Celtic Niggers and the Chihuahua Al Pacifico TrainIn a further extract from my travelogue Viva Mexico, I describe a train journey which puts the Orient Express in the shade and explain why the Irish have more in common with indigenous peoples than we perhaps like to think.
This has to be one of the most incredible train journeys anywhere in the world. The Chihuahua Al Pacifico takes 18 hours to travel from the flat coastal region around Los Mochis in Sinaloa state up through the mountains of the Sierra Tarahumara and on to the city of Chihuahua - capital of the huge Chihuahua state. We are going to stop halfway at Creel just on the edge of the Barranca del Cobre or the Copper Canyon. Creel is around 7,500 feet above sea level and offers a cool and welcome relief to the muggy heat down below on the Pacific coast. The Barranca del Cobre is much bigger than the Grand Canyon in the U.S.A. and the train must go through 86 tunnels as it skirts the made-for-vertigo gorges and canyons which run deep into the mountain range. In some cases the train doubles back on itself in a corkscrew fashion so that you can look directly below at a point you passed sometime before as the train describes an upwards spiral. The restaurant on the train has excellent food and beers and is extremely comfortable which is unusual in a country which travels by bus. The way I found out that the restaurant was so good was by watching a fellow gringo making frequent trips to the bar. I walked up through the carriages myself and downed a beautiful bottle of Dos Equis cervesa. As the cooling draught quenched my thirst it dawned on me that your man who was making these frequent trips to the bar had to be Irish and so it proved. Damian Ward and Val Marcus spending four moths bumming around Mexico pretending they are learning Spanish but actually doing crash courses for Mexicans in how to drink properly - that is very quickly. How does that happen? We are a country of aroundsix million people and yet we bump into each other all over the world and very often we find we are related as well!
One thing that is never mentioned in any of the travel literature about Mexico is that this famous train has a permanent team of armed guards. I thought the windows on the doors of the trains were left open for the delectation and delight of the passengers affording them a cool breeze and awe inspiring vistas. But it seems to be used more by the extremely heavy security guards with C.H.I.P.S. sunglasses. C.H.I.P.S. was the yankee motor bike cop series with the gorgeous pouting (and Latino) Eric Estrada flying around L.A. with outsize sunglasses staring out from his domed helmet. Another possibility is that the guards on the train got a bulk delivery of these spectacular icons of the 1970s from our very own Ulster Defence Association. These guards smile at no one and are constantly gazing up at the surrounding heights as the train progresses. Just like John Wayne does in films like Stagecoach. Yes, I know, John Wayne was riding on a coach drawn by horses but the "LOOK" is the same. Mexico is one big movie and everyone seems to behave like they are getting ready for the next take. There is another thing about this train. It left one particular station without us.
The place was called Divisadero which offers a heart stopping view of the several canyons running across the sierra. It also allows more opportunities to devour more Mexican food - with the Tarahumara Indians selling quesadillas, tacos, tortillas, fruits and fruit juices - so much so that we forgot about the view....then at the view we were accosted by American tourists who wanted a picture taken imploring me to try and get the mountains in the background as well. A piece of sarcasm occurred to me at this juncture about the relative size of the vast canyons behind their backs and the size of the heads requiring capture on film. My companion sensed my imminent wit and kicked me. Now right enough at this juncture we did hear some class of a whistle in the distance but our own chance to view the panorama before us from the viewing platform led us to forget about the train. Cut to a scene where we are running back to watch it ambling away down the track; a whistle now blowing joyfully. All our worldly wealth was on that train.
The most bizarre things come into your mind whenever you are in a crisis. All I could think of was Casey Jones and the Cannon Ball Express. Not the contents of all our luggage and wallets which was disappearing round a long bend. I even started trying to remember the signature tune to the popular television programme as I ran down the track. A security guard riding shotgun in the caboose (I've always wanted an opportunity to use that word) eventually noticed the crazy gringos running after the train. At that point something else came into my brain about Casey Jones. He was supposed to have been a strike breaking scab. That's what he was doing with his Cannon Ball Express. The word scab stuck in my mind and I roared "Scab!" at the train and the guard who was wearing those awful bee like sunglasses. Nobody noticed the flung insult. Maybe they thought I was roaring "Stop!" in bad English. The train slowed anyway and we dived on to to the back and were reunited with our seats and our luggage which, we subsequently learned, had already been divvied up by our fellow countrymen (Damian and Val) should we fail to return. Nice....
Creel, which was to be our place of cool repose in the mountains is full of the smell of a sawmill which makes sections for the rail track and there are loose horses running around in no particular direction. So its kind of like Ballymun. In the distance when getting off the train you see strange rock formations like mushrooms and the beginnings of a tree-line in the foothills to the mountains. An intriguing place that still has a frontier feel to it. Seeing the Tarahumara Indians, in their heart lands was at once fascinating and depressing. They call themselves Raramuri which apparently means The Fast Runners. It is estimated that there are 50,000 of them living in the various canyons and in some places they are isolated enough to be living a similar lifestyle to the one they always had. Traditionally the Raramuri ran down deer on foot until the animal was exhausted and they would then drive it over designated cliffs which were lined with wooden staves. Running is obviously still important to them as both the men and the women hold regular stamina and endurance races over long distances. Their version of a football match -Rarajipari - can last for days. Many of the Tarahumara , however, seem to suffer from poor health and a bad diet. Caught as they are literally between a rock and a hard place. Between a supermarket culture which the train and we tourists brought with us and an ancient regime and rhythm of life which for many is no longer sustainable. Ironically the Tarahumara moved in to the Sierra Madre Occidental, of which their mountain range is a part, to escape Catholic missionaries. Now it is the Jesuit missionaries who are giving them most advice about their physical well-being. They still keep their old gods, though, and wizards or sorcerers as well who perform dances in a trance like state. Who's to say it doesn't help?
