The Copper Canyon. It was on my list of “things to do” in Mexico, but on researching it was becoming a lot of trouble. And expensive. One of the best ways to see the canyon is by the El Chepe train, one of only three passenger railways in Mexico. But the route was so expensive. I was advised to book in advance, but only the first class can be booked ahead. Second class only goes every other day and you have to hope you can get on. Plus I could find very little information about the points that the train actually stops. Talk about a headache! So I decided to find a Copper Canyon tour company to help, I found Copper Canyon Adventures and was able to use their “Create A Trip” to find a way of seeing the canyon, including time on the train, without breaking the bank.
Disclaimer: I received Media Rates for my Create A Trip with Copper Canyon Adventures, in exchange for coverage. All opinions are my own.
Creating A Trip
Using Create a Trip with Copper Canyon Adventures was easy. You simply go to their online form and fill out you’re details, preferred budget (obviously mine was Economical), places you want to visit (a bit difficult as I could find very little information) and activities you are interested in (such as hiking, culture, natural history).
A few days after this was sent off, I got a phone call from the company’s founder, Les. I highly recommend leaving a phone number on the form if you can. Les went through my choices with me, came up with some more ideas and I just generally felt like he understood. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of the Copper Canyon and the stops, so I guess it was fairly easy for him to come up with a trip.
Not long after the phone call, Les emailed me a suggested itinerary. Everything was explained as to why he thought it would be suitable. Me and Dave would start in El Fuerte and finish in Chihuahua, with three stops in between. There was an excursion at each stop and free time at each destination. The trip would last nine days, with two nights at El Fuerte, Cerocahui, Areponapuchi and Creel, finishing with one night in Chihuahua. It also included one section of El Chepe – from El Fuerte to Bahuichivo, which is apparently the best stretch to do. All seemed good to me.
So the trip was confirmed. I received the tickets and lots of information via email, so I had a copy. I would be meet Les and Tammy on my first night in El Fuerte, where they would talk us through everything and make sure we were happy with our trip.
Arriving At El Fuerte
So the day came for our Copper Canyon trip. We were to meet Les in El Fuerte, where our trip would start.
Getting to El Fuerte was an adventure in itself. But eventually, we got there, if a little later than planned and very tired. We had let Les know when we had gotten on the colectivo and were heading his way. Unfortunately, I had no idea where our accommodation was, so once we got to El Fuerte we were a little lost!
We tried to find the hostel on Google Maps but to no avail! I think I had run out of data at this point… So we decided to head towards the town centre and hope that we stumbled on it. Then I heard someone shout my name from behind!
It was Les, thankfully he had found us, as the town centre was the wrong direction for the hostel. With him were his wife, Tammy and their chihuahua, Luna. Luna was a cute little thing, but rather shy. The walk to the hostel took just a few minutes and after the day we’d had I was glad to put my bag down.
Getting The Paperwork
Once in Guerrero Hostel, Les, Tammy and Luna lead us to our room. Here they gave us the print outs of our itinerary. They also gave us information about the places that we were going, including favourite restaurants, some information on the copper canyon railway journey (what to look out for), the history of El Chepe and the slips that we would need to give each hotel that we were staying on the trip. It all packed into a nice little booklet and so could be easily kept together.
After everything was explained, and they had checked that we had their phone numbers, they headed out. There was a carnival on, which they told us might be good fun for us to go to.
The Carnival In El Fuerte
So we headed out to the carnival, it was in the plaza, so easy to find. Even though we were tired after the long day, we thought that at least we could get some cheap street food.
The carnival consisted of a fun fair. It was just like the ones we get back home. People going on rides, getting drunk and lots of loud music. I’m not a big fan of these in England (though mainly because of the goldfish) so I will admit I was a little disappointed. But it’s nice to see that humans are all the same really, we aren’t as different as others would have you believe.
After a walk around we headed to one of the food stalls. Sitting down at a table we looked up at the menu – it was a banner along one side of the tent.
Some Not-So-Cheap Food
We each ordered a gringa and some horchata. The horchata came in a litre cup and was great. The gringas I feel were disappointing and had been since we came up north, as they longer had pineapple on them. To me this just makes them a ham quesadilla, a gringa needs pineapple! But the really hard part to swallow was the obvious gringo tax they put on the meal, they charged $120 pesos! Insane. That’s about double that we had paid all over Mexico. But as the menu didn’t have prices and that actually made it a little under £5, we couldn’t really pull them up. But there is no way everyone else was paying that much.
So after our expensive and disappointing gringas, we headed back to the hostel. We were very tired after out long and terrible journey to get to El Fuerte, so we were definitely in need of a comfy bed (which it was).
An Early Start
The next day we were going to see the Petroglyphs, so we were up for at 7:30 for our breakfast in the hostel (which was included). We sat down at the table and were soon given some much-needed coffee. I will say, the coffee wasn’t the best, it was instant, but the breakfast was great. We were served eggs on tostadas with bacon and frijoles. Yummy and filling for the day ahead.
The breakfast took some time, as the lady was cooking everything fresh, so she could only do one at a time. But we had an hour until pick up, so this wasn’t an issue.
At half eight a guy came into the hostel courtyard where we were eating. He was our guide, so it was time to head off for the day.
Across The River
After a short drive we parked up by a river. There was a rowing boat on a trailer at the back of the car, so this was backed towards the river. Soon it was all set up and me, Dave, our guide and our driver jumped in. The driver started rowing.
We went a little down the river and across. As we travelled the guide pointed out lots of birds. We saw herons, osprey and, of course, ducks on the river.
Once across our guide led us away from the river. It was a short walk, and soon we came to some rocks that were fenced off and surrounded by a large group of tourists.
We went to an area of the fence that had no tourists and we could see the petroglyphs on some of the rocks. These are prehistoric carvings and very little is known about them. They are aged at between 800 – 2000 years old, so if that’s not a guess I don’t know what is!
Here our guide pointed out some of the shapes that could be seen, such as stars, spirals and the sun. Some were rather faded and a little difficult to see, others were extremely clear. The carvings all means something, but obviously we have no idea what. It makes sense for the prehistoric people to be carving what they see, like sun and stars. But their true significance, who knows?
As the large group weren’t moving, our guide took us for a walk. We travelled through a thorny forest with cacti and thorny trees. On the walk he pointed out more carvings that were hidden away. As we walked he asked us if we were up for a bit of a climb. Of course we were!
Our climb took us to the top of the Cerro de la Mascara (Hill of the Mask). It gets its name as one carving of a mask was found here. There were carvings everywhere here. We spent some time scrambling over rocks to see the carvings – some were not the easiest to get too! There were some incredible views of the surrounding area too.
As we looked around our guide pointed out the farmland below and told us about the area. The where the petroglyphs are found is still part of a hacienda, but the farmer is happy for people to come and look at them. Although the farmer does charge tourist, he allows the local schools to do trips for free. He also pointed out the river and the direction of El Fuerte from this vantage point.
Here there are some very distinct carvings. One of a foot is particularly clear. There are also some huge carvings here, there are two on a large rock that between them nearly take up an entire face of the rock’s surface.
There was also plenty of wildlife about – and they weren’t shy. A vulture landed on a rock not too far from us. Later a lizard watched us from a rock – he seemed very interested in us.
The Disputed Face
After a bit of time exploring Cerro de la Mascara, we started heading back down. When we got back to the fenced off area our guide took us for a better look. Here he pointed out one particular carving.
It was the carving of a face. Many people when the first see it think that is it a monkey’s face. However, there are no monkeys in this area, and probably never were. The truth is it is more likely to be a jaguar, as these are found in the region. So it makes more sense.
