October 9 – 16
The long, straight, flat road from Durango to Hidalgo del Parral, made for an easy drive, but once we turned West on to smaller roads the terrain changed again revealing more of Mexico’s diverse countryside. Out the window we see bony horses and cattle grazing on what little grass grows. Dry, dead crops bake on farm fields and skinny dogs lie listlessly in the shade, a strong reminder of just how difficult the long, hot summers can be.
Barrancas del Cobre – Copper Canyon is located in the Northwest corner Mexico’s state of Chihuahua. An impressive network of six canyons that individually are both longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon! Each canyon formed over time, eroded by wind and water, slowly wearing away the rock. Rivers carrying it grain by grain, to Rio Fuerte and on to the Sea of Cortez. Home of the Taramhumara people, who have lived in the canyons since they were driven from the plains by the Spanish long ago. These gentle people live simply and on very little. Traditionally the women are weavers. When not in school the children eagerly try and sell the weavings to any and everyone passing by, understanding from a young age the importance of money. Stopping by Lake Arecaero, we were quickly mobbed by a group of cute kids, saying holding up their wares saying “compra, compra” (buy, buy). Charley and Jaxon were surprised to see how pushy or desperate and dirty, yet kind and gently these kids were. Charley loved the attention and chose herself a bracelet, Jaxon made his choice and got out of there, letting Charley make the transaction.
We passed on camping by the lake because it was just too busy and dirty. Taking a dirt track, just wide enough for Bruce to fit, through a sparsely planted forest and spent the night camped in the carpark of Valley of the Monks. Tall rock columns stand proudly looking out over the valley. Climbing amongst them we see images of a penguin, humpback whale and a couple in embrace, it’s fun looking for images in the rock, instead of the clouds. Later while making dinner, a local lady with her 2yr old daughter came and stood silently outside our door. They just stood there and stared, breaking the awkward silence, I ask her if she needed something, “si, comeda, carne” she wanted some meat to eat. We didn’t have much, so I give her a little food and they reluctantly left. Only, like a stray cat, to return at first light in the morning for more. So we gave her the bag of toys, ‘learn to read’ books in English, clothes a sandwich from yesterday & banana. A little grateful she sat down, fed her child and went through the bag deciding if she liked the clothes. Feeling for her, before we left I gave her 4 boiled eggs and a half bag of rice, when she then asked me for a Coffee with milk and some more meat!
The town of Creel is on the famed Copper Canyon railway. Tourist trains unload here for the people to pour into the streets and shop in the trinket stores. Because of Covid, the train isn’t running, the streets and shops are empty so the economy here is also hurting. But still they open each day, waiting and hoping that someone like me will come by and buy even a small, hand carved wooden spoon. So a spoon, diesel & water was all we brought, Tim tells me to stop filling the truck with stuff.
Copper Canyon is impressive, vast and deep with sheer drops. The sky was overcast for our time there. The big Gondola was closed for maintenance, so our movement was limited. There is an epic 2.5km zip line that takes you so far out that you can’t see the end, then you ride the gondola back. Still, we rode our bikes through the network of trails, enjoyed the views and had a great time. We made camp, safely, just back from the edge of a 200ft + drop, with no handrails, fences, warning signs, flashing lights and people in reflector suits to hold our hand to safety, it was just us, the rock and the canyon! Sunrise and sunset illuminated the cliff walls beautifully and we loved watching the birds ride the thermal winds. The only downside was the constant, passive aggressive, begging from the local kids. They wouldn’t go away, they particularly liked the look of the kids bikes, it became a little too much, so we decided it was time to move on.
There were two routes to choose from. The paved road wound North and added on a few hundred km’s, and passes through some unsafe zones. The other road, more direct, is a rough 4×4, 120km drive down through the canyon and along the river, many others have taken this route in the past, reporting its steep, narrow and very remote. As tempted as we were to take the 4×4 road, we decided on the long way round and take our chances with the Banditos and reported armed men.
Turning wheels at sunrise we followed the scenic road towards Hermosillo, stopping along the way for a bath in a river before dropping out of the mountains into a hiccup-of-a town, Yecora, around 5pm. Keen to get off the road we pulled into a Pemex (gas station) for the night. While Tim was off talking to a local, who was asking what the hell we were doing in these parts, and genuinely asked if we were lost, said that it’s not so safe in these parts right now. Lots of Cartel activity and trouble, then not 2 mins later a convoy of military trucks, police vehicles and private cars pulled in. Men, armed to the hilt moved quickly and were on high alert as the men in private cars stopped. Feeling the pulse quicken, we sat there trying to go unnoticed, and to be honest, we were, there was no interest cast in our direction. So we watched as they went about their business and moved on.
Down at sea level the temps are rising, the last 200km from Obregon to Topolambpo was incredibly hot. The thermometer in the cab read 43’C! Flat land and not a tree in sight, I had to block out the sun from coming through my window. We were making a run for the night ferry back to Baja. The ticket office said the ferry was full, which meant we’d be sitting here for the weekend in the suffocating heat. Fortunately Port security let us camp the night behind their gates, which is lucky as this port town is a little on the dodgy side. I went back to the ticket office and let them know that IF they have space, we could be ready in 2 mins. 11pm my phone rang and we were on board 45 mins later, Yay! That’s Bruce packed in like a sardine on the top deck.