Moments Back in Time in Copala
by Nancy V. Sont
Nancy V. Sont is a travel writer that
hails from the wooded hills of Eastern Ontario, Canada.
After a long winding drive through the rising
Sierra Madre mountains, past spectacular views, past women selling bread on
a slow moving corner, we arrived in Copala and parked at the far edge of
town, across from Daniel’s Restaurant. We were very lucky not to meet the
people from the two weekly cruise ships that visit the tiny town.
A child on a burro arrived and asked my
daughter Scarlett if she wanted a ride. She wanted to take his photo but the
second set of batteries was now dead, as well as the first.
She immediately made acquaintance with him.
Because the place is a ghost town now that the silver mine is closed, many
men have left to find work. The children do the rest of the income earning.
Victor, our guide, assured Scarlett that she
would have plenty of chance to talk to them. They would certainly follow us
around the village.
As we piled back into the van to go further
into town, children on burros called their names aloud to her so she would
know who to ask for, should she wish to pay for a ride or a photo.
We parked near the center of the village
alongside the Zocalo. Two more children met us, offering us some small bark
carvings of the town. I was amazed and intrigued,
“Haciste lo?” I asked eagerly in Spanish, to
which one child nodded.
“Como?” I prodded. He pulled a tiny slot
screwdriver out of this pocket to show me just how he had made them, putting
the screwdriver into the tiny rectangular window hole.
“What a magical carving to sell,” I said, as
the child leaned over the carving.
A man with a weather worn face smiled broadly
as we decided how much to pay. The price was ‘whatever you’d like.’ They
each gave us a free one. Our driver said that was to ‘hook us in.’
They would say, ‘No you take it for free!’
The recipient would inevitably want to give it back, but the child would
stand firm. The recipient would then dig deep to compensate them. I asked
again, “How much?”
He looked up at his older brother with
questioning faith, to which the brother replied, “Cinco (5) pesos.”
The brother put the piece on his arm to show
that the four-inch carving was part of a pricker from a tree, probably about
8” tall before it had been sawn off for the carving.
“There’s a very big one in the church,” the
man commented, spreading his arms wide. I marveled, looking around to see
where the church was.
After selling us their wares, boys
disappeared and I realized I had better start exploring. The stone road was
only another block long as it climbed the steep hillside beside the tourist
The houses consisted of tiny forested
farmyards. A pig oink’ed and wandered along the yard, then onto the road,
followed by a few squealing piglets.
A teenager and her boyfriend walked along,
finally catching up with me. I surprised them by speaking Spanish. They were
quite friendly and willing to talk. The girl was 18, he was 22. She had
lived there all her life.
They explained that since it was a ghost
town, there were houses available to buy. A group of Americans lived there.
A Cuban lived on the hill in a Caribbean style home on the top of the
mountainside. They only came for a few months of the year. They treated the
woman that worked for them as their daughter and paid her well.
Over the rattling of the chickens came a TV
voice. I noticed an electrical pole that stood beside me. There were no cars
or driveways along the narrow road that led up into the hills.
The dirt between the anciently placed stones
had eroded, leaving the road a bumpy carpet. In the summer rainy season, it
would be such a different place.
Amazed at what I was seeing, how close to the
land the people lived, and in such humble conditions, I went back for my
friend, Jane, and Scarlett. Jane didn’t agree it would be nice to live in
one of these ramshackle wooden houses.
The pathway meandered up and down between the
scattered dwellings, some with cement walkways and tile roofs, others with
wooden slat walls and tin tops.
Two children played alongside the road on a
Noting the quiet, I asked, “Are there any
“Yes,” the 10-year old girl nodded.
“What color are they?” I prompted.
“Red, green orange, yellow, blue, black,
white...” the girl responded, referring to the big bird, the toucan, that
lived in the tree around the bend.
She slipped down the six foot high bank,
landing on her feet, laughing loudly. The commotion brought the attention of
her mother across the valley who waved in response to me. It felt so
relaxing to be here. I felt very at home, accepted even though I was a
tourist, even more so than in my own neighborhood thousands of miles away.
Around another bend we found what looked like
a huge beehive attached to the side of a tree. It must have been 18” wide
and 30” long. It was huge.
“A small green bird made it,” the woman who
lived alongside it said as she came down the hill, laden with plastic
shopping bags of groceries. It was amazing to see her wearing a business
suit and carrying groceries, far from any city. Perhaps I hadn’t seen the