Traditional Raramuri ball and hoop (Rarajipari & Ariweta) races were held on December 8th in Huicorachi, a town in the heart of the Sierra Madre. The Rarajipari is the men's event and is 100km, the Ariweta is the women's event and is about 42km.
We got into the remote traditional village of Huisuchi after nightfall, on the night before the big race. The road to get there was washed out and terrible, leaving rough patches of exposed rock and leading to several dangerous river crossings. Three tired gringos, board members Maria and Flint and fellow Mas Loco Patrick Sweeney, were welcomed into a Raramuri house where women were busy cooking and making coffee. Outside, the men chatted about the coming ball race, who was their favorite team to wager on and which champion would lead their group to victory.
We sat down at the table while the women hand-patted delicious blue corn tortillas and served us a warm vegetable stew. I had never been able to be around Raramuri women before; every time I tried, they would shy away quickly or hide their face with their hands. This time, however, something had changed. Was it because of the excitement about the race? Or was it a sign that we, after several trips down to the Barrancas now, were finally starting to get accepted? This was all very exciting.
After enjoying our meal, we joined our friends around the fire. Mama Tita's son, Lupe, was among them and very happy to explain us the ins and outs of Rarajipare. He was soon joined by Raramuri champion Silvino and my friend Javier, who is one of the last running Raramuri of Urique. Getting re-acquainted was easy; he clearly remembered our runs together with Micah, up and down Los Alisos almost two years ago. We shook hands, smiled and exchanged good wishes. Then we all sat around the fire in the biting cold of the high Sierra night, and enjoyed the warmth and presence of each other.
The morning came quickly. We all gathered in the most robust 4x4 trucks and headed out of the village on an even rougher trail, made slippery by recent rainfall. We got to the race site early enough to participate in all the pre-race excitement; the carving of the sticks used for the race, the soaking of the wooden balls, the preparation of the food and, of course, the bets.
|Maria Walton preparing two|
of the donated bags of clothing
We made sure that this behavior wouldn't raise any eyebrows. On the contrary; the Raramuri were very happy that we partook in the excitement of the wagers and they made sure to list what we had brought in a little notebook. From the instant we arrived, we were so broadly welcomed that it caught me off-guard; usually, whenever we are in the presence of Raramuri People, we simply hang around, looking down at the ground and nodding softly, exchanging only small gestures and quick looks. Now, we were in the middle of everyone, eating from the same cauldron of pozole, talking to the runners and playing around with the kids.
|The kids loved Patrick Sweeney's Frisbees|
As the morning warmed up, we all got prepared for the Ariweta, the women's hoop race. We also wagered materials and some money on that event, which added to the excitement. Two groups of girls gathered around an imaginary line, got ready and shot their hoops straight ahead, darting forward at high speed. They had decided on an 8-lap race around a 4k loop, which put the crowd constantly in the middle of the action.
|Catalina and Maria, two of the Ariweta players, |
receiving brand new shoes
While the girls were still competing, the men gathered, negotiated the last rules for their race and got ready to start. The teams were much bigger than I expected, with about 24 runners on each side. Both teams had a Shaman carefully choose their ball, then dip some sacred weeds in water and splash the runners' legs in a blessing both intended to make them stronger and to keep them safe from the other team's spells.
They took off at blazing speeds, hooting and hollering. For someone used to see them run very quietly on the trails of Ultra Maraton Caballo Blanco, I was very surprised to see them so extroverted and noisy; the Rarajipare is clearly the ultimate Raramuri party!
At the end of each lap, the teams stopped at the side of the trail in different spots where the women would serve them pinole, hot broth and water to keep fueled. While that was happening, the Shaman would go in circles around the runners, splashing their legs and providing secret magic words of fortitude and protection. Then, as quickly as they had stopped, the men would go at it again, surrounded by their supporters, both male and female.
|Arnulfo Quimare, sporting|
his Aravaipa hat and scarf
The Rarajipare continued well into the night, with both teams and their supporters lighting the way with wooden torches. Seeing the orange glow of each group in the night was a unique experience, and one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Being there at that moment felt right, and sharing this event with our friends, on their home turf, was both an honor and a privilege.
At the end of it all, we had not only shown deep respect and interest through our presence; we had also brought Korima and the good will of Running People from many places in the world, in the form of wagers and in prizes for the winners as well as the losers.
Norawas distributed bags of warm clothing for men and women, over 20 hand-made blankets to families and children, technical clothing for Raramuri runners who want to use it, shoes, socks and numerous colorful Frisbees to the cheerful kids of the high Sierra. The winning Ariweta team was awarded 2 food vouchers per runner, 14 in total. The winning Rarajipare team went home with 24 vouchers. The losing team's last runner, Florencio, who had single-handedly tried to keep his team in the race, was awarded 2 vouchers for his amazing effort. All winning runners were also offered Buffs, caps, visors and wristbands from our generous friends at Aravaipa Running Company, who generated a lot of genuine, happy smiles.
It was a good day for The Running People, and an even greater day for Norawas.
|Mas Locos running the Los Alisos trail|
during UMCB in 2012
In the coming weeks, Norawas members Maria and Flint will travel down to the Barrancas to celebrate the Rarajipare, the annual traditional ball race held in the community of Huisuchi. As previously mentioned, they will bring hundreds of pieces of clothing and gear as well as food vouchers to be awarded at the event.
