Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Semi-Squatting in Alamos: Chiltepin, Scorpions and Vaqueros

After a short respite in San Carlos by the sea, we went in search of more chiltepin in the areas around Alamos - a small town in the hills of Sonora. This colonial pueblo was a prominent mining center during the 1800s, and shortly after the revolution, the town was the capital of the Western Province of Mexico, a huge state that includes most of present day Sonora, Sinaloa and Chihuahua. The colonial buildings have been mostly preserved (largely by the zillions of gringo retirees that have moved here since the 1950s) and the city is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos – 20 towns that are considered important for their historical value and representation of the era. This was the setting in which we began the next stage of the wild chile quest…

Not 15 minutes into town, we tracked down the home/store of a family who buys and sells chiltepin (referred to us by another conctact who had worked in the area previously). Cold calling in a way, we showed up, were invited to have a chat on the porch, and it turned out that la familia Hurtado was indeed willing and able to help us to get oriented and refer us to someone who could guide us into the hills around the city to hunt for the wild chiltepin plants themselves. In addition, rather than paying for a luxury gringo hotel, Don Oracio Hurtado and his wife Lupe suggested that we could stay, for a minimal price, in the vacant apartment next door (owned by extended family of theirs). At the time, this seemed like a great idea. We “camped” on the bare concrete floors, tried to ignore the various six and eight legged residents and joked that this must be what it is like to be a squatter.

Over the next few days we headed north each morning on dusty roads into the lands of the Guaijiro, one of the smallest of the 7 indigenous tribes of Sonora. The Guaijiro pick and harvest chiltepin during this time of year to supplement their cattle-based/small farm incomes. At each little town that we came to we were told that , oh yes, there are chiltepin in these mountains, but they’re not near here, they’re “mas alla” - with emphatic gestures to the mountains further to the north. Poco a poco, with various guides on different days, we managed to collect samples from nearly 30 plants – some of which were 4 hours from Alamos, accessed by a one-lane-rock-strewn-goat-trail.

During our last days in Alamos, the doctor working in one of the small towns that we passed got wind of our presence and insisted that we stop to share lunch with him and his family at his house on our way out. We had a great meal – the main course was a mutton stew, with potatoes and ancho chiles. Unfortunately, macaroni and mayonnaise (somehow now a part of cuisine “tipico” here) raised their ugly heads and soured H’s gut. However, the conversation regarding rural health and development was quite fascinating. To end our successful Alamos visit, we were greeted with a number of wild animal sightings at dusk as we returned to town.