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Subject: Re: Travelogue about the Train Trip through copper Canyon
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 1999 23:37:07 -0500
From: Carol Stuard

Copper Canyon Trip via Chihuahua al Pacifico Train of Mexico

February 23-March 1, 1999

This travelogue is about the trip (a real adventure) that four of us took through Mexico. The most important thing that I have to say about this trip is GO! And go NOW before it becomes any more of a famous and crowded destination.

I had read about the Copper Canyon train trip as I was browsing though Jim Loomis' book, "All Aboard". The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad, is an incredible masterpiece of civil engineering, connecting Chihuahua with the west coast through the Sierra Madres. The route covers some 88 tunnels and 39 bridges making this arguably the most spectacular train ride in the Western hemisphere. My next step was to use search engines on the net finding articles and information about the Copper Canyon. I finally decided which cities I wanted to visit overnight but I couldn't find a combination in the tours that were offered. Since I'm not much of a tour person anyway, I decided to just do my own arranging. At this point, the Good Lord must have smiled on me one day as I did one more search about the CC and found a travel agency from Chihuahua named Turismo Al Mar. I sent an e-mail explaining what I wanted and received a prompt reply from the owner, Hector Colmenero. Senor Colmenero had absolutely the best prices at the premium hotels and was able to route me the way I wanted to go. I can't say enough about him and his excellent and efficient travel agency. I will be glad to give anyone his e-mail address.

I asked him many questions - via e-mail- which he patiently fielded and before I knew it I was in the car driving down to Presidio, Texas - about an 8 hour drive from my home. I had not made a deposit, I had no travel documents but then I have always been a risk taker!

We took a taxi across the border to Ojinaga (OJ) and then a 1st class bus on to Chihuahua City. When we disembarked from the bus and stood looking around this mammoth bus terminal - kin to an airline terminal, a guide from the Turismo al Mar came up to us, saying my name. Upon verification, he grabbed some luggage and we followed him to the van. And our adventure was on!

He took us to the Hotel San Francisco, an American type hotel in the heart of Chihuahua which backed up to the main cathedral and plaza, told us to have lunch and meet him in the lobby for our Chihuahuan tour! His name was Roul - and he was a truly excellent guide, speaking English well, while putting up with our Spanish endeavors! After a 4 hour tour, he took us to the office of the Turismo al Mar where we (finally) paid for the trip and met Senor Colmenero. The price had been quoted us in dollars, but when we paid, it was less than the quote. I pointed this out to the clerk, but that was the figure that day and we saved about $23 right off the start of the trip.

February 24

We left our hotel at 5:50 AM to board the Chihuahua al Pacifico train which departed promptly at 6:00 AM. We brought along a box lunch from the hotel, but we also had brought breakfast bars, dried fruit, cheese, and other goodies from home - not forgetting bottled water. The train stopped several times to let passengers off and on and we arrived about an hour late, due to slow speeds where the railroad tracks were being repaired or waiting on the siding for another train to pass. We stated a spectacular climb to 8,000 feet in the Sierra Madre mountains and we crossed the Continental Divide 3 times. We had about a 15 minute stop at El Divisadero for passengers to look over the Copper Canyon rim, shop or buy food from the Tarahumara Indians. The food is good and safe to eat and bottled drinks are sold. The Indians have their own dialect and understand very little Spanish and will not make change. NOTE: things you must bring! Along with that necessary bottled water and small bottles of instant hand cleaners, and ample Kleenex or toilet paper for the train and buses ,take along about $50 in ones for tipping, drinks, purchases.These are extremely poor people and you will not want to ask for change. They make baskets from pine needle and cactus after stripping the thorns. These are exquisite purchases for very little money and the Tarahumaras do not bargain. They have violins, flutes, hats, baskets, dolls, and woven scarves and sashes.

After returning to our train we arrived at Bahuichivo (a small village with dirt streets) about an hour late and boarded an old school bus. We had been told that the 15 mile trip (which took over an hour) down to Cerocahui was bumpy and dusty. It was! But I saw a mountain lion which was very unusual except they were in the same droughty situation as Texas had been for the last year. The bus driver picked up anyone along the road that was going our way! We stayed at the Hotel Mission in Cerocahui which is an old town set in a time warp of 100 years ago with a 17th century Jesuit Mission and a Tarahumara boarding school for children. The hotel sits in its own vineyard and has old rustic rooms compete with tile and logs and wood stoves and kerosene lamps. Electricity was available from 7 to 9 am and 7 to 10 PM. Meals were included and they were were excellent as were the margaritas, guitar playing and singing. The canyon was covered with tall pinion pines and homes were made of adobe, concrete and wood, with tin roofs will all unpaved roads.

Thursday, February 25 Before our train departure we went on a tour to the rim of the Urique Canyon making stops at wide places in the road or under the shade of trees or caves where the Indian Woman were selling their handmade items. Many shrines were present along the road with the guide removing his hat and crossing himself as they were passed. We got back on the train in the afternoon after lunch. The trains were nearly always full and had no food or drinks aboard. The 1st class trains did have restrooms, usually tissue paper, never any paper towels and sometimes water in the sink. They were air conditioned and most reclined and smoking permitted only outside in the area between the cars. Many of the natives preferred to ride standing out there. Some of the German tourists tried to get out there to take pictures of the spectacular views, but it was hard to find a place. The windows were large and good for viewing but would be difficult to get a clear picture from. A few of the windows were broken. Senor Colmenero told us that the railroad has new cars coming on the line soon that will have dining cars and new coaches. That will be a great improvement! The train that we rode was the 1st class train. The 2nd class trains are known by the local as the chicken train and that is probably all I need to say about those! Except that they lack restrooms (!) and have wooden seats. Our destination was El Fuerte, a 430 year old settlement about 2 hours late. there we stayed at the Hotel Pasado del Hidalgo, a beautiful tropical place filled with flowers, cars, pictures and antiques. Again old ornate rooms with no TV or phones, but lovely big tile showers and bottled water on the sink.

Friday February 26

We had a hasty breakfast, bought a box lunch and reboarded our train going east. Some of the best views of the Copper Canyon are between El Fuerte and Posada Barrancas where we arrived in the early afternoon. We stayed at the Hotel Mirador which is located right on the rim of the Copper Canyon with fantastic view s from our balconies and public areas.This was truly an unbelievable sight. We could see Indian family residences down in the canyon and Indians both on the floor of the canyon and up on the mountains tops.

Saturday February 27

After breakfast and a morning hike we reboarded our train this time heading for Creel where we stayed at the Creel Lodge. The scenery from the train today included El Lazo - a section where the train makes a 360 degree turn as it goes under itself and a mile later over itself. This loop is one of only 3 in existence in the continent. Another maneuver was the train turning 180 degrees in a tunnel dropping approximately 100 feet from the entrance to the exit. This section is known as The Pear.

Sunday February 28 This morning after an incredible tour through the Tarahumara village we headed back to Chihuahua on the bus, spending the evening wandering through the plaza and pedestrian streets enjoying our last evening in Mexico.

Were I to plan this trip over, I would fly to Los Mochis and take a bus or taxi to El Fuerte. After an overnight in El Fuerte, board the train to Cerocahui for an overnight, then on to Posada Barrancas for an overnight at the Hotel Mirador, back on the train to Creel for 1 or 2 nights - taking the tours from this town . Then either the train or the bus back to Chihuahua City flying home from there. The trip from west to east offers daytime viewing time, except for the last leg from Creel to Chihuahua City. But the most important thing I would do however would be to contact Hector Colmenero from the Turismo Al Mar Travel Agency !

Submitted by Carol Stuard

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