Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big Mexico: Copper Canyon and El Chepe

Our last day in the Copper Canyon system began with me knocking on the Casuare clinic door and finding the good doctor home.  I wanted to thank him, I was now so much better. He seemed genuinely happy to know he'd helped so much.

The dirty dozen, all of us who went on the
Barrancas de Cobre tour.
We headed back towards Creel, but turned west before actually arriving there. The town we needed to be in, to catch the El Chepe train was Divisidero. In recent years the government has installed a tram that runs from the edge of the canyon out to a promontory a kilometer away. Along the edge of the canyon there is now a lovely hotel with spectacular views from every room. Most of us bought tram tickets and rode across the chasm. I noticed a couple of Tarahumara kids who just hopped onto the tram without tickets and were ignored by the operator. Later on, they were on the other side willing to pose for a few pesos. I paid to photograph one of the little entrepreneurs, and got some lovely shots of her and the canyon behind.

Lovely Tarahumara girl.
The views from the canyon rim were fantastic, but from the promontory, they were even better, totally unobstructed. There was a tiny shop in a ramshackle shed selling sodas and snacks, and a sign pointing in several directions with the number of kilometers to the towns the trails led to. Many kilometers in any direction, all on foot.

Another attraction was a series of ziplines from the canyon rim to various 'landings'. I've always wanted to try ziplining, but not sure I would want my first experience to be dangling over a thousand foot drop into a rocky canyon!

After our tram trip, we walked into town on a lovely new paved path along the canyon rim. The whole area feels like a National Park with handicapped trails and railings. In town, we had an hour to explore before the train arrived. At the platform there were a dozen women with coal fires under flat metal plates, making gorditas, and stirring steaming pots of chopped meats and vegetables. Dick said the tour company didn't recommend eating anything at the station because some previous customers had gotten sick. But I've eaten cooked street food for a long time and never had a problem. As long as you avoid uncooked vegies like lettuce and tomatoes, you should be ok. I hunkered down with a fat gordita, split open and stuffed with pork and chiles. Anne followed suit, then Evan and Felicia took the plunge as well. Of all the things we'd been served and the restaurants we'd eaten in, Anne said at the end of the trip, the gorditas at the train station were the best food she'd eaten in Mexico.

The train arrived and we said goodby to Noel and Roberto. I gave Noel a nice tip and told him it was because he hadn't let me out of the car when I was in such a panic. That was the smart thing and I appreciated that he'd done it. He just smiled and said "Nos vemos, Amica Cherry."

View of the valley from the
train high on the mountainside. A short
time later, the train went over that bridge.
El Chepe is the famous train that follows along the edge of the Copper Canyon itself, and eventually drops down into some of the western canyons. It is an incredible feat of engineering, with 86 tunnels and 37 bridges.  At one point we emerged from a tunnel and looked down the steep cliff to see rails we'd soon be on, far below us, with a bridge across the river. Shortly thereafter we entered a very long tunnel that actually curved to the left as it descended inside the mountain. When we came out, we were down there crossing the bridge we'd seen from above. The highest train bridge in the world is on this line, and crosses the river feeding an enormous reservoir. I was shocked at how low the reservoir was, at least 60 feet down from the obvious high water level.

We arrived in El Fuerte well after dark and were hustled to our hotel there in a large bus, where we were greeted with complimentary margaritas and another delicious and filling meal!


Copper Canyon viewed from the Tram drop point.


Seriously depleted reservoir.