Friday, 7 November 2014

Bus/train trip to Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon)

Posada Barrancas: Michelle loved these dropoffs along the canyon rim
While Pelagia was being worked on, we headed out on the bus to Los Mochis and then to El Fuerte for a trip to the Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon).

Our first stop was the cute colonial town of El Fuerte. Once the capital of Sinaloa, this old town on the river is highly recommended. Unfortunately, we arrived a little late to see much (the main square was quite lively). Also unfortunately, our pre-booked hotel was a bit of a dive.

Next morning, we caught the "El CHEPE" train. The schedule on the CHEPE website was confusing and incorrect. We wanted to take the "economico" train which runs only a few days per week (about 60% the price of 1st class, which runs daily). According to the website, it also came an hour later. NOT SO! The 1st class and economy class "trains" are the same train, same stops (on days when both are running), and same schedule as 1st class. Lucky we didn't arrive at the later, incorrect, time and miss the train.

Sitting in "economico"

El CHEPE chugs north -- one of many tunnels
The "economico" class was quite full but pretty comfortable. Air-conditioned cars and comfortable seats. The "snack bar" car left much to be desired (recommendation: do as the locals do and bring your own food).

Scenery along the way got better and better as went further inland and higher up. Mind you, nothing that "knocked your socks off", but pleasant. At the stop in Divisadero, everyone gets off to see the view of (one of) the canyons, as well as to buy some decent and cheap food ("gorditas"). Pretty decent views here. We stayed on the train until the town of Creel.

Tarahumara woman looking down canyon...
Our posada in Creel (Posada del Cobre) was a nice little hotel. The town had a decidedly frontier/western feel to it: dusty, with men on horseback and many indigenous (Tarahumara) people. The high-plateau terrain seemed very much like the interior of British Columbia. Weather was fantastic: sunny but not too hot (in the low-mid 20s Celsius, and quite cool at night). The next day, we rented mountain bikes and made a long but enjoyable (albeit tiring) ride through Tarahumara lands, seeing the "Valley of the Mushrooms and Frogs", the "Valley of the Monks" (used to be called the "Valley of the Penises", for obvious reasons), plus some overland single-track mountain biking (easy riding; flat terrain) to Lake Arareko, then back to Creel. When we first arrived in Creel, there was a lot of pressure to sign up for tours. We're glad we did this self-guided "bike tour" instead, rather than sitting in a van on a tour. We decided to stay a second day in Creel, to recover, and to do a little walking.

Valley of the Mushrooms ("Hongos")

Valley of the Frogs (but we could only see one. Climate change?)
This used to called the "Valley of the Penises"... wonder why?

... now it is called the "Valley of the Monks" ... hmmm
Next stop was a short (1 hr) bus trip back through Divasadero to Posada Barrancas, where we had reserved a room in the very expensive "El Mirador" hotel. It would have been nice if the bus driver had remembered to stop and then let us off, but he was too busy chatting up a female attendant, and went several kilometres past our dropoff point until we figured out something was wrong. Bus driver then flags down a passing "bus" and we transfer into it. Only, it is not a public bus, it is a "personnel transporte" bus for a mining company. I think we made their day -- they certainly had a good laugh at and with us. They then missed our stop, but turned around when this was realized. It was funny to see the miners all pile out of their bus to take pictures of the canyon -- something they could not have done if it wasn't for the detour they took to help us. Mexico is full of such nice people!

Posada Barrancas El Mirador Hotel, at C$240 per night (including meals) was a little pricey for us, but the view from the room balcony, hanging over the canyon was indeed "knock your socks off" material. We enjoyed our one night there. The food was pretty decent ('til we saw that the meals were the SAME each and every day, with NO choices...) although the staff, at best, unenthusiastic and the hotel totally lacking in any amenities (WiFi? forget it). A real treat, though, was the excellent hiking on top of/around/ down the canyons (one does NOT need to stay at the hotel to access these trails).
Many other guests took tours, went on the world's longest ziplines, took the ($65) cable car into the canyon, or went horseback riding. We simply hiked -- and enjoyed ourselves.

Looking up at El Mirador Hotel

Sunset view from our hotel room
Next day, we caught the CHEPE ("economico" class again) back down to El Fuerte, staying in a better hotel ("La Choza"). Unfortunately, the train was late arriving, so we only had time for dinner, no sightseeing. (Too bad -- it is a nice town.) Following morning, we took a local bus to Los Mochis (another act of kindness: the attendant and bus driver drove out of their way and dropped us off at our long distance bus depot) and then a first-class bus back to Mazatlan.

All-in-all, a good trip, albeit a little long on the land travel. Almost all travel was comfortable and, except for the bus driver missing our stop at Posada Barrancas (and that led to a fun experience with the miners), essentially hassle free.

Highlights were: mountain biking around Creel; the view from our room at El Mirador Hotel; hiking the canyon, and yes, the miners.

We have posted many photos for this trip on FLICKR:

Pelagia's FLICKR photo album for Mexico's Barrancas del Cobre

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