There is a magical place, nestled in the hills about 30 miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
A holy, mystical place where you can step back in time.
A place where you can get a handful of miraculous healing dirt, and some of the best tasting roasted chile mixes you have ever tasted.
It is a place where you can commune with the wise one, and feel his words warm your heart. Yes, el Santuario de Chimayo is a sacred place which houses “el pocito” – the small pit of Holy Dirt which many believe has remarkable curative powers – and one legendary miraculous crucifix. But I am referring to el Peregrino Café and Gallery, just across the Plaza of El Potrero. And the wise one I speak of is one Carlos Medina – the Chimayo Chile Man.
This is the place where we first met Charles Medina, where we were first enchanted by his chile spell, and where I had my first tortilla burger. And it is a place where we had to return when passing through Santa Fe. We yearned for some more tasty chile powders, we wanted a tin cross we neglected to buy upon our first visit, and we needed another dose of Mr. Medina’s wisdom.
About the Cross
We may not be very religious, but the small crosses Carlos makes have special meaning to us. After all, Jerry was with us the first time we visited Chimayo. Carlos crafts these crosses – large and small – with strips cut from the original tin roof removed from el Santuario in 1922. We wanted one the first time we saw them, and always regretted not buying it. The small memento we now have hanging on our wall has an even more special meaning since we watched Carlos make and sign after asking how he does it.
About the Chile
The ritual of tasting Charles’ chile mixes alone is well worth the visit to el Chimayo. He’ll have you smell the robust powders and give you a pistachio, but ask you not to chew it. Filling the half shell with chile mix, he’ll explain if it is male or female, and ask if you like hot spice. With dash of salt, he’ll hand you the chile and tell you to chew it with the nut. Your palate will explode with flavor, and Carlos will flip you another nut chaser. Red Number One… Male Green… before you know it you will forget your favorite and start tasting all over again, getting a little history lesson and a few recipe ideas each time.
About the Chimayo Chile Man
Carlos and his sister Sharon Medina Candelario will greet you with big bright smiles as you enter their patio filled with age old artifacts, beautiful artwork, and tasty aromas. They are both talented tinsmiths. They will welcome you with a warm heart, and give you an intriguing history lesson behind any piece you inquire about.
The familia Medina settled in Chimayo sometime in the 1570’s. Yes, that’s fifteen seventy something! And evidence of their history can be seen throughout Chimayo, from street names to ancient graves in the Santo Niño Chapel plaza.
Charles himself seems to embody 500 plus years of wisdom. Our goal was to capture some of his philosophy on video, but he respectfully declined. We made him promise to let us document his chile ritual on camera next time. But this time, I was frantically scribbling notes after touring the Medina gallery with Carlos as our host for nearly two hours…
“To enjoy life, take your time. Those in a hurry can never fully enjoy life.”
— Carlos Medina
Words of Wisdom from Carlos Medina
“Some people put on the wrong attitude when told of bad news,” says Carlos Medina. “There is no reason in life to be sad, mad, or angry. These are three sisters – not daughters of God. Allow one to enter and she will invite the others and throw a party.”
So how to keep the sisters at bay, I asked. “Smile,” he simply said. “But to distribute the power of the smile one must laugh.”
“We must forgive,” Carlos added. “Throughout life, we walk toward the light and leave the shadows behind. We cannot dwell in the darkness.” As an example, he shares, “When you go to bed, ask God to help you forgive those who may have upset you. Then, ask for forgiveness yourself.” He adds, with a grin, “Because we are not Saints – we are all a little mischievous.”
The best way to enjoy life, according to Carlos? Take your time. “Those in a hurry can never fully enjoy life.”
About religion, he says, “You do not need to believe in God. You need to believe God.” Carlos Adds, “God speaks to all of us from within – we must listen to God within ourselves.”
About prayer, Carlos suggests, “At the end of each day, say out loud [with a heavy drawn out breath] ‘Wealth‘… it is good to provide for those you love, or to be able to help others do the same.” He gives the example of paying someone to build a fence, then adds, “then say to yourself out loud, [again with a heavy drawn out breath] ‘Health‘… for you cannot have one without the other.” He then asks, “What good is it to be rich, and too sick to enjoy it?”
Sharon shared with us her own words of wisdom for being “successful” in life. “Society tells us we must go to school, get a good job, and make lots of money to succeed,” she said while etching a tin cross under the new Mexico sun. But she took Charles’ advice to “Follow your heart.” With a Master’s degree, after working in social work for four years, Sharon followed her heart and now she couldn’t be happier with her lifestyle creating jewelry and artwork outside in the plaza at Chimayo.
Our new annual pilgrimage
Just as tens of thousands of the Faithful flock to el Santuario de Chimayo every Easter – many after walking miles with large crosses on their backs – we too might just be making an annual pilgrimage to Medina’s. But it will have to be during the week. Upon leaving, Carlos shared with us his final words of wisdom – He doesn’t work Saturdays.
Allen’s Fried Chicken and Luckenbach are the only other two places we have specifically returned to after traveling the whole country, aside from visiting family. Now we just need to get back to Pawlet, Vermont for that Roy Egg rooster head we should have bought when we had the chance.
See Also: Mesmerized by Charles Medina