Week of October 19, 2003
We made it to El Fuerte (fu-air-tay), a nice little town that was made wonderful by its people. As soon as we ventured to the outskirts of town to find the train station (for our journey into Copper Canyon), we were adopted by a family that lives across from the station itself.
We had just pulled up to the station when a young man of 15 years, Ariel, befriends us and gives us the train information for the next day. Our plan was to catch the first train to Creel (another small town on the other side of Copper Canyon), stay the night, and come back to El Fuerte. As fast as Gerson and I exchanged that look of "what do we do with Cindy?" had Ariel stated that we could stay and keep Cindy at his family's home. We both had a good feeling about Ariel and after meeting his family, we were happy adoptees.
Ariel's family is headed by its Matriarch, Maria and includes her husband, her two sons and her two daughters and their families. The homestead has been in the family for a long time and includes three "homes" and lots of yard in between.
We had dinner in town and decided to wander around before readying Cindy for her sleepover. El Fuerte was built around the silver mining industry but has grown because of its agricultural progress. It has cobblestone streets and a wonderful central plaza introducing a beautiful little church, and behind which, sits the Fort.
We parked Cindy in Maria's yard and fell into hour's long conversation (well, Gerson talked, I picked up about every 20 words) with Maria and felt quite at home. At first, seeing the grandkids running around barefoot among the dirt, the garbage piles, the dogs, the discarded vehicles (you get the picture) I was taken aback. But then, upon closer observation, one sees these kids openly laughing, fearless in their climbing, quick to respond to the adults, no whining, and not a sniffle or worry expressed. It did not take long to realize that by our standards the family may live in poverty but they are not necessarily poor.
We had to fend off Maria's attempts to feed us and make ready for our train escapade into Copper Canyon (dubbed Mexico's cousin to the U.S. Grand Canyon) and without Maria's gentle knock at our door the next morning, we probably would have missed the train. Somewhere, somehow, someone forgot to tell us there was a time change.
We skinnied onto the train and even though Copper Canyon was to be the highlight of our stay in the area, it developed into a much lesser status as the couple of days passed.
The amazing thing about this train is that it has been accurately referred to as an "engineering marvel". The train route is 390 miles long, it has 39 bridges (the highest is over 1000' high), and it has 86 tunnels (one over a mile long). The train route also goes from sea level to over 8000'. Something that I found fascinating is that in one of these tunnels, the train seems to do a U-turn and switch-back across the mountain face only to loop back yet again to head in the initial direction (creating a 2-tier/3-track railroad on the mountainside).
Our train ride was a bit stymied by a few large tour groups that seemed to consist of the typical "ugly American" tourist and within seconds of entering the train, they were complaining. Not to say there was not something to complain about. We would not recommend taking the 7+hour train ride unless you plan on staying several days and really exploring the canyon and you should definitely bring your own food. We were denied access to the dining car in both directions because the "tour groups" had booked the cars and us "strays" had about a one hour window to catch any scraps. For the $50 per person/each way, it was not worth the trip, but for...
Creel. We stayed in a little town on the other side of the more popular Copper Canyon attraction and found a delightful little, albeit tourist town. What made the stay so terrific was the hostel Casa de Margaritas wherein we found an excellent little room to ourselves and a large common room full of interesting and life-loving people.
As we enjoyed our included-in-the-price dinner, we struck up a conversation with two couples - one from England and one from Israel. The conversation soon added two women from Arizona, an Australian and a French-Canadian. Sometime during the night, Gerson and I were unwittingly dragged to a bar that was located only by the small, hand-written sign that proudly stated "Bar Open" with an arrow pointing around the back of a building. Needless to say, several beers and margaritas later, we skulked back to the hostel, proceeding to loudly try to quiet our voices, and crawl into our beds.
I found it interesting that here in this little town of Creel, we found fascinating people from all over the world that like us, have left their professions (financial and business from England, lawyers from Israel, photo journalist and biologist from Arizona, etc.) and are traveling for long periods of time (the English by airplane world-pass wherein you get four continents and 20 flights to choose from, the Israelis by motorcycle!, the Arizonians and the Canadians by bus, etc.). And people still wonder why we were so passionate about our taking this journey. Meeting these extraordinary people made the trip into Copper Canyon worthwhile and were grander than any geologic formation.
The next day, we only had a few hours and we decided to hire a guide and his horses for a 2-hour ride into the Tarahumara (Tar-a-hu-mar-a) Indian country. The horses were very agreeable and the guide knowledgeable. We were guided into areas wherein the Tarahumara Indians have owned and lived on the same land for generations and generations and live very similar to their ancestors. The main difference is the encouragement of making craft items (baskets, shawls, bracelets, etc.) for the tourists to purchase.
I purchased a small basket from girls that live in a cave that has been in their family for generations and out of respect, I did not take a photo of their beautiful faces. I did not want to stick a camera in their face so I politely asked if I could take one of their home and they shyly said "si".
We made the train and we were happy to be back "home" with Cindy. And for you skeptics reading this and shaking your head about our leaving Cindy with our adoptive family, Cindy was in better condition than when we left because Ariel even gave Cindy a bath. I told you these people are wonderful!