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Bandit Country - Rocks, Pines and Sky down the Copper Canyon

MEXICO | Saturday, 6 November 2010 | Views [1848]

This is a natural formation.  The world is a fascinating place.

This is a natural formation. The world is a fascinating place.

On arriving at Chihuahua at some godforsaken time in the morning, we found our way to the train station to get the morning Copper Canyon train up to Creel, high in the Sierra Madre.  Except, there wasn't one, so instead we walked into town (probably a dodgy thing to do), got some fine, and much needed Huevos Rancheros breakfasts, and then got the bus instead up to the foothills through pine forests, until we hit Creel.

Creel is a pretty sleepy town seemingly consisting of the railtrack and one main road, dotted with tourist hotels.  As this was off-season it was a bit tumble-weedish. Still, we didn't mind - it meant we could get a cosy room in the cheap and friendly Casa Margarita.  We stayed a few days.  The air here was fresh and had that slight bite to it that you get at altitude.  The skies were bright electric blue, with small cirrus clouds.  We hired bikes and rode down into the San Ignacio ejido - a Raramuri co-operative area, with miles of pine forest and rock outcrops, ranch lands and some really strange rock formations.  In the 'valley of the mushrooms', boulders are perched on their own pedestals, carved out by winds over milennia, whilst at the 'valley of the monks', groups of 20m high totemic stone columns loom over you.  The place had an other-worldliness about it.

Monoliths in the Valley of the Monks

As much as anything, it was just great to get out in the countryside and nature for a day - something we hadn't really been able to do since Chiapas. We cycled up to Lake Arareco, before returning to Creel - a really nice round-trip.  The skies, rocks and pines leaving an indelible near-monochrome image in my mind.

The next day we boarded the work-horse train up to Divisadero, where we were able to get out for the best view of the incredible Copper Canyon - with vast canyon walls in yellows and reds dropping thousands of feet below.  The train then started to descend, through endless pine forests, through tunnels and edging down the sides of huge canyon walls. This whole area is so remote - it did seem like the wild west.  And in many respects it is - reading 'Bandit Roads' by Richard Grant after our trip, I realised we were in a small corridor of calm - outside in the Sierras was no-man's land, ruled by drug gangs and fugitives.

The train carriages had hellish Mexican piped music - until the air-con in our carriage failed, which luckily also hit the music on the head - hurray!  If you wanted to get some air though, you could stand in the carriage doorways and look out over the edge of spectacular precipices - thank goodness for lax health and safety.  Later, we staggered down to the nice restaurant car for a cool drink and a very friendly conductor who announced the highest bridge, the longest bridge, the longest tunnel etc..!

Our sturdy beast of burden pulls into Creel

We passed a huge dam, nearly empty, so that the landscape created by the receding water looked like a moonscape.  Further down the pine forests made way to deciduous trees, in yellows and oranges - although there were also corridors of green where trees were able to still find water.  We wandered back to our carriage to find that everyone had vacated it and moved to one next door with air-con.  It was getting rather hot and stuffy by now, but we opted to stay - the heat was better than the music.  Then, as the light began to fade, we chugged (very slowly) along the muggy coastal plain to the flea-pit which is Los Mochis, port and our gateway to Baha.  We didn't waste any time hanging around and shared a taxi to the port, passing what looked like a traffic jam in the middle of no-where. It wasn't - instead it was the non-place to be in Los Mochis - everyone parked their cars up, pumped-up the stereo and started having a party at the side of the road.  One car even had disco lights rigged up in the boot.  These Sinaloans are crazy!  Not feeling in the party mood, we carried on to the ferry port and booked a (somewhat expensive) bed in the new-looking ferry just before it embarked, and crashed in our rather nice little cabin whilst we pulled away from Sinaloa State and started our journey across a dead-still Sea of Cortes.

To see more photos of the Creel and the Copper Canyon click here

Our train winds its way down the canyons on the way to Los Mochis

Tags: chihuahua, copper canyon, creel

 

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Argh!  Well, maybe not pirates this time, but dig the colour-coordinated bandanas!

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