Dispatch from Sonora

Carolina Acosta and Maria Elena Peraza at Tucson Meet Yourself, 2012

I’m sitting on the town plaza in Banamichi, Sonora, the temperature couldn’t be any more perfect, I’ve got my laptop and it seemed like a perfect time for a little blog catch-up before the drive home this afternoon.  This trip has included everything from helping supervise some construction details at the La Posada del Rio Sonora, getting a marvelous chef from Spain – Ana Borajo, oriented for a several week stay to teach the girls who work the kitchen at the hotel some new dishes and of course visiting a number of friends in the area.  And then there are usual odds and ends to work out for our iPhone photography class in early December, check our website for details.  And since I’m here in Sonora, immersed in spirit of the place, I thought what better thing to do than write about something related to Sonora.

For the most part, the public at large, associates us with our books on straw bale building.  Others, who know us more closely in the natural building circles, are more likely to think of us as the ones who work with clay in building.  Many photographers I know would think of me in those contexts, most recently for work with the iPhone.  And then, here in the area where we live, many think of us as a great place for a day trip, maybe a tour, sometimes an extended stay.  Of those, probably the majority come for the food and a place where they will be certain to find Sonora’s first rate mescal – Bacanora.  Increasingly, many are associating us with our work in northern Sonora, either to tell them about it or to take them there.  Today’s post is about Sonora, specifically a group of high school and college kids, that have dedicated much of their life to traditional Mexican dance.

For the past three years, we’ve helped coordinate bringing the dance group, Grupo Danza Xunutzi, from the Rio Sonora Valley in northern Mexico, to Tucson Arizona’s annual cross-cultural festival, Tucson Meet Yourself.  Typically, they perform on the main stage Saturday afternoons which means that once they get out of school Friday afternoon, they collect their gear and high-tail it to the border in the group’s van, about a three hour drive, and then another hour and a half to our house, where they spend the night.  The first time we arranged for them to come to Tucson I thought it would be a relatively simple endeavor, but as I have discovered, it never seems to go easy.

The reasons vary, but rather than recount stories from the past years, I’m going to tell you the story of this year’s events.  They far surpassed anything to date.  The week started with a phone conversation between myself and the group’s teacher, Nico Lizarraga.  The problem he conveyed was that instead of having the 7 girls needed for this year’s performance he only had 4. Sometimes it’s the boys, this year was the girl’s turn.  Not having enough kids to perform as a group is typically a problem with visas, not all the kids have them either because they can’t meet the necessary pre-requisites or sometimes they expire and they’re unable to renew them because of lacking the necessary funds.  I should add that we have had exceptionally great cooperation from the American Consulate in the city of Hermosillo.  They have done everything in their power to make this easier for them.

This year had more to do with the fact that the group has been very busy with travel.  The entire week before they had been in the state of Durango participating in Mexico’s national fine arts competition and many of the parents refused to give their children permission to travel again so soon after their previous trip.  Added to that, after a week’s absence from school, teacher’s pile on the homework for the time missed in classes and the kid’s are reluctant due to the what they must catch up.  Attempting to remedy some of these complications my week began with conversations and letters to both teachers and parents, trying to come up with the three girls needed to complete the group.  It was not until Friday morning, the day of their departure, that the 3 needed girls were finally confirmed.

Perhaps a half an hour later, somewhere around 10 am, I got a call from teacher Nico that he had taken the group’s van in for a routine oil change only to discover that it needed a new radiator, wheel bearings and a transmission flush because water was found in the transmission. The short of this part of the story is that their scheduled departure was for 4 pm, the new radiator and wheel bearings had to come from the city of Hermosillo, 3 hours away.  It was doubtful that the needed repairs could be completed in time.  For me, this meant sitting on proverbial pins and needles the entire day trying to decide whether or not to cancel their trip or hope that all would get done in time.  The mechanic in charge of the repairs was certain he could get the job done.  Skipping ahead, the van was finally packed and loaded, and departed at 9:30 pm.  If you do the math, that meant arriving at our home somewhere around 2 am, if all went well.

Of course it didn’t.  When they arrived at the border in Naco, Arizona around 1 am, they were requested to present current proof of insurance for the vehicle.  Normally that would not have been a problem, but since the van is currently registered and insured in the U.S., the newly renewed insurance cards had not yet been taken to Mexico and they were not allowed to cross.  They spent the night huddled together in the van, the night made even more unpleasant by the fact that the motor for the driver’s window had given out and remained in the down position.

The next morning was chaotic, of course it could not be as simple as calling the insurance company to fax a current copy to U.S. customs so that they could pass.  It was Saturday, none of the agencies were open.  Finally we were able to locate a hot line for the company and the needed fax was forwarded to U.S. Customs.  At that point, the hours and minutes were ticking away and the countdown had begun for them to arrive in time for their 1 pm performance.  The girls began frantically putting on their makeup during the drive to Tucson.

Typically the group should be there at least 45 minutes early in order to get all their costume changes worked out and their music organized so that it could be transferred to the person in charge of the sound system.  Given everything that had transpired prior, there was no reason to expect that such would be the case.  They arrived 20 minutes before they were to go on stage and the next half hour was pure chaos.  They managed to perform, a little late, but it was far from what one would expect of them, lacking the perfection of which they are so capable.  The music was out of order, they all were exhausted and the performance hurried.  Thankfully, the audience never seemed to know the difference.

