PART TWO... ONE OF MY MORE BIZARRE SUMMER VACATIONS - 1010 Park Place
— Life —

PART TWO… ONE OF MY MORE BIZARRE SUMMER VACATIONS

ALL PHOTOS ©BRENDA COFFEE, 2018. THE CHURCH AT THE BOTTOM OF COPPER CANYON.
pin it

Have you ever dreamed about going somewhere and then discovered the reality of getting there was more than you’d expected? This may not come as a surprise, but that’s happened to me more than once. The problem with having a bold, adventurous nature is you reach the point where you think you can go anywhere and do anything.

Making my way to the bottom of Copper Canyon, Mexico, to see an old Spanish church was one of those trips.

My friend—we met in college geology class—was a rock hound and a photographer, like me. When I asked if he’d like to go to Mexico with me to find an old church, where centuries ago the priest had allegedly been a serial killer, he said yes!

The views from the top of the Sierra Madre Mountains are breathtaking. They have a way of reaching down into your soul and making even nonbelievers consider the possibilities of a God. Thirty years ago when my friend and I made the 9,000-foot vertical journey to the bottom of Copper Canyon, it was a rugged, bone-jarring experience. We spent 10 hours in a three-door Gold Chrysler with Pedro Estrada Perez, who’d said he would drive us if he could stop along the way and see a friend. Little did we know his friend was one of the illusive Tarahumara Indians, who lived in a cave, or that we might be part of a mission to convince someone to come back from the dead. 

By the time our visit was over, I’d seen more of the Indian’s genitals than I wanted.

During our 10 hour, 60-mile drive, we sometimes got out and waited as Pedro inched his way along a dirt and bolder strewn road so narrow… the outer tires were almost hanging off the edge of the canyon. In case you’re wondering, the entire route was a scary view from the backseat of a car that was missing a door… When we arrived at the bottom of Copper Canyon, it was a surprise to see a real town. 

Now that I’ve caught you up on the who, what, when, where and why—if you want to read the details, click here. If not, here’s PART TWO of ONE OF MY MORE BIZARRE SUMMER VACATIONS:

Except for a handful of cars and a red pickup, Batopilas looked like it had just awakened from a 200-year-old nap. The few streets were dirt, and you could see where the water level had risen along the sides of the white stucco buildings. When my friend informed me his bad back was “talking to him,” and our driver was making a beeline for the cantina, I knew if I wanted to see the 300-year-old church, I would have to go alone. With only a few hours of daylight left, I needed to go, then! 

Pedro negotiated for the owner of the red pickup to take me to the church and bring me back. Because Pedro was a frequent visitor to Batopilas, I trusted he would put me in good hands. It was then I learned it was another four or five more miles to the church. We were in Batopilas. The bad road was behind us, right? I should have known better when the driver of the red pickup made the sign of the cross before he started the engine.

Years later I learned our route had been taken over by the drug cartels for their marijuana and poppy farms, and they’d executed the former mayor of Batopilas and another had survived an assassination attempt. Had I known that, I wouldn’t have gone in the first place… Maybe not…

We headed out of town on a trail shared by goats, big rocks, boulders and deep crevasses. The driver inched his way along, trying not to tear out the oil pan or the undercarriage of his truck. This “road” was worse than the one I’d just spent 10 hours driving on to Batopilas.

Hundreds of pale, yellow butterflies flitted around goats that were painfully thin. Even that late in the day the temperature was mucho calor, a reminder our truck was without air conditioning.

An image of the Virgin Mary—bordered by a blue, zigzag decorative trim—hung from the rear view mirror, while the truck’s ceiling had been made into a shrine. The overhead light was covered with a rectangular “Kleenex” box and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was encased in plastic and pasted onto the bottom of the box. Along the sides of the box hung yellow fringe… and three cougar tails… which brushed the top of my ear each time the truck lurched over a boulder.

The driver was consumed with the road and paid little attention to me. After about an hour he stopped and turned off the ignition. He waved for me to get out and pointed toward an opening in the brush, then popped the hood on his truck and once more gave a quick nod toward the opening.  

I took my camera bag and hiked up the rock incline until I could see part of a church… the church that had brought me to this remote part of the world. The church sat on the only flat portion of the canyon and was made of red brick and stucco. If there had once been any paint, it had faded centuries before. 

