We are going to drive about three hours south west of Alamos, on Highway Fifteen, to the town of El Fuerte. This old colonial town is on the edge of the Sierra Madre, where the Copper Canyon begins.
Our drive gets us out of rainy Alamos and after checking in to the La Choza Hotel, we have time to explore El Fuerte. We have picked La Choza, not only because it is a beautiful hotel, full of humming birds in the restaurant, fish in the ponds and soccer on the television, but also because by staying here the night before the train departs and the night we return, we are able to keep the truck here while we are on our trip.
The malecon follows the river through town and we enjoy a nice afternoon, watching fishermen and listening to the sounds coming from the casas on the hillsides above.
In the mercado, we discover most merchants have taken siesta, but this man is selling snake and fox skins...........................
and snake meat........................ We decide we do not really need to buy any today..................As La Choza is across the street from the plaza, we listen well into the night to a mariachi band and young people laughing and dancing.We have arranged, for a driver to take us the the 'El Chepe' train station in the morning. 'El Chepe' is rarely on time, but we are, and we do alot of people and burro watching. Below, Jenny waits patiently for the train to arrive.We are going to be boarding the first class train. We think we have reservations, but we are not really sure. Several weeks ago, after deciding to not pay an agency fifteen dollars to book each of us, Jenny emailed the train company directly at http://www.ferromex.com.mex/ and gave them our names and asked for resevations on the first class train and gave them the dates. They pretty much emailed her back with one word...............okay.The train is very comfortable and we find a lounge car and a dining car, but like many other people, we will spend much of this train ride, hanging out the windows between the cars, taking photographs.
There are over eighty-seven tunnels and thirty-nine bridges between the eastern departure city of Los Mochis and the final destination of Chihuahua. We have chosen Bahuichivo as our destination, partly because of time constraints, but also because the train ride between El Fuerte and Bahuichivo is reportedly, the most scenic.We will travel through hot and lush tropical areas as we begin to climb and after several hours, we will be up in cool forested pines. We will ascend from two hundred and forty feet to six thousand during our five hour trip.In Bahuichivo, we are met by a driver from the Paraiso del Oso Lodge, which is located in Cerocahui, about ten kilometers from the train station. The lodge gets its name, which translated means Paradise of the Bear, from the wonderful rock formations that are on the cliffs above the valley. The owner, Doug Rhodes, will be giving us a few tours while we are here for four days, but we are also planning on some sit and read time. So, if you brought your book, you can sit out in the courtyard and read and watch the hummingbirds fly by. You can take a few short walks and smell the fresh cool air or you can take a peaceful nap.Below, you can see the bear rock formation.Three rivers join across the road from the lodge.Accomodations here are very comfortable, with three meals a day included in your ticket price. You can settle into the cozy bar with Culver and Jenny, in the photo below, for a free nightly maragarita. Country music and an occasional Garrison Keilor commentary from the satelite radio will keep you pleasantly amused.You have alot of choices. You can do some hiking up to the caves, or along the river. You can hire a driver and take a tour. We are going to saddle up for a two hour horseback ride along the river.After a good long day, we are going have a fire cooked meal of chicken, salsa and tortillas.Below, Culver waits patiently for his chicken. The smell from the pan is tantalizing and we sit around the fire, watching the cook stir the pan. It is chilly enough to get out your fleece.In the morning we decide to ride with Doug, up to Cerro del Gallego. The view from here is supposed to be breathtaking. Some say it is more spectacular than the fifteen minute stop at Divisadero, on the train ride beyond our stop.I do not think we will be dissappointed.Below, we have stopped along the road to take some photos before getting to the Gallego. In the very center of the ridge below, there is a small Tarahumara house, all alone. A long trail, across the ridge, leads to the house. We are on the rim of the Urique Canyon, one of the many canyons that make up the Copper Canyon. Urique Canyon drops over six thousand feet to the Urique river and the small town of Urique. There is a semi-tropical environment at the bottom. A tour from Doug will take you down to Urique. It will take you most of the day. We are going to stay up on top and explore.
A Tarahumara Indian family recently vacated this cave and moved into the hills.
Doug explains to Culver and Senor that the volcanic peaks of the canyon rise to more than ten thousand feet in some areas. The average height is around eight thousand. Four of the canyons are deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA. You can stand in the back, like me, if you want to. The view is just as good!
We are walking up to another viewing area at the rim. A Tarahumara woman lives here with her children. The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico are related to Arizona's Pima Indians. Their livestyles remain very traditional and they are a very shy and quiet people. They do not live in groups, prefering instead to live in remote adobe huts or even caves. Many of the homes are perched out on ledges or ridges, like the one we saw in the photo above. An older Tarahumara brother gives a younger one a ride on the rocky ledge. A group of riders has just come up from the Urique Canyon.We have told Doug that we would like to buy some baskets that are woven, by the Tarahumara women, from the five-needle pine. He is going to take us to a Tarahumara family home.
We are going to buy several baskets from this woman. The baskets smell like fresh pine.
But, now we have to buy several baskets from this woman also. She is the mother in law.
Soon we are going to leave the rim and visit the town of Cerocahui.At the small town plaza we take in a few photos.Across the street is the Mision San Franscisco Javier.
An old organ sits, unused, in a corner of the church loft.
Cerocahui has a small girls' school. Many of the girls live at the school, but alot of the girls are Tarahumara and some of them walk six hours each day to get to the school.Below is the room where the girls shower and wash their own clothes by hand.
Right now, they have finished cooking their meal over a wood stove and are in the dining hall.
After awhile a few of them come outside to see what we are doing.
A woman brings in a sack of potatoes for the next meal.
Back at the lodge, there will be time for napping, exploring or taking photos. There are flowers in most of the fields in October, so if flowers are your thing, you might get some very nice shots.
All too quickly, it is time to leave. We get to the train station in plenty of time, but again, 'El Chepe' is late. It is allright with us, it is very peaceful and quiet and we are not in a hurry to go.
Senor and Culver discuss why the train is almost always reportedly late.
Finally a train arrrives, but it is the second class or economica train. It is very crowded, standing room only as it picks up more passengers and departs.
We are glad we have chosen to go first class.
Finally we are off, once again, through secret dark tunnels and over creaky bridges, alongside cascading waterfalls and steep cliffs. We find ourselves hanging out of the windows and looking at the scenery as though we have not seen it before. We pass by small huts where people come out to wave and we wave back. We watch as cool pine forests become lush and tropical and below, rivers and creeks rush by.
As we travel, clouds fill the sky and soon it is dark and the rain starts. We finally decide it is too wet to continue hanging out the windows, but it is hard to stop. The smell of good 'El Chepe' food takes over and we enjoy a last Copper Canyon meal. Before we know it, the whistle is blowing in El Fuerte.