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Alamos

Christina Nealson

This morning the church bell rang at 5:15. One lonely ring. A pause. And all hell broke loose. Clang, clang, clang-edy clang. Clang. Clang-edy. Clang. Pause. One ring. No obvious rhyme or reason in this place at the end of the road.
Journal, Mayo 25


I sit and watch. Under the palapa, on the flat rooftop at the end of a narrow spiral stairs. The rising sun brings the church sides to life. Curves and corners draped in moving curtains of shadow and light. The sky could not be bluer, as strong song voices rise from the ancient place of prayer. A distant cock's crow. The red-green-yellow swoop of birds, a breeze that tingles, horse hoofs on the cobblestone street.

Alamos, isolated village named for her cottonwood trees, is as captivating as everyone says. River-rock streets, two plazas full of vigor and heart, nestled amongst mountains and rivers. Exquisite, renovated colonial homes secreted behind thick adobe walls. This community of 10,000, set amidst the Sinaloa thorn forest, enchants. And, it is ¡muy caliente! We wanted this. Remember? We wanted to visit when weather was not its best. We fall in love so easily when intoxicated with ease and comfort. We wanted Alamos stripped down. And so we jump into the tiny, tile pool several times a day to bring down our body temperatures. It is in the high 90's. Soon it will be in the low 100's. It reminds me of my years in oppressively hot Tucson, Arizona. Dawn is the best time here. Cool. Birds galore. Dark green palms, flowering neon bougainvilleas in low light.

There is a quiet, open heartedness here. At the end of this journey I will look back and say here was the friendliest place of all. Sunday's Tianguis (market) overflows with smiles and sweat. An old man stands and stirs over a cauldron of entrails, half his own height. Young boys ham it up and mug for my camera. They want their pictures taken with their bikes. I am always humble with my camera, respectful of people's wishes to photograph or not. This morning, no one cares.

Gringos in late May are AWOL. There are only around 250 ex-pats at the high (read: cool) time. By now, all but around 50 have fled the heat, leaving the town to its Mexican ranching and Mayo Indian origins.

Only a few of us Anglos frequent the plaza that teems with vigor. Teenagers play basketball. Chunky little toddlers swagger and smile pure glee. Families set up food booths in the streets that surround the plaza. Fish tacos. Carne adovada. Young girls, dressed in their sexy-best tight jeans, troll the edge. Round and round they move, casting shy glimpses to the inner court of ball-dom, as the lights upon El Mirador sparkle in the clear evening air. The little mountain looms 200 feet above the town, offering a great place to daydream, view village and countryside, catch a bite to eat at the little restaurant. Or, for the girl with thick eyeliner, meet up with one of those basketball players.

Alamos - face-in-tree Alamos. Sweet, quiet cacophony of color, birdsong and brown-skinned busy-ness exudes from the plaza, out onto the countryside. A few miles beyond the end of the pavement, up and over dust-rock rolling hills is the Rio Cuchujaqui. Here, soft emerald banks, rock canyons and wetlands are home to hundreds of birds. Montezuma Cypress shades exotic feather treasures.

In the heat of the day we ventured out with a cute, gringa realtor gussied up in a short skirt and low cut blouse. So much for what you read about dressing conservatively. We saw many fine houses from $30K up. The colonials that date back to the olden days of silver mines were several hundred thousand dollars. On this day, we witnessed a trend we would see in every popular ex-pat community that we visited: 9/11 and the subsequent stock market crash hit the second home bunch hard. It also hit the retirees. Many of the original ex-pats, those who ventured south twenty years or so ago, are old now. Health fails. Many yearn to return to the States to be near their children and grandchildren. It is a tender line between desire to stay and desperation to leave. It is a buyer's market.

As for infrastructure, the largest problem is water. Supply and cleanliness. Alamos is in a drought. Their water supply is iffy, and don't even think about allowing tap water to pass your lips. We even heard reports of bottled water being tainted. Tom and I fared A-ok on the health scene. Susan became very sick at the end of three days. The good news is the plan for a proposed dam in the watershed above Alamos. Such a project would secure the municipal water supply. Just as importantly, however, it would also stabilize the flooding that scours out the bird-rich riparian areas and help restore the tropical deciduous forest watersheds outside of Alamos - areas in serious trouble because of poor grazing practices, improper logging, and fire suppression.

Tom and I said goodbye to Susan in Alamos. Her itinerary extended only this far south. As we prepared to continue towards San Blas, Susan downed Imodium AD and boarded the nightly bus that would carry her north, across the border at Nogales and into Tucson. There, she would hop a flight for Albuquerque.

The cat-lover, chicken lady and I fell in love with Alamos. The small size. The authenticity of those who call it home. Ancient architectural beauty. However, we all agreed that we could not stay there year around. I tried that in Tucson, where my psyche could not get used to imprisonment on perfect blue-sky days. Or burning my hands on car handles. Even Jim, the owner of our B&B, was Montana-bound for the summer.

On our final night I entered the enclosed garden of our B&B. As with every night, young Tomás, the night manager, was surfing the Internet. "Where do you go?" I asked. He proudly handed me pages of music he had printed from the web. "I want to be a musician," he beamed. "Next fall I will move to Mexicali to go to school." Euterpe, Muse of Music, would be pleased.

Blessed Alamos. Here, we "got down" into Mexico. We ate the street food and learned siesta as necessity. In this land at 1460 feet we witnessed a people contained and confident. A community that thrived.

Perhaps because it is the place at the end of the road, where you don't "just pass through". You arrive and leave by the same road. You see, you are seen. Here, 370-miles south of the Arizona border, destination and destiny are just a few letters, and a short move, apart.

Sinking into the rhythms of Mexico - the thick, brown scab falls off my knee - it's time to shave my legs.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2003 by Christina Nealson © 2008
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