The sun was beginning to disappear from the horizon. With each step I felt hesitant and uneasy. What if the driver left me there? What if I had to walk back to Batopilas in the dark? This was wild country, and this Texas girl knew there would be rattlesnakes that came out to warm themselves on the rocks and hungry cougars.

But I was “Ramborella™,” a nickname a friend had given me, so onward I went. 

I reached the top of the rise and stopped to take a photo with my panorama camera—it’s framed and hangs on my office wall—and then took more shots with my 35mm. My instincts told me to turn around, but I needed to see the inside of the church.

ALL PHOTOS ©BRENDA COFFEE, 2018. THE CHURCH OUTSIDE BATOPILAS, MEXICO.

I hurried over a series of rough gullies and then ran the rest of the way until I was 30 feet from the open doorway. I love Mayan ruins and the patina of old buildings, and the old Spanish mission didn’t disappoint. I could see why some referred to it as “the lost mission,” but it wasn’t lost. No one had the stamina to find it.

The floor inside the church was a mixture of brick and dirt and a strong, musty odor filled the space. I heard something scurry along the wall to my right. It was too dark inside for a photo. I looked at the great expanse of floor and wondered if—according to legend—women were, in fact, buried there. 

My little voice was telling me to turn back, and almost as soon as I’d arrived, I was retracing my steps. I stopped and took one more look before the great structure vanished from view.

I got back to the truck in time to see seven or eight, dark-skinned Indians on horseback who’d come out of the elevated brush—more were making their way down—and were lining the driver’s side of the truck. The Indians didn’t seem surprised to see me. They registered no emotion at all but stared at me with an uncomfortable intensity.

The driver motioned for me to get in the front seat, and then he closed the hood of his truck. The engine hesitated a few times and started up. As we drove forward, the Indians closed ranks behind us and followed us for maybe 50 feet and then turned and disappeared back into the brush.

It was dark now, and the headlights were on. As we crept across the rocks, at the speed grass grows, occasionally an Indian on horseback came out of the brush to watch. They didn’t smile or wave. They just stared. It was eerie to see them suddenly illuminated by the headlights, as though they’d come out of nowhere.

The truck crested a small incline, and the engine died. Another group of dark-skinned men on horseback appeared. This time there were 10 of them, and they were more animated and curious about me than the first group. They nudged their horses forward, half going around to the driver’s side, the other half riding up to my side of the truck. I wasn’t sure whether to confront their stares or look away, but I knew I needed to project strength and calm.

The driver got out of the truck, opened the hood and fiddled with something, then closed the hood, and the truck started. This time I didn’t turn around to see where the horsemen had gone. 

Finally, when we pulled onto the main street in Batopilas, my friend was standing in the middle of the street. I could tell he was irritated, but I wasn’t up for a scolding. I told him I was exhausted. I wanted a cold beer and to go to sleep.

My friend, more than a foot taller than me, leaned down and in a stern voice said, “A nice woman fixed dinner for us and has been waiting for more than four hours for you to return.”

I looked at my friend’s watch. It was 11pm. 

“You’re going to sit at her table,” he continued, “and eat every bite that’s puts in front of you.” 

With that he took my elbow and walked me down the dirt street. After a lengthy silence he stopped and looked at me. “Do you have any idea… ” His voice trailed off. “I’ve been wondering… Where you were… What happened to you… If you were still alive.”

I started to explain, but he held up his hand. He guided me through a small structure onto a back porch. A bare lightbulb hung over a long table covered in a colorful oilcloth. At the table was Pedro—the driver of the three-door Chrysler who’d brought us to Batopilas—the woman, her husband and her children.

None of them had eaten. I was their guest, and they had waited for me.

I sat down and apologized and thanked the woman for dinner. No one said a word as we passed bowls of cold macaroni with mayonnaise, sliced tomatoes and tortillas around the table. I felt like I did when my father sat with me at the dinner table until I ate every bite of the cold, grey liver on my plate. It was late and he was silent… But this time, I was grateful to be there.

