Tuesday, April 16, 2013

(Mis)Adventures into Barrancas del Cobre

Our first night in Mexico this time around, the landlady told us that Copper Canyon was popular this time of year. As I didn’t really have any spots along the Pacific that I had to see, I thought it might be an interesting add-on to our trip. So I started to investigate it. My first forages into research didn’t result in much info other than you can book a tour for a week (not something we would be interested in). The next night, I found some more articles explaining what a great trip it was and how you could actually DIY without tour guides etc. Armed with this information, we made for El Fuerte, a small colonial town in the northern part of the state of Sinaloa.

First off, I had forgotten that we would be crossing the state border so soon and that they don’t like fruit crossing the border. It wouldn’t have been an issue, except that the day before we had stopped at Walmart and refilled my stores with 2 mangos and 7 apples (not including the 3 plums I had that morning)… So I threw my fruit under a towel and figured what happens happens. Fortunately, they didn’t do an inspection at the border, just asked questions.

After crossing the border, we needed to find the “shortcut” to El Fuerte. It was supposed to be at kilometer-marker 55. We found the signs easy enough, but when we went to make the left-hand turn onto the road, there was no road. I quickly figured out that we had to do a U-turn to make a right-hand turn onto the road. Then through the town, the road was atrocious, but just outside it turned nice and smooth, obviously recently repaved. However, true to Mexican roads, this wouldn’t last long. We soon discovered that there was road construction and a detour set up. We were warned by a sign about the detour and then saw the road block, so we followed the rest of traffic down a dirt road. We shortly realized this wasn’t quite the detour that was meant by the sign. As we sat parked at an intersection right before another town, a man on a motorcycle came up and offered to lead us on the way to El Fuerte. Yay!

He took us down a couple of dirt roads until we arrived at the canal that we had seen along the road earlier. Apparently the detour directed traffic along the canal roads: washboarded, narrow roads. He stopped here, pointed the way. We tipped him a few pesos and he left. We thought we were in the clear now. We were wrong.
The detour ended shortly after we got back on the actual detour route, and I thought that wasn’t that bad. But about a mile later, another detour sign popped up and we were directed along the canal again. This time we were on it for a while. And just about the time Jonathan wanted to know how far we were from the true road, we saw a turn-off. However, it was narrow (even narrower), winding, and surrounded by garbage. We thought it might be the road to someone’s home, so we kept going. But at that point, we started getting pretty far away from the road we were supposed to be on and there weren’t any other turn-offs. When we reached a maintenance checkpoint area for the canal, we took the opportunity to turn around and see if that one turn-off was the one we were looking for. It was. We were now back on the paved, potholed road were supposed to be on. Hurrah!
We found the hotel that housed a few RV parking spots easily enough, and the landlady offered to secure us a taxi for the morning at 7:15am to catch the 8:20am train. As we prepared for the trip that night, though, I realized I didn’t have enough money for lunch and the return-trip home. So the plan was to get up early and figure things out.

In the morning right as we were waking to get breakfast, the landlady comes and knocks on the van and asks if we had decided not to go to the train this morning. I replied that we were still going and asked what time it was. It was 7:30, not the 6:30 on our phones. So I told her we would be five minutes and she explained to the taxi. Good thing we had packed everything the night before.

We rushed out to the cab and took off. But as we dropped off our original would-be driver who had had a flat on his way to pick us up, I asked our current driver about the train tickets—if they accepted credit cards. He replied that they only took cash, so I asked about an ATM. He had to take us to the center of the town. As he was driving through a school zone, a police officer waved him over for speeding through it. Fortunately he let us off with a chastisement to night drive fast through it.

I rushed into the ATM, grabbed the cash, made sure not to forget my card, which I almost did twice in my hurry (they sure take forever to eject those babies). And jumped back in the cab. He rushed us to the train station, where we arrived before the train and he gave us instructions on how to get the tickets and about who would be waiting for us when we got back that evening. So much for the rushing, though… We waited for a while for the train to arrive. We were one of the first people there. And the train ended up being about 40 minutes late.


There was a tour group of 50 people who could have been my parents or more likely my grandparents. They ended up getting to the line first and all had to be together, etc… So we followed another couple into the back of the car, thinking I was being smart and bypassing the line. However, most of the seats seemed to be taken in the back. We finally found one that was open and sat down. Turned out though, that the tour group had all the seats from the front until the ones we were sitting in. We were asked to move. Having no clue as to where to go, we sat in back next to the bags that were claiming seats for people. Soon, an attendant told us that we could go to the first car, which was nearly empty. We found seats near the back. I shortly discovered that those seats weren’t near as enjoyable between the constant conversation and movement of the train staff directly behind us and the dirty windows. Turns out that the emergency exit aisle is a good place to sit if no one is sitting in front of you—the distance between the seats is very narrow compared to the other seats and has the next row facing you. Plus the windows are cleaner with only one pane of glass. So we relocated there.


Barrancas del Cobre (aka Copper Canyon) is a canyon system that is deeper and longer than that of the Grand Canyon in the US. It is also home to a native American tribe known for their running. The most scenic views from the railway are known to be between El Fuerte and Bahuichivo, so that is where we went. It is also the only stop that you can get off at and make it back to El Fuerte in the same day. There were many interesting sites, and I was excited to find Tillandsia growing along the rocky walls.



We did finally make it back to our station safe and sound. There was even a guy waiting for me with a paper with my name on it. I have always wanted that. Too bad he put it down too quickly for me to get a picture.

Spanish words of the day:
Cajero automático - ATM
En effectivo – in cash
Tarjetas - cards
Desviación - detour

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