Now we had seen lots of petroglyphs and it was time to head back to the boat. Once in the boat we set off down river. It was a relaxing journey and we had some sightings of birds again. A dragonfly also came up close and personal, having a rest on the boat.
I didn’t realise but we were actually heading back to El Fuerte by boat. Soon we came to shore under the fort. And then our guide walked us back to the hostel, pointing out some very pretty flowers enroute. The flowers were Dahlia and came in red, white and purple. They are also the national flower of Mexico.
Exploring El Fuerte
As we arrived back to the hostel in the afternoon we decided to go and explore El Fuerte. The plan was to head to the plaza again and have a general wander around. On our wanderings we can across Thrifty, an ice cream shop. Here we bought an amazing strawberry and cream drink for our walk.
The plaza still had the carnival there, but it was nowhere near as busy as the night before. So we sat on a bench and watched the world go by whilst slurping our drinks.
El Fuerte actually means “The Fort” and the town was built up around a Spanish fort. Unfortunately, the original from 1615 has been lost but a replica has replaced it on what is believed to be the original’s location. In this replica fort is a museum, the Museo Fuerte Mirador. So we decided to give the fort a visit.
The fort is built in a square, and the rooms all contained something. There were artifacts from the natives and farmers, plus old photos and even a hearse from 1885. Unfortunately all the labels were in Spanish and even though I had been in Mexico for quite some time my Spanish was not that good (and still isn’t). But this didn’t stop us from exploring every room.
For me the best part of the museum was being able to climb to the top of the fortifications. Not only did a random dog follow us up, but the views were great. On one side you could see the town and the church in the distance, on the other was the river and surrounding countryside.
After we had walked around all the walls and been in every room we headed back to the plaza. This time we came across a dead tree that had carvings in it. There were carvings of birds, animals and people. There was also a Pueblo Magico carving (which makes sense as the town does have Pueblo Magico status) and also a 190 aniversario carving – I’m not sure what it was 190 years of. But it must have been important.
The Wealth Of The River
After our long day of exploring we were hungry! We nipped back to the hostel to see where Les and Tammy recommended – for each place they had given recommendations on where to eat. We decided to try El Meson del General.
The restaurant is in the old mansion and courtyard, which dates back to 1860. Walking through the entrance there were murals. We choose to sit in the courtyard, where we could watch the hummingbirds – they had several feeders scattered around so there were hummingbirds everywhere.
As El Fuerte is located on a river, it’s fish is meant to be good, as it is fresh. We spotted a seafood sharing platter on the menu and decided to give it a go. And I’m so glad we did. There were shrimp, lobina (black bass), chili relleno and so much more. Plus, as usual, there was a basket of tortillas to go with the food. I think it would have served more than two people easily. All the seafood was fresh from the river and it was all delicious.
As we were waiting for our meal, we realised why the place so so quite – a carnival parade went by the front door. We went out to have a look, but missed most of it.
A Rushed Morning
The next morning we were out for breakfast earlier than we were meant to be; the itinerary said 7:30am for breakfast with a 7:40am pick up. Going off the day before this would not be enough time!
Once again the breakfast was very good, this time it was enchiladas. But we were right, it wasn’t enough time even though we got there early! We were literally half way through when our taxi showed up. So we stuffed our faces with what we could, grabbed our bags and ran out to the taxi.
The Main Event
Today was the day that we would ride on El Chepe. The train station is a bit out of the town, hence the taxi to pick us up. The pick up time gave us roughly half an hour before the train would leave. So plenty of time to get to the station.
Arriving at the train station I wasn’t surprised to see hordes of tourists. The station was heaving. I assumed there must be a few tour groups as well as some people doing self guided tours like us.
We joined the hordes waiting for the train. People were mingling everywhere, on the tracks, on the station. Everywhere. Well, there were lots of photos to be taken. There were also a few beggars and dogs around… I guess it’s a good place to be, it’s only really tourists that do this journey, so there’s plenty of money around.
Everyone was chatty. I think it was all the excitement. Me and Dave were completely outnumbered by Canadians and Americans. We also brought the average age down quite considerably! It wasn’t long before someone had introduced themselves and started talking.
As we waited we spotted a couple that we knew. It was the Canadian couple from our misadventure with the bus to El Fuerte the other day. It was good to see that they had eventually made it too. Although all they did was moan. Seriously, they moaned that the receptionists at their hotel didn’t speak a word of English and “everywhere apart from China speaks English”. Yes, I am not joking, they said that. I mean, wow, just wow. Some people really do expect a lot…
In what seemed like no time at all the station staff were trying to get everyone off the tracks. El Chepe could be seen in the distance. On of the tour guides was shouting for everyone to stand behind the yellow line.
And most parts of most people did get behind the yellow line, but there was definitely a struggle to get photos (myself included). Arms shot past the line with cameras in hand. The driver of El Chepe essentially beep his horn.
Luckily, the train pulled up with no injuries to any tourist.
I was quite impressed at how orderly everyone got on the train. I expected much more pushing and jolting, but everyone got on in an orderly fashion. As we were travelling first class, we had allocated seats so we quickly found them, stored our bags and sat down ready for the ride. And at 8:30am El Chepe pulled away from the station and we were enroute to Bahuichivo.
Included in our paperwork from Copper Canyon Adventures was a description of the route. It told us what to look out for as the journey progressed, with approximate times that the sights should be seen. This was incredibly useful.
In all honesty, the first hour of the route was not the spectacular journey I was expecting. The land was flat and there wasn’t the dramatic scenery I was expecting to see. After a few minutes of the train setting off we actually decided to go to the bar cart and buy a coffee. I was shocked that it was actually reasonably priced.
The Most Incredible Part Of The Route
I was beginning to lose hope for this incredible railway journey as I finished my coffee. But suddenly the views began to change. Soon I could see mountains in the distance that we were heading for. Some pretty foliage also appeared, the countryside became with some very pretty purple flowers.
Tammy and Les had told us that standing in the vestibules was the best place for views, so we ignored the signs stating that for safety reasons you shouldn’t stand there. And we stayed there for the rest of the journey.
Tammy and Les were right, it was incredible. You know I said that they’d given us a brief on the journey? That brief was four pages long and two and a half pages were taken up with the El Fuerte to Bahuichivo stretch (which is what we were doing. So there was a lot to see.
I think every other person had something similar, as the vestibules got busier at certain points, mainly over rivers. No matter how busy the vestibule everyone was considerate; it was get a picture and move out of the way. Everyone made sure every single person had the chance to get to the opening and get a picture. One of our Canadian friends stayed with us chatting (and moaning) for quite a lot of the journey.
Points Of Interest
I’m glad Tammy and Les had given us the brief on the journey. It meant that the views were more than just incredible views, they also had some context.
The first point of interest for me (and many of the other passengers) was at about 9:35am. At this point we crossed the longest bridge on the entire El Chepe Route. The bridge crosses the Río Fuerte and is a staggering 1637 feet.
Next, at about 10:05, came the first tunnel on the route. This tunnel is almost 6000 feet long and is the longest on the route.
About fifteen minutes later we came to another bridge over a river. This one crossed the Río Chinipas, which is the rough dividing line of the Sinaloa and Chihuahua states. It is also the highest bridge on the route at 350 feet above the water. Random fact too – this is the highest Sinaloan point and the highest Chihuahuan point.
Just a view minutes later we could see Lake Huites. Then the train began to climb in earnest. We were climbing into the Sierra Madre.