Love, Brenda

23 Comments

  • Reply Julie June 30, 2018 at 5:21 am

    Wow, this is so interesting! Thanks so much for telling us of your adventures! I wish it hadn’t been too dark to take a pic inside the church. Did Batopilas look the same to you as it did thirty years prior? This is truly “right up my alley”—haha

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:29 am

      Hi Julie, I’ve only been to Batopilas once and that was 30 years ago. Both Part One and Part Two of my story took place then. I’ve looked online and see they’ve improved the road to Batopilas… It now only takes 5 hours instead of 10… and the buildings in the town have been painted bright colors. WORST OF ALL, THEY PUT A NEW STUCCO FACADE ON THE CHURCH AND PAINTED IT CREAM!!! I’m heartbroken! They’ve totally removed the character and the strength and made it look like Disneyland. I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song… “Find paradise, put up a parking lot.” Thanks for reading, Julie, and leaving me a comment that allowed me to tell you this! Brenda

  • Reply Lucy June 30, 2018 at 5:57 am

    Brenda, I agree with Julie – WOW! You have the most extraordinary adventures and you retell them in such a way that makes me want to go, too. Thanks for sharing your gift.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Hi Lucy!! You’re welcome! I love to write, so this was fun to remember that trip. Thanks so much, Brenda

  • Reply Taste of France June 30, 2018 at 6:28 am

    I am so glad you gave a link to Part I, which I missed when I was out of town. This is an amazing story, made better by your talent for telling it. You have an excellent knack for detail and suspense.
    I’m going to have to look up Batopilas, to see what it looks like now. In a way, I hope the road is still as bad, or else it will have changed beyond recognition.
    More stories like these!!!!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:35 am

      Hi TOF… I really want to know your first name!! A couple of comments before yours, I left Julie a note about how it’s changed… It’s not good. If I wanted to see newly painted Mexican buildings, I would stay in San Antonio. In their haste to attract tourists, they’ve taken all of the charm… and the scary, nightmare of a drive out of the equation. Sad, sad, sad… New is not always better, is it? I would imagine the charm and patina is one of the things that attracted you to live in France. xox, Brenda

  • Reply Jeanette June 30, 2018 at 8:40 am

    I’ve been waiting for this and it didn’t disappoint. I couldn’t help but let my own mind wander as you described your experience inside the church (in fact, I think I held my breath). Can you imagine, if legend is true, how incredible that the story is being told and shared amongst so many women worldwide. That’s got to be homage to the women who perished in such tragic circumstances…?
    You tell this story so picture perfect Brenda & I for one will be saying a prayer for the souls of these poor women – & for you too – incredibly brave strong woman.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:42 am

      Oh, Jeanette! That makes me so happy! I did try to photograph the inside of the church, but it’s not good enough to share. It was just a dark, creepy, empty space, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in there. You raise an interesting point… I’d like to think that in some way, my writing keeps these women and their plight alive. The church was so difficult to get to although several hundred years ago, I imagine people lived along the river banks so the church was much closer. I could also see how a lot of rain would have made it difficult for them to survive the swollen river and the expense of rebuilding again and again, so perhaps that’s why the town of Batopilas grew up. Thank you for your prayer and your well wishes. Right now, I’m trying to squelch the urge to go to Cambodia… by myself… to see Angor Wat. xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Beckye June 30, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I’m so thankful this was 30 years ago and you made it safely back home! Now, well, praying for the poor Mexican people in that region. Wow. What an experience! How sweet of that woman to show such generous hospitality to y’all. Beautiful photos and great story and writing! I’m with TOF; more of your stories!!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Thank you, Beckye. LOL! I’m glad you like my stories. That’s incentive for me to keep thinking about writing a memoir, because I have so much more to say! xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Diane June 30, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Man, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time! I would definitely categorize that adventure with a capital ‘A’!!

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace June 30, 2018 at 10:53 am

      Thank you, Diane. I’ve finally reached the age where I realize I can’t and shouldn’t do trips like this anymore. For starters, I don’t have anyone to go with me, which is the real reason I haven’t gone in a while, plus I know all too well what can happen. The adventure that happened after this one…. Oh… That may be the one that makes me write a memoir. I know how addicts feel because I’m an adrenaline junkie, and I’ve actually sought therapy for this. That was 20 years ago, and the therapist… who was totally unsympathetic to my hopes that she would say, “Why yes! Keep going on these crazy trips!” Instead she said, “And how old are you? Isn’t it time you stop this?” Ha! Easier said than done! Maybe I need one of those 12-step programs where you stand up and introduce yourself and say, “Hi. My name is Brenda, and I’m an adrenaline junkie and an almond butter-aholic! xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Alana June 30, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    You are an adrenaline junkie so people like me don’t have to be. I was on the edge of my chair reading this on my phone. For part 1 (leave it to me to read things in reverse order – I seem to do that a lot) I’m using my computer. It’s a wonderful thing to keep the memory of those long-lost women alive, but all the time your senses were screaming for you to get out of there – that’s a good lesson also, listen to your gut! An adventure well worth sharing. Thank you for bringing us along.

