Sunday, March 17, 2013

To the Mexican mainland

Preparing to depart Baja
As the sun set over the dock at Pichilingue we did the little paperwork required before boarding the TMC ferry (about half the price of the Baja Ferries ferry) for Topolobampo. This ferry is used mainly by truckies, but as we were able to sleep in our vans the more basic conditions weren’t a problem. Sunrise saw us pulling into port on the mainland and we bumped ashore for the next step in our adventure.  

Sleeping birth on the TMC ferry
It was immediately apparent that we were no longer in Baja. The soils were brown  and the vegetation green. As we made our way towards El Fuerte we passed through fields of corn almost ready for harvest and paddocks full of workers extracting onions and potatoes from the fertile soils. On Baja, we really didn’t get the impression that it was spring, but here it almost slapped you in the face.

Encounter with Zoro
Our plan was to take the train - the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico - to Cañon del Cobre (Copper Canyon). We could have boarded it at Los Mochis, near the ferry terminal, but fortunately we decided to drive to El Fuerte and board there. Our primary motivation was to save a bit of money and (for Michael and Mariana) to avoid the early departure time at Los Mochis, but it turned out to be a good decision as El Fuerte is a charming little town well worth wandering around for a few hours - including a visit to a building where Zoro is reputed to have grown up. 

Our camp for the night was in the backyard of a delightful elderly couple who lived adjacent to the station and offered parking for people leaving their cars to take the train to the canyon.

Railway station, El Fuerte
The train trip was spectacular, passing initially across the plains before commencing its sinuous climb via dozens of switchbacks, over 80 tunnels and numerous cliff-hanging traverses through steep sided valleys towards Copper Canyon. The presence of machine gun toting security guards was a slight distraction, particularly when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere and we were all sent back to our seats from the viewing platforms at the end of the carriages. The guards then took up positions around the train, scanning the mountains above us. When nothing eventuated after 10 minutes we all returned to “at ease” positions and continued on our way.

Cañon del Cobre - Copper Canyon

 We dismounted at Divisidero and took up residence for the night at the swanky Hotel Mirado which commanded spectacular views over el Cañon de Cobre. Whilst it was quite cloudy and a chill wind blew, the vistas were stunning and an afternoon walk took us around the cliffs and down to where the indigenous Rarámuri people lived in primitive houses built into the escarpment immediately below where we tourists stayed in 5 star comfort above their heads. In spite of their austere living conditions, the women are brightly dressed and make beautiful woven baskets and other trinkets. They are, however, very reserved, generally avoiding eye contacts and rarely smiling, which perhaps is not that surprising as we all traipse through their living areas. These people are known as “those who run fast” and are renowned for their ultra-marathon feats, usually conducted wearing sandals and traditional skirts. 

From Divisidero we hiked to the next town along the canyon wall where we left our packs in another hotel overlooking the cliffs and then took a local bus into Creel. The highlight was probably the fact that we initially missed the bus but a local lad piled us into his car and then drove at a speed and in a manner that was somewhat disconcerting in order to overtake the bus, pull up in front of it in the middle of the windy mountain road and disgorge us onto the pavement. No-one else seemed to find any of this unusual, so we took our seats and continued into Creel. An hour or so walking around the main centre revealed most of the little that seemed interesting so we returned to the bus station and returned to the canyon on the next available. Another afternoon walk around the cliff tops took us to other indigenous dwellings and we ended the day drinking margaritas  and red wine overlooking the gorges, with a warm fire behind us and a couple of additional Germans for company. 

Bus station - Creel

Red wine in the Calibri (hummingbird) bar
Calibri outside the hummingbird bar

The following day, after a morning hike (stroll) around the cliff tops we took the train back to El Fuerte, the clear skies and low evening sun transforming the landscape from the cloud covered one of our ascent, so it felt like a whole different journey even though we were retracing our steps. 

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