Through the scenery, over bridges and through tunnels El Chepe continued. Passing villages, rivers and cactus. At about 11:05am we entered the Temoris area, which our paperwork told us is one of the most spectacular areas in the journey. And it did not disappoint. I had to move from the left to the right a couple of times for the best and ever changing views, but it was worth it. We climbed up three levels in two large loops, crossed a river and did a 180 degree turn in a tunnel.
The is also an old station here, which we stopped at for a few minutes. Luckily the staff on the train were quick to tell us that this wasn’t our stop. There are old carts and open storage of railroad bits, such as nuts and bolts.
Just after the station we entered the 180 degree turn tunnel. After this tunnel the vestibule gave a great view of the tracks that we had just come up.
After Temoris there was about another hour left of our journey. So a few tunnels, bridges and incredible views later the staff came round to tell us that we were almost at our first stop. At this point we went to collect our bags so we were ready to disembark.
At a little after midday El Chepe pulled into Bahuichivo station and we disembarked. I was sad that the journey was over, but I was so glad I had managed to see some of this incredible rail route.
Out itinerary told us that our transfer would be waiting at Bahuichivo station, but with all the confusion of the tour groups getting off (and some getting on) we decided to hang back for a bit. This also gave me the opportunity to get some more pictures of the train – you can never have too many pictures of the same thing, right?
It didn’t take as long as we’d thought though before the platform cleared. So we started heading towards the exit. Before we’d even gotten off the platform a guy was heading towards us. As he approached he asked if we were with Copper Canyon Adventures – I think maybe we stuck out being the two youngest and without a guide!
He introduced himself as Maio and told us that he would be taking us to San Isidro Lodge.
The Journey To San Isidro
Mario led us to the car, or jeep may be a better description. He told us that the nearest town to the lodge, Cerocahui, is about 10 km away, so not too long a journey. However, it turned out we were blocked in by all the tour buses. So we got settled and Mario went to find out how long we might be stuck for.
Luckily it was only a few minutes and soon we were on our way. As he drove Mario was very chatty. He loved the town were he was based and knew a lot. He asked us about ourselves and told us about himself. After a few minutes of driving he asked us if we like hiking, to which we said yes. As we had the afternoon at leisure he said he may be able to arrange for us to do a hike if we wanted. Of course we were up for it!
As we drove along Mario told us that there was a bear he wanted to show us, as it was on the way. I always worry a little at things like this, as animal tourism is not alway ethical. But I didn’t want to offend. We pulled up next to a field, we got out of the car and went to the fence. There was no bear to be seen. Then Mario pointed upwards. It was a rock that he was showing us. A rock that looked like Yogi Bear. Quite convincingly too, it was really easy to see. And I was glad that I had nothing to worry about after all!
A Warm Welcome
San Isidro Lodge was a little out of the town of Cerocahui, and as we drove past the town Mario waved or shouted a greeting at everyone he saw. He told us that he knew everyone in the town. It didn’t take long for me to believe him.
After passing the town we began to climb. As we climbed Mario informed us that the lodge was actually still a working ranch, run by his family. As we entered the lodge grounds we could see livestock and people working.
Mario showed us which cabaña was ours and handed us the key. He told us that lunch would be ready for us soon, so come through to the main building when we were ready, which he also pointed out.
So we grabbed our bags and headed into the cabaña and I must say, I was wowed. The cabaña was light and airy, plus spacious with an ensuite. There was a window made from glass bottles, which I loved and mural on the back wall. With some lovely little touches like bottled water, toiletries, dressing gowns, towels and flowers on the bed, I was awestruck with the room. There was even a small log burner in the room. I loved it. The cabaña has to be one of the best places that I have ever stayed in.
As we stood open mouthed at the door of the cabaña, we suddenly had a visitor. A cat just casually strolled into the room and made himself at home. I think he was sent to check that we were happy with the room.
So Much Food
After we had managed to get over how amazing our room was, we dumped our bags and headed over to the main building. Inside here was lovely too. With paintings of the nearby canyons on the wall, a lounge area complete with log burner and a large table for meals.
Mario soon joined us from the kitchen, which we could see through a hatch. He told us his wife was just finishing our meal for us and invited us to sit down.There was a jug of Jamaica on the table and within minutes lunch was being served.
We were given a bowl of soup, which Mario told us was mushroom. Some blue tortillas were also given to us to share. Mario joined us for lunch and was happy to chat about anything and everything. The soup was so good and filling. And I thought that was it, how wrong was I…
As the soup was being cleared another plate appeared. This time there was beef in a dark sauce, I presume it was a type of mole. It came with some creamy mash potato, and the tortillas were topped up.
And this was not even the end of it. After our plates were empty some flan appeared before us. Everything was delicious and plentiful. I was so full after this meal – I’m not used to eating three courses!
After our delicious feast Mario told us that his brother was available to take us for a hike, so if we wanted to grab what we needed we could be on our way. As we went to the cabaña we heard a gobble – there were turkeys just casually wandering around.
We headed back out with plenty of water, ready for the hike. Mario introduced us to his brother, who didn’t speak any English, but this would give us an excuse to practice our Spanish.
Mario told us that we would hike down the canyon to the town, where he would meet us. There would also be a waterfall on the way which would be a short detour if we wanted to see it.
Taking A Hike
And so Mario’s brother led us further back into the ranch, where we would find the start of the path into the canyon. On the way we passed a small hut in the forest. Our guide pointed this out and told us that this was a temezcal. There was a bucket and other items inside, all ready for a healing ceremony.
It wasn’t long after passing the temezcal that we came out of the forest. This was at the top of the canyon and the views were spectacular. Soon we started to descend. The path was steep in places and there was a slip or two (though miraculously not by me).
We passed a few other people on the way. A ranch worker on horseback, a couple of teenagers and even a lonely cow. Our guide knew everyone and stopped to speak to them all (except the cow).
Once at the bottom of the canyon, the views were still amazing, just from a different angle. At the bottom of the canyon we had to cross a river, over a very old, rotten and broken bridge. But that’s all good fun, right?
Our guide was great. He pointed things out and tried to explain what we were seeing, even though our Spanish wasn’t great. We got a few things though, like trees that had fire damage. Though there was a red and white tree that I found interesting, but didn’t understand the explanation. We stopped fairly often, due to the heat. But our guide didn’t mind us having to stop for water. He was chatty too, regardless of the language barrier.
After the broken bridge, the path started to climb upwards a little. We seemed to be in a more forested area. After a bit more walking we reached a fork in the road. Our guide told us (with simple Spanish and hand gestures) that the “Cascadita” was down to the left, and he would wait for us at the fork as it wasn’t far.
So we left our guide and headed towards the Cascadita (or small waterfall). It didn’t take long to get there.
The waterfall was a small one, but still pretty. It trickled down the side of a rock face and even went into the rocks and came out again a little lower. A pool formed at the bottom. We were the only people there. It was a peaceful and pretty sight.
After spending some time at the cascadita we headed back to our guide. The walk wasn’t much further, but here we passed other groups heading to the waterfall. These were those that had stayed in town, so it was a much shorter walk for them! We were out of the trees now and even passed a meadow of flowers.
Mario was waiting with the car by a fence. We hopped in and from here it was a short drive into the town.
The town was only small, well tiny, so Mario gave us an hour to explore. First we headed to the church, but there was a Mass on, so we didn’t want to disturb. So we headed back to the zocalo and picked a direction.
We ended up walking to the outskirts of the town – it only took a few minutes. And it wasn’t long before a dog or two had started to follow us. We felt like we were heading a little out of town, so we picked another direction to start heading back. As I said, the town was tiny and it wasn’t long before we were back at the zocalo.
