Can someone please explain to me how a trip that was booked more than
a year ago can still manage to sneak up on you? Because that's exactly
what happened; or so it seemed. One day we were slowly making our way
from the northwest to the southeast, stopping here and there to visit
with relatives and friends. And then, all of a sudden, the realization
that, oh no! We leave for Mexico in two weeks! Do we have our passports?
Did our Mexico insurance come through? We still need to provision!
We arrived at the Hacienda
Park in Las Cruces, New Mexico several days before our departure date
to take care of last-minute details, including a visit to a dermatologist
(Dave), a trip to the vet to update shots (Jim), and multiple trips
to Wal-Mart to pick up supplies. We managed to see a good deal of Las
Cruces, like its Farmers Market (really good) and one of its best restaurants,
La Posta (also really, really good.)
The 20 other rigs going
on the trip arrived intermittently throughout the week and our wagon-masters
and tail-gunners arranged several opportunities for all of us to get
together and become acquainted. There was even a "doggie social,"
and that was where Jim and Victor met their canine companions. As Saturday
approached, we were getting more and more anxious!
We left the RV park at
6am on the first full day of the excursion, bound for Santa Teresa,
a new border crossing just the other side of El Paso, Texas. You would
think that most of the conversation would be centered on our upcoming
adventure, but it wasn't. You see, everyone knew we were St. Louis Cardinal
fans (probably because of the Cardinal magnet on the truck, the dogs'
Cardinal gear, and our own Cardinal jackets and hats) and they were
congratulating us on the Cards winning the World Series over Detroit.
I suppose in a group such as this, everyone is bound to be known for
one thing or another. We couldn't be more proud than to known as Cardinal
Thanks to the organization
of our wagon masters, our paperwork was in order and the border crossing
procedure went without a hitch. What took the most time was waiting
for the bank representative to arrive at the staging area to exchange
our dollars for pesos. Once that was taken care of, we were on our way
to Chihuahua, the largest of Mexico's 32 states. The city of Chihuahua
is also the capital of the state. The drive along the four-lane divided
highway was easy. We experienced our first Mexican toll booth, paying
$131 (pesos), translating into $13.10 U.S. That was less than half of
what our motorhome companions paid.
Chihuahua is a young,
modern and quite affluent Mexican city. Primary products include apples,
pecans, and livestock, as well as large cement production plants. There
are many "maquiladoras," foreign-owned manufacturing plants,
which enjoy special tax and other economic incentives to provide employment
to local residents. The 1999 unemployment rate in this city was an astonishing
minus 2%. There are more jobs than workers. Our city tour took us to
the home of Pancho Villa (vigilante, bandit, ladies' man, media star,
and one of the best-known generals of the Mexican Revolution), the Government
Palace, and the baroque Metropolitan Cathedral. While these were all
very impressive, one of the things we'll remember about Chihuahua are
all the giant dogs that line the streets of downtown, each one painted
in a most unique way.
From Chihuahua we drove to Cuauhtemoc, only 67 miles away and 6,800
feet above sea level. Our hosts were members of one of the local Mennonite
Community families. In the community room we found an array of locally
made cinnamon rolls, bread, tamales, sausage, cheese, and beautiful
handmade quilts. I couldn't resist buying one; it compliments our décor
perfectly and is one of my most treasured souvenirs of this trip.
While here, we took a
bus to the Mennonite Museum where we watched an informative movie relating
the story of the Mennonite migration from Canada to Mexico in the 1920's.
Dave and I had a special interest in learning more about these simple,
peace-loving people: Mennonite Disaster Service,based in North America,
provides both immediate and long-term responses to hurricanes, floods,
and other disasters. Indeed, their prescence-as well as the Amish-in
Bay St. Louis, MS immediately after Hurricane Katrina and still to this
day, is one of the main reasons for any forward steps in rebuilding.
Some 20,000 Mennonites came to this area in 1922 at the invitation of
President Alvaro Obregon. He gave them the right to live freely in return
for farming the land. They live as a separate entity from the Mexican
government rule: they have their own schools and law enforcement. They
are also allowed special dispensation from taxes and military service.
We left the RV park early the next morning, bound for the train depot
at La Junta, where we would board the flatcars for our journey through
Copper Canyon. The excitement of finally beginning our adventure even
overshadowed the high level of anxiety felt by each rig's driver as
they slowly made their way onto the railway. The entire process of loading
all 21 rigs (most motorhomes, with a few 5th wheels and one travel trailer)
took four hours, markedly less than what was originally thought. I guess
that goes to show how competent the "piggyback" railway workers
The Copper Canyon, in its most limited explanation-Barranca del Cobre-is
a specific copper mine in the canyon of the same name, but generally,
it refers to three different geographical areas, which cover 25,000
square miles. Our Grand Canyon is roughly one-quarter the size of Copper
Canyon. It is in the middle of the legendary Sierra Madre Mountains
of northwestern Mexico's state of Chihuahua.
Even though we did not
expect to leave the railroad yard until 7am the next morning, the hooking-up
process began at 5:40. Each of the three segments of railroad cars had
to be hooked together; the engine and caboose would be added afterwards.
