Sayulita’s Desert Brother
By Duncan Aldric
There is a place in the high desert well known to many of the inhabitants of Sayulita, that is to say, well known to the Huichole, whom inhabited Sayulita in days of old and new, and to a great few of us interlopers as well. To the Huichole (you see them in their colorful dress selling their wares in Sayulita´s plaza everyday) it is a sacred place, a mountain astride the city of Real de Catorce 3000 meters above sea level overlooking the towns of Estacion de Catorce and Wadley and the great desert beyond in the state of San Louis Potosi. The mountain is called Quemado and resembles an elephant with its high forehead, long trunk, intelligent, friendly ears and graceful lines seeming to stride along the sky in eloquent grandeur.
I have been honored to visit all three towns and spend days and nights, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of others, in the desert as well. In the desert, magical as it is, it did not seem strange that I spent time there with representatives from Mexico, Japan, Germany, Italy and, err… me, from the United States.
Indeed, my first night in the desert was on a new moon (a powerful symbol of regeneration and especially powerful for me as I am a man and was born on the new moon). I spent time learning origame from two, lovely Japanese ladies and being stunned by the beauty of the numerous stars that seemed, in their brilliance, connected to one another by portals of light. The axis of the Milky Way was so clear that there was to be seen millions of tiny pinpricks rather than a vague, milky swath through the sky as it normally looks to the naked eye. I learned that in Japan they call this swath Ama no Gawa, or translated, the River in the Heavens.
The desert is one of the sweetest smelling places I have ever had the delight to smell. Smells of sweetness, either in the air naturally or, especially, by the fireside burning cactus wood, permeate every aspect of the desert. Sitting under a Mesquite Tree in the midday heat is a delight in and of itself with the gentle green leaves looking like soft fern petals, the delicate and elaborate yellow flowers playing with the yellow rays of the sun against the exquisite blue sky and the bold, stark, mangled brown trunk and branches interspersed with an olive green, Medusa-like moss that makes itself at home on the tree.
I simply cannot remember a place that smells so sweet (unless I was to go back to Iowa and my early childhood and remember the smell of my Aunt Laura´s kitchen as she cooked cinnamon rolls for us children). Nor will I long forget the comfort those trees offer in the way of shade while taking rest from walking miles alone in the endless landscape. I said alone, but that is not so. There are numerous birds, some with elaborate colors and songs, reptilian life and insects that all combine to make aloneness togetherness. Eagles and buzzards (the latter giving me a hopeful eye) circled above, as well.
The desert itself has an energy about it that can be felt physically and that makes you believe that it is alive and aware, or at least should be and perhaps one day shall be (didn´t even Jesus say the rocks may rise up and sing as he entered into Jerusalem?). The feeling is not unlike what you feel when watching the waves crash on the rocks of Cerracitos and La Playa los Muertos near Sayulita.
It is amazing to me how lost you can feel while knowing exactly where you are at. Having lived in the mountains of Virginia for many years (as well as doing much exploring, horseback riding and hiking there) I am used to using the horizon for reference. But the desert and mountains in Catorce are much larger and distances in between much greater, and that is not factoring in the sheer levelness of the desert.
My mind was taxed to factor these added spatial-dimensional features. I could only laugh out loud when I could not find, for a few minutes at least, a road that was less than a couple hundred feet away from me despite my surety that my relative position to several, tall Yucca cactuses (known to the locals as Palmachina) seemed assured. This desert is not for the timid at heart nor for the directionally challenged!
By the way, the names Real and Estacion de Catorce refer to 14 banditos that were infamous during the time the mines at Real were in operation. When the Spaniards were drawing gold, silver and other precious metals from the mountain, 14 men regularly looted the caravans to and from the mines. I learned this while riding in a Willeys Jeep through the mountains from Real to Estacion (the ride alone is worth the visit to the place) from a friendly local. To learn the rest of this story, you will have to visit the place yourself.
If you ask around Sayulita, I am sure you will soon find people who not only know of this sacred land, but who actually spend part of the year there. This is because there truly is a connection between the two places. It is a connection that has gone back hundreds of years, perhaps even before the Huichole. It is a connection I hope to be a part of for years to come. What about you?
But remember, “In the desert, you can´t remember your name, for there ain’t no one for to give you no fame.” (Lyrics from the 70s rock band “”America”, song entitled “Horse with no Name”.) Be careful, you could lose yourself (and perhaps find yourself) here.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com