Luckily, we noticed that children were leaving the church, so we headed back towards it and this time we were able to enter. It’s a very simply adorned church, but still pretty.
A Flaming Sunset
Back at the lodge Mario told us we had some free time before dinner. As someone had started a campfire, we made ourselves comfy. There’s something about a fire, isn’t there? It’s nice just to watch it. As we sat there was a lot going on, workers were passing us, busy on the last errands of their day. Mario’s brother came and sat with us for a bit.
As we sat, the evening drew in. In the distance, the sky glowed yellow with the last light of the day. In the peaceful setting of the ranch, with a campfire going, it was beautiful.
Another Amazing Meal
Not long after darkness had enveloped the site, Mario was calling us in for dinner. Just like lunch, the meal was incredible. Three courses, with Jamaica, again. So much food. There was tortilla soup, followed by chicken in a creamy sauce with rice, then banana with a cream sauce for dessert. Once again it was all delicious and plentiful.
After dinner, we sat around and chatted for some time. Mario told us that he is a qualified Shaman and asked if we would like to have a temezcal the next day. We were a little unsure, due to the extra cost, so we had to figure out the budget. He told us that as long as we let him know in the morning it could be arranged.
When we left the main building it had actually gotten a little chilly, maybe I’d just become accustomed to Mexico heat. We headed back to our cabaña to get ready for bed. And here I have to say, the shower was amazing. Considering we were in the middle of nowhere, the water not only got hot, but also had pressure behind it. If I’m honest, it was completely unexpected! With several blankets piled on the bed, there was no fear of a cold night either.
The Day Ahead
The next day we were up early for our exploration of the area. The first stop was obviously breakfast in the main building. We were in earlier than expected and it was a few minutes before Mario joined us. There was fresh coffee to be had and soon a plate of banana and watermelon was placed on the table. Next came toast in covered in sugar. A little bizarre and not something I ever thought about before. The main breakfast was Mexican eggs with beans. A good (and filling) start to the day.
As we ate Mario told us that instead of driving to Urique, he had found us a guide to lead us hiking for some of the way. Sounded like a plan. He also told us to have swimming gear, as we would be able to swim in the river. We had also decided by this point to have a temezcal. We’d seen them advertised all over Mexico and not done one yet. There wasn’t much time left for us to have one, so the timing and even the place felt right.
Out In the Wilderness
Our guide met us outside the main building and Mario introduced us. Within minutes we were on our way behind the guide. The first part of the walk wasn’t very interesting, it was along a road. Then we slipped away from the road and ended up at a small hut. Our guide went in and after a few minutes reappeared with walking sticks for us and him. Dave asked if this was the guides house, to which the answer was yes. And that was essential all the conversation we got from our guide that day.
The hike soon began in earnest, taking us through a pine forest. The path was very steep in places and our guide disappeared in the distance. He seemed to be in a hurry. Several times we stopped for water and called out to him, but he didn’t hear. Other times we tried to engage him in conversation (with terrible Spanish) but he would barely talk to us. It’s a shame we didn’t have Mario’s brother for a guide for this walk.
As we climbed, very steeply, we crossed the road several times. It seemed that we were taking the very direct route, that the roads have to weave around.
Our silent leader eventually stopped and waited for us on the edge of a cliff. From this viewpoint, we could see down into the canyon and the river snaking its way through the bottom of the canyon. The river was pretty dry, but you could still see it’s route.
Soon Mario had appeared with the car. He told us that we were looking down on Urique Canyon. The town, Urique, at the bottom of the canyon is home to native people, the Tarahumara.
We drove the rest of the way down into the canyons. A fun drive to say the least, thin, windy roads along cliff edges. It’s not a drive for the fainthearted! Don’t get me wrong, the views were incredible, but my heart was in my throat more than once.
As we drove Mario told us a little bout the town. Urique is home to the White Horse Marathon (Caballo Blanco). In the first weekend in March, runners from all over the world come to compete in the Ultra Marathon of 80km. The race starts and ends in the town, runners follow a route up into the canyons and back down. During the race of that year (2018) the winner completed the course in under 6 hours. A bit insane!
Exploring The Town
It took quite a while to get down into the town, the drive had to be done slowly. But we managed it. Once in the town, Mario introduced us to a guy waiting for us, he was to show me and Dave around the town.
In all honesty, there wasn’t much to see. But our guide was chatty and between our terrible Spanish and him having very little English, we managed to understand each other. It is incredible what you can understand without a common language, as long as you are willing to try.
There are only two roads that make up the town. On runs next to the river Urique, the other is parallel to this one. We walked up both these streets with our guide. He even showed us a small beach on the river. There was a net set up for volleyball too, looks like the beach gets used often.
Urique is definitely a picturesque town, with the canyon rising up on all sides and the river running through it. Our guide took us over the river, which gave us a great view, although there was literally nothing on the other side.
Of Fruit And Shoes
As we explored we noticed that there was a lot of fruit and I mean a lot. Mango trees, orange trees and trees bearing fruit that I didn’t recognise. Trees were everywhere, on the streets, in gardens, along the river bank, everywhere. Our guide told us that the town makes its money from the fruit crop.
After walking around for a bit, our guide took us to the town’s church. A typical Mexican church, a white building with turquoise edges. It is a very pretty church. The inside is sparsely decorated, but the outside is very pretty.
After the church we were led into a house. The house was small, with a workshop and a bed in the same room. In the house we were invited to sit and the owner brought out some sandals. These are the running shoes used in the White Horse marathon. On all honesty, I would not like to run wearing them, they didn’t look comfy! They are literally sandals. A thong goes through where the big and second toe would sit, forming a large knot underneath. The thong is then wrapped around the heel and ankle to secure it. I think I’ll stick to trainers…
After our exploration of the small town we were led a little out of Urique, to a house by the river. This is home to a Tamaharu family that Mario is friendly with (well, he is friendly with everyone and seems to know everyone too). Here we would taste pinole, a traditional drink of the area.
Pinole is a corn drink. First the corn is soaks in water. Then the corn is roasted in a ceramic pot over a fire with stones mixed in. The stones allow for even heat distribution. Whilst roasting the corn, they are constantly stirred, they become a darker yellow during this process. Once the corn is sufficiently roasted, the stones have to be removed. Me and Dave helped at this point, I think the woman making the pinole was shocked that we were so interested and wanting to help out.
Once the corn is separated, it is then grinded, using a metate. This was a long process, as each bit is ground in was brushed into a bowl, but there was a lot of corn to be ground up.
A tablespoon of the ground corn is then put in a cup, which is then filled with water. This is pinole. Sugar can be added to sweeten the taste, which I did. It is a bizarre drink, the corn doesn’t actually dissolve so you have bits floating. But it does flavour the water slightly.
Pinole is used as an energy drink and runners in the White Horse marathon drink it.
As we were having the pinole made, there were two very curious dogs following us around. One was particularly funny, he just barked at everything. Until he was put up on a ledge. He seemed happy on the ledge as he could see everything.
With pinole in hand, Mario brought us lunch. His wife had provided us with a packed lunch and there was just as much food as when we ate in the lodge.
There were four tortillas each, two filled with cheese and onion, to filled with frijoles. A boiled egg and salt were also provided, plus fizzy drinks. Much more than I expected and rather filling too.
After lunch, Mario told us that we had some spare time and encouraged us to go for a swim in the river. We didn’t need much encouragement. There was a gate in the wall that led directly to the river, one of the dogs followed us to make sure we got there.
It wasn’t much of a swim, more of a paddle as the river was so low. The water was really cold too. Trying to get to deeper areas was easier said than done, the rocks on the river bed were particularly sharp and uncomfortable to walk on. We basically just ended up sitting in the water for a bit.
