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The story of how I saved money, quit my job, sold my possessions, and set off to endlessly travel by bike around the world. My Plan

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Tren Barranca del Cobre
(or in English)
Copper Canyon Railway Train

(May 28 - 29, 2002)

One of the "Must see and Do's" of Northern Mexico is the Barranca del Cobre and accompanying train ride.   For the fist time we left our bikes and camping gear behind and took a wonderful side trip that we will never forget.   If you are interested in something close to the USA but with a real taste of Mexico this is it.

The Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon as it is know in English, is well known around the world.  Because we are from Arizona it is best described by comparing the two.  It looks similar, from the rim, as Arizona's Grand Canyon.  The locals boast that it is bigger than the Grand Canyon which is true in most aspects. Fist the Grand Canyon is one canyon with some good size tributaries.   The Barranca del Cobre is seven to twenty canyons, depending on witch book you read, and also has many large tributaries.  The Barranca del Cobre does not refer to just one canyon but this whole system of canyons.  Because there are so many canyons the total square mileage is easily several times larger than the Grand Canyon.  The Barranca del Cobre is also a bit deeper than Arizona's Grand Canyon.  It is hard to determine just how much deeper because there is some disagreement as how to measure how deep a canyon is.  All sources that I have read did award the deeper canyon prize to The Barranca del Cobre.  I may be partial, because I am from Arizona, but the prize for sheer beauty has to go the Grand Canyon.  It has steeper walls with several thousand feet of near vertical cliffs.  This makes it appear deeper.  For this reason it is much harder to build a trail into it.  The Barranca del Cobre may have some good cliffs but it also has abundant gradual slopes that are relatively easier to have trails.  The Grand Canyon also has a much more colorful geology in its rock layers.  The Barranca del Cobre's rock layers are but two observable colors that consist of white and gray.  The Grand Canyon has these colors plus red, orange, black, and others.  These colorful rocks are layered in sharp contrast to each other.   The debate over beauty is just opinion and could rage for years but that is my two Pesos worth.

One of the biggest draws for us was the fact that this canyon has a train that runs along and into the canyon.  I particularly like trains even though this is only the second one I have ridden.  The other one was also in Mexico.  I get motion sick in cars and buses but a train makes no sudden movements and I have no problems.   The Grand Canyon also has a train but is extremely lame and expensive in comparison to the one into the Barranca del Cobre. 

Another attractive aspect to this canyon is its Indian inhabitants.  The Tarahumara Indians that inhabit the canyon and the pine covered rim country still live a very primitive way.  This is in part due to the fact that they have never received money from the government and the rugged canyons keep them isolated.  The Tarahumara number over 50,000 and are often observed in the area.  This makes them the second largest Indian tribe in North America.  They migrated into the canyons from the high plains, to the east, about 500 years ago.  They migrated east because the Spanish Conquistadors started enslaving them to work in the local silver mines.  They would be forced to work eighteen hours a day until it killed them at a very young age.  The Conquistadors would often give chase until they reached the rim of one of the canyons.   They thought it crazy to chase any further. 

We left our bike behind in a Cuauhtemoc hotel room and went to the train station at 9:30 am.   There were two classes of trains to chose from.  The Primavera Class was for tourist, mostly from Europe, sitting in plush dining cars and checking out the abundant scenery.  Segunda Class is half the price of Primavera  and a bit slower and had older cars.  It is mostly Mexican locals using the train as transportation to visit family or just get somewhere.  Since we have come to Mexico to learn about Mexicans and their culture we wanted  on the Segunda class.  We will learn the ways of the European when we get to Europe in a couple of years. The Primavera Class train came rolling up to the platform in which we were standing.  An employee of the railroad asked us if we wanted it to stop and was astounded when we told him that we wanted Segunda Class.  We were in fact the only non-Hispanic people around and the only ones he asked about the Primavera train.   Because no one was getting on the Primavera train he waved it on.  The Mexicans around us could not believe it when the train passed and we happily waited for the same one that they were getting on.  Several of them got big smiles on their faces.  In some small way we were one of them now. 

Once on the train we could not believe how nice it was.  "This is the cheap train" we kept saying to ourselves.  This was not at all a "Chicken Bus" kind of thing.  The seats were very big and had tons of leg room.  We noticed that everyone was well dressed and we were the only ones in T-shirts and sandals.   There was a big difference between us and the locals.  The Mexicans almost immediately went to sleep.  They had probably been on this train dozens of times and Mexicans seem to be masters of sleeping on public transportation.  We were excited about riding one of the most famous trains in North America and were wide eyed and taking pictures. 

