Copper Canyon Train Trip

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 8.51.42 AMBy Dardan Surring

The idea to board the El Chepe Train and explore Mexico’s magnificent Copper Canyon was sown into our brains approximately two years ago, by a friend of ours who had heard, then read about the Copper Canyon Train in northern Mexico. The idea appealed to all of us (3 couples), and having travelled together before, it seemed like a great adventure to embark upon. Over the next couple of years, lots of investigation about how to get there and what it encompassed, led to our deciding to book all the transportation from our home base in Huatulco. It was the right decision, because not only was it easy, but we were able to cut our costs in half. Over the space of 3-4 days, all the flights, hotels, train tickets, bus rides etc., were locked into place, and paid for. This was done with determination by my wife, Wendy, and Ingrid, Ray’s wife (he was the original idea man). All that was left to do was pack some clothes and our passports. In addition, my cousin Carol and her husband Glen (Captain Canada) rounded out our group.

Our first destination was Mexico City (all flights anywhere in Mexico seem to have to pass through that hub), and a smooth, comfortable flight by Interjet had us there in no time. The plane had plenty of leg room and great service (free beer). We would all recommend it highly.

Once we were in the airport, we navigated our way through to the outside and found the subway entrance that would take us to the main downtown square, and our hotel, which was a block away. Everyone was watching us and whispering. Could it be that they were all bundled up from the cold, with down jackets, scarves, mitts, hats etc., and we were in shorts, flip-flops and t-shirts? We felt really out of place, as you can see.

A gentleman on the subway asked us where we were headed and when we told him, he offered to take us there by directing us on and off various trains, until we reached the square. It wasn’t long and the fare was only 5 pesos each to get there. Everywhere we went on this trip, people helped us, were so kind and generous and bent over backwards to get us to where we wanted to go. It was a wonderful experience.

We arrived at the huge main square known as the Zocalo in the centre of Mexico City where the Pope had spoken to over a million people in the middle of February. There still remained remnants of his visit with pictures and souvenirs everywhere. We just stood and looked around in awe at the buildings and the people, they in turn continued to wonder where these under-clothed aliens came from. Our hotel (hostel) was only a block away, so we wandered there to check in. This was the only disappointing part of our trip. The hostel was noisy, crowded (although cost efficient), and the rooms were just oversized closets with a bathroom scrunched into it. But we managed. After having some lunch at the hostel, we made our way to the National Palace, which was home to the offices of the President of Mexico and the Federal Treasury. We were able to see murals by Diego Rivera. We also toured the streets and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The next day we travelled to the Anthropological Museum by Electric Cabs which were silent, smooth and not pricey. The museum was gigantic and housed huge areas designated to the various indigenous states of Mexico.

Artifacts, information, skeletons, costumes, all defined individual cultures and filled us in on Mexican history. This took a whole day, and being adventurous, we took a bus back to the Zocalo which had its own lane and was faster and cheaper than a taxi.

That night after supper, we got ourselves organized for the early a.m. plane ride to Los Mochis. The Volaris flight wasn’t long, but felt like it, as we were crammed in like sardines. That was our own fault as we had booked the cheapest, no frills, seats. After landing, we took a cab to the local bus station, to catch a bus that would take us to El Fuerte where we would be boarding the train. Los Mochis is very modern and we would like to return to spend more time there. Prior to getting on the bus, I found a small shop that was newly opened to sell Dairy Queen ice cream. Walking back to the group eating my blizzard seemed to start a stampede by us and others waiting. The owner was beaming and as a result, offered to talk to the bus driver and get us good seats. That he did, right at the front. As I said, people were kind and generous. We were dropped off at the bus station in El Fuerte and took a cab to our booked hotel.

On arrival, the staff were waiting for us and ushered us to our rooms overlooking a river, lush countryside and blueberry fields. The hotel was all carved out of huge rock and our rooms had walls that were part of the mountain. Quaint, and very interesting. We walked to the main square to search for a place to eat. The architecture was tremendous for a small town and very colourful. At the restaurant we chose, we were fortunate to run into a group of Flying Doctors from Los Angeles, who were in town to hold eye clinics and to do eye surgery for the locals. One doctor happened to be a Flamenco dancer, and she performed for us with castanets and a shawl, all dressed in her scrubs. Exceptional!! Walking home, Ray was excited to see a couple of horsemen riding through town. After talking, they invited him to take a trot around the square. He accepted to our delight, and looked like a cowboy from the movies in Mexico. Home to sleep, after a long day.