The Canyon Viewpoint
Heading back out from our swim, it was time to move on. So we said goodbye to our Urique guide and the lady that had made the pinole, who gave us the rest of the pinole powder to take with us. Back in the car we retraced our drive, back up the windy, steep road. Going up it was still a white knuckle ride.
Mario stopped on the way up at the Urique viewpoint. I’m glad we got here later in the day, earlier we had seen the busloads here. Now we had the place to ourselves (other than a dog, there’s always a dog in Mexico).
There was a bit that stuck out over the edge with a glass floor, though it wasn’t the clearest of floors, so the effect was a little lost. Regardless of this, there were still some incredible view of Urique Canyon. You can see for miles across the canyon. And because we had the place to ourselves we were able to explore the entire viewpoint and see the canyon from every angle possible. Urique is the deepest canyon in the Copper Canyon system and you can really appreciate how deep it is from this viewpoint.
The view is definitely what I’d call breathtaking.
Once we arrived back at the lodge, Mario told us that he would go and start preparing the Temezcal. We didn’t need to rush over as it takes a while to prepare.
As we didn’t really have much to do we decided to head over to the Temezcal sooner rather than later. Might as well get the full experience, right?
When we got to the Temezcal, Mario had a fire going, where he was heating up some rocks. His brother was also there, he would be joining us in the Temezcal.
Mario told us that the Temezcal is very ritualistic. It is a whole ceremony that is used for healing and cleansing of the mind, body and spirit. The sweat lodge represents the womb and once you have completed a Temezcal you are reborn. In local traditions, women go to a Temezcal to give birth. It is believed that it is easier for the child as it won’t be such a shock entering the world. Mother and child stay in the Temezcal for several days after the birth.
We had to wear swimming gear for the Temezcal, as it would get very hot and steamy in there. Mario also told us to remove anything metal: jewellery; glasses; hairpins. The heat can actually warp and damage metal, so I had to go in without my glasses, making it even more fun for me.
Before entering the Temezcal for the cleansing ritual, we had to start cleansing outside. One by one we stood up and Mario cleansed us each with a pine branch. He moved the pine all over our bodies: head; back; legs; arms; everywhere. My main memory of this was how scratchy the pine was, I get distracted easily…
After the scratching down with pine, Mario handed us what looked like a small stone, or piece of amber. This was actually some pine resin. He told us to throw it into the fire and make a wish.
Now it was time to enter the Temezcal. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. First, the door is so low that you have to crawl into the sweat lodge. Once in, you can’t stand, it is far too low, so you have to crawl to your spot. You also have to ask permission to enter. Mario told us the words and we repeated them, with our foreheads to dirt at the entrance to the lodge.
Dave went first. Once he had asked permission, Mario told him to enter. He had to turn to the left and circle around the circumference, as you are only allowed to move in an clockwise direction and he had to ensure the rest of us can get in. I soon followed, then Mario’s brother and finally Mario placed himself inside the Temezcal near the door.
Even with just three participants and the shaman, this was a squeeze.
Inside The Temezcal
Once we were all in the Temezcal the ritual began in earnest. Mario told us that there are four ‘rounds’ to the ritual and he would explain each as we went through it. Each first round begins by adding some of the hot rocks to the centre of the Temezcal. As the rocks are brought in, the shaman and participates chant to welcome them. The heat starts to rise with each rock. Water is then splashed over the rocks at various points during the rounds.
During each round, you are meant to be ‘praying’ for different things. The first round is for yourself, the second for other people that you are close to, the third for all the children and the last round is for the whole world. Each round was different, during the first we were each asked what we wanted to get from the Temezcal.
The Dark And Heat
During the rounds, a cloth is placed over the entrance. Inside is completely dark and there is no ventilation. With each round adding hot rocks, inside becomes unbearably hot, it’s so hot it hurts to breathe. There is no respite from the heat. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Mario looked after us though. After the second round, he had some water brought in for us to drink. And after the third round he invited us to step outside and take a break. The sun was starting to set at this point and I’ve never been so grateful to feel the cool evening air against my skin. Going back in was not easy, even though Mario advised us that putting our heads on the floor would make things easier. Apparently that’s the trick to surviving.
Placing my head on the floor for the fourth round did help a lot. It was still very difficult, but this position meant the air around my nose was a little cooler. Once the fourth round was finished Mario excited and told us to leave once we were ready. It wasn’t long before we were crawling out for air.
Our Last Night At Cerocahui
By now darkness had completely enveloped Cerocahui, the stars were out and they looked beautiful. The cold air on my skin felt incredible. Mario asked us how we felt after the experience and chatted with us for a while.
Considering how hot I was, I started to feel cold fairly quickly. The fire had begun to die down and the chill started to take over. Mario told us that he would clear up and meet us back at the lodge for dinner, which would be served as soon as we were ready. Dave asked if we were able to shower – he wanted to check there wasn’t a ritualistic reason to not shower for some time. Luckily, it was all ok to clean up.
And the shower was much appreciated. It was a great feeling to wash a very thick layer of sweat off my body. Especially as the shower here was so good.
Back in the main building and Mario’s wife spoilt us again with her amazing cooking, First there was some kind of elote soup with croutons. Next came some sort of fried carne (meat), I think it was mince meat with mushrooms and onions, accompanied by some amazing guacamole. Lastly was a chocolate mousse. I miss getting so spoilt by Mario’s wife.
A Sad Goodbye
The next morning we heading to the main building for our final meal at San Isidro Lodge. Once again it was some of the best fayre I have had. Fresh coffee, fruit, hotcakes and eggs. Mario sat with us again and asked us when we would like to head to the bus station. In all honesty – never.
I would have loved to stay here longer. But as our trip was booked and we had more of the Copper Canyon to see, we had to leave. Sometimes leaving a place is the worst part of travelling.
We decided to leave as soon as we could – we didn’t see the point in hanging around. So after breakfast we packed up and jumped in the car.
Once we were at the bus station, Mario went above and beyond again. He checked where we were going and told the driver exactly where we should get off. Our notes said “Tell bus driver Trailhead Inn with Rogelo.” We were glad to have Mario who could make sure the driver knew exactly where this was. He also told us that the stop would be almost opposite a church – so keep an eye out for it.
We had arrived at the bus station with perfect timing, there was just enough time to buy tickets, have Mario tell the bus driver where to drop us off and get on the bus. So now it was time to say goodbye. We thanked Mario for everything as we said our farewells, he had been an amazing host. Our stay at Cerocahui wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good without him.
About an hour later we were on a road and a church was approaching. Here the driver stopped and motioned to us that this was our stop. Several other passengers were also trying to tell us that here is where we get off. They had obviously overheard Mario and wanted to help.
Off the bus, we had no idea where we were going! Luckily we had stopped right by a sign that pointed the way. Although this was a little confusing as there were three names on the sign! But we saw one of the names was the Trailhead Inn, so we followed the dirt road.
At the end of the road were two gates, one had a sign saying the Trailhead Inn, so we were in the right place. As we approached the gate a couple pulled up on a motorbike. As they dismounted they asked us if this was the Trailhead Inn, we replied that we hoped it was!
A Bit Of Confusion
As we followed the short path from the gate we were met by a woman, I assume she was the cleaner. There was no formal reception, so this lady helped us, well kind of. She got rather confused at there being four of us when she was only expecting two. But between our terrible Spanish and some hand gestures, we managed to explain. She told us that Ray would be back in the afternoon.
