Nat’s Travels – A Rail Journey Through A Canyon
The Copper Canyon was a big one on my list. The canyon itself is made up of nine major canyons, some of which are bigger than the Grand Canyon. There’s lots of hiking and sightseeing to be done here, but one way to see the canyon is by rail. El Chepe is supposedly one of the world’s greatest rail journeys and Mexico’s only long distance passenger railway that is still in use.
Riding the Copper Canyon Railway is easier said than done, especially for a budget traveller. You can only book ahead on the first class service, which obviously comes with the first class price tag. Or if you want to go second class (which is still much more expensive than the bus) you can only go every other day and have to hope you can get on. Not the best situation for someone with limited time and a limited budget!
To make matters worse, it’s difficult to find information online. Plus there are a number of fake websites that ‘sell’ tickets for the train.
Due to these reasons I decided to take a tour. I stumbled across Copper Canyon Adventures and their “Create A Trip” when trying to figure out the nightmare of El Chepe.
Creating The Trip
Creating the trip with Copper Canyon Adventures was easy. There’s a form to fill out where you say your budget, time scale and what your interests are. Next Les gave me a call to discuss things further. In just a few days I had an 11-day itinerary, which seemed perfect. It included a trip on El Chepe, free time to explore, some meals and some excursions.
The trip would run from El Fuerte to Chihuahua, stopping off at Cerocahui, Areponapuchic and Creel along the way. The railway journey would be only from El Fuerte to Bahuichivo, as this is apparently the prettiest and most dramatic stretch. I was happy to take Les’ advice on this, as there was no way I could do the whole way!
Les was right. The stretch on El Chepe from El Fuerte to Bahuichivo was absolutely amazing. It includes the longest bridge on the route, the longest tunnel, the highest bridge and some amazing lake views. The route also includes a state crossing over the Chinipas River, where the train leaves Sinaloa and enters Chihuahua State. This point is actually the highest point of the route in Sinaloa and the lowest point of the rout in Chihuahua, an interesting fact!
The first hour on the train was a little flat and slow. And I did begin to wonder if it was worth it. But once the train actually started weaving through the canyon it was incredible. I spent the rest of the journey in a vestibule, which is best for viewing the scenery.
I honestly believe that this is ‘the stretch’ to do, if you can’t do the full journey.
My Favourite Part
There was so much to do on this trip, I can’t fit it all in. So instead I will tell you about my favourite part, the two nights at Cerocahui.
After finishing El Chepe at Bahuichivo, me and the other half were picked up by Mario, who took us to San Isidro Lodge, just outside of Cerocahui. Whilst driving Mario asked us a lot of questions, one was whether we liked hiking. We said yes and from then our official itinerary for Mario’s place was ‘thrown out of the window’ and Mario did everything he could to make sure we had a good time.
Mario had someone take us on two separate hikes. First we hiked down to Cerocahui and then the next day we hiked part of the way to Urique Rim. Both hikes weren’t too strenuous, but also not the easiest. They gave amazing views of the canyon system and were a great way to explore the area.
The food here was also amazing. At San Isidro Lodge three meals a day were included. Each meal was a three-course meal. I don’t think I have ever eaten so much. For lunch and dinner there was a soup, a main and a dessert. Breakfast included fruit, toast and then eggs. The only time it wasn’t three courses was when we were in Urique and had a picnic, but there was still just as much food – enchiladas and a hard-boiled egg. All the food was home cooked by Mario’s wife and was so good.
An extra we took part in at Mario’s was a traditional Temazcal. Mario was also a Shaman and had a Temazcal at the lodge. This is basically a traditional sweat lodge, but there are lots of rituals involved, you do not simply sit in the room.
Before entering the lodge you have to be cleansed, this is done with a pine branch. After which you have to kneel down and ask Mother Earth for permission to enter the lodge, then you crawl in.
The ritual is done in for parts once in the lodge. Between each part more hot stones are rolled in to the pit. Making the lodge hotter and hotter. The first part is for yourself, the second for other people of different tribes/races, the third is for the children of the world and the final stage is for the whole world. Each stage is different, not just hotter. There are different chants and the Shaman will ask questions.
This was one of the hardest things I have done. Being sat in a dark room that just rises in temperature. It is uncomfortably hot; breathing alone burns your nose. But it was a great experience. I definitely felt clean afterwards!
Mario was great, he kept a close eye on us all and let us have a break between the third and forth stage. He has had people unable to complete the ceremony, he says it’s because there was too much bad energy. You are meant to be releasing your negative thoughts and energies to cleanse yourself during the Temazcal.
Copper Canyon Adventures (http://www.coppercanyonadventures.com/) offer a variety of trips within the Copper Canyon. From self guided to fully guided, they have packages to suit everyone’s needs and budget. They also offer a “Create Your Own Trip” (http://www.coppercanyonadventures.com/cca-createatrip/) where customers can design a trip to suit their budget, time frame and preferences.