Beyond Alamos: Explorations to Enrich a Visit to Southern Sonora
Story and photos by Alison Gardner
Alison Gardner specializes in researching ecological, educational, cultural and volunteer vacations worldwide. She is author of guidebook, Travel Unlimited: Uncommon Adventures for the Mature Traveler, and publisher/editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com
While Alamos has emerged from the ruins of its silver mining history with incredible vigor, Aduana, a few miles beyond the town limits along a potholed dirt road, is clearly a piece of the past.
Claiming near-ghost town status with its present population of about 300 struggling souls, the evidence of its vibrant history lies mainly in a simple but impressive 250-year-old church and the derelict mining buildings now being reclaimed by nature. Mine shafts in the surrounding hills speak of a time when thousands of people lived and worked here before the silver ran out.
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Balvanera, built on a miracle apparition site, is particularly revered by the Mayo people who, at 72,000, make up the largest tribe in Mexico. Each November, the church is the focus of the state’s second largest religious pilgrimage when the village no doubt takes on a more lively countenance.
A visit to Aduana is one of several interpretive tours offered by Alamos resident, Stephanie Meyer, whose affection for the area and its residents brings her stories alive. Before stepping out of our vehicle, Stephanie cautioned clients about giving money to the children:
“It’s not healthy for them to get something for nothing,” she emphasized, “so we have agreed with the parents that the kids should collect attractive, unusual rocks from the hillsides and riverbeds and sell them to visitors. In that way, they learn entrepreneurial skills, and visitors can satisfy their desire to help these obviously poor children.”
Everyone took Stephanie’s advice to heart, while patronizing as many different children as possible with their rock purchases. Judging by the bulging pockets at the end of our walking tour, I’d say it was a good day, but, of course, the next visitor might not appear for a week!
Another local entrepreneurial venture is the Co-operativa Artesanal La Aduana. Here 18 ladies work full time producing and selling arts and crafts made from materials found naturally in their area or recycled in a variety of ingenious ways. Their little shop fronting the square was stuffed to the rafters with visible evidence of their creative thinking.
West of Alamos through Navojoa and on to Huatabampo lies a stretch of Sea of Cortez coast rich in just about everything nature has to offer. A natural history tour, also arranged and guided by Stephanie, provided a taste of it all and still had us back to Alamos in time for dinner.
The vast mangrove estuary is a Maya domain only accessible with native permission and personal escort. Pangas (outboard boats) and local boatmen were ready to help us explore the picturesque inlets and sandbars teaming with birds. These ranged from Great Egrets and Blue Herons to Blue Footed Boobies, Frigate birds and Pelicans, to name some of the more obvious easy-spotters for birdwatching amateurs.
After meandering along mangrove channels where the sandy bottom was often no more than a foot or two below our hulls, we struck out for the much deeper and wider harbor waters beyond, heading for a couple of isolated islands that even Robinson Crusoe would have found challenging to call home. Still, it was good to stretch our legs after the confined quarters of the boats, and collect shells along the fine sand beaches.
Feeling rather insignificant sharing shipping lanes with ocean-going shrimp boats and freighters, we completed our panga journey escorted by several bottle nose dolphins and some curious sea lions as we made our way into Huatabampo’s bustling commercial harbor and then off to a fresh-as-it-gets seafood lunch.
American-trained biologist and interpretive guide, Stephanie Meyer, adopted Alamos as her home 14 years ago, drawn by the diverse flora and fauna of this northernmost edge of tropical deciduous forest. Her dedication to establishing biosphere reserves, as well as state and federal parks, in northwestern Mexico was particularly rewarded in 1996 by the Mexican government’s declaration of reserve status for 200,000 acres near Alamos. Stephanie’s day tours include Aduana, Mayo Indian Culture, Estuary and Bay Exploration, and an up-close look at the reserve forest plants and wildlife. Book in advance: tel (647) 428-0388 or email: email@example.com .