Luckily, she allowed us to await Ray where we were. So we all sat at the tables on the porch and waited. The layout of the Inn was, well not an inn. There was a main building with a few rooms and a communal area and then some private cabañas, some of which were still being built. This was all centred around a fire pit.
Waiting For Ray
I was glad the Aussies had turned up when we did, as it meant we could make some new friends. Turns out they had been riding the bike for quite some time, they’d come over the US border and down Baja – literally coming the opposite way to us. Sounded like an epic road trip.
The time went surprisingly quick as we waited for Ray to arrive. When he did arrive he welcomed us, showed us to our room and sorted the Aussies with a room. He then told us what we would be doing tomorrow. Me and Dave would be going to Divisadero, however many of the attractions were not running today and Ray could not say if it would change tomorrow. He also told us what other tours he did, if we had the time. There were also some nearby walks that he pointed out. To reach these we would have to go behind the cabañas and turn right.
All four of us decided to try out one of the nearby routes. So after heading to the local shop to grab some snacks, we headed off behind the cabañas.
Walking behind the cabañas, we soon had to cross a railway line, I assume this is where El Chepe travels. Even with the four of us, we managed to go slightly wrong once over the railway line. But we ended up back on track within minutes.
Turning right we followed a road for a short while until we came to a signpost that pointed off the road. There were two routes that we could take, we all decided on Ruta Panoramica. Why not? It sounded like there would be good views. And we were not disappointed.
Although the route was easy to start with, it soon began to climb steeply. But the steep climb was worth it for the views over the Copper Canyon system.
After about an hour of walking, we came across an empty and abandoned shack. It was weird. The shack was on a protruding part of the cliff, away from the path. Although we had jokingly decided that this must be where a drug lord comes to torture people, we still went to explore. There was a great place to climb behind the shack, which gave great views over the canyon.
The Route Continues
We stayed at this shack for a while, climbing and exploring. But as there was still plenty of light left in the day, we carried on down the path.
Although the views were still incredible, they didn’t change much. At one point we came to a bridge, which had a few bits missing. It looked so ramshackle that we decided to cross one at a time!
Not long after this bridge we turned a corner to come across two young children. I have no idea where they came from, there was nothing around. But they obviously weren’t used to seeing white folk. We said “Hola” but gained no response. As we carried on I turned around and they were both still staring at us, just a little creepy.
We had now been walking for about a couple of hours and were beginning to think we should start heading back soon. But as usual we just had to get round that next corner, up that next crest, you get the idea. Eventually we did stop, at a great viewpoint. Here we could see the rest of the path winding around the canyon. It went on for ages. From here we could even see Divisadero and it’s cable car, which was not running.
Back To The Trailhead
Turning round, the journey back was much quicker, I guess that’s what happens when you’re mainly going downhill and not uphill. The two children had disappeared without a trace and soon we were back at the shack.
The fading light gave the canyon a different look, as different areas were highlighted. The shadows were much longer and the contrast between light and shadow exaggerated. At one point we could see that the Divisadero cable car was being tested. It gave us hope for the next day.
We arrived back at the railway line long before dark, it really was a much quicker walk back. Here we met three children walking on the tracks. Once again the children were amazed with us. To the point that the little girl followed us back. She stayed with us for a while as we relaxed in the common room. When Ray came in we discovered that she didn’t speak much Spanish, but the native language, so Ray was able to speak to her.
A Sleepy Town
The four of us decided to head out to the main street, well the only street, to get some food for the evening. I glanced over the recommendations that Copper Canyon Adventures had given us, but there wasn’t much. We walked up the street until there were no more lights and turned back. Heading into somewhere that looked like a restaurant we soon walked out again, once inside it didn’t seem like a place to eat. There were not enough seats and there was a TV on the only table. Just a bit bizarre.
Finally we ended up practically back at the Trailhead Inn and found an actually restaurant. The only restaurant in town. At the time there wasn’t much left on the menu, place shut early here it seems. I guess that’s due to lack of tourists. So we all had grilled fish with rice, which was plain but very nice. The woman running the restaurant was really nice too, her children wanting to help and they were very amusing as they tried. It was a nice atmosphere, even if we did have to jump over a moat to get there.
The next morning me and Dave waited for Ray on the porch – we had breakfast included in our stay, but were unsure where to go. When he came he seemed surprised that we didn’t know where breakfast was. He led us out of the gate, and through the other gate we had noticed the day before. He led us up the path to the house. This was his house.
It felt a little weird to be in Ray’s house. The table was set and his dog came for a nosey. His wife made the breakfast and Ray brought it out to us. In all honesty, compared to what we’d got used to with Mario, the breakfast was disappointing, though mainly due to the instant coffee. We were given scrambled eggs with ham, tortillas, toast and frijoles with cheese. So a decent enough breakfast, but we’d gotten used to Mario’s wife completely spoiling us.
He didn’t stay long and he asked if we minded going to Divisadero a little later than planned, as he had another couple to take there. If it was ok, his wife would take us an hour after had been planned. This would also mean that our tour of the area would be later. We were fine with this, as our itinerary said we had the afternoon free, this would not make much difference to us.
An Adventure Park With No Adventures
It was only about a half and hour drive to Divisadero and the Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre. Once we were dropped off Ray’s wife told us that we would have about three hours. Seemed like plenty of time to explore.
The drop off area was surrounded by a market. Completely surrounded. You couldn’t get to the park with going through it and have the hawkers trying to sell their wares.
Once we got to the park itself we quickly realised that nothing was working. The cable car, no zip lines and no ZipRider. To be fair, I doubt we would’ve tried many of the attractions, maybe the ZipRider as it is one of the longest in the world, but the prices were quite high for our budget really, even if anything was working.
So, you can imagine our disappointment. And then the realisation that we have three hours to spend in an adventure park where nothing is working. Well, the Via Ferrata was working, but we didn’t fancy it. And we were not paying so much when it was the only option. I mean, the views were great, but can you really just look at a view for three hours?
After a bit of time, we decided to go into the restaurant, as we had been told that it had a glass floor. Luckily, the restaurant was open. Yay! And the glass floor was even working!
You had to go barefooted on the glass floor, which is always fun. Looking down there wasn’t much to see. I feel like the glass floor was made to advertise the Via Ferrata, as you can watch people on parts of the course from here. Even this couldn’t entertain us for long and soon we headed back outside.
The Cable Car
We had a little bit of excitement when they started to test the cable car. We thought maybe the park would wake up, but no. After some time watching them test the car, the workers came off and we realised that it was not going to start.
So we went back into the restaurant and got our caffeine fix for the day. The coffee here was actually really good and not over priced. It’s amazing how long you can make a coffee last when you have nothing to do.
After a very long coffee break we realised that the cable car was open, kind of. As in you could go and stand in the cable car. Well, it’s better than nothing, so we decided to head in. Personally I think this gave better views than the restaurant.
FINALLY it was time to go and meet Ray. I don’t think the park was all bad, I just think it wasn’t for us. It is definitely aimed at those with a bit more disposable income and those that aren’t on a tight budget. I resent paying entry to a park and then having to pay for any activities on top of the entrance fee. It also didn’t help that both me and Dave don’t like shopping, otherwise we could’ve entertained ourselves at the market a little more.
A Bunch Of Rocks
Ray met us at the far edge of the market, where our tour was to begin. We went to the edge of the canyon and Ray was about to start when someone came up and asked him something. This was his tour from earlier and they had to catch El Chepe, so need a lift back to the hotel. Ray told us this and asked if we minded. We could hardly say no, could we? But it did feel like we’d just been dropped.
Waiting for Ray felt longer than it was. It was probably a little over ten minutes, but it felt like an eternity. But he did reappear and apologised again.