I watched a couple of the Raramuri in the main square. They were dressed in thin soft blouses and what looks like an outsize nappy or diaper which hangs around the the top of the thigh leaving the rest of their very dark legs bear down to their sandals which symbol the train company - the Chihuahua Al Pacifico - uses as a logo on its livery. The sandals are quite flat and the cord is tied around the lower calf and ankle. This traditional dress of the men who choose to wear it seems to offer no protection from the cold at all. And it can be very cold in this place, The women wear layers of bright gaudy dresses and seem much more protected. The two men were waiting for a tourist bus full of Americans to arrive which it duly did. A throng of fat Americans started shooting as soon they arrived...bursting into the middle of Creel with camcorders and the best of cameras which none of them seemed to know how to operate. The two Indians posed for the cameras. Then one of the "natives", the one who was the most drunk (and you would have to be drunk and probably psychologically damaged to perform for this kind of audience) turned in disgust at the meagre tips he had received from these kind people on the now departing bus and handed the shekels to a nearby child. Meanwhile some local schoolchildren who were extremely well dressed were laughing at the Indians behind their backs. To make matters worst for the Indians a dog now approached them as they moved from the square. It snarled at both of them and would not let them pass much to the mirth of these kids who were very dark in colour but attired like normal white men. I am with the Indians on this one. Myself and another man took our lives in our hands and chased what was a seriously ferocious dog away. The schoolchildren dissolved into the street once the fun had stopped. A few of them slightly embarrassed that the gringos had been defending the Tarahumara.
In this moment I felt myself in the flux of an ancient argument. Who wants to be a white man? Not the colour but this way of thinking? Traditionally cultural whiteness was given to us by the Anglo Saxons - God bless them. I know that they would want to argue with me down to minute sub-clauses about whether I could invoke any God to bless them; as they are all individuals. And there you have it. Whiteness means that a certain culture is preferable to all others. Wouldn't it have been much simpler for the Irish if we were some shade of black? Traditionally we neither talk nor act like white Europeans. We are more like Celtic niggers. We have done the work of others in slavery exile and persecution. We resolutely cling on to a pantheon of Gods refusing, amongst others, Cromwell's One God crusade to our very deaths. We still call our leaders chiefs and teachers. We love to drink and socialise yet the greatest of celebrities can walk about us unmolested because: a) we don't give a feck who they arethey are welcome anyway; and b) historically we don't believe that anyone is intrinsically better than anybody
else. Now that is not playing the white man. I mean that just wouldn't be considered cricket at Lords. In the West
The Tarahumara Indian takes Christianity but keeps his sorcerers as well. Gabriel Garcia Marquez writes about ordinary people ascending into heaven from off the pavement and nobody either in South America or Ireland bats an an eye lid except to see did they come back and who did they leave behind and was there any land? The white man looks upon us as being stupid and has made an industry out of telling us so. Hear the one about the thick Paddy who thought a Joist was a famous Irish writer and that a Girder was his German counterpart Think about it....Which the white man never does because he simply and ineffably knows that his culture his superior. The Irish share the same sense of the bizarre and life's absurdities as the aboriginals so we are condemned as being ignorant for not thinking about one thing at a time in an orderly line but traversing across subjects and time and telling, always, a story about the living or the dead when so doing. How's the head today? Which head would that be now? We'd be better off black.... But this kind of talk is all very surreal you say yet artists and film makers like Dali and Bunuel worked the surreal to cause scandal and to disrupt notions of time and space. Scandal upsets consensus and time disrupted affects profits. The surreal carries with it that same sense of egalitarianism that we are not fit to judge anyone else; that life is indeed bizarre and that we are doing well all of us to survive it. This is what is so subversive about being culturally "other" rather than Anglo Saxon white.
Tenemos justicia en el mundo - there is justice amongst the commonality. A commonality that we refuse to rise above no matter how much our "betters" try to improve us with a false breeding that is in truth the mark of the shallow inbred. Whoever wanted a pedigree anyway? In Ireland just as in Mexico we can be justly proud of being healthy cross bred mongrels - Celts, Normans, Old English, New English, Viking, Spanish, Arab and not forgetting the Planters if they would only wise up and realise that its far more craic being a real bastard! Proud to once have been the blacks at the rich man's table but at the same time at the forefront of artistic and cultural endeavour. There's one other thing we share so well with Mexicans, our belief in the spirit world as a physical reality, rather than just a fairy dream means that we never take this movie which is rolling before our eyes too seriously. The movie that is called the Present which after all is a mere snap-shot of time. We have a past a present and a future which is housed in our soul. We are in touch with our ghosts. We know that there is always more than one way to look at things.
Which head do you have on you today head?