El Chepe to Parral

El Chepe

17 January

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.

On the train
On the train
Pink flowers on the railway route
Pink flowers on the railway route

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.

The Copper Canyon
The Copper Canyon
On El Chepe
On El Chepe

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.

At Creel station
At Creel station

Creel

18 January

Cave dwelling of a Tarahumara family
Cave dwelling of a Tarahumara family

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).

Valley of the Monks
Valley of the Monks/Penises
Thomas standing in front of one of the Monks'
Thomas standing by one of the ‘Monks’
Tarahumara Village
Tarahumara Village

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!

Creel

19 January

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!

Hot Pools
Hot Pools
Thomas and Patrizio
Thomas and Patrizio

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!)

Cave dwellers in the Canyon
Cave dwellers in the Canyon!

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!

Parral

20 January

Road from Creel to Guachochi
Road from Creel to Guachochi
On the road
On the road

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.

Guachochi to Parral
Guachochi to Parral

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.

Boot shop in Parral
Boot shop in Parral

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!

Baja to Los Mochis

Los Mochis

16 January

Before commencing my travels, I spent a very relaxing 3 weeks over Christmas and New Year in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) with very good friends, Steph and Steve. From there, I flew onto L.A. and had the last night of luxury in a hotel before flying to San Jose, Cabo to meet Thomas, my eldest son.

A French man trying to squash a long haired pekingese dog into a holdall provided an Australian and me with some amusement while checking in at L.A..  Try as the French man might, that hair would not fit in! It was not a sight that we would have encountered in either N.Z. or Australia.

Thomas's truck
Thomas’s truck

Once on board a spectacularly empty Air Alaska flight, an extremely fast passenger announcement told us that the crew weren’t too worried about the insufficient cargo and passengers to balance the plane’s load and if anyone would like to change seats they had 45 seconds to do it, but they weren’t to go forward of the exit row! Hmmm….

The airport at San Jose (not to be confused with Costa Rica) was very new and modern, the Baja Peninsula having become, in recent years, an American playground.  In fact, it is always referred to as Baja California. Thomas was there to pick me up in the truck that he had driven from Alaska. He hadn’t quite had time to clean it so it was only just visible beneath the dust. Wonder why I put clean clothes on this morning?

Robert's house
The house where Thomas had been staying
Cactus outside house in Todos Santos
Cactus outside house in Todos Santos
Cafe in Todos Santos
Cafe in Todos Santos

We drove 70km through fields of cactuses (or is it cacti?) to Pescadero, which is where he had been living for the last 5 months at a house right on the beach that had rooms to rent. In theory, we were going to stay there but, when we arrived, there was no room at the inn, as the saying goes, so we watched the sunset and set off to find a hotel in Todos Santos, the nearest town.

The next day we pottered about and I had a walk around the town, which was a bit touristy but not overdone as yet. Later on, we went back to Pescadero with its beautiful beach, watched the sunset again and then Robert (whom Thomas had been working for) took us out for fajiitas. Food, so far, has been excellent and cheap (at least in the Mexican rather than tourist places).

Pescadero Beach
Pescadero Beach
Road to La Paz from Pinchinglue
Road to La Paz from Pinchilingue

Yesterday was a long day as we had to catch a bus at 7.15am to get to La Paz for Thomas to sort out his Tourist Card that he hadn’t got at the border 5 months previously and couldn’t leave the country without.  We then had to catch the ferry at 2.30pm.

I ended up sitting for 5 hours in a cafe, guarding the bags and nursing 2 coffees and an unwanted crepe, whilst he ran back and forth to various offices to obtain the document. He returned at 1.50pm and luckily we found a very obliging taxi driver prepared to ignore the speed limits to drive the 18kms to Pinchilingue and the ferry. Needless to say, we were the last passengers aboard, having made it by the skin of our teeth, and I had had one or two tetchy moments during the course of the morning! The otherwise uneventful ferry ride to Topolobampo was 7 hours so there was plenty of time to recover from the stress (mine, not Thomas’s).

On the ferry leaving Pinchilingue
On the ferry leaving Pinchilingue
Sunset on the boat
Sunset on the boat

We eventually arrived at our hotel in Los Mochis (somewhere we had been warned was a bit dangerous because of the drug cartels) at 10.30pm.  And so to bed, after not eating the most disgusting hot dog Thomas managed to find on a street stall nearby.