It is presently 12:18 and we are getting ready to head south finally! After a trip to the fuel dock, we will leave about 2pm with our buddy boat Campanero (Joel anf Betty). As our destination (Bahia Chamela) is about 100 nautical miles south, it should take us about 20 hours and get us there in the morning after sunrise (always a good thing with a new anchorage). Should be a good sail as the wind is predicted to be about 10-15 out of the NW. After a few weeks of marina life we are looking forward to some time on the hook and some diving (I hope to tryout our new snuba gear). Will let you know how the trip went.
On this portion of our trip the saying 'Do Something That Scares You Every Day' took on a whole new meaning...
Our guide Gustavo picked us up from our hotel (Posada Mirador in Posada Barrancas) bright and early for a full day trip through the steep mountainsides of the Sierra Madres to Batopilas, at the base of Copper Canyon, where we would stay for the night.
There is only one road from the summit at 8,000 feet above sea level, all the way down to Batopilas. Gustavo knows it well. He's travelled it numerous times per week for the past 18 years, educating tourists about the flora and fauna of the area, as well as the shy, native mountain people - the Raramuri Indians. The 'white knuckle' roller coaster road conditions were an integral part of the experience... and were just as memorable as the scenery! Halfway through the harrowing 6 hour drive on this narrow dirt road, we wondered if Gustavo was either the most skilled driver we've ever met, or the luckiest, to have survived so many trips over the past two decades (we were really hoping it wasn't the latter)! He was kind enough to check in on us periodically to ask if we were okay, and practically had to peel our hands off the vehicle's arm rests after stopping at a particularly spectacular viewpoint so we could stretch our legs and eat our boxed lunch.
One of the most impressive mountains is nicknamed the 'Seven Layer Cake', because of its multi-colored bands of rock, deposited through the millennia in numerous volcanic incidents (Gustavo says it's still growing taller!).
The picturesque mountainsides appear to be completely uninhabited at first, but if you look carefully you can see numerous zigzagging footpaths that have been worn through the brush over the centuries by the native Ramamuri Indians. Many of these indigenous people still live in caves, surviving off the land as they have for centuries, trying desperately to hold onto their traditions and avoid as much contact with modern civilization as possible. They are well known for their prowess in running great distances, which was a huge asset when the Spanish first attempted to conquer Mexico and convert the local people to their religion/culture. The Raramuri Indians sought refuge by literally running for the hills, and many have remained. Their ability to survive in the harsh, remote mountain conditions is truly remarkable.
We arrived at the base of the Canyon at dinnertime, and enjoyed the evening exploring Batopilas. Batopilas was a very active silver mining town during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. An estimated 300 million ounces of silver has been extracted from this area, and mining companies continue to send geologists on reconnaissance missions to determine whether some of the old mines can be re-opened. In fact we met a German Geologist that evening, who confirmed that he would be surveying the area for the next few weeks! The locals speak very highly of the town's principal mining company founder, who offered hundreds of jobs to the local population back in the 1800s, and spent many of his profits developing the town - paving roads and establishing a municipal center with numerous services.
The next morning Gustavo showed us around the surrounding area, and drove us back up the mountainside for yet another harrowing drive - challenging his poor vehicle one more time... in fact we had to take a few breaks as his vehicle overheated a few times!
We took hundreds of photos, but there was no way to capture the spectacular scenery. We have selected a few in the accompanying gallery.
El Chepe Train is known as the Mexican equivalent of the 'Orient Express'.
It is a fabulous way to travel through the majestic, mountainous regions of Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Its comfortable cabins and dining car provide for a relaxing trip through spectacular scenery - we loved it! El Chepe made numerous stops along the way which provided opportunities for tourists like us to stop at various towns, purchase trinkets at the rail stations from indigenous artisans, or get off to set out on sightseeing excursions. Our next stop was at the summit - 8,000 feet above sea level. This marked the beginning of the highlight of our trip. More to come!!
Miguel also escorted us on a tour of the Mayo Indian Reservation of Tehueco. The Mayo are related to the Apache and Navaho Indians, and live a simple, traditional life in the countryside.
We were educated by a practicing Shaman about how local herbs are used to treat illnesses, and he invited us to wander through his property to see numerous animal carcasses and other materials he was preparing for spiritual dance costumes and ceremonial instruments.
At a nearby location we were introduced to an indigenous family who gave us a further glimpse into their traditions and culture. Two sisters demonstrated traditional food preparation techniques on stone oven cooktops. We watched them grind maiz (corn) on large flat stones, which were used to make the flour for tortillas. They served the tortillas to us for lunch on their open air patio, which was nothing more than a dirt floor, with a simple, hand carved wooden table and benches, protected from the sun under a canopy of woven branches. We couldn't believe how tasty these hot, thick, handmade tortillas tasted with a little local butter and spicy stone ground chillies - yummm!! Spicy too!!
