Friday, June 5, 2015

The Copper Canyon - Part 5 - April 18 - 28, 2015

From Batopilas we returned to Creel and checked back into the Casa Mexicana. Our plan was to take a westbound bus the next morning to the Hotel Mansion Tarahumara outside of the little town of Areponapuchi and near the train stop at Posada Barrancas. From there, the plan went, we would take some canyon rim day hikes and make a quick trip to the controversial Parque de Aventuras Brrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyons Adventure Park)

The idea of an "adventure park" on the rim of these spectacularly wild canyons gives a lot of people heart burn - including us. One of the reasons we decided to take this trip was to see the canyons area before further Disneyfication of the area. 

And while we're not complete converts to the current state of development - we have softened our purist position. There are a lot of different ways to enjoy the canyons. 

But first we had to get there.   

The Bus - A Great Idea!

Between Creel and Posada Barrancas traveling by bus is cheaper and faster than taking the train. A bus trip runs about an hour and costs 100 pesos for two (approx. $6.66 U.S.); economic class train tickets for two cost 298 pesos ($15 U.S.) and the trip takes more than two hours. Clearly ours was a well thought out plan. 

But first the bus had to get to Creel.

When we arrived for the 10:15 a.m. bus we were told a car rally was blocking the highway to the east of town - between Chihuahua and Creel - and the in-bound bus was delayed; try again around 11:30. We left our bags in the office, bought a coffee and entertained ourselves watching the locals watch rally participants arrive.

Saturday Entertainment in Creel

Frustrating For Locals With Work To Do

At 11:30 we were told the rally actually ran from Chihuahua all the way to Divisadero and that no one was going by bus either to or from Creel for -- awhile. As we contemplated this information the westbound train arrived and two German guys we had been talking with grabbed their bags and ran for the train. A less energetic English guy left to check back into his hotel. We went back to the plaza to watch the rally activity, thinking that the rally must be over soon - cars had been arriving in town since 10 in the morning. 

Kid Heaven
La Costeña - A Favorite Salsa Brand and Rally Sponsor

Well, apparently a rally can last a long time. We bought tortas at the place we'd bought our morning coffee. The cook wished us luck. We checked in with the bus company from time to time. We took a picture of some Tarahumara saleswomen boarding their local bus. They had colorful clothes.  

Something To Look At

And finally, at 5:00 p.m. our bus arrived and quickly departed. Yes, sometimes self-directed travel requires patience.

The bus driver had no idea where our hotel was but several knowledgeable and kindly passengers made sure he stopped in front of a sign for the hotel. We couldn't see a hotel from the road - but several smiling people on the bus assured us we were in the right place. So we got off. 

Hotel Mansion Tarahumara 

We began to drag our bags up the steep and rocky incline that began next to the sign, assuming the hotel was up there somewhere. A guy came running down towards us, telling us to wait there. He disappeared but soon returned driving the hotel's van. We loaded in and held on as he executed a high-speed backing maneuver up the winding, steep driveway. He had apparently done this before . . . 

We backed into the parking lot in front of what is known locally as El Castillo (the castle) - for obvious reasons:

Evening View, El Castillo

The main lobby and restaurant of El Castillo are heavily Bavarian hunting lodge (complete with some coats of arms) except for a huge mural of happy Tarahumara people and a six-foot long taxidermied snake on one wall of the restaurant. HGTV would call it -- eclectic. 

But after our day wandering aimlessly around Creel we were happy to find a roaring fire and an open bar. 

Only The Roasting Boar Was Missing

Over the next couple of days we explored the hotel's sprawling property. It's clearly set up for large tour groups - and occupied only by small ones.  There was Molly and Bryce, some retirees from Mexico City, and, unexpectedly, Venezuela's Ambassador to Mexico and his entourage.  We found an empty indoor swimming pool and bar, an empty recreation room complete with a pool table and empty bar, and a second (empty) restaurant. It felt like the Delaware shore in the winter. We made use of the self-serve laundry, which we were glad to find as empty as every other place.  

Travel Tip: When booking a stay at El Castillo one is given the opportunity to pay for a room with breakfast or with both breakfast and dinner. We thought we might be walking into Areponapuchi for dinner and declined the two-meal option. It turned out we were too tired to walk into town for dinner - but the amount we were billed for dinner was no more than we would have paid if we had originally chosen the two-meal package.]

The operating - though largely self-serve - bar had a very pleasant balcony. After one longer than expected hike we spent an hour there watching hummingbirds stake claim to the feeder.

These Little Guys Are Quite Territorial

The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle van to the Posada Barrancas train stop and, every morning to the Parque de Adventuras Barrancas del Cobre.  

Parque de Adventuras  

The parque de adventuras is not yet finished and there are some pretty creepy plans in motion, including a giant canyon-side roller coaster (we saw some of the pipes that are going to be used for this). But we'll confess that we were much less distressed by the present level of development than we thought we would be.

The Panoramic View From The Park Center

At this point the adventure park development includes:

              -- The canyon-rim park center which straddles a crevasse in the canyon wall.

Look Up - It's The Park Center

The center has outside viewing balconies:

The View From The Viewing Porch

and inside there is a glass floor through which walkers can see the bottom of the cravasse straddled by the center. It is a big attraction for toddlers. 

