- Sierra de Nadie
San Bernardo and Its Neighbors
The scene is a mountain range in the Mexican northwest, but the reader must not think in terms of a rugged range of verdant peaks, but rather of an arid region of cowboys in Texas-style hats and pointy-toed, high-heel boots, of scattered settlements where hunrdreds of cows, bulls, and goats roam without a care in the world. When I first saw it I had the impression that I was in a typical Western film. As the train from Mexico City progressed toward the state of Sonora, the landscape slowly changed from brilliant green to coffee-brown, with various shades of gray. For a time we were immersed in a great sand dune. Then, once again, the sad barren ridges returned, now in the midst of the northwest’s great coastal plains. These, too, were areas of semi-desert. It was June of 1978, and although in Sonora the campesinos were waiting for the 24th and the feast day of Saint John the Baptist to bring on the summer rainy season, that year San Juan was just another name in a crowded calendar of saints. In those early moments I had no idea how important precipitation could be for me. But when I got back to Mexico City one [End Page 403] of the strongest impacts I felt was the return to rain. I then realized I had spent two years without enjoying the marvelous and enigmatic sensation of a downpour, those truly heavy rains that in my hometown are viewed simply as a nuisance to motorists.
A journey by train of more the 1,500 kilometers can be quite pleasant, but it is also frustrating to find that, upon arrival, the final leg is to be on an uncomfortable bus, followed by a transfer onto an even less comfortable bus. We were twenty people in total on that camión, resigned to our common fate, and, quickly, in the span of about 15 minutes, our number grew to thirty, then forty. Soon we were snuggled in shoulder to shoulder. There were enough of us to keep tightly together. The dirt road leading to the towns closest to the Guarijío region covered us in a fine dust that changed the color of our skin. After a time, we had all turned white. Almost to the town of Los Tanques, the bus slowed, barely waking us from the sleepy rhythm of the heat, the vibration of the motor, and the last 30 miles of sandy washboard roads.
Suddenly a voice boomed, announcing: “I’m looking for the tropóloga from the INI who comes from Mexico City.13 Is there a tropóloga here?” the bus driver asked. And as absurd as this may sound, I had no idea that he was alluding to me; the word “tropóloga” meant nothing to me. I didn’t know what he was referring to. More importantly, I didn’t want to know. I was too busy trying to get a little sleep after 34 hours on the road, resting my head on my knees. But if the word “tropóloga” meant nothing to me it meant even less to the rest of the other passengers. The driver asked the question again, this time more loudly, and finally I began to come to my senses and realize that he might be referring to me. Still, I didn’t want to be hasty or to seem naïve, so I waited for a third call to confirm my presence. Finally, the driver hit the brakes, turned off the motor, got up from his seat, and yelled the question again, toward the back of the bus, this time looking me straight in the eyes: “Who else could be the tropóloga”?
A tall, dark-skinned man with a solid build got on the bus to help me with my luggage. He greeted me with a big smile. I suppose he made me feel important (although he also made me change my plans because I’d hoped to walk the rest of the way into the town of San Bernardo). He...