Annette and Charlie Go to Mexico in 2004
During Annette’s spring break we went to Mexico. I had just returned from two weeks there so had a pretty good handle on what we would and could do.
We planned to take the DR350 and NX250 and explore some dirt roads, but a glitch in the DR and the fact that my Vehicle Importation Permit had expired caused us to go on foot. We drove the van to Presidio TX, stayed in a motel and parked in their lot while we were in Mexico. It must be a common practice, as they weren’t fazed at all by our request.
I hadn't checked myself or the bike out of Mexico, so took a letter from a local deputy with appropriate letterhead and notarization stating the bike was in MN. After the usual waiting and throwing myself on their mercy they let me off with a lecture but no other penalty.
Monday we walked across the border, got Annette’s tourist card, asked where the bus station was and hiked over there. This was several miles of total walking, but we packed light.
Buying tickets was the usual challenge, but people in Mexico have been universally patient and helpful as I struggle with their language.
We took the bus to Chihuahua and then on to Creel. The buses were pretty nice, relatively clean and equipped with movies and a toilet. On the ride to Creel a kid in the seat behind us lost an entire bag of deep fried snacks on the floor. After ingesting them. It got on Annette's bag, but not mine. The lesson is put your bag in the overhead. The roads are pretty seriously twisty so motion sickness could be a problem. There was a guy at the bus station selling individual Dramamine pills.
The bus arrived about 8 p.m. and there was a guy touting his motel. A local we were talking with on the bus gave a positive reference so we went with him. It had a cement floor, but was neat, clean, warm and had a nice bathroom for ~US$15. The drawback was it was the better part of a mile from downtown.
Tuesday we toured Creel on foot and about noon got on the train that runs through Copper Canyon. The tracks are under construction so the train was about 2 hr. late to El Fuerte. This normally 8-hour ride has excellent scenery. There are a couple of stops where you can get off and buy food from the ladies cooking on the top of 55 gallon barrels converted to stoves.
In El Fuerte we shared a taxi with a French Canadian and got a room at the Posada Del Don Porforio. This is a quite nice inn about a block from the central plaza and right in the middle of the main shopping area.
El Fuerte is an old colonial town and quite nice to visit. Our taxi driver said the population was 40,000 or so, but other sources and my own estimate indicate that it is closer to 14,000. We spent Wednesday looking around, shopping and visiting the fort/museum. At the restored fort we met four Mexican engineering students who tried out their English skills on us. They were on some kind of a field trip to study water projects. We had many pleasant interactions with the locals in Spanish as we looked at and bought a few things.
As we were standing by the pay phone trying to figure out how to use my newly purchased phone card a local man stopped and asked in English if we needed help. I was planning to call our next hotel and ask about transportation from the train to the hotel. I had tried to get the info from some locals on the way down to El Fuerte, but we didn’t share enough words in common to let me understand. Our new friend made the call and got the info in Spanish. He said he learned English by reading the dictionary and an English bible. His English was way better than my Spanish.
Because El Fuerte is near the sea we found a seafood restaurant for supper then wandered a bit more, observed nightlife at the plaza then retired to the posada for the night. A new guest was an older man with dual US/Spanish citizenship. He was an active motorcyclist with a ZX10 and some other bikes. We discussed world problems with him for a while before we went to bed
Thursday morning after breakfast we headed for the train station. Our train was on the schedule for 8:40, we arrived at about that time and saw a huge crowd waiting for the train. They were mostly older tourists waiting for the first class train, which arrived in an hour or so.
In another hour or so our train arrived and we were off. Our train had fewer people, but they had all come to town for supplies, so they loaded up the boxcar which is always at the end of the train for them.
Our goal for today was to make it to Temoris, a former mining town of 1400 people, now supported by agriculture. We got to see what we had missed in the dark two nights before, including the wrecked train cars in the bottom of the canyon.
In the early afternoon we arrived at the station for Temoris. The main part of the town is about a 2 miles by air from the station, but it is up about 4000 feet and about 6 miles by road. There is a small bus that will take you to town so we got on it. The road is about one bus wide and if the driver missed a turn you wouldn’t roll down the mountain, you’d be airborne. Our driver was very careful and we made it OK.