The scenery that rolled by was not unfamiliar to us at first.  We had spent the previous two weeks ride through this part of Mexico.  Adobe houses where the pace of life looked comfortable and slow appeared with frequency through the pine forest.   Occasionally there was a village where we could see men on hours back trotting to town to pick up something from the village store.  In fact everyone was on hours back and rode easily as if they had all of their lives.  A car or truck would probably get stuck during the rainy season.  Even though these people had seen trains come by everyday of their lives they would still gather on the porch to wave at us as we went by.  

As we got closer to the Canyons we saw new sights  that we had not ridden past.   The Tarahumara were living in caves and girls in brightly colored dresses tended flocks of goats and sheep.  We later learned that these Indians would often come out of the canyons in the summer to escape the hot depths of the canyon some 3000ft below.   Unlike the Mexican families waving from their porches the Tarahumara (except for the girls) were out of site when the train rolled by.  They have a reputation for being shy and distant.  The first views into the deep canyon and the pine trees reminded us of Arizona's Grand Canyon. 

When the train rolled up to our stop at Divisidero everyone got off.  This was the only place that people on the train could walk around, stretch their legs, and buy something to eat.  We were bombarded with the now familiar smells of Chile Rellenos, tacos, and other local favorites.  We also saw our first non-Mexican tourist since we crossed the border.  Shortly we got off we met Jim.

Jim was from Liverpool, England but had been living and traveling in foreign countries for the past several years.  He had traveled to every corner of the globe and was a wealth of information about the places that we intend to visit over the next several years.  Unfortunately, for us, he had not cycled much around the world but preferred the bus or train in all but the most bike friendly European countries.  His current journey was from South America to Alaska and he was on his 18th month. 

He was not impressed with Mexico and told us that we would enjoy Central America and Especially South America much better.  He said that Mexico is at least twice as expensive as any country to the south.  This made us think.  We really like Mexico and even though it cost more than other Latin American countries it was still within our daily budget.  Originally we planned on spending nine months here but could only get a six month visa.  Extending our six month tourist visa would be a hassle and cost around $300 in transportation because we would have to take a 24 hour bus ride in order to leave the country.  We would probably go from some where in central Mexico to either the USA or Guatemalan border and re-enter the country, like it was our first time in,  and get a new six month visa.  We would also have to re-pay the $22 per person fee that they charge Americans to visit the interior of Mexico.  The problem is that there is no way to tour Mexico, at our leisurely pace, from top to bottom in six months.  We knew that at least one bus ride, with bikes and gear, would be necessary to make up the difference.  I hate buses because I get motion sick and I especially hate subjecting our bikes to this kind of torturer.  We put this decision off till later and just gazed into the canyon.

Back to the canyon

After we gulped in the immense view we started thinking about a place to spend the night.  We left our tent and other camping equipment behind in Cuauhtemoc so for the first time we had to find a hotel for the night.  With Jim we hitched a ride into the village not far from the Divisidero train station.  Our guide book recommended the same place that we got dropped off.  The name of the cabanas (small hotel) is Rancho de Lencho, and we would not recommend it and here is why.  We had to bargain hard to get the price down from 100 pesos ($10.50) per person to 83 pesos ($8.50) per person.  Even the lower price was outrageous for Mexico and a crime for the quality of the facilities.  We shared a room and the bathroom was around the corner.  The toilet didn't flush, because the water to it was turned off and non existent and the water was not hot for a shower.  They served us dinner for 30 pesos ($3.10) and the food was greasy and very bland.  They nickel and dimmed us to death and even wanted us to pay 50 pesos ($5.30) a piece to go for a hike.  We turned them down on the hike and took a hike ourselves that evening and the next day. 

After settling into our pricey hut we walked to the rim of the canyon with Jim.   The views were stunning and we were surprised at how many Tarahumara dwellings we could see.  We had to get going because it was getting dark.  The next day we did not have to catch the train until 3:00 PM and went on a three hour hike with Jim.   We went back to the rim and then followed Tarahumara foot paths to several different view points.  Unfortunately this canyon has a similar problem as Arizona's Grand Canyon.  Pictures do not do it justice.  At one view point there was a very rickety latter that plunged to the depths of the canyon.  We actually never saw the bottom of it but we all agreed that descending it would be suicide.  Just as we made this agreement a Tarahumara man, obviously around 60 years old, came up the latter carrying bags that looked heavy.  He was not even out of breath.  Without saying a word he walked at a brisk pace into the pines.  We were still to chicken to get on the ladder.

We made our way back to our room and then walked back to the train station.  The train ride back to Cuauhtemoc was just as enjoyable as the ride out.

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The Conductor -
"Es Todos A Bordo" 
(All Aboard)

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Tim and Cindie on the edge again

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Little girl checking out Cindie on the train

DSC00089.JPG (575325 bytes)
The Conductor -
"Es Todos A Bordo" 
(All Aboard)

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