluctant to leave. But unexplored regions of Mexico
beckoned, so I finally bid my new friends farewell. But this time I did not
have to do the long trek on foot. I was given a mule for the ride down to the
train and accompanied by one of the men who was continuing on into town.
From Santo Nino, the train chugged up
the mountains to the town of Creel, at the edge of the Copper Canyon, Mexico's
grand canyon. The Copper Canyon is actually bigger than the Grand Canyon,
though not as impressive with its formations and colors. On the train I met an
American gal traveling alone and we decided to set off to find some hot springs
at the edge of the canyon where you could swim in the warm water. I asked
directions, and made sure to ask a number of different people. The Mexicans
have an interesting way of giving you directions even if they don't know the
way, but with the combination of the various responses we felt like we had a
good enough idea where to head.
We set off walking, finding the first
few junctions easily, according to directions. As the day progressed, we found
ourselves hiking further and further into the thick forest without finding any
of the landmarks we had been told about. We were despairing of ever finding the
springs when we saw a little house in the distance with a wisp of smoke coming
out the chimney. What a relief that was. We felt so lucky that I knew Spanish,
because out here the chance of finding an English-speaking person was slim to
none. We walked up to the fence and called out to see who was home. You don't
just walk up to a house like that. After calling several times, a woman came
around the back of the house, carrying a baby, and towing along two other small
children who were clutching to her skirt. I asked if she could tell us where
the hot springs were. She just looked at us without responding. I repeated the
question, but with the same result. After the third attempt, Jan and I suddenly
realized the woman didn't even speak Spanish -only the local Indian dialect. We
didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
We decided we had to give up our quest
and start on the long walk back to town. It started to rain and soon developed
into a downpour. Hours later we made it back, soaked, tired and hungry. We
never did find the hot springs, but decided we'd had enough adventure anyway.
Maybe some day I'll make it back to Santa Matilde and Creel and have another
Kent Kauffman, March 2004
World Cruise 1996
Milan & Memory Repression