Ana Gabriela and jackeline Sinotez in the rush to get ready.

After an hour’s break, some water and tacos gifted by Tucson’s famous provider of Sonoran hot dogs and tacos – El Guero Canelo, the group, now relaxed and rested, put on an exquisite performance, totally captivating their audience and bringing all festival goings-on around their stage to a halt.  It was exceptionally good, energetic and beautiful in every respect.

Group Videographer – Athena

If you have never seen them performing in Tucson, here are the links to several YouTube videos that you might enjoy.  The first two, a dance called Sonora Bronco and a traditional dance from the state of Vera Cruz, are on the plaza in the town of Huepac which is located on the Rio Sonora.



When finished, they collapsed with satisfaction.  A little extra water and massage helped along several who were nursing a case of the flu.  They had made possible what had seemed impossible starting earlier in the week, for that matter, even that morning.  The rather remarkable thing, as I have commented before about the group, is that I never heard one of them complain.  The performance behind them, they set their sights firmly on one of the local malls for some quality shopping time.

They arrived Canelo about 10:30 that night, still full of energy, ready for dinner.  It then typically becomes our task to try and figure out a dish that will appeal favorably to a group of Mexican teenagers.  Our choice of a casserole consisting of macaroni, a rich tomato sauce, ground beef and cheese was a complete hit.

Sunday mornings are something that I always look forward to.  They’re relaxed, breakfast predictably the same.  Round one is usually cereal with chocolate syrup, followed later by eggs, tortillas and salsa and this year, since several of the girls are studying nutrition, cucumbers, lettuce and other vegetables appeared on their plates.

The morning’s agenda is always the same, they gather around the computers in our office to see the photos I had taken of them the day before, either hoping to find a knock-out shot that can serve as their profile photo on Facebook or to laugh at each others awkwardness or funny expressions.  And of course, the video of the prior day’s dances are every bit as popular.  Typically we sit with teacher Nico and his wife Selene and catch-up on each other’s lives, map out plans for the future should anything be on the horizon.  Departure is usually around noon.  Some of the kids need to return to the city of Hermosillo where several are going to college and others back home to the Rio Sonora.  Arrival time and end of the day for teacher Nico and his wife Selene was 3 am Monday morning.  Hopefully next year will be easier.

Watching video footage from the dances the day before in Canelo.

I’m thankful for their presence in our lives. They are truly special bringing, helping bring beauty to a world filled with anger, greed and fear.  For the most part, the fine arts have taken a back seat.  To conclude I want to share with you something once told to me by one of the girls in the group.

“Almost at the beginning of a dance, I feel like everything from deep inside me is touched and while dancing, it is as if I can feel my soul open.  It is something indescribable and beautiful.  I think I would also like to learn to play music, I think it could help me discover things I don’t yet know about myself.  Music is something I am totally in love with.  It would be most special if I were able to play one of my favorite songs.  I think music and dance can open new worlds for people and help release the tensions of the mind and body, maybe even make the soul free.”

Carolina Acosta of Huepac beginning the afternoon program.

I only watch them dance, and for me, her words come to life.

Here are a random assortment of images from the dance performances and Canelo.  I hope they convey some of the group’s spirit directly to you.

Baile de la Sierra Sonorense or dance from the mountain region of Sonora

Ana Gabriela and Jorge Salaza 

Teachers of the group Selene Paola and Nico Lizarraga.

On the main stage, Tucson Meet Yourself

“Sonora Bronco,” traditional dance from the state of Sonora.

Sonora Bronco – the final salutation.
Dance from the state of Jalisco – Viridiana Olivas, Maria Elena Peraza and Carolina Acosta

Our son Kalin with Marco Baca of the town of Huepac.


Sunday morning leisure.

Til the next time.
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Next Artistry with the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch


  1. I’ve been to Sonora through many writers hunting for Desert Sheep, Mule and Coues Deer. They forget to mention the beautiful people there. Thanks Bill.

  2. Bill you’re photo essays are inspiring; I look forward to them as they connect me to the world south. I appreciate your views on the borderlands as a beacon of truth and HOPE so beautifully rendered and shared. GRACIAS por su gran carino! Saludos a la familia.

  3. Bill,

    Your love of the Ruta Rio Sonora and the people here is a beautiful thing. I guess every artist needs a muse or something to inspire them, but it is quite exceptional when I see how much you give back in every way possible. Your talents are obvious to those who will look upon your images, or read your stories, but for me the hidden blessing is seeing some of these miraculous interactions unfold before my own eyes. You, Athena, your family, all things Canelo and then all the wonder and beauty you share from the Rio Sonora are some of Life’s most reassuring and fulfilling moments. Thanks for letting us all in on the Beautiful Life around you, a beautiful person.

    • Well Darrin, thanks a great deal for the comments, one can always absorb more in one’s life. Back to you, thanks for making it all that much easier by offering up the hotel to help make it all that much easier, La Posada del Rio Sonora is a special place for all that it does.

  4. Bill,
    It was good to see you at and get caught up at Gary’s last week. Its always nice to be reminded of what the people of Sonora are really like. Makes me want to head back to down to the Rio Sonora.
    Please note my new eamail address.

    • Equally a pleasure on my end. And hey, I think you could make some real contributions down there, both with bamboo and any number of other things for which you have talents, perhaps you could be of help at La Posada, we’ll have to brainstorm that one. Give me a cell or land line and we’ll hook up.

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