After lunch one of the sisters demonstrated how to make pottery from mud and leaf stems. The tiny leaf stems are used to strengthen and bind, so it can be shaped by hand. Ants carry the leaves into their colonies, where they munch away at, and later discard the stems. They drag the stems back up to the surface, which are then gathered up by the Tehueco Indians, who incorporate them into their pottery. Fascinating!
Later, the brother was joined by the Shaman we met earlier and two other men, who performed traditional spiritual dances and music for us. We were extremely impressed at the workmanship that went into the dancer's costume and instruments. Butterfly cocoons were filled with tiny pebbles and sewn onto long ribbons, which were wrapped around and around the dancer's calves. These became percussion instruments as he danced. His fringed, leather belt was adorned by approximately 40 deer hooves, which swung around and knocked against each other during the dances, providing additional sound effects.
A deer head complete with antlers was tied onto the dancer's head, and was a key element of his costume. We were impressed at the stamina and skill of this 47 year old dancer who we were told would be dancing for 12 hours straight at a religious ceremony the following day. Religion is important to the indigenous Mayo people, and theirs is a unique blend of traditional spiritual beliefs and Catholicism, adopted after the Spanish influence of the 1700s.
See photo gallery...
After arriving in El Fuerte we grabbed our heavily packed knapsacs (jammed full of enough clothing for the cool mountain air at the top of the Canyon) and hailed a taxi to take us to a hotel recommended to us by our friends from Borboleta. Five minutes later we arrived at our Hotel... in fact our hotel ended up being so close to the bus station we think our taxi driver toured around the city square before dropping us off to make the trip worthwhile!
After our long overnight trip we were SO happy to finally arrive at Posada Del Hidalgo (our hotel in El Fuerte). Conveniently located just off the city square, it is an historic building appointed in an upscale, yet authentic Spanish/Mexican manner, with 5 star service - we LOVED it!
Posada Del Hidalgo was built around a much smaller, more modest building in which Zorro is reported to have been born. In fact one of the hotel atriums pays homage to him with a life-sized sculpture of him posing in one of his sword-wielding exploits.
Zorro magically arrived during 'Happy Hour' at the Palapa Bar by the pool, welcoming us. Along with other Canadian tourists. (The complimentary margaritas were VERY good... so we can't be completely sure that his appearance wasn't just in our imagination!)
See El Fuerte photo gallery...
After Happy Hour Miguel, the Maître d'Hôtel (who looked conspicuously like El Zorro), provided us with a range of guided tour options. The next morning Miguel (a.k.a. 'Jack Of All Trades' at the Hotel), took us on a river cruise/bird watching tour, and inland excursion to see ancient petroglyphs. It was a beautiful way to begin the day and ease ourselves into our inland adventure.
See river cruise photo gallery...
Joel, Tom and Kim set out on an inland adventure tour to the States of Sinaloa and Chihuahua to experience authentic Mexican culture and see the spectacular sights of the Copper Canyon, which many like to call the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'.
We started our trip from Puerto Vallarta on a 13 hour bus trip to Los Mochis, where we hopped on a second bus for a mere 2 hour ride to El Fuerte.
Some of us arrived in El Fuerte (our first destination on the way to the Copper Canyon) a bit dazed by lack of sleep, but others managed to sleep through the distractions during our trip. (Guess who slept and guess who didn't!!) Our travel accommodations were the antithesis of what many may have expected... no rugged country-style public transportation for us with livestock, chickens, and supplies... rather, we travelled first class on a TAP bus to Los Mochis, which had large cushy inclining seats, movies played on LCD screens, snacks, and a washroom, and then the Norte de Sinaloa bus to El Fuerte.
While it was much more comfortable than we first imagined, there were many things to keep the insomniacs among us awake during our overnight trip. Many fast turns made using the washroom a major challenge... and there were a few stops along the way. Overhead lights turned on spontaneously throughout the night for no apparent reason, and on 3 occasions we were boarded by inspectors and/or policia (complete with automatic rifles) who, according to other more experienced travellers, were searching for stowaways, mysterious baggage and weapons. There were many interesting sites to peer at through the window: small commercial buildings were gated and locked up for the night, men sat on plastic outdoor chairs shooting the breeze at all-night outdoor food kiosks, and stretches of road were lit by flashing red and blue lights where police and/or military engaged in searches and apprehension of people on the wrong side of the law. It was fascinating to watch all of the activity along the highway in the middle of the night, and comforting at times to be sitting inside a comfortable bus that whizzed past it all.
By now we're accustomed to seeing heavily armed police in public places, and seeing army trucks loaded up with armed, fully uniformed soldiers riding in the truck beds, some with identity concealing balaclavas. While unsettling at first, their presence becomes almost comforting, particularly amid the negative media stories about crime and violence in this magnificent country.
We added a few photos in the gallery...