Distilling the Rio Sonora – a Great Weekend

Several weeks ago, we took 13 friends along with us on a trip to Mexico.  Many of them had never met. Our idea was to given them an condensed experience of the things that we enjoy doing and seeing when we are there.  What you’re about to read is basically a report, that in no way captures or conveys, just how much fun the trip was, but if nothing else, it might give you some idea of what you might do if you were to ever visit the area.

Chiles and branding irons.
Our group included several people who had responded to our request to donate money to the Xunutzi dance group for the purchase of a van, others who we knew would potentially love the area and our dear friends, Linda and brother Michael Ronstadt, who along with me, have family roots in the area.  We didn’t exactly plan it that way, but as we look back upon the trip, I would describe it as a condensed experience of our last 20+ years in the area – the people, the places, the food, the mescal and the future possibilities.

The Rio Sonora road near Arizpe

I’ll skip giving details about the drive down, sufficient to say, it’s always beautiful.  Instead I’ll jump to everyone’s arrival on Friday afternoon/evening, when we gathered for dinner at the hotel La Posada Rio Sonora, owned by new friends Darrin and Cheri Jones – www.laposadadelriosonora.com   After a day’s travel, the hotel makes a perfect place for dinner.  It’s convenient, the food is great and it’s perfect for getting everyone initially fed, acquainted and settled.  In case you missed it, that’s my attempt at a subtle plug that suggests you go and stay at their hotel.

I love winter mornings on the rooftop of the hotel for coffee, breakfast and the Wi-Fi reception seems to be the best there as well.  A walk around Banamichi followed breakfast – the streets, the fields and the old flour mill.   That can easily take half a day and if you start getting more involved with local people’s lives, then it can take all day.  Or more for that matter.

Rooftop, La Posada del Rio Sonora.

Mid-day, we traveled south down the main road to the small towns of  Huepac and Aconchi, arriving at the Maldonado home in La Estancia for the main event of the day – a Sonoran style comida in their patio.

The plaza and church in the town of Aconchi.

The Maldonado patio in La Estancia

Our intent?  Why nothing short of stuffing everyone full of great Sonoran food.  Our hosts Armida and Chay Maldonado were nothing less marvelous, producing an afternoon that felt casual and relaxed, but yet carefully orchestrated.

Dennis Maroney, friend/rancher talking with Chay Maldonado.

As we had hoped, Armida provided an array of  Sonoran dishes, bottles of local Bacanora were there for all to sample.

Sonoran style enchiladas with green bean

Bacanora as it typically arrives on the scene in a variety of bottles.

She gave demonstrations of two local staples, making chiltepin salsa from the region’s wild chile and roasting coffee with sugar.

Don’t get the wrong idea, it’s not
sweet, but gives the coffee this rich complex flavor unlike anything else I can describe.

Other women from La Estancia were on hand to make the large, paper-thin tortillas for which Sonora is famous, but the yield was thin as most of the group wanted to try their hand at making them.  The resulting laughter was worth the reduced number of tortillas.

Sandy Maillard trying her hand at tortillas.

A surprise addition to the group, guests of the Maldonados, turned out to be the U.S. Consul from Hermosillo, John Breidenstine, his wife Judith and their children, who remained with us through the next afternoon.

Linda Ronstadt with the Breidenstine family.

Following the comida, with everyone stuffed, and with us trying to jam everything into a short weekend, before daylight ended, we rushed most of the group out  to the Agua Caliente hot springs outside of the town of Aconchi.  Not only are there is a great family setting with numerous pools, there is a nice walk to be had up the canyon to a series of waterfalls, trogons are often spotted during the winter.  Most were sitting in the pools as daylight came to the close allowing everyone to return to Banamichi for the evening’s entertainment – a get together with the kids from Xunutzi dance group for casual dinner and a chance for some of them to perform of the music they like apart from that of their dance performances.

Elmer Herrera, not officially a member of the group, but whenever songs are needed, Elmer accompanies the group.

Monserrat Denogean, Claudia Duron and Olivia Aguirre, who gave what I guess would have been their first public performance. Nervous they were and then some having to sing before Linda Ronstadt first time out.

On Sunday mornings, there is always mass in the Catholic church, but the main event of the day took place in the plaza of the town of Huepac, down the road 5 minutes from Banamichi. Grupo Danza Xunutzi put on a performance for our guests, parents, friends and other townspeople. I wish I had video to show you, but Athena showed up with camcorder thinking that the battery was charged, and……you know the rest. But as always I came away with a lot of photos, it’s too easy and irresistible, the kids are great subject, there’s always lots of color and movement.

Claudia Duron and Christian Acosta

Cruz Elena Sabori

I don’t have a name for this dance, for now let’s call it “Sonoran Country.”

Carolina Acosta

For me personally, every bit as good as the dance performance, was seeing just how much people from that area appreciated Linda. It was something very different than your typical run of the mill “fan” of Linda Ronstadt reaction. These were people wanting to have their photo taken with her because they were seeing her as part of them, a person whose roots were the same as theirs and whose Mexican music they dearly adore.

Linda with Xunutzi Dance Group

Sonora is the land of “carne asada” so what else to do on a Sunday afternoon when a meal is needed to bring the kids and parents of the dance group together with those who had come with us. The idea was to make it an but what usually happens is that the Americans sit together in one place, Mexicans in another. That’s where the Bacanora can come in handy, but when it’s a family function next to the church, it’s not exactly the appropriate thing to do. However, I did notice that the local priest padre Julio Caesar, gotta love the name (Julius Caesar), after having said two masses that morning, was all but ready to sit down on a bench in the plaza across from the church to knock down a can of Tecate Light. Normally I can help move those kinds of things along, but I was unofficially requested to meet a number of the parents and help put to rest any doubts they might have about our intentions in helping the group. And what I thought might be somewhat of a cumbersome process, turned out to be a whole lot of fun.

Marco Baca and his father Marco Antonio.

And with that, the second day began to wind down, back to the rooftop, lots of laughter resulting from reminiscing the events of the day and weekend. In that context, the Bacanora was most appropriate, Linda who doesn’t drink, got a massage at the hotel that gave her the giggles and what else to do in Banamichi to complete the day? Tacos at Martin and Irmas.

The road home.
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  1. So nice to see life in Sonora – as real people living their lives. It makes me long to go there. So different than the life we lead, but only in the details. The friendship, family and joy of life is still with us in Cass Lake, MN. But of course it's entirely different!

    I enjoyed your report – thanks!

  2. It is very nice to hear how Linda enjoys to do things today that enhances her childhood community. I am proud as a Mexican and as an American what she has accomplished.
    From loving ponies to loving people. Linda is 6 years older than I , both senor citizens.Struggling with physical ailments. I’m remembering when I saw here on Grad Night in 1971 with Smokey, The Staple Singers, what a night. I still have a crush on Linda today. As a musicians I can appreciate her adventure.

    With love Ruben D Ruiz

  3. Feast Day of Our Lord of Miracles (Fiesta del Senor de Los Milagros):  This ceremony is celebrated at the church of Senor de Los Milagros located at the corner of h and h St. in Tucson. Ceremonial participants may be asked to arrive a day early in order to participate in the Vespers (Vispera) which occurs one day early on Friday. The Prayer Leaders, Kantoras and the oficios from the Pahko’ola and Deer Dance Soceities usually participate in this ceremony. The ceremony culminates on Sunday at midday.

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