Kate’s Blog #11

Our train ride to the Copper Canyon

Lured by the reputation of being the most beautiful train excursion in the world, Jeff and I went to great lengths to embark on “El Chepe”, the luxury train into the Copper Canyon that departs 3 times/week from the town of Los Mochis up into the state of Chihuahua.

In order to get to Los Mochis, we had to hire a driver from our marina in San Carlos to transport us to the local bus station in Guaymas, a short 30 minute ride.  Hand sanitizer in tow and face masked up, we bought our tickets at the station and boarded the “local” to Los Mochis, a 6 hour trip with many scheduled stops (and some unscheduled) through the state of Sinaloa….yep, that’s the one notoriously controlled by the Mexican cartel. Our assigned seats were in the back of the bus right across from the bathroom…not ideal to say the least, but an inconvenience that proved to be the least of our concerns as we journeyed on.

Aside from scheduled stops, the bus stopped seemingly often for what appeared to be make-shift “check points”, mostly in the middle of nowhere.  During these unscheduled stops, the fully armed federales often boarded the bus, gravely looked the passengers, then departed.  Sometimes all passengers were directed to disembark for no apparent reason while the police walked through the bus looking for ??? Their demeanors were always ominous and very serious.  Passengers were directed to line up and wait on nearby dirt roads while luggage was unloaded from the belly of the bus and looked over by the policia, sometimes random pieces opened for further inspection after which passengers and luggage were reloaded, bus door clanged shut and off we went.   

One time late in the evening, the bus driver mysteriously pulled into a dark empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere and proceeded to open the door.  Straight away 2 armed federales boarded our bus with machine guns over their shoulders, black jackets, pants, boots and dark cammo face gators.  No patches or badges to designate any official status on their outter-wear, like, say, a shiny police badge were apparent.  Just leather belts of extra ammo slung across their chests. They went determinedly and directly to one row of the bus and roughly lifted a passenger out of his seat by his sweatshirt hood hauling him off the bus in a huff. 

Finally, and a bit nervously, we arrived at the Los Mochis bus station late at night.  We hailed an uber and hungrily went to have dinner before we settled into our hotel for the night.  Early the next morning we would board our train ride into the Copper Canyon.

The building of the Chihuahua al Pacifico train, more affectionately known as “El Chepe” began in the late 19th century. Political unrest, lack of funding, and the overall difficulty of building a railroad over such terrain hindered its completion until 1961. El Chepe borders on luxurious, by the local standards, especially after a 6 hour bus ride. There is a separate dining car and a bar car with a lounge area. The passenger car is relatively modern, clean, and comfortable.  We even ran into a few sailors we had met previously in the Sea of Cortez!

The railroad comprises 405 mi of rails and travels across 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels! The total trip takes approximately 15 hours and passes through quaint pueblos, as well as stunning towering cliffs and canyons in addition to crystal waterfalls. The scenery is spectacular. Along the railway, many Tarahumarans, or local indigenous people, dressed in their amazing handmade and super colorful clothing, lay out their food, crafts, and other wares for sale. It’s all pretty cool.

The Tarahumara Indians are best known for long distance running…… barefoot or in huaraches (handmade leather sandals). Often the men kick wooden balls between runners as they run relay style in races that can last over several days without a break.  The women typically run using a stick and a hoop. They are dark skinned and with black hair and big dark eyes.  They are quite handsome.  The women carry their babies or grandbabies on their backs nestled in the folds of hand-woven colorful scarves.  It is common to see an entire family walking home with their kids in tow after school.  The women and girls always wear hand sewn, colorful, full, long patchwork skirts that kick up rhythmically and cheerfully as they walk along. It‘s quite a lovely sight!

The end of the line for El Chepe in a small pueblo called Creel.  Tourism is alive but not particularly well. Rustic hotels mostly have vacancies and restaurants are nearly empty.  We stayed at the Lodge at Creel which was built entirely out of pine logs and was an eco – resort and “spa” although we never saw a hint of any massage rooms, etc.  However, it proved to be more than satisfactory.  We had a large room, king sized bed with lots of woolen blankets, a more than adequate shower, and plenty of hot water for about $100/night.

It was cold but we took full advantage of being tourists doing our best to see the sights and partake in the beauty of the area.  The Canyon is a whopping 4 times larger than the Grand Canyon and is deeper with a depth of over 1 mile. There is a beautiful lake, lots of hiking and camping options, horseback riding, ATV excursions, etc., but a highlight attraction is ziplining across one of the Copper Canyons many expanses and touted as the world’s longest zip line!  Neither Jeff nor I had zip lined across anything significant, however, we suited up and stepped up for a truly exhilarating experience.  We climbed the spectacular rock formations, walked along the beautiful lake, and supported the locals by shopping for their hand made souvenirs and crafts and eating local tortillas stuffed with veggies, cheese and shredded beef.  A highly recommended side trip and a nice change from life aboard Samsara. 

This trip coupled with our 3 week road trip earlier this year into the interior of Mexico only broadened our appreciation of this amazing country.  VIVA MEXICO!

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