Now our tour could actually begin. Finally. Ray pointed out to a rock not so far away that we’d seen a couple climb on. The rock looked like it had been placed on top of some others and seemed unstable. He told us that this was called Balanced Rock. People used to climb on it (like I’d just seen people do) but this is now discouraged as somebody fell to their death.
Three In One
Back in the car we drove a very short distance to a viewpoint. This was Three Canyons Viewpoint. This is where the Urique, Copper and Tararecua canyons all meet in the Copper Canyon system. It is an incredible view.
From this viewpoint Ray also pointed out “Elephant Rock” and you guessed it, it looks like an elephant. I was actually impressed at how easy it was to see the elephant in this rock. You know how normally you have to REALLY look, tilt your head and squint a bit, not with this one. It was so obvious.
Ray told us that he would drive a little further and we could walk to meet him. The walk really was short, maybe ten minutes, but it was along the canyon’s edge, so of course the views were great, There were also points where the walkway went out over the canyon, which had a better effect than the glass floor in the restaurant if you ask me.
Our next stop on the tour was another viewpoint of the canyon. This was near Divisadero station. Once again Ray dropped us off and told us to meet him a short walk along. There was a suspension bridge to cross and that was about it for the walk.
Across the suspension bridge was El Mirador. By all accounts, this is the best view of the Copper Canyon System, known as the “One-Hundred-Mile” view. And it was incredible. The views went on as far as the eye could see. Three canyons of the system could be seen – Barranca del Cobre, Barranca de Urique and Barranca de Tararecua. Definitely what you’d call a breathtaking view.
At this point we also found something interesting – there was a map of this area, with all the routes around. It turns out that yesterday we were following a mountain biking route – no wonder we weren’t able to complete the route!
El Chepe Approaches
We headed back to Ray and he gave us a choice. He had to pick up some other guests, so we could wait for them or go back now. It would be about a half an hour wait. I feel like he hadn’t planned his day out too well…
We decided to wait, no need to rush back and it would mean we would have another view of El Chepe pulling in. So we headed into the station to find a vantage point.
At this station the train stops for fifteen minutes, allowing all customers to get off and enjoy the main view of the canyon, which is good but also has a bad point. This has meant that the station has become a market, so trying to get through was easier said than done. I was glad I wasn’t getting on or off at this stop with my backpack! I only had myself to get through, which made it a little easier.
After fighting our way through the bustling market, we got to the platform. Looking around we spotted some steps, these led to, essentially, a roof. We climbed up and were rewarded with an out-of-the-way, quiet spot to watch El Chepe pull in.
This time El Chepe has the second class train attached. It was interesting to see the difference. We had to wait for a while before heading back down from our vantage point after the train had appeared – the platform turned into chaos, as passengers disembarked, some with bags, some without, the vendors tried to sell their wares and staff tried to help passengers with bags.
A short while later we were back at the Trailhead Inn. With the afternoon free, we decided to try out the other walk we passed the day before. As we were heading off, we bumped into the Australian couple, who were heading off. So we had a chance to say goodbye, which I was glad to have the chance to do. It’s the friends you make whilst travelling that make the journey special.
After our goodbyes and exchanging details, me and Dave headed back behind the cabañas and over the railway line. This time we turned onto the Ruta Escuela Path.
The path started similar to Ruta Panoramica, with similar views. But soon we heard bells in front. We had no idea what this could be, rounding a corner we discovered what was making this noise. Goats. A herd of goats, all with bells around their necks! I have no idea what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t a load of goats.
After the goats, the path began to climb steeply. Really steeply. I was beginning to wish I was a goat, that would’ve made life easier. Along the way, there were more breathtaking views of the canyon. The scenery in the Copper Canyon is definitely dramatic.
An Accidental Shortcut
A few hours passed and, as we knew it was actually a bike trail so there was no way we could complete it, we decided to turn back. The canyon was starting to get dark and we were a little worried about getting back. We ended up at a fork, that had three paths, we hadn’t even noticed this on our journey out so had no idea which was correct. So we picked the easiest looking one. Turns out that this was a massive shortcut and we actually save about thirty minutes!
Once back (quicker than we anticipated) we were alone. The Aussie’s had gone and it was getting dark. So we just had a relaxed evening.
A New Friend
The next morning we decided to get a fairly early bus to Creel. it’s not like we had much left to explore in Areponapuchic. So we headed over to Ray’s house for breakfast, which this time was fried eggs with salsa and frijoles. I have to admit, I was still missing Mario and his wife’s amazing food…
After breakfast, we packed up and headed to the ‘bus stop’. Or more accurately, where the bus had dropped us off. We had been told that the buses were pretty regular, though no one could give us a definite time, so we figured we’d just wait.
And wait we did. It was ages until a bus showed up, easily over an hour. It wasn’t a real bus stop, there was no shelter, nowhere to sit. But as no one knew when the bus would come, we didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t all bad, a husky came to keep us company. And she was obsessed with having someone hold her paws. So at least we made a new friend.
Finally the bus arrived, and we had to leave our new friend. This was really sad, she was so lovely I felt bad leaving her.
The bus journey was short, only an hour long. Honestly, we spent more time waiting for the bus than on it.
Arriving at Creel we checked our itinerary to see where we were staying. It was called Cabañas Bertis. Getting off the bus, we had to cross the rail tracks to get into the town and the cabañas were meant to be a little off the square from what we could tell. But we couldn’t find them.
Luckily I saw the tourist office so we headed in. Surely they would know where the Cabañas Bertis were?
No. They didn’t. They’d never heard of our accommodation. Just a little worrying…
Cabañas That Aren’t Cabañas
Thankfully, as we left the tourist information I spotted a sign, over the road and a little to the right. It was out accommodation. So practically opposite the tourist office and they didn’t know where it was. Not even as if it was lost in translation as we showed them the itinerary notes with Cabañas Bertis written down.
So we headed over and we were in the right place. Yay! Although I must say Cabañas Bertis were not cabañas, it was a motel set up really. Still nice enough, but definitely not cabañas.
After putting our bags down, we were free for the day. Our first thought was to grab some food (waiting for the bus was hungry work). Checking the notes from Copper Canyon Adventures we decided to try out Veronicas.
A Chilled Afternoon
The restaurant was pretty much just across the road, so nice and easy to find. We both had some hot chocolate (so good) and tried Caldo Tlalpeño – as this was recommended on the itinerary. And is was great. When it came out it didn’t look too appealing, but it so tasty and filling. A great recommendation.
After lunch, we explored the town. We wandered away from the main square first, but there were mainly hotels and restaurants this way. So after a bit of walking, we headed back to the Plaza.
I had looked in my Rough Guide earlier and wanted to check out the Museo de la Casa de las Artesanías, so we headed across the square and over the railway tracks to this museum.
The Artisan Museum
As the town was so small and there didn’t seem much to do, I didn’t have high hopes for the small museum. How wrong was I? I loved it. The tiny museum had several rooms and was really well laid out.
The museum had lots of different artefacts and told about the life of the local people, the Rarámuri. Their culture, history and more. There was also information on the history of the area, and how Creel came to be. Artefacts included crockery, musical instruments and clothing. There were also some old black and white pictures of the Rarámuri people, these were really quite moving.
It’s no secret that I love stories and legends, so I loved the small bit on legends of how the people came here. There are a couple of legends, but my favourite was that they have always been here. Nice and simple. They believe that they are descendants of another previous race, from whom they inherited their knowledge and culture. I think that has to be the simplest legend I have ever heard.
