Santa Barbara International Film Festival presents family’s journey
Darío Higuera dreamed about re-enacting his grandfather’s mule pack train in Baja California.
In 2018, the vaquero’s dream came true, and filmmaker Trudi Angell and her crew went along for the ride.
Of course, this wasn’t just any ride. This was a mule pack train traveling 200 miles during 20 days along the old El Camino Real trails with three generations of Mr. Higuera’s family. Among the riders were Mr. Higuera, his son and his grandson, Ramoncito, 8.
As many as 13 people rode a couple dozen or so mules and burros through the rugged backcountry from the oasis village of Comondú, Mexico, south to La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur.
You can watch the adventure in “La Recua: The Mule Pack Train.” The documentary is streaming this week at sbiff.org during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which concludes Saturday.
Executive Producer Tom Huntington attended the film’s world premiere April 1 at the festival’s drive-in area at Santa Barbara City College.
“It was exciting for me to be there to see the cars pull in,” Mr. Huntington told the News-Press this week by phone from his San Francisco home.
He’s equally excited about “La Recua” (rék•wah), which means “caravan.”
“It’s an absolutely, stunningly beautiful travel movie of the landscape of central Baja California with a mule train caravan,” Mr. Huntington said.
Ms. Angell, who has had a long career leading mule pack trips in Baja California, made her debut as a filmmaker with “La Recua.” She’s the film’s producer and co-director.
The family-oriented, Spanish language film, which has English subtitles, was produced by a crew that consisted almost entirely of Mexican professionals from La Paz.
The movie shows a piece of Old California history and resonates with a facet of Santa Barbara’s past, according to Ms. Angell.
“I’ve been living in Baja California for 35 years,” the Napa Valley native told the News-Press by phone this week from her home in Loreto, Mexico. She makes her living leading tours in which people ride horses and mules through her company, Saddling South.
About four years ago, she was out riding and met Mr. Higuera at his Baja California ranch, where he told her, “Trudi, I’d really like to make an old mule pack train like my grandfather used to run.”
“His grandfather had done that 80 years before,” Ms. Angell said. “There were no roads on the (Baja California) peninsula. That’s how merchandise got transferred, by mule pack trains.”
The director said she loved making the journey, which involved transporting the kinds of goods that used to be carried by mule. They included sugar cane candy, local wine and dry goat cheese.
And Mr. Higuera made the saddles used in the journey.
The movie features an enthusiastic 10-year-old girl from the mountains of Baja, Azucena. She’s in the movie singing songs as she rides in the mule pack train.
“People who watch the film say, ‘I just adore Azucena,’” Ms. Angell said.
Likewise, Ramoncito, Mr. Higuerra’s grandson, stands out as he rides with his grandfather in a historic music train.
“Darío heard stories when he was 8 years old (about his grandfather’s mule pack train), so he took his own 8-year-old grandson,” Ms. Angell said. Ramoncito was born on a Baja California ranch and has been riding donkeys and mules since he was a little tot. He was very comfortable (with the journey).
“The children are the real sparkles of the film.”