After arriving late at night, we spent Thursday mooching around Los Mochis. We had been warned that there were drug related problems in the area. However, it didn’t appear to be dangerous, although the one or two jeep patrols of armed police (with machine guns) that passed us whilst we were walking gave us an indication there might be a bit of trouble in the area.
The next day, we got up at 4am, after a noisy night, to get a taxi to the station to catch the Copper Canyon train (El Chepe) which left at 6am. As the second class tickets had to be bought on the day, we had to get there early just in case it was very busy. As it happened, there were very few tourists and the bulk of the passengers were Mexican.
It took about 9 1/2 hours to travel to Creel and we passed through some spectacular and varied scenery at a fairly leisurely pace. To start with there were flat plains, which looked a little desolate, but, as we climbed, the scenery became softer and more attractive with very tall cacti growing alongside trees that had beautiful pink flowers so, looking at the landscape, there were swathes of pink mixed amongst the greenery.
The further we went, the more rugged the countryside became and we ended up travelling through steep gorges with rocks towering above us. The only real disappointment (actually we felt very cheated!) was that the only view of the Copper Canyon itself was from a viewing platform at Divisidero where the train stopped for 15 minutes for us to see the view.
We arrived at Creel at 4.30pm by which time I was frozen. The town is extremely cold and I am not used to these temperatures now! Also, in an attempt to lighten my load, I had given away some of my winter clothes thinking I wouldn’t really need them. Luckily, I still had one or two merinos left!
We were met at the station, unexpectedly, by someone from the hotel we had booked on the internet, which was lucky as we would never have found it otherwise.
It is a wonderful, slightly quirky (and very cheap) place just off the main street, called Hotel Real del Chapultepec. Three brothers seem to operate the business – one running the hotel, another organising tours and the third actually taking people on tour. We booked to go on two tours over the next couple of days.
This morning’s tour took us to a Tarahurama “reservation” (for want of a better word) where we saw one family living in a cave, the outside of their church and various rock formations, including the Valley of the Monks (or Valley of the Penises, as the Tarahurama more appropriately, in my view, called it). This was fairly spectacular. Apparently a number of families still live in the caves but it is now more common to live in houses. At each point, there were items for sale and, as Thomas finds it very difficult to say ‘non gracias’ to small children, we ended up with an assortment of items that we didn’t actually need (or want).
At the Valley of the Monks/Penises we were accompanied by 2 young boys who were very amusing and didn’t bother us to buy anything once we told them we would do it later. However, we are now the not so proud owners of a fairly crudely hand crafted wooden rosary!
The afternoon was spent pottering about in Creel and around the hotel. We (by the royal ‘we’, I mean Thomas) lit the wood burner in the room and we embarked on tequila and coke, which seemed a slightly odd combination to me!
Today we awoke to a somewhat gloomy day with a layer of smoke from the woodfires hanging over the town. We were booked to go to for a walk down a canyon to some hot pools built using hot natural spring water. Samuel, our guide from yesterday, had to go to church so Tomas, who seems to work at the hotel, took us. First stop was his house on the other side of the railway track to pick up his son, Patrizio. He was obviously also intending to do some wood chopping whilst we were walking, judging by the equipment he collected as well!
We travelled along a track into another Tarahumara ‘reservation’ where a 4 wheel drive was definitely required. Patrizio accompanied us to the pools, having rock throwing competitions with Thomas on the way down. He had obviously had a lot of practice!
The pools themselves were a little incongruous in the landscape, being the normal bright blue colour that swimming pools tend to be, but were a lovely temperature for soaking. Patrizio watched us for a while but the temptation eventually proved too much, so he pulled off his t shirt and jacket and jumped in! As we then found out, he had no prior experience of pools or swimming. Thomas spent the next hour teaching him how to swim, which amazingly enough he learned very quickly (although not to breathe!)
It was extremely cold back at the hotel, so we lit the wood fire again and warmed up round that. We then spent the evening having dinner with a German travel photographer who is also staying at the hotel. He had lived and travelled all over the world and kept us entertained with a lot of stories!
When we got up today, we weren’t quite sure where we were going to end up. We had now begun the trip down to Mexico City and I had been told that we could get a bus direct to Parral without going via Chihuahua. Finding out any further information seemed to be almost impossible though. There was a bus going to Guachochi, which I thought we could take as it looked as though it should go via Parral, so we boarded that.
It actually went along a road that looked very minor on the map but, in fact, was quite a main road with very little traffic. The bus driver raced through some of the most magnificent scenery yet – up and down and around canyons. It was a totally unexpected journey and even more awe inspiring than the train. Unfortunately, the bus windows were very dirty and that, combined with the speed we were travelling, meant my photos didn’t do it justice.
We arrived in what turned out to be Guachochi and the bus driver told us to get off and catch the bus going in the opposite direction that was just coming along the road. I’m not quite sure what would have happened if the two buses hadn’t crossed at the same time! An unplanned night in Guachochi possibly?
The second bus took us through yet more beautiful scenery with the mountains becoming much more rocky. There were also tracts of sierra. It was absolutely stunning in the late afternoon light. We made one stop somewhere (but who knows where?) and bought food from a girl selling to the passengers. Whenever we (i.e. Thomas) has done this, it has been excellent and usually only cost a few pesos.
We arrived in Parral about 5.45pm by which time it was getting dark. I had written down the name of a hotel near the bus stop so we started heading there. Whilst it wasn’t too far, we ended up succumbing to the persistence of a taxi driver and drove the 2 blocks (which really went against the grain!) The hotel was a bit more expensive than we have been paying, but what luxury by comparison. It even had a kitchen but, on investigation, there were no saucepans, cups, cutlery or, indeed, anything apart from a couple of plates and a few glasses. Quite bizarre!
We went out and bought a few supplies and had a walk around the centre, which seemed to be buzzing. There seemed to be an enormous number of shoe shops and even whole shops dedicated just to boots of all shapes and sizes. A band was playing in the square and Mexican music always seems to put a smile on the face. We brought street food back to the room and appreciated the warmth and very comfortable beds. An excellent and satisfactory day!