Pack a small backpack with the essentials for a week, cause we must walk well over an hour to arrive, and there is no telephone or Internet accessThe path is full of stones and clods, and you find you have to concentrate in an altitude of 2500 meters. The choice is between a mule, a donkey or on foot but we feel safest on our own feet. English-born Theresa has lived in Mexico for over 30 years, she is an alchemist and gatherer of wild plants in the highlands. I am invited to her herbal medicine laboratory in northern Mexico.

The air is fresh and clear. Plants and trees are bursting with vitality. The area is water-rich, so the ground is fertile making it perfect for cultivating various crops. Before, the mountains used to be covered by forest-land but the trees were used for building the railway. The mountain peaks, tower proudly, about 3000 m in height. Today there are houses and a few trees but plenty of nopal cactus and agaves, and a wealth of fragrant herbs and plants. It’s like landing on another planet, where everything is fresh and clear. It is so quiet, and we take our time, savoring the experience.

After a few hours we glimpse the ranch inside the canyon. Here, mules and goats graze on the slopes. Several chickens and one turkey are pecking and foraging in the countryside. The animals spend the night in the caves of the mountain. Corn, wheat and oats are growing on the terraces.  A large family live here with seven children ranging in age from 5 to 22 years, one daughter and son in law, a grandfather, and a few alternating assistants. Their home consists of a small house with a separate kitchen that is located in a developed cave in the mountain. Toilet and shower can be found a little down the cliff. The time to take bath is in the afternoon when the sun has warmed up the water in the black rubber hoses. Solar panels gives little power to the house and the kitchen works with gas and flame. As the housewife says, the best tortillas are the ones that are made of proper fire – they just taste better. Provisions are transported to and from the ranch by donkey or horseback, and the nearest city is a few hours away.

Goatherd for a day

I borrowed a large felt hat – and it is indeed an honor to borrow a hat, which is a very personal thing out here

There are approximately 150 adult goats to provide fresh daily milk for the goat kids. They have already drunk their milk before we arrive. All the children participate in the milking process and are skilled at it. Even if the goats do not just think they are ready, they are gently caught and milked. There are at least 15 -20 liters of milk in total. Some gets boiled and is used immediately and the rest is used to make cheese. Then it’s time for breakfast – classic Mexican beans, fried potatoes, omelet with freshly baked tortillas. It tastes heavenly, because after a few hours in the fresh mountain air you are ravenously hungry. After a hearty feed, we go and help with the goat herding. The adult goats are herded out of the fenced enclosure and the youngsters remain inside.

Up the mountain we go! I borrow a large felt hat – and it is indeed an honor to borrow a hat, which is a very personal thing out here. With my hat I also get a shepherd’s crook. I accompany Don P who is the head in the family. He was born and raised here in the local area and knows the mountains like the back of his hand. We whistle and throw little with stones to gather the flock. The shepherd is helped by three dogs who make a lot of noise so that hungry coyotes don’t come too close. Sometimes we sit down, have some water and relax in the sun. After a few hours we are top of the mountain. Here we enjoy a fabulous view of the mountain range and Don P describes the nearby towns, all located at a distance of at least an hour by horse or donkey. The small children under 10 years old live-in near the school with their aunt four days a week.

There is not the stress we know from our part of a busy worldThe older children take the trip over the mountain every day. This is a family that lives in harmony with the seasons, the weather and their immediate environment. In the week I stayed with them, not once did I hear someone argue. The smallest ones are organized and supervised by their elders, and there is not a shred of resentment only a deep respect for each other. They live with a division of labor in which women take care of their homes and the men labour in the fields, tend to the animals and do the shopping. This is what they need to survive and live well. Theresa is reviewing the portfolio of herbal extracts. Some plants are hanging out to dry, others are filtered. She is preparing for a bigger harvest next month. In this way, the herbal remedies are available for use at any time of the year. Local herbal mixtures are used to treat many symptoms. When I tripped over a stone and catch my leg painfully on a prickly nopal cactus, they pull out many 2 – 3 cm long spikes from my leg. They must be taken out as soon as possible. Next they bandage my leg and give me a herbal drink. To my amazement by the next morning the swelling has significantly subsided and there is no evidence of infection.

In the evening there is music and singing. The kids take out their mobile phones to play their music and games. There is even a flat-screen TV with many channels! Yes, even here they cannot escape the trends of the world outside the mountains. The two oldest girls are on Facebook, so when they come into town, there have a connection. The young people already embrace both worlds.

When there is a big celebration, the giant speakers are pulled out. It plays directly from USB connector with power from the solar panels. Nothing is missing here. It combines simple subsistence farming, as it has been for hundreds of years, with modern technology. If something happens in the world, I am sure that these families will probably survive. They do not have the stress we have from our busy part of the world. It is very inspiring.

So my advice to you is put on the old sweater, let your beard grow, go out fishing, go for a walk, spend the night in a tent – do something that involves leaving the computer and phone at home. When you return from your trip into nature and you are checking mails and you are back online – then I can recommend that you watch this one:

Have a nice trip.

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