Route: Mexico City - Guadalajara - Uruapan - Tequila - Chihuahua - Creel - Divisadero - Los Mochis
24.02.2020 - 09.03.2020 20 °C
FEBRUARY - MARCH 2020
The next part of our travels through Mexico started in Guadalajara, a one hour flight west of Mexico City. Although we were told Guadalajara was quite a nice city our plan was to see the surrounding countryside. After a night in an airport hotel we hired a car and headed south east. The journey began along a highway with cultivated fields on either side. Once we left the highway the scenery became more varied and the road undulated through small towns and villages, over hills and into valleys with what looked like extinct volcanoes all around us. This was definitely more rural Mexico where pickups outnumbered cars, men on horseback were a common sight and many of the woman still wore traditional dress. We also saw quite a few open-backed police vehicles with one officer manning a mounted gun, we weren’t sure whether this was reassuring or disconcerting.
After a four hour drive we reached our destination, the bustling town of Uruapan.
Uruapan was our base for three nights and chosen because of its highly recommended national park. We also had high hopes for our accommodation, which didn’t disappoint. Our one bedroom apartment sat on top of a steep valley that descended to a fast flowing river below. We looked out onto a lush garden where humming birds fed on the nectar giving foliage, then beyond to hills and forest. A path led from our apartment past a multitude of wood sculptures to various seating areas all uniquely fashioned. It was such a nice environment we spent the first day in the garden gently swinging in hammocks, catching up on some reading, watching the wildlife and all the time being serenaded by the river that rushed down the valley just below us. The relaxing day did us a world of good especially as I was suffering from a bit of a stomach problem.
Feeling rested and keen to see more, the following day we visited the Uruapan National Park. Although only a short drive from the apartment it felt longer than it was. This was because our “SatNav” took us through all the narrow back streets of the town which was an interest experience in itself. The National Park is only small but very beautiful and quite unique. Cobblestone paths lead you in a circuit that follows the river for the most part. Every so often a stone bridge allows the river to be crossed and provides a good view of the many cascades that fill this stretch. The environment is sub-tropical with a mass of tree growth, which in turn is filled with a good variety of bird life that serenade you as you stroll by. The most unique feature of the park is how they have harnessed the power of the river to form canals that run alongside the pathways and then used to create fountains and water spouts. The whole circuit of the park took us less than two hours and felt very tranquil and refreshing with the rushing water and tree cover providing a cool environment away from the scorching Mexican sun.
Back at the apartment we had some lunch, collected our laundry and then retired to the hammocks in the garden.
The following day we left Uruapan and retraced our steps back through the lovely countryside of Michoacan state and on towards Guadalajara. This time Guadalajara wasn’t our destination, we were going about an hour further west to the town of Tequila. We were now in the state of Jalisco, and once past the concrete sprawl of Guadalajara, in a much more mountainous region. Tequila is a small town nestled in a valley and surrounded by distilleries producing its famous liquor. The outskirts of town appear a bit run down but the centre is much more attractive and that’s where we were staying. Once checked in, it was time to explore. We walked down to the plaza, past brightly coloured buildings to were all the action was. This area was very busy with tourist climbing on and off the strange shaped buses that transport them on tequila tours. An early diner in the historic La Fonda restaurant was then followed by a relaxing evening to recover from the long drive.
The activity for the next day was a tour of a tequila factory. For that we had booked a visit at the long established and well respected Casa Herradura 15km outside of town. The distillery is a grand walled establishment set amongst manicured lawns and historic buildings, with the mountains for a back drop. Our tour was in english and shared with six other guests, four Mexicans and two Brazilians. Our guide Fernanda first explained the history before showing us the the family house and the bottling plant.
We then moved on to the agave preparation area. The agave plant is the key ingredient in the making of tequila and it needs to be trimmed of its foliage before being put into the ovens. Continuing our tour, we passed the ovens, the crushing process, the liquid extraction and all the way to the filtration cellar. The cellar contains stills that filtrate the raw agave liquid into pure tequila. Finally it was time to taste the finished article, of which we sampled three, surprisingly we concluded the pure 55% was our favourite.
By now it was “muy caliente” so we retired to our apartment until the early evening. By six pm it was cool enough to venture out and we made our way down to the central plaza. Here it was a hive of Saturday activities which kept us entertained for several hours. There were bands playing, people dancing, performers on an open stage and some dare devil rope artists called “Papantly Flyer” from the state of Veracruz. Four guys made up the “Papantly Flyer”, they would climb a trimmed plan tree, rope them selves up and then dive off the top spinning in the air as the rope unwound, all without any safety harness, spectacular but crazy.
Finally, before returning to our apartment we got chatting to three guys on horseback who offered us tequila before we both went on our way.
The following day we left the lovely town of Tequila and returned to Guadalajara to start the next stage of our journey around Mexico.
