Taxi Ride to the Campo

90… Part One: On Easter Sunday in the Country…

There are some days one never forgets. Easter Sunday 1995, on the Figueroa family ranch was one of those days for me. Unfortunately my workbook for this period of time is not to be found, so the names of Antonio’s parents, wife, daughter, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews are not at hand. It will be hard to tell a story about a large family without their names but I will do the best I can. This story will be told in two parts. This is Álamos, Sonora, Mexico.

Alamos photographer Antonio Figueroa, wife and daughter outside his home.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tmlinson

Antonio invited Anders to join his wife and daughter for a weekend trip.

Antonio Figureoa had been inviting me for several weeks to spend part of Easter weekend at his family’s ranch east of town. I appreciated Antonio’s friendship and was honored by his hospitality but I would not confirm that I would make the trip. I explained to him that I was dealing with a couple of health issues that would such a trip problematic. Antonio persisted. On the Wednesday before Easter he asked me again. He talked of his family, ranch, countryside, history, views and the… I answered yes. Antonio flashed his big Figueroa smile and thanked me. I learned the plan was we would take a taxi from the Alameda Saturday afternoon and return Sunday afternoon. And off he went, a happy man crossing the Plaza on his way to his home at the northern foot of Guadaloupe Hill. At the time, Antonio was renting a three room apartment with a large backyard on Calle Aquiles Serdan for 400 pesos a month, $60 or so.

Taxi stand in the Alameda, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

From here all of the town and surrounding countryside can be reached.

Immediately I started to have reservations. Over the next couple of days I went back and forth in my mind, should I go or should I stay? I was not feeling good and the concept of being in close approximation with four people inside a cab, including a sniffling kid did not bode well. In defense of the sniffling child, everyone here in late spring had a sore throat, cough, sniffles, or all of the above. Late Friday night I decided I would go. Saturday afternoon was noisy and colorful in the Alameda, as is it is on most weekends. There was much to see and many to be seen by. The bus station was extra busy with relatives coming and going to join their families and friends for Easter.
Street carts cooked fragrant food. The cab reserved by Antonio was waiting for us. We all hopped in the cab. The trunk lid and doors were closed, the engined started up and we headed east on our journey away from today and towards yesteryears.

Unfinished water treatment facility upended by Summer storm.  Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Unfinished, upended, water treatment facility rests in arroyo east of town

As we left the cobblestone streets of Centro Álamos and traveled on dirt roads that connected the surrounding barrios and campo I thought of the arroyo we would be crossing that carried raw Álamos sewage towards the Cuchujaqui River. I looked up and there in the Arroyo de la Aduana, east of Arroyo Agua Escondia, Arroyo la Barranca and Arroyo la Aduana’s confluence, was the beached remains of a future-to-be wastewater treatment plant that was under construction when Hurricane Fausto destroyed it the preceding summer. I understood that when completed it was designed to reduce raw sewage that had been free-flowing east for a couple of centuries. And so it was, the technological future had yet to arrived as we prepared to travel back in time to when and where Spaniards irrigated their 18th century orchards with foot-wide-brick-lined aqueducts.

late spring in Alamos, Sonora, Mexico is a hot, dry, dusty season.  Photo By Anders Tomlinson.

The arroyo, carved by seasonal rains, snaked through dry dusty hills.

We passed the cemetery and Ida Franklin’s house and made a turn to the right on the narrowing road and we were immediately in the country. The town was behind us, the Sierra Madre foothills ahead. The rutted road traveled next to the arroyo that we would have to cross from time to time. When we did I would hold my breath to avoid sewer gas wafting up from the tainted runoff. Every once in awhile we would pass modest dwellings. The farther east we went the greater distance between humble ranches. After a fifteen to 20 minutes ride we arrived at our destination, gathered up all our bags and started a short walk through dried orchards up to the house. We were greeted by Antonio’s mother and two brothers. One brother was the family comedian who worked in town as a laborer and the other Moro who lived on the ranch. Moro spoke only to animals. Antonio’s father was there but I never saw him in person. One of Antonio’s sisters and her husband and daughter would arrive later from Navajoa. And here we were, here where Antonio was raised as the youngest of 17 children.

Clothes line and blue pipe bring water to Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Cows are interested in a little one on one football as the clothes dry.

We were here, unconnected from the 20th century. The Figueroa ranch was above and a good distance from the arroyo. Behind it was a large hill that we would climb the next morning. One of the points that Antonio made was we would have a good high ground view of Alamos from the east. Though the house was not connected to any wires or modern sewer lines it was connected directly to the big blue water pipe that brought water a good distance from the Cuchujaqui River to the east near Sabinitos. An author’s aside: this is the same Cuchujaqui River that Álamos sewage was headed towards. When the blue pipe reached the Figueroa ranch the builders wanted to keep it running in a straight line run through a barn and corrals behind the house. The workers put a faucet into the pipe in exchange for damaging Figoeroa property. When we arrived I was cautioned to be careful when I turned water on because of the great pressure coming from the big blue pipe, unrestricted, to the sink or shower. On being connected, one can always be disconnected.

Watching TV powered by solar panel on a ranch outside Alamos, Sonra, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Time for a hour or two of solar panel powered TV. Grandmom keeps cooking.

The brothers and I went out to watch the sunset and arriving stars. They were playing a game they always played when together on the family ranch. Who would see the first passing satellite that evening? As we searched the heavens for the hand of man I noticed how quiet it can be away from the city. Centro Álamos is not a quiet place: church bells on the quarter hour, radios, televisions, cars, trucks, humans, dogs, cats, burros, city bred farm animals, native birds, insects… Here at the ranch, warm soft breezes rustled dry grass and branches as crickets fiddled. We concentrated on the sky. And the game was done, Moro spotted the first satellite. The comedian brother turned to me and said Moro always wins this simple but cosmic game. We retired to the house and awaiting dinner. Antonio’s mother was dishing up food off the big wood burning stove. The women and daughters were watching, more listening, to a TV. This was courtesy of a small solar panel provided by a government program intending to give all the rural off-line ranches access to solar generated electricty. Modern times allowed this household to chose between a radio for eight hours, a light for three or four hours or the small black & white television for an hour or two. Or some combination of electrical appliances at night for as long as there was stored energy. Choices, choices, choices.

I knew I would have a good sleep and I looked forward to Easter morning with the Figueroas in the Campo.

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