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace July 1, 2018 at 10:33 am

      Thank you, Alana. As an adventurer, I’ve learned over the years those things most people would find alarming, I don’t. They’re part of the adventurer, along with the unexpected, and so I keep slogging on. Looking back I find this puzzling, because in my day to day life, I plan for worse case. I always have an exit strategy, if you will… a backup plan. I learned that from my first husband. When I’m living the Indiana Jones life, however, I have my wits and reasoning ability and my little voice, but the opportunity to plan for worse case doesn’t exist. You can’t forsee the unknown and going in, you know any exit strategy will be unplanned and come out of necessity. The getting there and the thrill of the hunt is your new normal, and it usually takes priority over better judgement. You really believe you can do anything and survive, and yet, I’ve had too many situations that tell me otherwise. When possible, I have a knife, some bug spray, water and something to eat… nothing that will last very long because that’s a different kind of trip. Then you’re on an “expedition” and have supplies and a couple of people with you. I’ve not done that….. I’m a rogue explorer… or I was. Funny, I’m 69, but I still see myself as Ramborella. xoxox, Brenda

  • Reply Mamavalveeta03 June 30, 2018 at 11:53 pm

    I live by the axiom, “Listen to your small voice of intuition”! It’s saved me more than once. Beautiful photos, Brenda. ❤️

    • Reply 1010ParkPlace July 1, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Val, I haven’t always been aware of my little voice, and even when it made itself known, it took me a while to catch on. I wonder if our little voice could be considered a guardian angel? xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Hilda Smith July 1, 2018 at 10:21 am

    I love your stories Brenda. I hope you are following Loretta from http://www.countdownto60.com Like you she is a wonderful storyteller and has had a very interesting life also.

    • Reply Brenda Coffee July 2, 2018 at 2:11 pm

      Thank you, Hilda! And thanks for telling me about Loretta. I’ll be reading her posts! xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Sue Burpee July 1, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Great story, Brenda. And wonderful photos. Glad you made it back to be able to tell the tale:)

    • Reply Brenda Coffee July 2, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      Thanks, Sue. I’ve also done a lot of just appreciating nature like you and Hubby. That was actually one of the reasons behind all of our adventure trips. In addition to being in the great outdoors, digging for crystals and Mayan artifacts, we didn’t go anyplace where we’d run into tourists, cheeseburgers or people who spoke English.

  • Reply Bonnie K. Aldinger July 5, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Great part 2, quite the adventure. I’m so sad to read about your follow-up about the botched “restoration”. 🙁

    • Reply Brenda Coffee July 6, 2018 at 11:03 am

      I’m sad as well Bonnie. The only reason I even knew about the church was I saw a tiny, thumbnail photo of it somewhere. Now I don’t even remember where that was, but it so spoke to me to the point I had to see it. I’m assuming it was the locals who redid the church… without consultation of anyone who does historic preservation. They stripped away centuries of patina and made it look ordinary. It’s no longer something people like me would make such a long and dangerous trek to see. They “renovated” it as opposed to “restoring it.” I live in San Antonio, and the Alamo… the shrine of Texas liberty… and four other historic, Spanish missions are here. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas rule with an iron hand when it comes to restoration of historic Texas buildings. Thank God for them, or San Antonio’s missions would probably be bright Mexican colors like yellow and pink. Thanks so much, Bonnie! xoxo, Brenda

  • Reply Jill Anthony July 9, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Oh my gosh Brenda! I was totally on the edge of my seat with these posts! Amazing. You are such a talented writer. I had all the visuals in my head with your descriptions. After traveling on a paved narrow road to Hana this past week I can absolutely sympathize with you, only your journey was a million times worse. You are one Bad-ass chick!!!!!

  • Leave a Reply

    You Might Also Like