Our tour to the south was blown off the calendar by Hurricane Irma, so I took the opportunity to still travel.
South. To the Sierra Mountains. In Mexico. The area I'm visiting reminds me of parts of Colorado. We have traveled high up into pines, and cliff shears and I even spotted a few groves of aspens.
We are somewhere along the Copper Canyon. The canyon is bigger than the Grand Canyon, but one probably couldn't locate the tiny towns on a map. The undeveloped natural beauty extends as far as the eye can see.
There are no souvenir stores, visitor’s centers, or billboards to promote the scenery. There are no tour buses, or funiculars to help ascend the heights.
The landscape is vastly different from our corner of Oklahoma. But even more different is the sensation of stepping back in time. If it weren't for the occasional mobile phone and iPad, I would bet it was the 1950's.
The small community where I'm staying with my missionary friend, Pam, has a Christian hospital and modest housing for the medical staff. Volunteers come from all over to serve the indigenous people, the Tarahumara Indians. The small facility operates on donations from all denominations of churches and Christian groups to offer health care to these shy, quiet people.
The closest markets seem like a general store from the 1920's. They walk hours, literally, from their remote, ancient villages of five or six huts with tin roofs and dirt floors to this modern oasis for care.
In reality, I'm only about eight hours south of the US border, but it feels years away.
It's taken over a decade to build trust in the white man's medicines and methods. This is National Geographic stuff, the small tribes surviving on their corn and bean crops for nutrition. Malnutrition and dehydration take many lives. The rainy season brings muddy water and the dry season takes it away.
My comfortable life makes me always wonder about trivial things like, why would the tribal men chose to wear white loincloths? How do those women sew those yards of colorful fabric into ruffled skirts? We have Maytags and Singers, and we wouldn't do that.
I had the honor to ride along with a young Mennonite missionary. This 23-year-old nurse hikes up to 20 miles a day toting a backpack full of medical items. He and his hiking partner go from tiny village to tinier village offering healthcare. It's not sought after or always desired.
It's been a long, thankless mission to save lives and souls. When my new friend, Shawn, has a major issue, they work to get the patients and a family member down from the mountains to the road for transportation to the hospital.
Today we are returning a man and his family of three to his home. As the old Suburban descends into the canyon on crazy switchback roads, Shawn stops to pick up more riders. He had waited for over three hours the day before for a ride so he is quick to offer one. Before long we have 11 in the un-air-conditioned car. We dodge burros and horses and the results of rock slides.
Shawn humbly tells me about his work and I pepper him with questions. He has immersed himself with the Indians and has learned to speak their language. He compares what is happening with the tribes and the Mexican government to what took place in the US and the Native Americans. The government gives to make them dependent and then takes away when the Indians land is desired.
I tell Shawn that I am Cherokee and fully I understand this comparison. He translates this to the ones in the back seat and they acknowledge with a low sound.
We see only one other car and a government truck on this two-hour drive. Shawn carefully jokes that he has relieved himself in places that people would buy tickets to look at the view and he is probably right. The scenery is stunning and I'm amazed at the beauty.
Shawn is telling me about the trails (which I can't see at all) when suddenly he pulls off the road and parks. I know I looked confused and he says "We're here."
There is nothing that says "here" to me, more rocks and windy road and riverbed. The family tumbles out and wait for us to drive away before starting their one-and-one half hour trek down then up the canyon to their home.
A mother with an infant on her back, a two year little girl and dad just released from the hospital, will walk every step to someplace I can't even see from this spot. Makes our wheelchair ride to the hospital door seem a little silly, huh?
We wind our way out of the canyon adding passengers. Shawn tells about tragedies of loss. He also shares some miracles. Honestly, I'm thinking the fact that a 23-year-old young man wants to dedicate his life to hiking through stinging nettles to doctor infected wounds and sick babies is a miracle.
He eats the meager foods that are offered to him, but admits he is homesick for a home cooked meal. I want to mail him a turkey dinner. But there isn't any mail service up here.
It may be years before that luxury is available.
Patti Beth Anderson has more than 20 years of experience in the group travel industry taking people all over the world. Her motto is "I return with the same number of people I left with… not necessarily the same people, but the same number nevertheless. So no 'crankpots' allowed" She may be reached at 918-786-3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.