A bus trip to remember...
17 February 2017 | Urique, Barrancas de Cobre, Mexico
One particular quote has stuck in our minds and has done us good over the years. Most people are familiar with Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated attempt to walk from one side of Antarctica to the other. However, there is another book written about the frequently overlooked story of the other half of expedition that was awaiting him on the other side of the continent. The book is called "The Lost Men" and it's by Kelly Tyler-Lewis and it's an excellent read. The quote comes from a situation in this book where two guys were on a ship at sea in the Southern Ocean and experiencing horrendous conditions, they thought they were going to die. One turned to the other and said " We came out here looking for adventure, there's no point complaining just because we found it!"
Thankfully it is not often that we have such experiences where, and there's no other way of saying it - you honestly believe that you are going to die. Often later, when I look back and mentally review such situation I think that really it couldn't have been as bad as what I thought at the time - that I was just over-reacting or being paranoid. However, I think this is just a mechanism for coping with the trauma and is a part of the relief associated with survival. And this was one of those times, we thought we were going to die. Read on....
Wanting to head off the beaten track a little more Frances thought we should head to Urique, a village at the bottom of one of the canyons and away from any of well known tourist attractions. A fine idea, so we managed to track down the local bus leaving from Bahiouchivo. The Lonely Planet guide says "it's by far the easiest canyon-bottom village to access" Urique (pronounced oo-RE-kay) is only 52 kilometres from Bahiuchivo but the trip takes 31/2 hour, or more, so that should have been a hint. The top of the range is around 2,200 metre (or 6,800 feet), Urique is located at the bottom of the canyon at around 500 metres (1,600 ft) - a descent of 1,700 m (6,000 ft). Just as we leaving Bahuichivo it started to lightly sprinkle rain but after a delay at Bahuichivo we eventually headed off in the ancient ex-school bus with 6 other passengers (locals) on board. After a few kilometres the sealed road ran out and we continued on a rough dirt road for around 30 kilometres, still showing no signs of decent into the canyon where Urique was situated. And the rain slowly but surely became heavier.
Suddenly we were there - on the edge staring down thousands of feet of all-but sheer cliffs. It was truly a stunning vista indeed, regardless of the fact that the road was very narrow, had no verge or shoulder, nor any safety barriers - the road still didn't have much of an gradient either as we were still traversing the rim. On our right we passed three crosses, memorials for people who had died on the road and then, a little further on, a larger memorial on the left, carved into the mountainside, where the bus driver crossed himself.....OK that's cool, we understand, religion is important. All the time the rain had slowly become heavier and we still had to descend 1,700 metres into the canyon but there was still no reason reason to be concerned. The road continued to wind its way around the cliffs, the driver often slowing down (from a maximum speed of 20 kph) when we approached particularly narrow and dangerous (unstable?) sections. And then the grade started to increase and we commenced the descent winding our way back and forth down the cliffs. It as somewhat nerve racking as this old bus oh so slowly rounded each bend, barely moving and then speeding up to barely above walking pace before reaching the next bend - looking out the windows into nothingness.
And then I felt the wheels of the bus slip and loose traction on what I now realized was a boggy, clay surface. There was no grip whatsoever for the tyres of the the old bus. The driver started turning the steering wheel in the opposite direction to the direction we were moving just to keep on the road - never a good feeling. All this while barely moving but keep in mind that the road was steep and narrow and the surface was like a skating rink - on a bus that must have been 50 years old. When looking out the front windscreen as we we rounded corners from our front seats we could see nothing beyond the couple of metres of road in front of us, the bus driver slipping and sliding and inching our way round each steep bend. It was not a matter of if but when the bus would loose traction completely, then we were all doomed. There was no way of getting out of the bus and there was nothing to stop us tumbling hundreds of metres down the mountainside and we still had over a 1,000 metres to descend to Urique. We did not want to become another unfortunate statistic of a tragic road accident in a third world country. We had all but reached our limit, on the verge of telling the bus driver to stop and let us out to walk when fate stepped in - in our favour. As we slipped, snail-paced our way around another steep corner, the driver was unable to stop the bus sliding sideways, luckily into the mountain side of the road and it became stuck on a huge boulder, unable to continue on. What a tremendous relief. The door was opened and everybody alighted and checked out our predicament. We had decided there was no way we were going to get back on that bus. We told the occupants what we were doing, donned what waterproof clothing we had and commenced walking down the slippery, steep road in what was by now steady, soaking rain. We still had over 1,000 metres to descend and 13 kilometres but we were happy 'cause we were alive!
After walking for over 21/2 hours (mostly in the dark) we came across a small 4WD vehicle who stopped and told us he was on his way up to the bus. We said we'd continue to walk and catch up with him on the way down. Luckily the road conditions had improved and as the 4WD and another vehicle came down the hill we hitched a ride the last few kilometres into Urique. We were wet but very happy.
I put together this video which was shot on the way down on my mobile phone camera and on the way back up the canyon on a Gopro.