One of the desert regions in Mexico, in the state of San Luis Potosi, is considered sacred to the indigenous tribe called Huicholes. They call the region “Wiricuta” or “Huiricuta” and it’s just North of the city of San Luis Potosi and even closer to the town of Matehuala. There’s a popular tourist town up in the Sierra Madres that line the desert below called Real de Catorce. Wiricuta is the desert below.
One of the nearby mountain peaks, maybe an hour hike on foot from Real de Catorce, is called “Quemado” by the locals. The way it was explained to me is that the very first Huichole saw the very first sunrise coming up over Quemado. The Huichole believe that the head of each family must make a pilgrimage through the desert and up to the peak of Quemado every 3 years for peyote rituals. They believe this practice must continue in order for the Sun to continue to rise. Peyote is used along the way and these colorful god’s eye crosses made of wood and colored yarn are placed at different points along the sacred route.
This practice has gone on for possibly a couple thousand years. In the past, the journey would be made on foot all the way from the Nayarit region where the Huichole live. Now most of the journey is taken by bus and the last week or so on foot.
I’ve never participated in one of the Huichole ceremonies, but I have come across the yarn crosses they leave along the route. I’ve also visited the ceremonial grounds above Real de Catorce, atop Quemado. There are several primitive concentric circles made of stones and many more of the yarn crosses left behind. Often they have a photo of a loved Huichole, children, etc. and some pesos and candles left behind. I believe they carry the prayers of the loved ones up to the ceremonial site and the objects as offerings.
I’m not an expert on Huichole tribal and spiritual culture, but having gone to the sacred Wiricuta myself on several occasions, one hears lots of stories.
The first time I went there was back in 1994. Another backpacker from Austria had told me about it. Or, rather… a couple of years after we’d met on the road, he sent me a photo of himself in this desert. There was a peace about him in the photo. He was just standing out in this dry expanse with mountains in the background, a simple Mexican poncho, a wooden staff, and he looked dusty.
Not long after the letter and photo had arrived in the mail, I heard from him. It’s been a long time now, but I think his name is Gerard. He was passing through Texas on his way to visit other places in the U.S. and contacted me to see if it’d be cool to visit.
Gerard only stayed a few days, but before he continued on his journey, he gave me instructions on how to get to a place in the desert called Wadley. And, he told me to ask for an older local man, Don Tomas. Gerard said to mention his name to Don Tomas and he’d fix me up.
I’d been to Wadley several times when this particular story takes place, and Don Tomas did indeed fix me up. Every time I returned to Wadley I’d go straight to Don Tomas’ house for a key to one of the several rooms he rented to backpackers. He had a couple of enclosed compounds with around a half dozen basic rooms with a smooth concrete floor, tin roof, metal door with padlock, and a shared toilet that you have to fill up a bucket and dump into the commode to flush. Basic.
Don Tomas also had a few rooms next to his home as well, and pretty much all of the walls in his rooms were adobe.
On this particular visit, I stayed in the compound just above Don Tomas’ place, on the other side of the only 2-lane road that extends the entire length of Wiricuta. All of the half dozen little villages along the road were there basically as depots for the train that also runs the entire length of Wiricuta. The upper compound is a bit further from the train track and pretty much on the very outskirts of town.
The lower compound is interesting in that it’s right in the middle of town, where you can hear all of the sounds of life there. And, it’s closer to the little tienda stores where you can get snacks, water, candles, etc. However, the lower compound is only a few meters from the train track. When a locomotive comes barreling by, the force shakes everything violently. The train whistle sounds like it’s right there in the room. You do get used to it after a while. I sometimes prefer the lower compound because of the sounds of life, and the train reminds me that the rest of the world is still powering along, while time feels like it stands still in Wadley.
Sometimes there are a handful of other backpackers there too. Whether that’s a good thing or not, is often a roll of the dice. You can end up with some loud partiers who don’t clean up their messes and are up all hours of the night. Or, you can end up with a quiet group that you get along with. Other times I’m completely by myself.
Each compound has it’s own little kitchen or cocina. It’s a bit generous to call it a “kitchen”. There’s a small gas stove, that if you’re lucky, Don Tomas has paid for a fresh tank of gas. There’s a scattering of various pots and pans, plates cups, utensils, etc. If you’re extra lucky, the last people there might’ve cleaned them all up. If you’re not so lucky, they’re all stacked up with varying degrees of food decaying.
If it’s all dirty, I’ll usually clean it all up once and grab a cup, plate, spoon, and a small pot to boil my water for coffee. I’ll keep this in my room for the duration and clean them up again before I leave.
Don Tomas had first taken me to the lower compound, but I spotted a fair amount of empty cerveza bottles strewn about, some bongo drums, and a beat up guitar leaning on one of the room doors. Looked like a party.
I asked Don Tomas what the situation was like at the upper compound. He said it was empty, except for Philipe. He said Philipe is French and pretty quiet. Done! Vamanos to the upper compound then.Read More