A two hour flight north from Guadalajara got us to our next location, the city of Chihuahua. We also had a time zone change and were now one hour earlier than in Guadalajara. The first task of the day was to buy our train tickets for our onward travel, billed as one of the worlds most amazing train journeys . This achieved, we had time to look around the city. Although not a particularly attractive city it does have some nice buildings and statues in the centre, but most of the colour is provided by the traditional dressed indigenous Tarahumara. The Tarahumara call themselves “Raramuri” which means “Barefoot Runner” and because they are famous for their long distance running. Today they are attracted to the cities to try and make a better living than can be achieved in their harsh rural homeland.
Two days in Chihuahua and then our real adventure begins. From Chihuahua we took the Chepe train almost 700km, south through the Copper Canyon, to its terminus in the coastal town of Los Mochis. However, this was not done in one long journey, we split it up to allow us to explore the area on route.
The first leg was a six and a half hour trip on the Chepe Regional train from Chihuahua to Creel. There is only one train every two days and ours left at 06:00am, so a very early start was required. We chugged out of Chihuahua station just as the sun was rising and headed across an arid plain with cultivated land or livestock on either side of the track.
It had been quite chilly in Chihuahua and much cooler than we had experienced so far in Mexico, so it didn’t come as a surprise to see a hard frost on the fields. The cultivated land then turned to vast orchards of apples although the trees were bare this time of year. The track now started to climb up into the mountains and scenery changed with it. Alpine meadows, mountain rivers and steep gorges replaced the cultivated land at the start of our journey. But what was the biggest surprise was that there was snow, we never expected to encounter snow in Mexico. By now the sky was clear and the sun was shining which provided the perfect light to appreciated the beautiful surroundings.
Soon after mid-day we arrived in Creel our overnight location. We got off the train and soon realised it really was quite cold even in the sun. We were in the mountains after all and at about 2,400m. Our hosts met us at the station and whisked us off to the apartment we had booked. A charming rustic place with cooking/dinning facilities and sleeping possibilities on two floors, we were recommended to sleep upstairs as it would be warmer.
We took a private excursion in the afternoon to explore the area. A visit to the land owned by the indigenous Tarahumara allowed us to see some unique rock formations and browse the local crafts on sell. Whilst there, we were able to visit the Mision de San Ignacio a church that incorporate the beliefs of both the catholic faith and the Tarahumara people.
The tour ended at Lago de Arareco, a beautiful body of water surrounded by a tranquil forest, an ideal place for us to stretch our legs before an early dinner back in town.
Suitable fed it was back to the apartment to light the fire as the outside temperature was now approaching freezing. After a bit of resistance we finally got it lit and the room slowly began to warm, assisted by an additional gas fire. However, it was still to cold to venture into the bathroom for a shower.
Due to a change in train schedules our original two nights in Creel was cut short to one, so the next day we were on the move again. Another early start to catch the Chepe Express train from Creel to Divisadero meant leaving the apartment at 07:15 and braving the -2C outside temperature. This leg of our train journey was even more beautiful than the day before. The track wound its way further up in to the mountains and through dense pine forests. Unlike the previous day there were no settlements up here just nature and scenery. It then descended a little to arrive at our next destination of Divisadero. We had now lost any sign of the snow, although the temperature hadn’t increased much.
Our hotel room was warm and comfortable and we had no desire to venture far during the rest of the day, just a walk up to the sister hotel for dinner. The sister hotel was the smarter residence and had great views over the canyon. We felt that we had the best of both worlds, our comfortable and much more affordable place with access to the luxury up the hill.
The following day was all about the main purpose of the train journey: to see the Copper Canyon. The Copper Canyon, Barrancas del Cobre in Mexican, is the most spectacular view of an interlinking canyon system that is longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon in USA. With the small community of Divisadero sitting right on the canyon rim.
We wanted to see this natural wonder from as many vantage points as possible. We felt we needed to first get from the outer rim to the inner rim so as to get the best view of the gorge. There was a number of options to achieve this but we decided to take the “Zip-Line”, and not just any old one, the longest and fastest in the world (that was until 2018 when Dubai built one 300 meters longer but slower). First step was to get our safety helmet and harness and then proceed to the launch site.
After being explained the safety measures we launched ourselves off the “Zip-Line” platform and in to the abyss. The journey from the canyons outer to inner rim took only 2 minutes, covered a distance of one and half miles (2.5km) and reached a speed of over 80 mile per hour (130km/h). By the time we had reached the “Zip-Line” terminus we had descended 1500 feet (457 meters) and had the most incredible view of the outer canyon on the way down.
We were now on a rock outcrop that forms part of the inner rim of the canyon and provided views down into a river gorge hundreds of meters below us. Once unhooked from the “Zip-Line” we started the walk up the cliff face to catch a cable car that would return us to the outer rim. For the first couple of hundred meters we were still carrying all our “Zip-Line” equipment but were then able to deposit it before making the final ascent to the cable car station. All around us were spectacular views and endless opportunities for photos.
