The late afternoon sun wrapped the canyontop village of Bahuichivo (bah-hui-CHEE-vo) with a sweet softness that I would come to feel it did not deserve. But perhaps I am being harsh, seeing as I barely got beyond the train station.
I was only supposed to spend a few minutes in Bahuichivo–just enough time to get off the El Chepe train and then find the van that takes people to Urique, yet another village at the bottom of the deepest canyon in the massive Barranca del Cobre system.
Once again, this sounded much easier than it turned out to be.
Since it is not possible for me to “blend” in a small Mexican town, the van driver spotted me aimlessly hovering and popped up, like the White Rabbit, to let me know that he was waiting for the second-class train that would arrive, oh, maybe in an hour or maybe in two. Then he’d take us all down-canyon.
I dragged my suitcase across the railroad tracks and began an even more aimless wander up the street.
“Se ayudo?” The boy looked as though he wanted to be helpful. When I asked where I might go to eat, he pointed listlessly toward a brokendown dive with half a dozen men lounging outside.
I opted for a cluster of tables outside a tiny house near the railroad tracks, and the boy conducted me there. Then I realized that he was waiting for a tip. Duh. Gotcha.
(Just for the record, a few days later, I asked a family a similar question, and the mom shooed her son down the street to lead me to the restaurant. He was completely taken aback when I gave him a few pesos. I later decided that it probably wasn’t a good idea to create opportunists out of innocents.)
At the outdoor table, I lingered over lukewarm Nescafe. I sat on the curb. I tried to find a spot in the sun, which was, by now, setting. It was growing cold.
The van driver reappeared and carefully tucked my suitcase into a corner of the van. This spot was reserved for me, he explained. The train might be late. There might be a lot of people, but my spot was reserved right there with my suitcase.
Was that the sucking sound of a rabbit hole nearby?
I moved into the waiting room, which was filling with families and other random people waiting for the train. (To wait in Spanish is the same word as to hope. We were all stuck in the hoping room.) It was almost Christmas, and these folks weren’t tourists traveling in first-class comfort.
Time crawled on. The unheated room grew colder. My kneecaps began leaping uncontrollably. People began to hunker down for the long haul. They brought in food. They wrapped up in huge fleece blankets that are so common in Mexico. Men carrying six-packs disappeared behind a door marked “Jefe,” and from which increasingly boisterous laughter emerged. Apparently the jefe was good at partying but not at getting information about the train.
Yet, the atmosphere in that waiting room had a festive air, despite the interminable wait. Despite the cold.
The Tarahumara family settled on the floor in the corner wrapped in fleece blankets. A few people tried to find out about the train on the rare cellphone, and a conversation that I couldn’t follow ensued with lots of laughter and hand motions.
Finally, at 9pm, the train steamed into the station, and in a mad scramble of fleece blankets and half-eaten food containers and sleepy, greasy, but surprisingly docile kids, the station emptied. This took about thirty seconds. Most of the people here had been waiting for three hours. I’d been waiting for five.
I sprinted for the van as the train disgorged a stream of passengers. Within minutes the van was full. Andthen it was overfull. Tiny seats folded down from odd corners. Haphazard bundles of Christmas presents were tied onto the roof. A used tire that one guy was taking back to his house was thrown up there, too.
I huddled in my special reserved spot with my small backpack and roller bag, and I was grateful that I made such a tidy package of myself.