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The Copper Canyon

Our three weeks in ‘resortville’ has come to an end.

10 Australian Amigos (one is an adopted Canadian and a couple are New Zealand imports), are embarking together on the next adventure.

We are heading for the town of El Fuerte, where we will board the Chihuahua al Pacifico train (El Chepe for short). The railway travels from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, through the Las Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon).

The line was opened in 1961 and took 90 years to complete.

We make a short hop (by plane) across the Gulf of California to Los Mochis. The train trip starts here, but we’ve opted to head up the track a bit to El Fuerte, recommended as a nicer town and instead of a 6:30am departure we will leave at 8:30am (every little bit of sleep counts).

Waiting at the airport is the Balderrama Hotel representative: Regas, but there is a slight hiccup – he is only expecting 2 in our party – not 10!

He calls the hotel (which is a 1.5hr drive away) and they don’t seem to have our booking either.

Georgie who, with great perseverance had organised most of our trip, is a little distressed.  She has spent hours sorting out the trip; our flight from Cabo, train tickets, hotel bookings and transfers.

This was no easy task, the initial attempts to organise things directly failed (no one ever replied to emails).  She ended up using Flight Centre who uses a Mexican agent.  Right now, they had let us down big time!!

Regas however, is our new best friend.  He makes a few phone calls, assures us there is room at the hotel and we can sort things out when we get there.   He organises two taxi’s to take the remaining 8 of us to the hotel.

Taxi number two decided to stopped at a liquor store for a 12 pack of beer to keep them hydrated for the drive.  Good idea – that eased the tension a bit.

Our taxi hadn’t had the initiative, but on arrival, the barman proclaimed he made the best Pina Colada’s in Mexico and we can now agree with him.

Everyone is a little more relaxed and whilst it’s not all sorted, we have rooms for the night and the hotel don’t seem too worried. The Balderrama Hotel group own the hotels along the train route.

Best Pina Colada - Hotel Posada del Hidalgo

Best Pina Colada – Hotel Posada del Hidalgo

We are staying at the hotel Posada del Hidalgo, it’s a beautiful colonial mansion built by the Spaniards in 1564.

It’s also believed to be the birthplace of Diego de la Vega, alias El Zorro.

It was unfortunate that our time in El Fuerte was short; arriving late and departing early, we don’t get to see much of the town – next time I’d stay a night or two.

We arrive at breakfast in the morning and our train tickets are ready and the remainder of the trip is all confirmed. We learn that Regas had worked through the night to resolve our booking fiasco.

A piercing whistle announces the imminent arrival of the train and in the distance we can see the chugging diesel locomotive approaching.

The route is 628 kilometers long, across 37 bridges and through 89 tunnels.  We will take four days, stopping at Barrancas and Creel before we reach Chihuahua.

The first leg is a 5 hour journey, winding our way up through the Canyon to Barrancas, the most scenic stop along the route, though Creel is the highest point.

It’s a spectacular vista. The Hotel Mirador is situated on the edge of the Copper Canyon, which takes its name from the stunning greenish copper hue of the canyon walls. It provides for a breathtaking sunrise, according to Don!

Spanning a total length of 59,545 km, these canyons are longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

We arrive early afternoon, it’s Neil’s birthday and we begin celebrations early by the open fire with a few bottles of red.

The next day we head to the National Park where those that are brave enough opt in for the Ziprider – the longest Zip line in the world, over 2.5km long. It was heart stopping fun!

The one street town of Divisadero provides more breathtaking views of the Canyon. The indigenous Tarahumaran women make and sell handmade products.

The Tarahumaras have lived in the canyons for centuries. The women and children traditionally dress is bright and colourful clothes. The men are also famous for their endurance in long-distance running, often running nonstop for hours.

Divisadero has a unique version of a food court; old oil drums provide makeshift stoves. At which they cook Gorditas – corn pockets stuffed with your choice of filling, along with stuffed chiles and other tasty dishes.

You need to throw caution to the wind, pick the busiest looking stall and hope your lunch only travels through your stomach in one direction!

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Our next stop is Creel. It feels like a town straight out of an old Western. Wide dusty streets, men in cowboy hats, men on horseback riding down the street (and railway line) and lots of stray dogs roaming around.

One stray befriended us whilst we walked around the town. She can spot a tourist and knows that’s the best option for a meal. The dog even waits outside the museum we visited and continues to follow us back to the hotel.

Julie and I couldn’t ignore the pleading eye’s. We check out the first store which didn’t have much to offer, the dog in the meantime is waiting patiently outside the next food store across the street.

Clearly she’s trying to tell us where to shop. We opt for a packet of uncooked frankfurts (or similar). I’m lucky I didn’t lose my hand, that dog swallowed the lot in seconds.

For dinner, most opt to eat at the hotel, but a few of us venture down the street to Tio Molcas, a little family owned restaurant. We are warmly welcomed, though communication is limited to our stilted spanish and hand signs.

Returning back to the hotel, a motorcade of Federales travels down the street. Each vehicle has 4 to 6 ominous looking and fully armed men standing in the back.

We have in fact been traveling through the States of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, home to some of the most violent drug cartels in Mexico. However, we never see anything to raise concern or feel unsafe. There is a strong Federale presence everywhere, even the train travels with armed guards onboard.

The last leg of the train takes us out of the Canyon into Chihuahua, the rugged rocky landscape changes to lush green pastures with horses and cattle grazing, all be it, rather skinny cattle.

We arrive into Chihuahua after 9pm, it’s a nondescript industrial town and we are all departing for various destinations early tomorrow morning.

We have a quick dinner and say our farewells. It’s been a great trip, great fun to do it with 8 other amigos, and we’ve seen a unique part of Mexico.

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