"Oquitoa, Sonora, Mexico" (c) 2017 text and photographs by Stu Jenks.
In the past, when I’m feeling sorry for myself and need to know how good I really have it, I’ve grabbed my passport and drove to Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico, to visit Father Kino’s grave and see the sights. The sights being a beautiful mission church within a militarized plutocracy with no middle class but with a desperate yet hard working poor. That is much of Mexico.
I've got some financial and employment challenges in my life right now that I can't really talk about. (I’ve recently signed a non-disclosure agreement.) Let's just say I have an uncertain future, and I'm jumping off a cliff, hoping to be carried by angels, but knowing full well, that God really owes me nothing. It's me and The Great Almighty together, along with some very good people. And again, I'm feeling a little sorry for myself and more than a bit frightened. So off to Mexico I went last Wednesday. This time it wasn’t Magdalena I traveled to, but the tiny village of Oquitoa, near Caborca. Home of one of the loveliest Padre Kino missions, or so I was told. I had never been there before. So off in my Pathfinder I went.
Images from the road seen, but not photographed:
a) Federal Police asking me at a road block on Rt. 15, why I’m traveling in Mexico. Me, not able to speak much Spanish, and him, speaking broken English. We had a hard time communicating. I said words like “Caborca” and “Kino Missions” and “Photographs.” The cop just stared at me and finally waved me on. Policia Federals are scary folk. Everyone I’ve ever seen over the years has an AR-15 or some sort of fully automatic weapon slung over their shoulder.
b) The women in the toll booths were so sweet. I said “Buenas Tardes” and as I left, I said “Via con Dios.” They said something religious back to me, like ‘also with you.’ I didn’t fully understand their words but I did understand the kind look in their eyes.
c) All major roads in Northern Sonora are toll roads and they cost a lot. I spent $11 US traveling one way to Altar. That’s a lot of pesos. No one is on the roads except truckers and wealthy Mexicans in new SUVs. Poor people drive on dirt or narrow paved roads.
d) None of the roads, include most of their Interstates, have shoulders. That gives one pause because if you fall off the shoulder, it’s a hard one foot drop down. No cellphone surfing by anyone. All the drivers I saw were very careful and observant, because they had to be.
e) Very few diet soda choice at the Pemex Gas station. Bought a weird tasting Pepsi with Ginseng in it. No diet sodas in the drink machines either at the Highway 2 rest area. But ten selections of Coke and Pepsi.
f) I was in the town of Altar, heading north on a two lane, when suddenly Federal Police in a black pickup stopped in the middle of the intersection. They turned on their blue lights and two officers jumped out, fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons. Everybody came to a halt. We all sat still. They wave us through. As I passed by, I saw the police, guns at the ready, walking toward a house. I didn’t look back.
g) On rural Rt. 43 outside of Altar, I fell in love with this amazingly beautiful two land paved road. No shoulders on either side. Trees and grass grew right up to the pavement. In the few miles I drove to Oquitoa, I saw only two cars.
h) I thought I might miss Oquitoa, it being so small, and road signs being scarce in Mexico. I was wrong. Hard to miss a beautiful small church built in late 1600’s on top of a hill, surrounded by hundreds of new and old graves and tombs.
I was the only one there on Wednesday. The church was locked but I didn’t care. The grounds were stunning. I carried Pamela’s Baby Rocking Chair onto the church grounds. I asked the spirit of the 9 year girl who was buried under a large slab if I could put my sister’s chair on top of her. I heard nor felt no negative reply. The air smelled of beef cooking somewhere. A dog barked once or twice, but mostly it was the silence that touched me. No cars on the road. No planes overhead. No semis in the distance. Just a soft wind and stillness. Even in the most remote parts of America where I’ve traveled, like Horseshoe Canyon in Utah for instance, you still hear planes fly over. You still hear a big truck way over there. But not in Oquitoa. It was the most beautiful lack of sound I’ve ever not heard.
I took my pics. I said my prayers. Time to go before it gets dark. I now drove the back way to Nogales across the mountains. The road looked paved on the map. It was. For about half the way. Last 30 miles were dirt. It was one of the nicest dirt roads I have even driven. A single track but you could pull over if and when you needed to.
The sun set as I drove. I saw six cars in those 30 miles. And one semi tractor trailer truck.
Yeah. An 18 wheeler.
But I had plenty of room to move over.