A Mission and a Mission to a Mine
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Written on Tuesday 1/10/2017, but not posted until today because of the internet withdrawal period!
Batopilas is a small community of tenacious, friendly people, which was founded in 1708. It’s original draw was silver and gold. It’s status as a Pueblo Magico is founded on being a clean, beautiful place with an interesting history. It was the second town in the state of Chihuahua to get electric power which is a fact that the locals like to tell.
After a quick morning stroll through town (it’s only 2.5 km long) we asked a woman standing in her doorway if there was a bakery in town. She said no, but that she made breakfast. It was then that we noticed the small sign saying that she sold food. We were pretty hungry so we ventured in to Mikaela’s, and waited while she went out the door to go buy fresh tortillas. She came back and proceeded to make a great huge breakfast for the two of us in her spotlessly clean kitchen. All three of our dining experiences in Batopilas were kind of like that. They were restaurants, but they were in people’s homes. Afterwards she showed us her lush tropical back yard garden overlooking the river and then tried to rent us the upstairs furnished apartment. Tempting, but the variety of activities in this small town might not be quite the kind of excitement we’re looking for. This town, like others we’ve visited might be like baklava with it’s layers, but it has quite a few less layers that some others we’ve been to. However, the beauty of the area definitely made it worth the visit.
Taurahumara woman crossing the new Batopilas Bridge.
A five mile drive took us to Satevo, the next small village over, which is the location of the San Ignacio Mission, founded by Jesuit priests some time in the 1700’s. There is not a lot of written history about this area, and there are no pamphlets or plaques to educate tourists, leading one to look for oneself, to wonder, and to inquire from the locals. They are very proud of their community and rightly so as the natural beauty of the area is stunning.
We were told that the builder of the mission had planned two towers. Unfortunately while finishing the first tower he fell to his death, and the second was never completed. Such a sad story.
Next we visited the small local Batopilas museum which, while interesting, consisted mainly of photos of Batopilas’s early mining days, and the reenactment of the mule train over the silver route. The townspeople have been doing the event every year for eight years since the town’s 300th anniversary. The docent was an elderly gentleman who eagerly told us the story’s behind the photos and the memorabilia in the cases. Before leaving, he had us sign the guest book where we could see that we were the first visitors in five days. Times are tough for this small town which used to get a large influx of visitors. Tourism has declined severely because people are afraid of violence as reported by the media.
This is the first town where we have seen signs of potential problems, and a couple of the locals have mentioned it. They have fears about the impact of these outsiders who have arrived and stayed. However, we were told by several people that they will not bother tourists. We took that at face value and did not have any problems at all.
The highlight of the day was a guided private hike by a local fellow named Armado, up in to the mountains and in to a silver mine that was once extremely profitable. It was a 2 1/2 hour hike, with at least half an hour inside a horizontal mine shaft, using our head lamps to make our way through the labyrinth that branched off to many extremely deep shafts and tunnels. There were markings on the walls in red paint denoting the distance from the entrance to the mine. We walked just past the marking that said 450 meters (about the length of 5 football fields), before turning back. At various vertical shafts, Armado would toss a rock down in to the abyss and we could hear the rock making it’s way to a resting point many long seconds down. Armado also pointed out various veins of minerals and knocked down a few specimens for us to take as souvenirs. Alas, our samples were of calcite and lead, no signs of silver or gold to offset the expenses of our journey, or even to pay for the beers that the fellows enjoyed after the hike.
As the slanted silver vein was removed, large lengths of tree trunks were wedged in to keep the ceiling intact.
Once again, in true Mexican fashion, there were no liability waivers to be signed, no helmets, and quite a lot of open holes that will swallow a fool whole if caution is not used. Personally, I like the freedom here to live by true Darwinian rules. I only half jokingly asked our guide how many tourists were at the bottom of those holes though, and I just got a laugh back in response. I noticed that he didn’t answer my question. Maybe it was just my bad Spanish though and he didn’t understand me. That’s what I’m hoping at least!
The view of Batopilas from our mine hike
And last but not least, we wanted to add a bit of gas to the Trusty Yukon to be assured of making it to the next gas station after the steep drive out of the canyon tomorrow. In such a town as this there is no Pemex station. The adventure of the evening was finding this unmarked place – the local “station”/home/ store, where the owner siphoned 10 liters for us.
What a day! The nice hot shower was a welcome reward for all of our explorations and sleep will come easily after such a great hike. Hasta manana!