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Dave and Jan's travels, day 161:
Copper Canyon

27th October
La Barranca del Cobre - the Copper Canyon. Allegedly, it's deeper and wider than Arizona's Grand Canyon. In practice, it lacks the sheer drama of that sight, but compensates in other, subtler ways.

The drama isn't there, because softer rocks have created a canyon with gentler slopes. This in turn encourages more vegetation, so the walls of the Copper Canyon are softened by a coating of greenery. It's a scenery whose scale only emerges after a few days spent amongst it: I felt vaguely disappointed on day one, pleasantly surprised on day two, and a little wistful to leave on our third day.

The canyon is also a lot more lived in than its US cousin. It's dotted with small villages of subsistence farmers. Their one concession to the modern world seems to be a keen appreciation of the merits of corrugated aluminium, which incongrously roofs many otherwise timeless buildings. This country has been sufficiently difficult to reach for so long that most of the locals are more or less pure-bred Indians, in contrast to the vast majority of Mexicans, who carry plenty of Spanish blood. The Indians preserve their traditional dress, languages and religions to this day, and most colourful they are too. The 50,000 or so Tarahumara Indians in this region are a good example. To this day the hunt deer by running after them until the deer are exhausted.

Another feature of the Copper Canyon is the railway that runs through it. This engineering feat climbs 7,000 feet through rough country from the coast, takes in 39 bridges and 86 tunnels along the way, and is the only way through from west to east. It was a stunning train ride both for the scenery and the engineering feat - I haven't been on a switchback in a tunnel in a train before.

We left Beluga the car in a hotel car park in Los Mochis, near the Pacific Coast (fingers crossed). The train carriage was startlingly clean and new that put many US and British equivalents in the shade. The timekeeping was slightly less impressive: we arrived at our destination in the Canyon's heart - the town of Creel - about 4 hours late, on a journey timetabled at 9 hours.

Still, the time passed quickly enough, as the scenery gradually evolved from cactus-clad parched lowland flats to high mountain conifer forest. We enjoyed our carefully prepared packed lunch of cream cheese and salad sandwiches and avocados (it's not that I've gone off refried beans and chili just yet, but even the finest foods benefit from the occasional rest).

At Creel, we checked into the 'Casa Margarita', and were instantly transported back to our trip through Asia ten years ago. About thirty scruffily dressed Europeans, hanging out, mostly in their early twenties, and all thrilled to be out in the big wild world. The enthusiasm is infectious, pretty soon I was thrilled too. It's also engaging to listen to the fragments of a dozen different languages, frequently two or three in a single conversation. The Dutch always win at that particular game: they all seem to speak Dutch, English and German, and somehow within a few weeks of landing in Mexico they've magically become fluent in Spanish. It's a neat trick.

The next day we took the hotel's tour of the canyon, which basically meant a day jolting along a dirt road with various viewpoint stops every hour or so. The preponderance of Mexican tourists meant that the day happened largely in Spanish, which was nice if a little challenging, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Day three saw the train journey back to Los Mochis. Another interminable series of delays dropped us in the railway station at 11.30pm, but rather unexpectedly we found a taxi driver within seconds, who not only took us back to our hotel safely, but didn't even try to overcharge. And by 12.15 we were tucked up in bed, having checked on Beluga who had survived our absence unscathed.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Our hotel in Creel

The Canyon

The Canyon

Our hotel in Los Mochis