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Magical Village: Alamos, Mexico
For anyone who loves Mexico and its colorful and captivating culture and the friendly people, Alamos is a must see, writes Al Auger.
(Above, left): Boot shining in Alamos. (Right): Church steeple in Alamos, Mexico.
One of Mexico’s most enchanting villages lies at the end of a 33-mile dead-end road, the only access and exit. When you first see the colonial village of Alamos, you know this is exactly where it belongs. You feel as if you have just stepped out of a time machine, surrounded by charming colonial buildings that take you back well over four hundred years. But first, some history.
Alamos was founded in 1681 and was home to the Yaqui and Mayo Indians. In the late 17th century Jesuit priests came to the valleys that now form the state of Sonora. Alamos is known as the village of festivals, one of the most popular and colorful festival in Alamos is the celebration of both the Catholic and indigenous Indian ceremonies.
(Above, left): The gazebo in the plaza at Alamos. (Right): Interior of a church in Alamos.
This blended fiesta is led by the Chapayeka wearing a white mask made of hide and features a large nose and long ears. The legend says the Chapayeka means “long nose” in Yaqui and probably is their description of the Spaniards who first invaded their land. The locals welcome anyone to the fiesta but frown on cameras in the village. Outsiders cannot enter the church without permission and are not allowed in the ceremonial areas.
The Chapayekas come to the village Tiaguis Market on the weekends preceding Easter to ask for donations to help defray the cost of the rituals. Sometimes unmasked men and boys will accompany the Chapayekas with miniature shrines and donation boxes. They accompany their procedure playing drums, chanting and acting as interpreters as the Chapayekas may not speak.
Before World War II, Alamos was a hidden secret of the rich and lovers of Mexico from the U.S. But as time passed the buildings began decomposing, much to the chagrin of the Norte Americanos. After the war ended, a group of concerned regulars to Alamos formed a restoration team and had Alamos restored to its former glory. The mansions of the silver lords, the sugar mill, the fort and the bishop’s rectory, as well as many others, was so lovingly restored that in 2000 President Ernesto Zedillo declared 188 structures in Alamos National Historic Monuments.
(Above): Plaza bandstand in Alamos.
In its heyday, Alamos was the center of the silver boom in the states of Sonora and Sinaloa. Today it is a village where burros and chickens wander the cobblestone streets and where my wife and I spent one of our most romantic evenings during our travels in Mexico.
We entered Alamos while puffy white clouds scudded across a Lindsay-blue sky and a golden-bright sun brought out every one of the colonial buildings in bold relief. Alamos is not a place where you hurry or even care where you are going. As we sauntered through the narrow cobbled streets, peeking into each shop and buying tasty tacos and tamales from the street vendors, the natives greeted us with a welcoming wave or what would be in Spanish “enjoy.” There was bright colors everywhere in the homemade blankets, scarves and ponchos either worn by the locals or for sale.
(Above): Entrance to a church in Alamos.
That evening, warm and blanketed by an ebony pure black sky studded with sparkling diamonds, beckoned us to the plaza for dinner and our unworldly evening of music and a special aura that seemed only for us. As we entered the zocalo (plaza) we were greeted by a chorus of children’s voices emanating from the Church of Purisma Conception that dominated the Plaza de Armas with the ubiquitous bandstand. We looked at each other and, without speaking a word, there was no doubt they singing to us.
We sat in a small people’s park just beyond the cathedral listening to the voices as they practiced for Sunday’s services. The cathedral looms large with its stone façade and towering bell temple. But hunger became a priority as we basked in the aroma of the park vendors’ homemade tacos and enchiladas. We headed for a restaurant we had been told was the best in Alamos. Once again, we heard the sound of song and guitars. Two men sat on the porch strumming their instruments while an exquisite tenor voice sang a plaintive love song from inside the building.
(Above): A street in the colonial village of Alamos takes one back centuries.
Much to our surprise, as we were being seated, we got a good look at the man with the striking tenor voice. He was wearing a holster with a huge, deadly looking revolver inside and a shotgun leaning against one of the chairs at his table. Our host satisfied our curiosity by telling us he was the sheriff of the town. Throughout our dinner the musicians played and the lawman sang his songs of loves lost, loves found. We were whisked away to some enchanted land that only we were invited.
The next day, as we once more toured this magic-seeming village before leaving, we knew we were back in the real world. We discovered Alamos has its own private landing strip with the closest commercial airport located in Ciudad Obregon, some 60 miles away.
Two caveats: There must be an army of dogs that bark 24/7 and the sun shines every day; rain is a stranger to Alamos. Anyone who loves Mexico and its colorful and captivating culture and the friendly people, Alamos is a must see. The memory of Alamos will always be tucked away in that corner of your memory where you store the best of your travels.
Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.