The museum also had a shop and in this shop was the biggest dog I have seen for a while. He was called Oso (Bear) and it wasn’t hard to see why. Such an awesome dog, he decided to sleep at the top of some steps and would move for no one. Some guys tried to come past with planks of wood and they had to manoeuvre over him.
Local Wares And Fare
I’d also read about the Artesanías Misión, so after we’d finished wandering round the museum we headed there.
This one was a bit of a disappoint I found. It is a shop that has lots of local handicrafts to raise money for the local mission hospital. However, a lot of the local handicrafts I had seen elsewhere in Mexico. There were more original pieces in the museum shop (like violins carved like a face, which we bought and had to struggle carrying for the rest of the trip…) But I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, isn’t it?
So we did what any normal person would do after a disappointment, we went for ice cream. There was an ice cream shop on the Plaza that we’d spotted earlier. I think this was one of my favourite pastimes in Mexico, getting an ice cream and people watching on the Plaza or Zocalo.
That evening we headed to dinner. We headed away from the square, as on our walk earlier we’d noticed a few restaurants. It was tempting to just go back to Veronica’s for more of the soup, but twice in one day is a bit much, right?
So we stumbled upon Tío Molcas. Here I tried beef ‘local style’. And it was great. The beef was topped with tomatoes and cheese and came served with a salad, chips and frijoles. It was a great little restaurant and everyone wanted to talk to us. It was a cozy atmosphere and we stayed later than we planned.
A Morning Of Exploration
Our host had come to us the night before and asked if we minded our arranged tour departing an hour later. This was fine with us, leaving at 10am gave us plenty of time in the morning to find breakfast.
We took another recommendation from the trip notes, Mi Cafe. This is a small, cosy place, just a little down the street from our hotel. Here I opted for a less Mexican breakfast, I had hotcakes. They were so good, I think I needed the change. I also tried the recommended Café de Olla, which was one of the best coffees I’d had on the trip.I’ve no idea what made it so good, but good it was.
After our very fulfilling breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to be picked up for our tour. We didn’t have long to wait, the car and driver appeared minutes after we got back.
Our first stop on the tour was a local Rarámuri cave dwelling. For me, this felt a little weird, I’m not really a fan of going into people’s houses. But the whole family were very welcoming, I’m just not overly comfortable with this kind of thing.
The cave was crowded, with several beds. Over ten people lived and slept in this small cave. There was so much scattered around: pots; pans; clothes. Outside some of the family were selling their wares.
Into The Sierra Tarahumara
We drove for a while, to get into the Sierra Tarahumara. Along the way, we stopped at Piedra el Elefante, which, you guessed it, is a rock that looks like an elephant. It’s just by the side of the road, so you can’t miss it. And I will admit, it really does look like an elephant.
After this short break in the drive, we headed to Cascada de Cusárare. The car we were in struggled a bit at some of the crossings, but we made it. Our driver dropped us off near a bridge on the river and pointed the way to the waterfalls.
So off we headed. First, we went over the bridge, and then we followed the path to the right. It wasn’t too far of a walk to the waterfalls themselves. It was obvious we were nearby when the market stalls started appearing. The path wasn’t the easiest to navigate with the stalls, there were a few points that rocks had to be scrambled over.
At this time of year (March) the river was very low, causing the waterfall to be more of a trickle. Well, there were two trickles to be precise, but this didn’t make them any less impressive. The 30-metre drop was still a great sight.
Being only a trickle also had a great plus point; it meant that we were able to climb down to the bottom of the waterfall. At the bottom the water was a lovely blue where pools had formed. It was great fun scrambling over the rocks to see how close we could get to the cascada. We were literally walking in the river bed.
Once we had finished our exploration at the bottom of the falls, we headed back up. This time we took the path closest to the cliff edge back, which had several viewpoints of the falls along the way.
One Big Lake
Back on the road it wasn’t long until our next stop, Lago de Arareko. It was a very big lake and obviously a popular family day trip. There were loads of families with kids around the shores.
Me and Dave walked around the shore for some time. There wasn’t much to do here, other than follow the tracks for a while. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty lake, but our driver didn’t tell us much about it. So we walked for a bit, skimmed some stones and headed back to the car.
San Ignacio De Arareko
The next part of our tour was what I was really excited about, the land that belongs to the ejido of San Ignacio de Arareko. This land, owned by a Ramámuri collective, is where some interesting rock formations can be found.
Here we stopped first at the Misión de San Ignacio. This is an eighteenth-century church, the stone building almost blends with the surrounding scenery. Apparently, we were lucky to find the church unlocked. It is extremely sparse and minimal inside.
One thing that hit me here was the children. TStraight away, several children just flocked to us because we were tourists. They wanted money, either through begging or selling souvenirs, but if you give children money they don’t go to school the next day either, as they are useful to their parents. But here they were more determined than anywhere else I’d seen in Mexico, they literally wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even though they were kids it was quite intimidating.
Frogs And Mushrooms
After escaping the children (quite literally) it was a short drive to the first rock formations, the Valley of the Frogs. Here are some rocks that look like frogs. At the right angle, it’s really easy to see. There were kids here too, trying to sell us anything. We didn’t stay here long as the children would not leave us alone. At all.
The Valley of the Mushrooms was next. As we were approaching we saw a young girl come out of a shack. This little girl ran alongside the car to the valley. She actually beat us to the valley. This was where she had a load of trinkets spread around to sell. I always feel bad not buying, but firstly I tend not to want any of it and the kids should be in school, not selling trinkets.
The mushroom rock formations are really cool. There are loads of them. Larger rocks delicately balancing on thinner, but taller rocks, to create a mushroom effect. They went up the sides of the valley and it was fun to walk among them. Though I am dubious that they are all completely natural if I’m honest…
A New Discovery
As we headed back to town, we somehow got into a conversation about food with our guide. He asked us if we’d tried Papa Asada, which we hadn’t. Heading back into town he pointed out his favourite place for this meal. Naturally, once we were dropped off we headed there to have a try, and it was lunchtime.
The place was called Patros and was very obviously not used to tourists. Both me and Dave had Papa Asada con Carne with some Horchata. Papa Asada is basically a jacket tattie, but they remove the skin. As we had been craving jacket tatties for a while, this actually satisfied our craving. And I have no idea what the meat was that it came with…
The afternoon was ours to do what we liked. So we had a relaxed afternoon. As I had discovered the Amigos package for my Mexican phone number, I took advantage of the free time to catch up on posting without wifi.
Me and Dave try not to go to the same place when we stay somewhere, but that evening we broke the rule. We headed back to Veronica’s for some more Caldo Tlalpeño, it was so good. Our trip notes also recommended the Chocoflan, but this was nowhere near as good as the soup. I’d go as far as to say it was a bit weird… But at least the soup was amazing still.
The End Of An Epic Journey
The next day we left early to go to the bus station. The journey to Chihuahua was 5 hours, so we had booked an early bus. There wasn’t exactly anything left to explore in Creel.
So five long hours later we got off the bus in Chihuahua, the stop near the town centre and not the confusingly named Terminal Central de Autobuses. From here it was just a short walk to our last night of accommodation with Copper Canyon Adventures, Campanario.
After checking in we headed out to explore Chihuahua.
I’m really glad I found Copper Canyon Adventures to explore this area. Trying to arrange it myself was turning out to be rather difficult, to say the least! I could barely find any information about the Copper Canyon. Plus, I’d been told about lots of scam websites for the El Chepe journey, so was a little worried about booking train tickets online. Using Create A Trip was great, it meant that Copper Canyon Adventures could put together a trip based on my interests and budget. Les was always on hand to help with anything that cropped up. And I had such an awesome nine days.