After the celebration, they will travel down to Urique, which is the epicenter of the Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco and one of the largest Canyons communities. One of their most important tasks there will be to meet a lifelong supporter of the Ultramarthon, a Rarmuri man by the name of Prospero Torres who lives in a small ranch named Los Alisos, very famous to Mas Locos for being the major turn-around point in the race. Its fresh grapefruits, cold water and delicious homemade foods have revived many of us in the afternoon heat, over the years.
|Josue and Paula Stephens, Maria Walton,|
Prospero Torres, Jenny and Scott Jurek, and Flint
On a trip last November to honor the memory of Micah and to plan a ceremony to spread some of his ashes around the beautiful haven of Los Alisos, Prospero sat down with a group of Mas Locos to recall the early days of Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco, honor his friend and explain to us the importance of the canyon trails for the Raramuri.
In the company of champion El Venado, Scott Jurek, his wife Jenny, race directors Maria Walton and Josue Stephens, his wife Paula and board members Bookis Smuin and Flint, Prospero explained that the original race Micah True organized in the Canyons was not held in Urique itself, but between the towns of Batopilas and Urique along a traditional trail that linked the two canyons.
Over recent years, the drug trade and the presence of criminals have scared away most of the tourists in the region, and the formerly busy trail started to degrade. With every summer rain, some sections got washed away or covered in treacherous rolling rocks, making the trail less and less of an option for traveling Raramuri, who started to opt for the dusty dirt road instead.
Prospero explained that, with the help of Norawas, his crew of local workers would be able to revive this important trail segment beyond Los Alisos and to maintain it in good condition for years to come. Moreover, this project would bring much-needed revenue for the workers and their families, who would in turn take great pride of this achievement. Ultimately, the revived trail could again become the safe, shaded, rapid traveling route it had been for numerous years before. Raramuri travelers would now have a viable option for foot travel, like it had been for centuries before.
No need to say, we were very excited with the idea.
|Los Alisos trail crew at work in 2013|
Your donations will make sure the workers are paid a fair wage for their honest work, in time and without any hassle. Furthermore, this exciting project is a first step in demonstrating the power of Korima between the outside world and the Land of the Running People, and an exciting preview of many more, positive things to come.
You can help us today by donating to Norawas and by spreading the word in your community.
We are one.
Some Raramuri runners wear tire tread sandals (huaraches) and traditional loin cloths and blouses, but others decide to wear standard shoes and running gear. And some of the latter, mostly elite runners, are eager to get good running gear, which is both hard to find and extremely expensive. Moreover, the people of the Canyons have a hard time affording clothes and warm blankets for the colder nights in the Barrancas.
In a great inequality of our world, this kind of material is overabundant for us North Americans. So the simple rule of Korima (Circle of sharing) dictates that what is ours is our friends', too.
|Norawas board members Maria Walton and Luis Escobar|
packing hundreds of pounds of donated materials
In early December, Norawas' President Maria Walton and board member Flint will drive down to participate in the Rarajipare and Ariweta (traditional Raramuri ball and hoop races) in the community of Huisuchi, in the Batopilas Canyon. They will offer some of that Korima to share locally, and bring another portion to the town of Urique where elite and high school runners will receive full running kits: shoes, socks, underwear, shorts, t-shirt and a hydration solution (handheld bottle, fuel belt or vest).
Urique's Director for Tourism, our friend Cecy Villalobos, has been instrumental in helping us direct the donations to the places they were needed the most. As we travel with her in the Canyons, we will report and bring you images of the direct impact you, friends and supporters, have on the communities of the Canyons.
This is only one of the positive fallouts you are helping us create; in the coming weeks, we will report on another great project we have, which directly involves an idea from the Raramuri community of Los Alisos.
Stay tuned, and please continue to support us in any way you can. Your help goes directly to the Running People. 100% of it.
Norawas has been hard at work over the past months, coordinating fund raising efforts and preparing to launch new projects for our friends in the Copper Canyons.
In the coming days, we will make several exciting announcements that include trips to the Barrancas and concrete results of actions we have started with the help of fellow runners, supporters and corporate donators.
Our actions together are starting to bring results, and this is something we want to share with all.
The theme of this year's race, is a harmonious collaboration of all cultures."SOMOS MAS LOCOS" - "WE ARE MAS LOCOS"! As similar with the Raramuri Greeting, "Kuira Ba" - We are One! Yes, all of us are MAS LOCOS!
Get yourself a poster at the next Leadville 100, Javelina 100, Hunter Gatherer Ultras and of course, the Ultra Caballo Blanco 2014! If you want a poster in advance, we might be able to help you out if you contact us...
Tierra es mi Cuerpo (Earth is my Body)Agua es mi Sangre ( Water is my Blood)
Aire es mi Aliento ( Air is my Breath)
Fuego es mi Espiritu ( Fire is my Spirit)
- (A Raramuri Prayer)
Guest Post by Daniel Oralek, 2nd Place Finisher in the 2012 Ultra Caballo Blanco
A Poco Loco Run is any run held in honor of the late Micah True and with some benefit to Norawas de Raramuri.