Our return to the outer rim was more sedate in the cable car but still provided some amazing views and yet more photo opportunities. However, we didn’t return directly but did a bit of shopping instead. All around the cable station the indigenous Tarahumara had set up stalls to sell their wears and in particular the intricate baskets. We watched two girls making them from reads and couldn’t resist buying a couple to add to our vast collection of local crafts from all around the world.
Once back on the outer rim we proceeded to hike along its edge, stopping regularly to admire the scenery and take yet more photos. Around every corner there was a new view, be it of a massive eroded rock formations or a boulder teetering on the cliff edge, it was a true natural wonder.
It was then a transfer back to the hotel for a late lunch and a bit of relaxation.
Any activity on our last day in Divisadero was rather curtailed by the heavy rain that arrived in early afternoon. We did manage a short walk but then took advantage of the weather and caught up on a bit of travel admin.
Heavy rain once again greeted us for our third and final leg of the train journey. Today we were descending from the mountains to the coast. Around 09:30 the train splashed its way out of Divisadero station bound for Los Mochis. For the next four hours we would traverse the mountains, through lush river gorges and in and out of narrow tunnels cut into the rock face. The scenery was stunning and even surpassed what we had seen on the first two legs.
As we descended through the mountains the flora began to change. The pine forests had gone and been replaced by more deciduous tree species. There was also more colour with spring blooms of pink, yellow and white brightening up the predominant green landscape.
Finally as the terrain flattened out, fields of crops and livestock appeared. The tree cover was now more sparse and dispersed with giant Cardon Cactus. This was now the scenery all the way to our final destination of Los Mochis.
Once we had checked-in to our hotel in Los Mochis there was time to look around the central plaza. It was the “International Day of the Women” so lots of things were going on. The plaza was full of stalls selling everything you could think of, there were artists performing on stage, the church had a full congregation and there was a parade of floats. Enough to keep us amused for quite a while.
Our visit to Los Mochis was just for one night and the following morning we flew off to start the third section of our Mexican adventure.
Personal Observations & Interesting Facts
One thing that is very noticeable when you travel in Mexico is the level of security. I don’t think we have ever seen so many armed police in one place as we did in Mexico City. This didn’t change when we ventured out into the more rural areas. It was common to see several police officers in the open back of a pick-up, all armed and one standing with a mounted machine gun. It was the same in other big cities, where it was common to see heavily armed (a rifle, hand gun and baton) police patrolling the streets. There was even a security guard on the train from Chihuahua to Creel armed with a rifle and hand gun.
On the one hand it makes you feel secure but on the other it makes you wonder how dangerous it is to warrant this level of security. But to be fair we never felt in any danger during our whole stay in Mexico.
Chepe Train through the Copper Canyon
The Copper Canyon railroad is a marvel of engineering that took almost 90 years to build and cost US$90million. It was opened in 1961 and was designed to connect the Pacific Ocean with Mexico’s central desert territory of Chihuahua. At over 700km in length it crosses 36 bridges and passes through 86 tunnels on its way across the coastal plain, over the mountains and into the central desert. Once in the mountains in zig-zags through river gorges clinging to the cliff face, reaching a height of 2500 meters in some places. It is a true feat of engineering and a wonderful experience for those travelling on it.
The speed limit on Mexican Roads
When driving on Mexican roads it doesn’t take long to realise that all the speed limit signs are wrong, at least according to the locals. As a rule of thumb you need to add 20km/h to that advertised so a que of traffic doesn’t build up behind you. The only exception to this rule is when there is a police patrol in the area. Anne quickly became accustomed to this rule and followed soon after.
We left the UK on 12 February and have been in Mexico ever since. When we left there had only been a few cases of Coronaviras reported in Europe and almost all those in the UK could be attributed to a single carrier. At that time it was China and a few other far eastern counties that were really suffering.
Now we are in mid-March and the virus has spread rapidly. Europe appears to be suffering the bulk of the new confirmed cases and associated deaths, with Italy being the worst affected. On the other hand China, the source of the virus and hardest hit by it, appears to be getting it under control with only 19 new cases reported on Wednesday 11 March. To put that into context, that is 19 of 80,754 (3,136 of whom have died) confirmed cases since the end of January.
During our time in Mexico only 3 people have been confirmed to have Coronaviras, all in Mexico City. Therefore the population is aware but not over concerned. No one is wearing a mask because of it, there is not a shortage of toilet paper and life is going on as normal. This level of calm is likely to change for us next week when we travel into the USA where the cases are on the increase. At the time of writing there had been 1,875 confirmed cases and 41 deaths, of which 252 cases and 4 deaths had been reported in California, the state we are visiting. President Trump is initiating various measures he believes will fight the spread of the virus, one of which is to ban all foreign visitors from mainland Europe (this excluded the UK at the moment) for at least one month. But as we are arriving from Mexico we don’t expect to have a problem.
Check the California blogs to see how we got on.