It would have been nice to stay under the covers (the weather station
registered 34 degrees), but the dogs needed to be walked. The dog ramp
we purchased before the trip (www.dogramp.com) came in mighty handily.
The distance from the flatcar to the ground was four feet, much too
much for Jim anymore. He's got arthritis now and, although the meds
have done wonders, like us, he isn't as young as he used to be.
Our first stop on the
railway was the town of Creel, the center and most important town of
the Sierra Tarahumara. (This is also our highest elevation: 8,071 feet.)
Living alongside the Mexicans are approximately 400 Tarahumara Indians,
who have survived here for centuries, maintaining their traditions.
Beautiful canyons surround this area, and tall white and ponderosa pine
trees abound. It is the latter that supplies the needles that make up
the beautiful baskets that this area is known for. These same needles
are also added to the clay that is used to build houses, making them
very strong and durable.
Some Tarahumara Indians
live exactly the way their ancestors did, inside caves. We visited one,
and we were amazed to see that, although primitive, it had all the comforts
of home: a wide living area, separate kitchen, bedroom, fireplace, and
storeroom for bags of grain.
A short distance away from Creel was our next stop, the town of Divisadero,
perhaps the best-known overlook of the "Three Canyons" area
of the Copper Canyon. Vendors galore waited for us to disembark the
train, and we ladies had a glorious time shopping! Colorful shawls,
baskets of every shape and size, jewelry, copper plates, hats, masks,
you name it, it was probably there. And the food! Our
tail-gunner suggested that we try some of the local food, prepared atop
a 50-gallon drum! Sure enough, he did not steer us wrong. We're not
sure what we ate, but it was like a quesadilla, and out of this world!
A tour bus picked us up
later that afternoon and we toured one glorious overlook of Copper Canyon
after another. We also hiked down some 200+ steps to another Tarahumaran
cave home. In addition to adhering to traditions that have been passed
from one generation to another for centuries, the Tarahumarans prize
education. We visited a school and learned that when the children first
come, they do not speak a word of Spanish. However, they are fast learners
and pick up the language very quickly. The Indians have assimilated
seamlessly into the Mexican way of life. The next day, our stop was
the small town of Cerocahul, where we visited an all-girls boarding
school, where the Tarahumaran children learn, in addition to reading
and writing, Life skills. The nun who was showing us around explained
that, even if the girls do not go on to higher education but instead
go back to their community and get married (which they can do at the
age of 14), what she learned at the boarding school is bound to make
a significant impact on her family.
Our last day on the train was the longest. Even though we rolled out
of town at 6am, the movement of the train did not make me want to leave
our nice, warm bed. Every day on this tour has been jam-packed with
activity, including nightly socials (happy hours) and dinners. We're
exhausted! But Jim did not like being in the RV while it was moving,
so he and Dave got out of bed and went into the truck where the ride
was much smoother. Victor and I remained in bed for another three hours.
All the scenery has been
spectacular, but the addition of the highest of the 36 bridges (335
feet), the longest bridge (1,687 feet) over Rio Fuerte, and the longest
of the 87 tunnels (6,000 feet) made this day exceptional.
We crossed into the state
of Sinaloa, and there encountered a very unexpected snafu. Railroad
workers stood between us and our destination, Los Mochis, the last stop
of the train portion of our trip. We were originally told to expect
to pull in to Los Mochis around 6pm; with the delay, we did not arrive
until after 9. Today was so tiring, we were glad that no social functions
were on tap. We just wanted to go to sleep!
Workers removing the wires
and chocks that held our rigs in place throughout the train trip woke
us up before 7am. Though we thoroughly enjoyed Copper Canyon, we were
glad to finally be back "on land." All 21 rigs disembarked
without incident and, whereas we had all stuck like glue to our wagonmaster
while we traveled, here in Los Mochis, several of us felt confident
enough to head out on our own. Armed with very detailed instructions
on how to get to the next RV park, Dave and I successfully led a group
of six other rigs to our destination.
That night we went to
the La Fuentes hotel for dinner and had THE best shrimp we've tasted
in a very long time. They were as big as prawns, wrapped in bacon, then
grilled. We ate like kings.
The remainder of our trip
found us in Alamos for two nights and then San Carlos for three. Compared
to where we HAD been, these could be classified as very uptown, with
their plethora of restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions. All kinds
of activities were at our disposal: tours of the towns, a fishing trip,
a nature tour. As much as we enjoyed the Copper Canyon, it was nice
to be able to put roots down, even if they were shallow.
While the rest of our
group headed back to Nogales and the good ol' USA yesterday, Dave and
I opted to stay in Mexico just a little while longer. We are in Kino
Bay, on the Sea of Cortez, about 260 miles from the border. We've gained
a lot of confidence in traveling throughout Mexico, as well as a lot
of curiously to see what other treasures are here to be explored. The
people are warm and friendly, and on this mid-November day, temperatures
in the high 70's feel glorious to us. We're thinking we might have happened
upon the perfect winter getaway.
Total miles traveled (Las
Cruces to Kino Bay):
By road: 888 miles
By railway: 406 miles
Fuel: 1,724 pesos ($172.40)
Tolls: 740 pesos ($74.00)