The next morning Richard, Steve, and I woke up early to catch the bus to the train station in El Fuerte to get to Copper Canyon. We left the car parked out right in front of the hostel and crossed our fingers as we waved goodbye to our trusty green carriage. Once we got to the train station, which wasn’t much, we waited patiently for the Chepe to roll in.
There are two types of cars on the Chepe, Primera Class and Economica Class. The prices for the Economica class was half of the Primera class and the only real difference was that the Primera cars served beer and had the cars at the front of the train. So we opted for the Economica class sans beer and we sat in the very last car. One thing that was awesome was the train personel didn’t really care if you hung out in-between cars and looked out the back for photos and just to hang out and take in the scenery so that’s exactly what we did most of the 8 hour ride into Creel. The ride would take us from about sea level all the way up to 2330 meters (7644 feet) and we were glad we brought our sweatshirts!
We had a quick 20 minute stop in Divisidero which was a small town an hour or so outside of Creel and had some real gorditas and got our first real look at the canyon from a viewpoint. It was spectacular, but I will save those pics for a moment. We got back on the train and finally rolled into Creel and established ourselves at a small hostel called Casa Margaritas. They had some cheap dorm rooms and included free breakfast and dinner every day! The food was served in another small hotel a few blocks away from the one we were sleeping in and the food there was very delicious home style Mexican cooking.
The next morning we woke up and had some breakfast and headed out on a short day tour of the area. Our first stop was inside a national reserve for the native Raramuri people. Most of these natives still lived in very small wooden homes or in caves along side the cliffs at this high altitude near the canyon. We got to take a quick tour through one of the cave homes and see the women and young girls creating hand woven baskets, jewelry, and wood carved animals all in vibrant colors which they would frequently sell to tourists and locals to help boost their tiny economy. The women still wore their traditional colorful long skirt clothing and clutched their babies close with long multi-purpose shawls. The children were adorable and constantly ran up to everyone asking you to buy some of their handmade goodies. Some of them simply said “peso?” asking for money. They had their own language outside of Spanish, but they knew how to say peso. Instead of giving them free money I bought a little bracelet charm for 5 pesos from one of the girls and put it on my camera as a good luck charm.
We then visited another area which contained a very old mission and some interesting rock formations nestled in a valley on top of the canyon. One was called the Valley of Mushrooms and the Valley of Frogs, named after their rock formations looking similar to mushrooms and frogs. The Valley of Mushrooms was sort of reaching in terms of looking like mushrooms, but the Valley of Frogs had rocks that actually did look like frogs at certain angles!
Then we headed to a large waterfall which was a bit lacking of water this time of year but was still magnificent none the less. Steve and I even hiked down to the bottom of the falls and had fun jumping along the rocks and getting misted by the falls.
After the sightseeing we returned back to the hostel and had a wonderful dinner and contemplated how we could actually get down into the canyon. We wanted to do a little more adventurous things and read that they do have 5-10 day long hikes down into the canyon, but unfortunately they were extremely expensive (a few grand per person) and it was dangerous to go without a guide, so we heard. Instead we opted for doing some horseback riding instead. We said goodbye to our new friend Richard whom we exchanged emails with in hopes we might meet up again later down the road then we hopped on a bus that took us from Creel to a tiny little town called Arepopuchi and stayed in a homestead/hotel type place and hired some horses the same day to take us near the bottom of the canyon. Antonio helped guide us and the horses for a 3 hour trek through some treturous rocky terrain all the way to a point where a local tourist cable car stopped. Those horses (my horse was named Pinto!) had hoofs of steel on that terrain.
Once we got to the end of our trail we got to see a lot more of the canyon and it was absolutely amazing. It was huge! I have never seen the Grand Canyon, but i suspect it looks similar to Copper Canyon. I believe Copper Canyon is actually larger that the Grand Canyon, but I imagine it is just as magnificent.
We rode for another 3 hours back to the homestead just before it started getting dark and met a friend, Al, whom we had met in the hostel in Creel. He had some to Arepopuchi as well to get some hiking to the canyon in, but unfortunately he didn’t make it down to the canyon as the Economica train was leaving the next morning to take us to El Fuerte. He came in from Chihuahua and wanted to ride the train the length to Los Mochis to see the sights. But the next morning we convinced him to ride to El Fuerte and stay in a hostel there and we offered him a ride from El Fuerte to Mazatlan if he wanted. When we got back to El Fuerte the beginning of the Semana Santa celebration was starting. The 2-3 weeks around Easter are basically Mexico’s vacation time so lots of Mexican tourists were booking many hotels and resorts all over the country to celebrate. So it was no suprise when we got back to El Fuerte that the hostel we had previously stayed at was full, so we found another hostel a block away which was pretty much a dump, but cheap and we stuck it out for one night before heading off to Mazatlan the next morning!