Feb 4, 2012

Copala, the Charms of a Tiny Colonial Town

One's destination is never a place,
But a new way of seeing things.
Henry Miller 

Burros showing us the way...
As in all travel, even at home, you keep wondering what is over the hill immediately ahead. The arrega we were riding in dropped us off just outside of town (Copalita) and we couldn’t see what the town looked like yet (or even if there was a town). We were first welcomed by three burros heading back to town in the middle of the day.

The driver indicated we should be heading right but instinct told us to go left. We followed this beautiful cobblestone road to a small cemetery (pantheon) near where we found some shade to eat our lunch before entering town.

Casa de Colores - Our delightful hosts
Hiding well behind vegetation
A ten minute walk and we were near the main plaza in town. We had been told to look or ask for la Casa de Colores, a colorful purple and lavender home behind palm trees. We looked for it but didn’t see it at first, the palm trees that were referred to had grown considerably and were hiding the house quite well if you didn’t know exactly what you were looking for. As for asking the locals about la Casa de Colores, the ones we asked didn’t know about it, they thought we were referring to the small art gallery near the plaza, also a very colorful building.

Another colorful place
It didn’t occur to us for one second to ask about the ‘gringo’ house which would’ve probably provided instant locating. The town is so charming we didn’t mind the extra walk around. We finally found the beautiful little abode we were going to live in for a couple of days. What a beautiful gem it is.

Copala, as many small touristic towns, has been hit hard by the slowing of tourism. Many people fear the Mexican drug influence on crime and stay away from here – from major cruise ships to cruisers, RV’ers and weekend travelers. It is sad as we have yet to see any evidence of such crime since we have been in Mexico for 3 months. Cruise lines alone used to bring around ½ million people to Mazatlán and beyond per year; that number is now about a tenth of that (50 - 60,000).

Twisty nature
Near entrance of the mine
Copala, as a mining town, offers the obligatory mine tour and in this case it is a much shortened version. It is located underneath Daniel’s, a great restaurant and small motel known all over this area for their banana cream pies made to order, never made in advance. We ordered one on our way to visit the mine and it was ready for pickup when we came out. We had it for dinner later that night and it was delicious.

There used to be another restaurant and hotel but they are now closed and quickly suffering from disrepair. Tropical weather, high concentration of small critters, and poor construction quality quicken deterioration of structures when they are no longer in use. Vandalism adds to that but we haven’t seen much of it. In such a small town, it is fairly easy to know who does what so crime is quite minimal.

Locals are friendly and the ‘gringos’ who call Copala their home give a lot to the town by employing kids to do small chores, hiring adults to help with cleaning, landscaping, or construction, giving kids needed clothes and shoes, sponsoring kids to stay in school, eating locally, promoting the town to their friends and relatives to visit, etc.

1740 church
Notice weeds growing up by the cross!
Watch for that 'covered' hole in the floor
Chaplin like figure above main church entrance
The central plaza is bordered on one side by an old church built in 1740. Also in disrepair, priests were asked to no longer conduct mass in the church but they still do so twice a week. A hole in the floor (see the two 2 x 4 in picture) where it is presumed a mine tunnel is opening up and could mean trouble. The railings around the periphery of the church are also not to be trusted and leaned upon. 

An interesting critter is located above the main entry door. It is parallel to the ground, looking down at the ground. It has what looks like a Charlie Chaplin hat. No one I asked could help explain this curious creature. The steeple is full of weeds and is cleaned once a year by the locals. The bells are rung via ropes hanging outside the church. Unfortunately, these are sometimes stolen and have to be replaced regularly.

Hura Crepitans also called Devil’s tree
Open (exploded) seed pods
The town is full of sounds = singing from workers leaving for work in the wee hours of the morning before the roosters take over at dawn. Music from the various vendors: tortillas, gas, etc. Iguanas, geckos, military macaws, burros, pigs, cows, all take their turns at various times of day. Horn from the daily bus in and out of town and exploding seed pods from the sandbox tree (Hura Crepitans or also called Devil’s tree) complete this cacophony.

In June, the heavy rains start and flood everything around town. You will notice high above ground doorways with many steps. Houses are built where the torrents don’t seem to flow. Cobblestone streets are the best way for the quick water rushes to flow through with minimal damage.

Around the hills, are milpas (small fields) where the locals grow their corn for the year. They usually plant these just before the rains start then let Mother Nature do the rest. Unfortunately, last year’s precipitations were about 1/5 of normal so for this area, things are dry and crops didn’t do well.

Pottery inserted in wall for plants
We met with a third generation resident (Reuben) who now lives in his grandfather’s home on an acreage with many trees. He showed us around – the house was over 200 years old and had just been whitewashed. It was surrounded by tangerines, limes, lemons, grapefruits, oranges, guayabas, mangoes, papayas, cloves, etc. Often, our first instinct when someone is really friendly with us is to go away because we always expect them to ask money for their services but in this case it was a genuine encounter. We had yoga, interest in plants, and good nutrition in common.

State of the art municipal Mexican water distribution system waiting for someone to drive on it...

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