In the morning, taxis dropped us off at the train station, and luckily we already had our tickets purchased and printed out.   We were all excited as this is what we had done all of the planning for. Boarding, we had seats picked out for us, facing each other in plush seats and huge windows to view the scenery. What scenery it was!! From El Fuerte, we started to climb up into the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains over numerous high bridges and through long dark tunnels. Cameras were clicking everywhere as each turn of the tracks brought oohs and aahs from the passengers. The vistas took your breath away. Colours, rivers, rock formations and knowing that this canyon was 4 times bigger and 3 times deeper than the Grand Canyon in the US, was a little overwhelming. After 6 1/2 hours of eye-popping travel brought us to the halfway point in the trip, Divisadero. Here we disembarked and after a short walk, checked into our hotel which was situated on the edge of the Canyon. Those afraid of heights, should be cautious. Our rooms were side by side and only 20-25 paces from a fence that stopped you from plunging over into the abyss. Sleepwalking was not advised.

Later in the afternoon, a guide took us for a walk up into the mountains on a path meant for goats I think. Rocky and uneven, it was difficult and when we finally stopped, all of us were out of breath. While walking, we were told about the Tarahumara Indians, a North American people that live in the canyon and are renowned for their running skills. They have been there forever, living in caves on the sides of mountains, running everywhere and selling their wares to tourists who come by train, bus, car or donkey. They wear colourful clothing, which stand out against the grey and green canyon walls.

We had a super meal at the hotel restaurant that night, drinks in front of a huge, roaring fireplace and then crashed in our rooms which were equipped with propane heaters, as it got very cold that night. Up early for breakfast, then got ready for a long trek, led by our guide again, to the canyon zip lines and mountain tram. Along the way, we could see the enormous size of the canyon, smoke from small fires that indicated where the natives were living, and how far we had come from the hotel.

Arriving at the canyon’s edge, we were surprised to see enormous wheels of machinery that drove the trams from one side of the canyon to the other, a long, long way. Glen and Ray were the brave ones and paid their pesos to do seven zip lines in a row, which would take them to the other side of the canyon, where they would take the tram back up.

The tram was now ready to gobble up its passengers and head out over the cliff’s edge and dangle thousands of feet above the canyon bottom. It was extremely smooth and was balanced so that the tram cab never really wavered from the start and all the way across. This gave us the true vista of the vastness and depth of the Copper Canyon. Below we could see pathways that were cut into the mountain by the Tarahumara Indians and their goat trails. You could visualize this done over hundreds of years, and marveled at their persistence and continued existence.

On the other side, we could walk around the perimeter of the fence-protected tram area and take many pictures of the canyon from a 360-degree perspective. All this time, the other two boys were zipping along high above the canyon valleys. We wished we could have seen them at least once, but wouldn’t until we were back on the other side. After a short wait, we re-boarded the tram for the return trip. It felt just as amazing as coming over. Glen and Ray met up with us shortly after we disembarked and we walked the path back the way we had come. Easier, as it was downhill. Well, easier for me.

As we had pre-packed before going on the tram, we grabbed our backpacks and trundled up to the train station to board for Chihuahua, our next stop. Waiting, we sampled the cooking expertise of the local people who had set up shops next to the tracks.   Fresh-made pita-pockets, as Ray called them, and cold drinks hit the spot. Food was really tasty.

When we boarded the train, our assigned seats were in a different location, which separated us a little, but it made no difference to us as we bounced from seat to seat, as again, it wasn’t overly crowded. The trip down the mountains to Chihuahua was nice but uneventful. The scenery included ponderosa land, prairiescapes and a fantastic sunset as darkness started to fall before we reached the lights of Chihuahua. Arriving into the city in the late evening in the dark gave us pause, because we didn’t know what to expect at the station. We shouldn’t have worried as on disembarking, dozens of cabs, all shapes and sizes, driven by men anxious to make their cab fares awaited. Girding our loins, we hailed two taxis, telling them where we needed to go, and lo and behold, they had us there in 5 minutes, one cab just beating out the other in seconds. We didn’t see much of the city, but enough to make us want us to return sometime and explore.

Stopping outside the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by the newness and size of our night’s accommodation. The service desk was great, the rooms huge, clean and new, super big beds where we spent the most comfortable night since we left. Up early and down to the lobby to check out, grab some coffee and cab it to the airport for our return flights. Fortunately, we flew back on Interjet, and were again pleased with the room, free beer and comfort. A short wait at the Mexico City airport and back on Interjet for Huatulco. All in all, the flights were smooth from start to finish, on time and took us where we were supposed to go. Some might think that is expected, but we have learned in the past, not to expect the expected.

Back in familiar surroundings of Huatulco, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our respective homes to shower, sleep and think back over the week’s adventures. This trip is one we would highly recommend and would be more than willing to assist those who are wish to go, with information and contacts.

Now to merge all of the pictures and videos into one montage, to show all our company what they missed, and what they could expect, if they wish to follow our adventurous footsteps.

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