About Us

Welcome to our blog, describing our voyage aboard Bravo, a Kelly Peterson 46 sailboat with homeport in Seattle, Washington. We headed south in 2010, destined for Mexico and beyond. Cheers, Adam and Cindi

"As for me, I am tormented by an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts." -Herman Melville, 1844

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Copper Canyon Rambles, part 1

Joined by Seattle friends David and Diana, we recently returned from a week long adventure exploring the Copper Canyon.  No easy junket, the journey's travel stats included: 2 trains, 10 buses, 4 taxis, 3 trucks, 1 tram, and at least 26 miles of hot, dusty hiking!!!  This was round trip out of Mazatlan!!  Was it worth the effort?  Absolutely!  The Copper Canyon is truly a spectacular region.  Encompassing 6 major canyons in the SW part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the entire Copper Canyon is both larger in area and deeper than Arizona's Grand Canyon. 

We began our trip by bus, taking two buses the first day to El Fuerte, where we spent the night.  This pretty, historic town, high over the river (though not high enough to thwart a major population of ravenous no-see-um's) is a stop on the Chepe (Chihuahua Pacific) Railroad, and we boarded the train the next morning. 

The train offers both 1st class and 2nd class fares, but 2nd class only runs 3x per week, so we went first class as we wanted to "make tracks" for the Canyon.  Prices shown are in pesos...divide by app. 12 for $USD prices.  We rode from El Fuerte to Bauhuichivo, around a 6 hour trip.

The Chepe train is a fantastic bit of engineering.  Taking over 100 years to complete, the route takes 39 bridges and 86 tunnels to wind the 390 miles from Los Mochis on the coast to Chihuahua.  Check out the map...the "s-turn" on the upper left.  The train runs along the river, makes a hairpin turn over a bridge, then vanishes into a 2.5 mile tunnel.  A few minutes after entering the tunnel, we come out the other end, pointing in the opposite direction!!!  Pretty cool!

Someone's gotta yield here!

 This is where the train is running along the river to the left.  After crossing the bridge, and doubling back on the other side, it will enter the tunnel and come out on the track up above, heading the opposite direction.   Neat trick!!!
Karaoke conductors

Cindi and Diana join in....."Let It Be" will never sound the same!!!
The views are spectacular as the train makes it's way up into the mountains.  A lot of fun as they allow passengers to ride between the cars taking pix or just enjoying the scenery.

 We arrived in Bauhuichivo in early afternoon, and eventually found a bus heading to the bottom of the Canyon, in the town of Urique.  The Copper Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America, and Urique is it's deepest point.  The road from Bauhuichivo is some of the most dramatic bus travel anywhere, as the entire 54km dirt road is single lane, steep, and nearly non stop hairpin turns down into the canyon below. 

Our bus, work release style!!!
Guardrails???  We don't need no stinkin' guardrails!!!

Heading home

Taking nearly 4 hours, we stopped often seemingly in the middle of nowhere, to let out one of the native Tarahumara folk, who would then head off on foot, presumably for a village or home some distance away.

Adam at the sleeping cabin.
Urique proved to be an interesting town.  Far off the "gringo trail", tourism is not at all a mainstay of the local economy.  Set in this spectacular canyon, the main economic engine is probably marijuana farming, or "support industries".  (As one guidebook said, the locals didn't buy shiny $40,000 SUV's selling baskets at the train station!!)  We were told that the trails were safe to hike, however we were always aware of a rather different vibe than we've experienced elsewhere.  Not at all hostile, there was nonetheless a sense of indifference to travellers.  We stayed at a fun spot, Entre Amigos, owned (and built) by Keith, a part time expat from the Pacific Northwest for the past 25 years.  Part hostel, part individual cabins, the unique homestead setting with it's communal kitchen serves as a focal point for adventure travellers from all over.  (We enjoyed chatting with Nathan, a Brit who has ridden his bike here from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and plans to continue on down to Tierra Fuego).

We arrived in Urique during the festival of Semana Santa, which is the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter.  We had heard that the festival is a major deal to the indigenous Tarahumara people in a village above the valley floor, Guadelupe. 
Although the main event evidently begins on Friday night, and involves a lot of alcohol and some peyote, we hiked up there on Saturday morning and things were still in relatively full swing.  Actually we're not quite sure what "full swing" means!!! 

We never did get a great understanding about the meaning of the ceremonies that we witnessed.  People were running around in the square outside of the church, many of the men still in costume from the night before.  They rolled around on the church floor, flooded with water, before burning an effigy of Judas outside.  We were not only the only gringos present, but likely the only folks not from the village or region. 


But it was good if confused fun, and when it was over we happily hitched a ride with a vegetable truck back down to Urique rather than repeat the 6 mile trek as the temperature climbed over 100 degrees.

The next day we went for another hike to a "town", Naranja, around 6 miles up from Urique.  The trail was steep, and again the temp climbed over 100.  Finally reaching the top of the endless switchbacks, we found that the town was merely a settlement of perhaps six houses and a church...all extremely poor, with little in the way of thirst quenchers.  (did I mention that the day was HOT???!!!)

Panorama of Naranja
  We made our way back down via the road.  On the way a brand new red Chevy Suburban passed us.  No license plates.  Stopped, rolled down the dark tinted windows, the three young men gave us a stone faced once over, and headed on by.  Not even an "hola".  Hmmmmm.......

The views on these hikes were certainly spectacular.  We took the trail up on the left hand side of the valley, and decended via the road.
Although our boots were hard on our tender feet (we've been in sandals for the past 6 months!!!), it was great to get deep into such remote and stunning country.

In the next segment, we'll be going horse racing, Urique style, and will explore a bit more of the Canyon before making our way back to Mazatlan.  ARRIBA!!!

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