High Sierra Nights

We’re in Tarahumara country now. This is their land. Ancient foot trails etched on mesas and along the river carve a tale of life in the High Sierra country for some 50,000 semi-nomadic Tarahumara Indians. Walking or running was once the only means of transportation; minus the chance ride to town in the back of a pickup, it is much the same now. This is surely the land that time forgot.

I’m lying beneath heavy woolen blankets, and a crackling fire in the small black wood stove takes the night chill off my tired body. Light from the flickering fire dances along the varnished log walls of my room. I’m staying at the Sierra Lodge and I am exhausted from hiking, yet my mind races, not quite ready to succumb to sleep. The room at the lodge is simple and inviting. Striped cotton curtains hang over the windows looking out over the porch and to the Cusarare River and mountains beyond. There’s a pitcher of drinking water on the dresser, and a terry robe hangs nearby. I’ve left the kerosene lamp on low, the one that sits on a small shelf in the bathroom. The door to the bathroom has one of those frosty windows so I can see the flickering lamp flame. My belly is full from the gourmet meal prepared by Marta and Maria. Chili Relleños served on large platters, a meal fit for a five star restaurant in mid-town Manhattan. Salsa prepared by hand, presented in small clay bowls. The ever-present Marta with a steaming pot of coffee at my side, asking: “Mas Café?” “Si, mas por favor,” I reply. Earlier that evening, lodge guests milled around the tall bar near the giant stone fireplace. Monce, the lodge handyman, had built a fire. Maria mixed up a batch of her famous margaritas, serving round after round, it seemed, until my cheeks were flush and I was smiling too much. Then dinner was served. The beautiful Mexican plates and cups were

Dinner at the Sierra Lodge - Photo by Ivan Fernandez

set on the long, dark varnished table. Pitchers of some exotic red-colored (Hibiscus!) juice were set about the table. I remember the warmth of the fire and margaritas, and the mood of the folks seated at the dinner table. At that moment there was no place I would rather be—ever. We were in a place without electricity. That also meant no phones, internet, hair dryers, TV; just the magnificent High Sierra valley and the warmth of the rustic yet elegant Sierra Lodge.

I finally drift off to sleep, already expecting the soft knock on the door as one of the Tarahumara women brings steaming-hot coffee with a splash of milk—just as I like it.