Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mazatlan to the Copper Canyon

On Sunday April 9th we departed Marina Mazatlan for our bus/train excursion to the“Barranca del Cobre” (Copper Canyon). The system of canyons is located in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains. Our group of 6, including Dave and Marisa from the vessel “Pacifico” and Howard and Lynn from “Swift Current”, arranged for one of Mazatlan’s ubiquitous red trucks to pick us up at the marina at 6:30am and take us to the downtown bus station. Red trucks operate as taxis with bench seating in the bed and room for up to 8 passengers. While probably not the safest or most comfortable means of transportation, the trucks are inexpensive and efficient. We were pleased to find it waiting for us at the appointed time and by 6:50am we were at the bus station, arriving in time to catch a bus one hour earlier than planned. The ride to the agricultural and industrial city of Los Mochis took 6 hours with a few stops along the way. It was a first class bus so they showed movies in Spanish and the seats were quite comfortable. We noted that they were more comfortable than airline seats and had considerably more leg room. Arriving in Los Mochis, we walked several blocks to another bus station where we would connect with a local bus for the short ride to our planned overnight destination, the quaint town of El Fuerte. Arriving in El Fuerte, we strolled along a few quite streets looking for a hotel for night. Before long, we came upon the Rio Vista Hotel on a hill next to a replica of a Spanish fort. Nacho, the hotel’s proprietor gave us a quick tour of the facility and we all agreed it was a perfect place to spend the night. We quickly settled-in and were soon enjoying beverages and a snack on the hotel’s patio overlooking a meandering river. Nacho (Mark confessed that he was very uncomfortable calling a person “Nacho”) was a perfect host and made our stay very enjoyable. The hotel itself was built into the old fort so it was very unique and had wonderful views of the river and surrounding valley. We would later stroll into town in search of dinner, finding the town to be extremely quiet, perhaps due to the early hour or lack of tourism this year. Later, back in our rooms, we concluded the evening by watching a few minutes of, always entertaining, Mexican TV. Our rooms had two double beds, air conditioning, a nice shower, 2 geckos and a rather large spider. We chose to ignore the other occupants until sometime after midnight when the geckos started barking at each other. It’s hard to imagine that such small reptiles can produce such a substantial bark, loud enough to wake us from a sound sleep. The following morning, Nacho served us a delicious breakfast on the hotel patio and provided us with a ride to the train depot where would catch the first class, Chihuahua-Pacific Railways train up into the mountains. So far, everything about the trip had gone so well that we began to joke that it was all too good to be true and that some major misfortune, like a compound fracture was waiting for one of us around the next bend. Traveling with such good friends that share our warped senses of humor is truly a delight and we often find ourselves laughing until our sides ache. We found the train to be very comfortable and managed to all get seats together. The journey to the canyon took 6 hours as the train climbed from sea level to nearly 8,000 feet. We wiled away the time reading, conversing and looking at the scenery along the way. We rode for hours in the nearly empty dining car enjoying the view from its larger windows. Our intended point to disembark was Posada Barranca and, upon arrival, we were surprised to find just a train platform. While the train made a short stop, we quickly gathered up our bags and stepped down onto the weathered, wooden platform. As we stood there, looking wide-eyed and rather lost, were approached by a gentleman from a nearby hotel who asked if we had reservations. When we replied that we didn’t, he gave us a questioning look but responded, “no problem”. He offered to drive us to his hotel where could check it out with no obligation. When we reached the hotel, we were immediately taken by its spectacular location, right on the rim of the canyon with views that were absolutely breathtaking. Upon seeing the Hotel Pasado Barranca Miradorl, we realized that it was the same one highly recommended to us by other cruisers that had been there just a week before and where we had planned to stay all along. Normally, arriving here as we did, without reservations, would have been foolish but, like most other areas in Mexico, tourism here is way down and we would find that we were among just 25 total guests at the hotel. Once again, our good fortune was making everything fall into place. While checking in, we were a little taken aback by the price, as it was beyond our budget, but it proved to be a good value. As it turns out, all meals were included and they were of excellent quality. By the second day, we agreed that if we were to stay there very long and continue to eat the 3 course gourmet meals, would could roll back down the mountain rather than take the train. After checking- in, we headed up to our rooms and, upon entering, noticed our private balcony. When we stepped outside onto our small deck, hanging over the canyon’s rim, our breath was taken away by the majestic view. We quickly settled- in and excitedly scampered downstairs to check out the rest of the hotel and the surroundings. We met up with David, the gentlemen who had rescued us from the train platform, for a guided walk into the canyon and around several “Tarahumra” Indian residences. According to history, the “Tarahumara” retreated into the canyon when the Spaniards invaded Mexico and have been there ever since. The “Tarahumara”, or as they call themselves “Raramuri”, meaning “foot runner”, dwell in caves or under rock ledges with wood or adobe houses attached to them. They are known as extraordinary long distance runners and for generations have used narrow footpaths in the canyon to travel swiftly between villages. Wearing only huarache sandals, the men have been known to beat ultamarathon runners in the States while even stopping to take a smoke during the event. After our short hike, it was time for “happy hour”, which we enjoyed on the hotel’s large deck overlooking the canyon, followed by a delicious dinner. Plans were made for more canyon exploration the next day and 3 of us signed up for a zip line (steel cables strung between canyon walls traversed by riders wearing climbing harnesses and suspended from a pulley attached to the cable) and, before retiring to our rooms for bed, we had another good laugh thinking that maybe that activity would lead to the compound fracture that was waiting for one of us. Pretty sick sense of humor, eh?

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