Glass Floor - Very Popular With The Toddler Set

The center also has a gift shop, a restaurant and (always important) very clean restrooms. 

The gift shop carries a wide variety of I've Been There Done That merchandise, but the park has also set aside space for Tarahumara salesladies to sell their baskets and potholders. There are also non-Tarahumara vendors of general Mexican tourist tchotchke.  

Sunday At The Tourist Market - Vendors Killing Time

               -- An incredible series of zip-lines which we did not take. For those with more nerve than we, it's apparently a breathtaking ride. One portion of the zip-line series is currently the longest in the world - over 2.5 kilometers. A rider of sufficient body weight can apparently reach a speed of almost 80 mph on this section. 

We've always thought of zip-lines as a thrill-seeking thing rather than a way to appreciate nature. But a conversation Molly had with a Mexican woman who had just finished the zip-line challenged our assumption. The woman was still wearing her zip-line gear when she engaged Molly in conversation (in English). They eventually reached the routine, polite "where are you from" stage of the conversation, and her answer was "Mexico" (which in the Country of Mexico usually means Mexico City). Molly's comment was that the canyons were much different than Mexico. The woman smiled, looked out over the canyons, opened her arms and said, "Yes. I never even knew we had this." 

Clearly zip-lines can thrill in many ways. 

               -- Mountain bike trails for totally insane bike riders which include some X-Game worthy jumps. Our only experience of these trails was to hike one.

Saw The Jumps: 'Nuff Said

There are also rappelling and rock-climbing adventures for the AWESOME Adventure Group.

               -- A cable car over the canyons, which was just the sort of adventure we were looking for!    

Our Adventure Ride

Charming and Knowledgeable Cable Car Driver
                -- And a hiking center at the bottom of the cable car ride where visitors can hire Tarahumara guides to take them on various day hikes into the canyons. Because we were planning on walking from the park back to our hotel we chose a short and comparatively easy hike - the hike to the Cementerio (cemetery). Our tickets for this guided hike cost 100 pesos ($6.66). 

This hike gave us a chance to see some wonderful canyon views.

Stopping To Take A Photo

We expected that our destination would be a flat spot in the side of a hill with colorful little mausoleums and lots of plastic flowers - a typical small Mexican village cemetery. But no. This "cemetery" is actually a burial place estimated by the park archaeologists to be 500 years old. The dearly departed was apparently left at the side of the trail and walled into the hill as protection from predators. It was a disturbing tribute to just how isolated this area was 500 years ago.

Bones and All

When we returned to the hiking center we found our path blocked by someone's flock of goats. The park has undoubtedly disrupted life in the canyons but the tenacioius Tarahumara continue to live as they have for years.


And the park has brought employment to some of the local people, even though many of the zip-line employees seemed to come from far away Chihuahua. We hope that more visitors will hire the local hiking guides.

Our Shy Young Guide

There are are couple of challenging day hikes that can be taken from this hiking center. One goes eight miles down into the canyon to a small Tarahumara town.

General Coming and Going Information: Everyone entering the park must pay 20 pesos ($1.33-ish) for el buen mantenimiento del parque (good park maintenance). We entered in the hotel's van and there seemed to be some concern about our plan to return to the hotel on foot. The van driver wrote on the back of our entry ticket that we were going to return to the hotel caminando (walking) and impressed on us the importance of holding on to this piece of paper. No one ever asked us why we were walking out of the park so we have nothing to report on why this notice might have been necessary.

The Walk To El Castillo

It took us awhile to figure out how to walk out of the park because we had arrived by van. We finally found a map of mountain bike trails, one of which - according to the map - ran right by our hotel. So off we went.

The trail was lovely, the afternoon was clear, and but for the occasionally niggling concern that we weren't exactly sure where we were going, it was a great hike. We shared the trail with a man delivering firewood in a wheelbarrow. We walked through a Tarahumara homestead and said hello to the pig (who apparently was the only creature stirring).

Passing Through

We passed another homestead where a young boy was pitching wood down from the main trail to the house. It was sobering to think of preparing three meals a day on a wood-burning stove. 

We passed the trail to the rim-side Hotel Mirador Posada Barrancas (for big budget travelers this hotel looks very nice). We figured the next trail up to the rim must be the one to El Castillo. So we began to climb and climb . . .  until we reached the top of the canyon.  

Looking Back At The Hotel Mirador Posada Barrancas

Looking Down on The Pig's House

But we were still clueless as to where our hotel was. We stopped an elderly (well - even to us) fellow and asked for directions to El Castillo. He sold us a cool rock he'd found in the canyon and gave us directions. It's all about meeting the needs of your market.

And Then . . .

We left El Castillo the next day and traveled by train to Fuerte where we found The Truck in good shape except for being covered with bird poo. From Fuerte we drove via cuotas:
  • back to Mazatlan where we stopped for a few nights to say hello to friends;
  • on to Tepic;
  • from there to Guadalajara at which point we were concerned about some drug violence-related uncertainty which ultimately, for us, was much ado about nothing;
  • and to Silao (another Hampton Inn); and finally
  • to Guanajuato

We moved into our pretty little one-bedroom apartment along the Panoramica in Guanajuato on the 4th of May. 

Our Guanajuato View!

And here we remain until July. Our thoughts on Life in Guanajuato are next.  

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