I had stayed in Temoris a couple of weeks earlier so we sought out the same hotel. I delivered some photos I’d taken of the proprietor’s grandkids and we got settled in our room for a nap.
After bit we went out to explore the town and sit in the plaza to watch people until suppertime. One of the grandkids and his dog went with us. Carlo spoke to me at length in Spanish. I understood almost nothing that he said.
In the morning we walked out to an overlook from which you could see the canyon, the railway station and surrounding canyon. It was about an hour walk each way, but the view was great. The train comes from Creel on the tracks at the far right, enters the tunnel, loops left across a bridge to approach on the tracks at the far left. It makes another loop left to arrive at the station at the center of the photo.
We got back from our walk just in time to catch the bus to the train station. The highlight of the return bus trip was the large green snake that crossed the road ahead of us. It was bright green, longer than the road was wide and attracted some attention from the other passengers.
As usual the train was a couple of hours late. Eventually we were on our way and enjoyed some pretty nice scenery for the rest of the trip to Creel.
We arrived in Creel after dark and were met by a crowd of kids touting lodging. We had already decided to try and stay at Margaritas, but let one of the kids lead us there. Denise, the young woman who runs the place told us she gives them something for bringing customers and feeds them lunch. Most are street kids and have no parents.
Margarita’s is sort of like a hostel. You can get dorm lodging or a private room. The dorm is a bunch of beds and a shared bath for about US$7/person including breakfast and supper. The private rooms have their own bath and are about US$25 for two, with meals. We heard they were quite nice, but never saw one, as they were all full. There were several people who wanted rooms, so Denise took us through the streets of Creel to alternate lodging, with meals back at the main site. We shared a log building, which had two separate accommodations. Our housemates were three exchange students from Austria, France and ??.
After we were in the room I tried to take a shower, but there was no hot water, so I got some clothes on and went out to see what I could do about it. The water heater was outside and I discovered that it was turned off. The pilot was burning so I just turned it up and had my shower. As I was checking out the heater one of the students was outside having a cigarette. I asked if they had hot water. She cocked her head for a minute then said “She is still screaming in there so I guess not.” We got their water heater running too.
Because it was past the normal supper hour we skipped Margarita’s supper and went to a restaurant on the main street. Margarita’s gave is a small discount for this.
Eating is family style at Margaritas so you meet a pretty international and VERY diverse selection of people. We ate breakfast with a middle-aged Swiss man, a woman from New York, some young women from Australia and England and a crazy guy who spoke randomly, usually not in response to anything we said. There were also a couple of motorcyclists from the US and England.
After breakfast we caught the bus for Ciudad Chihuahua but we didn’t get the express to Chihuahua so saw every small town between Creel and Chihuahua. It was actually pretty interesting and took about as long as it would have taken on the bikes.
In Chihuahua we had no idea when the bus would leave for Ojinaga so we asked at the first company we came to in the central bus station. Their next bus was about 2 hours away, but they called a competitor and got us on a bus leaving in 15 minutes.
In Ojinaga we walked back to the border where a local offered a ride to our motel, which we accepted of course.
It was interesting to take the bus, but the bikes would have been more fun. Bikes would have been a bit more work due to the permits, insurance etc. that are required. For a short trip like this the costs are about a wash between taking the bikes and the bus.
The train ride is a good idea no matter how you get to the station. I recommend getting on the train in Creel and stopping in El Fuerte. After El Fuerte you are in flat farm country, and if there is no scenery the train looses it’s attraction. Be sure to take the second-class train. It is clean, comfortable, has a dining car and costs half as much as first class. You saw in the photos who was on the first class train. It appears that Fridays and Sundays are the busiest times as the local go to town for celebration or supplies.
A few words of Spanish are a big help. Many people in these areas speak only Spanish or Spanish and the Tarahumara language. If they see you struggling with prices they usually write it out for you, but the numbers are pretty easy to learn. You can do it without any Spanish, but why would you.