March 7, 2013

Freedom, Magic and Healing

It’s hard to explain the Copper Canyons to someone who’s never been there. You’re either tempted to use superlatives or words that seem straight out of a fantasy novel. Words like spirit, soul or magic.

When you arrive on top of the Barrancas and start your descent into the 6,200-foot deep Urique Canyon, your perspective is changed dramatically. You leave your life behind and start a new one. You have to travel light, so you can’t care as much about objects and things and comfort and security. You step into a new world, one that is filled with potential hazards and harshness, but also wonders, freedom and vast possibilities.

Coming back to Urique in 2013 was hard in many ways. Everything there reminds me of my friend, of the incredible adventures we shared and the transformation he left behind as a legacy. But coming back also felt like an important duty, something I had vowed to do and had kept to my word. Like fulfilling a promise.

The open arms and hearts of the people made me feel like home. I woke up at Entre Amigos the first morning, all alone, and got out of my tent under the mango tree, facing the steep canyon hills bathing in the first sun rays. I walked slowly to the hostel kitchen, half awake, and discovered a steaming pile of fresh hand-made tortillas from Maruca waiting for me on the table.

Gray doves sang softly around the lush garden as I sat in the sun to sip a cup of coffee and let the realization sink in; I was here once more. And although nothing would ever be the same again, it felt good.

The next days were spent rejoicing with Tomas and Maruca at Entre Amigos, with Cecy and Tomas at the Presidencia and with all the friends I had made in and around Urique. Mama Tita welcomed and hugged me like a son. Beto and his brothers were smiling wide, toiling away in their shop or walking around town. Old cowboys still hung out by their porch, nodding or waving at me. Ventura made sandals and leather crafts as always. Local guys still gathered to play cards at the Abarrote while the stray dogs napped in the shade.

Running felt good, too. Not at first, with the steep hills, gnarly terrain and midday heat that reminded me how lazy I had been in the last months. But as the hills rolled and the beautiful vistas unveiled before me, I felt like I hadn’t breathed that deeply in a long, long time.

Quiet encounters with local Raramuri reminded me how I had been impressed to tears, almost exactly a year ago, when I saw them for the first time. Shy smiles and soft nods were exchanged as welcome signs; I didn’t feel like a stranger so much this time around. In some places I had visited before, I was even greeted and told “We know who you are. We remember you.”

As the days passed and my everyday worries softly faded away, I found a lot of peace and space to reflect on many things. My slow rhythm became simple and easy, spending my time running, cooking, sleeping and helping my friends around the house.

Gathering with Tomas and Cecy, our collaborators at the Urique Presidencia, was joyful and pleasant. We discussed logistics and preparation, exchanged ideas and spent some off-time together. I attended Tomas’ daughter’s birthday, a wonderful family reunion with delicious food and a pinata that the kids excitedly pounded with a stick until it gave away its precious load of candy. I got to hold baby Victoria. I exchanged memories and tears with Cecy, recalling how abruptly everything had changed, merely days after last year’s race. I witnessed the drama of Presidente Leobardo’s death, along with his colleague Rafael, and joined everyone in town for the funeral procession. Everywhere I went, no matter what happened, I felt like I was part of the local life.

As race day approached, I got to feel the pressure and anxiety, hoping that everything would turn out fine and everyone would be happy. I helped out in any way I could, welcoming runners at the campground and lending a hand at the Presidencia.

I had family all around, both old and new. Brothers Olaf and Augusto, fooling around and cracking me up; my good friend Donald, who traveled from far away just to be a witness to these privileged times; Michael and Katrin, two random travelers to the Barrancas who got so inspired that they stayed for the race and participated as a first-time runner and a photographer; smiling Ruth, whose enthusiasm and awesome cooking made everyone even happier.

I had the joy of welcoming Mas Locos and hopefuls as they arrived from their travels or their long hike down from Cerocahui. I reunited with some old friends and made new ones, sharing stories of fun and hardships, catching up on everyone, being thankful for this great time we could spend together. I supported Maria and Josue in their frantic work leading to the race, smiling at how they complement each other in so many ways and amazed at the UMCB magic in the making.

I barbecued with the film boys around the campsite, just like in the “old days”, and traveled around in vans, jeeps and truck beds. I sat in the garden and ate baby spinach, string beans and all sorts of green wonders.

I evolved spiritually, too, trying to bridge different connections and experiences together through the simple, humble act of running. To some, it brought strong roots and a closer tie to physicality; to others, it acclaimed their unwavering determination for life and their unimaginable bravery; to others yet, it brought a sense of healing, a soothing to wounds deep and painful. A sense that somehow, just like water, life still flows.

At night, I retreated to my little tent, listening to the distant barking of town dogs or the chirping of the night birds. I’d close my eyes thinking of my Belle, out there in the cold of winter, wondering how she’s holding up. I’d wake up with the light of day, wait for the air to warm up a little, then come out to soak the first rays coming from the canyon rim. I’d breathe long and deep, staying in the moment without expectations, remaining available to anything that might happen, big or small.

I think I won’t try to explain what life in the Canyons is like, anymore. I’ll try to get inspired people to come down and experience it, instead.


  1. it was a great pleasure to read the first part. Can't wait for the rest and hope that next year i can meet you there.
    Cheers from Nicaragua (this time)

  2. I love you amigo! beautiful words.