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Guinea Pigs into the Canyon

4:30 am comes kinda early, but we weren’t the only ones gathering at the train station to board our Copper Canyon Train.

My guests on this trip, were (and perhaps still are, I hope,) dear friends. They agreed to be my guinea pigs to try out the tour to see what was good, bad and “Dear God don’t ever do that again!” Hence, these blogs hereafter will be the Guinea Pig Diaries. Their recommendations will be incorporated into all future trips.

The lobby of the train station was packed with locals and a number of tourists. It seems the Canadians have invaded. There was a tour group of 35 of them, another reason I like my tours smaller. Once we got our luggage hauled onto the train, we found our seats in the first car, right next to the restaurant car, thank goodness. And we had first seating for breakfast, too. Even beat the Canadians who were in Car 2.

I had originally designed this tour for the benefit of Eugene, a kind friend of my mother’s from a retirement home. The Canyon had been on his bucket list all his life and I wanted to make his dream come true. Regrettably, his health had reached the point where he was no longer among the “Go-Go” elderly, or even among the “Go Slow” elderly. He had reached the “No-Go” stage and didn’t feel that he could make the tour at all. Much as I didn’t want to, I had to leave him behind and promised to give him a “virtual” tour via pictures. But the tour was already in place.

Side of train
Looking back along the train

The intent of the tour was to combine the immense vistas of the canyons of Western Mexico with the warm, sunny beaches of Baja California, and a two-day yacht tour of the Sea of Cortes. All of it with the ultimate in luxurious accommodations, fine dining and magnificent natural vistas. At least that was the plan.

Arriving at the airport

Eight of us had flown into Chihuahua and gathered, after a cab ride from the airport, at the Copper Canyon Hotel. The hotel, which stole its name from the canyon, has nothing to do with the canyon at all. It isn’t even near the train station, so don’t be fooled as I was. Nice hotel but not convenient to either downtown or the Canyon.

View of the canyon
View of the Canyon

The Copper Canyon is a continuation of the same geological fault that created the American Grand Canyon. By the time it reaches Mexico, however, it is broader, deeper, longer and far more impressive than its American neighbor.

The only way to see the canyon is by train. One can drive as far as Creel, but after that, the only alternatives are two types of trains. The Regional which takes 16 hours (with our luck it took 19 hours) and stops at least a dozen times to let locals get off or get on. The other choice is the Executive. It starts in Creel and is much faster, stops only a couple of times, and has much nicer accommodations. I chose the Regional. Not a good idea, as it turned out.

The train tracks are an amazing engineering marvel created by the British in the 1880s to mine copper from the depths of the canyon. during Mexico’s industrialization efforts under President Porfirio Diaz. Today the train no longer hauls copper out of the canyon. It hauls locals down to the few towns dotted in valleys along the way, and tourists interested in hiking down into the valleys. Our group wanted to see the canyon, but without the vigorous hiking. We are all tending in the Eugene direction although still game to try.

I realized that my future plans for this trip will change. My guinea pigs wanted to stay in Chihuahua for a day in order to get to see the sights.  There are great museums, beautiful architecture and historic places – where Father Hidalgo was shot back in 1811, and where Pancho Villa lived while he ran the Army of the North during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  These tours are supposed to be historic, after all, and Chihuahua is certainly historic.

Nice breakfast but where is the bar car?

I also realized that we are NOT  going to take the Regional train the next time. In our case, a train halted on the tracks ahead of us somewhere delayed us five hours. It does have a restaurant car that serves a fairly decent breakfast and a passable lunch, but no dinner. It also doesn’t have a bar car! Critical, I’m sure!  The Regional, for all of its stops, doesn’t give us time to get off anywhere but Divisadero. So, for the next tour, we will drive to Creel and catch the Executive train – dome cars for vistas and hallelujah!, a bar car.

Into the valleys

As dawn reached the peaks and finally dropped slivers of light down into the valleys, we were awestruck by the scenery. It is everything everyone said it was. Immense rock faces dropping away below us as we climbed the peaks and crossed the massive rifts. deep valleys falling away under the spidery train trestles. Awesome to see from the train, but not as impressive as actually hanging toes off the edge of a cliff and letting the weak-kneed thrill wash over you.

My Guineas wanted more of the Canyon. The difficulty, if you want to see it more up close and personal, and get those weak knees, is the walking part. Most people who come to the Canyon are young enough to want to hike miles and miles. Not my buddies. Some walk two miles a day, others can’t do two blocks. So, we will have to adjust. There are hotels at Divisadero where we might be able to stay a night and do some light walking.

Bobbe’s Designs

We spent most of the train ride eating, reading, sewing, and chatting, or toward the end, sleeping in exhaustion. Yup, The Executive Train next time. We did, however, get to stop at Divisadero where we got off and went nuts shopping from the local Tarahumara Indians.

Thank you Lord, no Chinese stuff here. Everything was hand made by the natives of these amazing mountains. Wood carvings, woven baskets, trinkets, necklaces, bracelets, magnets. The women all dress in long multi-colored patterned dresses, their hair in braids and covered by those typical Western scarves, probably from China!

The children, especially the little ones, are often carried in rebozos, while the others help sell goods for their parents They’ve become very adept at making and selling anything the tourists will buy. And buy we did! Key chains, necklaces, bracelets, baskets, wood items, pottery,

Refrigerator magnets. These last are my thing – I have them plastered all over my refrigerator so I will add another for this trip and great for gifts back home.

We finally made it to Los Mochis and our hotel by 1 am, half starved and exhausted. We were just thankful to have a place to dump our poor worn out bodies!

Breakfast the next morning made up for it, and a quick flight across the Sea of Cortes landed us in La Paz. Ah, the luxury! But more about that next time!