We have just returned from 5 days of traveling in and around the Copper Canyon. We have not had a night off the boat in over 3 months, so we decided to do a little inland exploring. We jumped on a bus and headed north to Los Mochis, the gateway to the Barranca del Cobre. From there we boarded a train, the famous Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico, which links central Mexico with the coast, and had a spectacular 9 hour ride up to the Continental Divide amongst towering peaks, sheer cliffs and beautiful lush valleys. The train goes through 73 tunnels and 28 major bridges and at one point in a steep valley makes a 180 degree turn in the mountain, only to be on a switch back 100 feet up the valley going the opposite direction when it emerges out of the tunnel. It is a pretty amazing engineering feat in addition to being a scenic ride. Eventually the train arrivded at the largest rift, which was 6000 feet from bottom to top. It dwarfs the Grand Canyon in size, or so the Mexicans claim, although access is harder to get at and you only see glimpses of it at a time. Having never been to the Grand Canyon, I can’t compare, but we were all pretty awestruck at the views we did get. From the largest town Creel, in the middle of the canyon lands, we explored the smaller valleys by foot and horseback. The labyrinth of canyons was formed by tectonic movement. Along the canyon plateaus, the volcanic rock and debris was disturbed by the plate movement. When the softer rock and debris eroded away, what was left was columns of volcanic rock piled high on itself, sometimes precariously placed, almost as if someone had intentionally placed them on top of each other. It was a great place to explore and the kids kept saying it reminded them of the Sierras. On the train ride we started, at the bottom, seeing scrubby trees, Cordon Cacti and tropical fruit and ended the trip seeing alpine pines and other high elevation vegetation. In fact, if you didn’t take into account the multiple 1500 meter chasms, it was much like visiting the high country in Oregon or California.
While exploring the landscape, we spent one night in an old lodge, with coleman lanterns, wood stoves and a communal dining room (although there was only one other group there with us) in the heart of Mexico’s largest indigenous land. The Ramamuri people are one of the few intact indigenous people in all of Mexico and their lifestyle has changed little over the years. Everywhere there are mountain trails and women, dressed in the most colorful dresses and shawls, lugging their wares, usually with at least one child in tow, and often another one on her back, from their homes to market. Many of the Ramamuri still live in caves as they have for centuries. None of which was displayed for tourist, considering we saw very few foreigners. Tourism in this area, while never booming, has taken a huge hit because of the bad press with the narco traffic and affiliated danger. The Copper Canyon is in the state of Chihuahua along with Ciudad Juarez, although 500 miles away. Juarez is a dangerous border town and often in the news for hideous crimes and the state department warns against traveling there, and while the Copper Canyon has seen no violence, tourist have been avoiding it for over 5 years. We occasionally asked train operators and the armed guards, that protect the train, if the violence ever gets this far and with adamant denials we felt pretty safe. Armed guards are a little disconcerting at first, but there are armed guards and army personnel all over Mexico. We’ve become immune to the sight of AR 15’s. Our original plan was to take a bus out of the Copper Canyon back through central Mexico to see something different, but to be extra safe we opted out figuring the further away from the growing areas the better. We try to keep an eye on the State Department warnings but often I think they over generalize an area. A warning for the entire state of Chihuahua is like warning against going into California because parts of Oakland have a violent reputation. Fortunately for us, even in the most violent parts of Mexico, tourist have yet to be a target. Instead of taking a bus out, we retraced our route and enjoyed the beautiful train trip a second time.
After 5 days of traveling, we were happy to get back home. We stick out like sore thumbs and although that is not entirely bad, the kids do get tired of their hair getting touched and stared at from across the street. Even Kena has noticed that everyone says “que bonita” when she passes. That kid is going to have a hard time returning to the US and mediocrity. Here she is treated like a princess! Especially in the highlands where there are even fewer blonds.
Anyway, I’ve gone on several tangents but back to the Ramamuri Indians. I can’t tell you how many times throughout third world countries I have seen this sight, but it is not uncommon to see women, carrying huge bundles and several kids, trudging behind, presumably their husbands, whom are on horseback carrying next to nothing! I know the politically correct term is developing country, but this is truly third world, there is no developing here! I don’t know how the women do it all. They are half my size and they do it all. It seems like a hard life, but they have not been influenced much by the Spanish arrival, the miners, the missionaries, loggers and railroad workers, drug gangs or tourism for that matter. Their culture is very much intact. At the markets we saw small children carrying even smaller siblings on their backs, enormous responsibilities for their age. In fact I spoke to one little girl, smaller than Kena, carrying a one month old child on her back. I cannot even imagine Kena with that kind of responsibility. Or either of the boys, for that matter!
While we stayed at the village lodge, we were invited to witness the beginning of the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The villagers dance for two days celebrating the largest religious event in all of Mexico. We showed up with the village doctor and the French couple also sharing our lodge at a Jesuit church built in the 1800’s. Religion here is a blend of Catholicism and traditional beliefs creating a Catholic Church foreign to me. The Church was beautiful and we waited for several hours in the 38 degree weather, the kids nodding off the sleep, until at some point the Doctor pulled out his digital camera, showed us a lengthy video of the dancing from a previous year and asked us if we wanted to call it a night! Disappointed, but cold and tired, we jumped at the chance to climb back into the back of the Doctors truck, drive up the nearly impassable road, back to our lodge to stoke the fire and crawl back into our beds piled high with woolen blankets. As per usual, nothing happens on time in Mexico. Although, to be fair, if I was expecting to dance for 2 days straight, I wouldn't be in a hurry to start either!
We are currently back on the boat, planning to spend another few days poolside and then start off down the Mexican coast, hoping to spend Christmas in the small colonial town of San Blas.