MEXICO
NOVEMBER & DECEMBER, 2004
CREEL & BATOPILAS, CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO
November 23-27, 2004


After catching the six AM Chihuahua Pacifico Railway (CHEPE) out of Chihuahua, we rode five hours by train to the town of Creel.  It is an excellent ride, complete with first class seats (and space) as well as a great old style dining car, where we had a delicious breakfast, while taking in the Chihuahuan landscape - starting out with desertscapes and turning into a confier forest as we gained elevation on the way to Copper Canyon (a.k.a Barranca del Cobre).  We both found it interesting that there were entire villages made up of log and adobe cabins in a country that you traditionally think of as desert or beaches.  Unfortunately, sections of the trip were marred by the tremendous amount of garbage littering the side of the tracks in otherwise beautiful areas.

We arrived in Creel at about 11:30 am, and were promptly met by 'assertive' representatives from Casa de Margaritas.  We had actually read about this place in our Footprint guidebook and had chosen it as the hotel we were going to stay in anyhow.  Upon arrival, we were shown several rooms. We considered the dormitory ($80 pesos a person a night) for a brief moment, but realized we are getting too old to share a room and bathroom with 10 other people.  Instead we opted for our own room with our own bathroom.  For $300 pesos a night, we got a clean, comfortable room, which included hot water, a home cooked breakfast and dinner, as well as a really nice Spanish and English speaking manager, Denise, and an entire staff of really friendly people.   And for those who want something a bit more upscale, there is Plaza Margaritas just down the street. 

As a related aside, regardless of where you stay, you cannot put used toilet paper in the toilet, but must throw it in the waste paper basket (this appears to be the case in most of Mexico).   Also, we have noticed that many of the toilets, particularly those in public bathroorms, do not have toilet seats.  Public toilets generally cost 2 pesos a person (roughly equivalent to 20 cents US).  And, if you are planning a visit any time soon, remember, in public bathrooms, you have to grab toilet paper from the one large roll on the wall outside, by the sinks as it is generally not in each stall.  Otherwise, you may be in trouble!

Back to Casa Margaritas, one of the great things about this place was the home cooked meals.  Everyone staying in the hotel eats breakfast and dinner together at several big tables, almost as if you were at a friend's or family member's house for a meal.  Dinner is served by the two cooks and a group of three or four 10 year old boys.  These kids also serve you beer for a $1.50 extra.  And, every night, the local mariachi would serenade us at very high decibels in the key of "wailing cat" for a few pesos each.  It was awesome!  The group dinners are also a great way to meet other travelers from all over the world.  We met a guy, Greg, who had already biked from Alaska to Mexico, via the United States, and was on his way to Tiera del Fuego in South America on his bike.  His friend, Morgan, had flown in from Santa Barbara to spend Thanksgiving Week with him in Creel.  We ended up bumping into these two quite a bit during our four days in Creel and Batopilas and sharing a "suite" with Morgan in Los Mochis (but more on that later).

During our four days in Creel, we pretty much based out of Casa Margaritas as they offered a number of different tours.  We took trips to Cusarare Falls, Basaeseachi Falls which is in a Parque Naccional, and the town of Batopilas.  

Cusarare is a short four hour round trip tour, which included some good views of Lago de Arareco, the beginning of Copper Canyon, and an old Jesuit Mission located in a Tarahumara village, and a cueva (or cave), still inhabited by Tarahumara natives.   In fact, there were three kids, mom, abuela, three cats and a puppy all living in the cave!!  As for the falls themselves, while not very tall, they were fairly wide, and very beautiful, especially the view once we hiked down to the bottom.   We also made a friend from Spain, Josep, who offered us hospitality when we get to Barcelona next winter. 

Basaeseachi Falls is in the highest waterfall, or cascada, in North America at 343 meters, or just a little over 1000 feet.  It is truly magnificent, and even at this time of year, was flowing heavily.  Although it was a three hour drive out to the falls - Ceasar, our driver, made the trip fun, and even bought us baloney and cheese sandwhiches to boot - it was definitely worth it.    The hike to the bottom of the falls (a very steep 1500 foot descent) affords spectacular views of the canyon and falls and an amazing perspective at the bottom.  The pictures simply do not do it justice, but they do document the various warning signs posted along the way cautioning hikers not to fall off the steep ledges and the corresponding stretches of barbed wire fence 'protecting' you from doing so.  The hike down of course was followed by the hike up, which was a great work out, but certainly not as pleasurable as the way down. 

For the trip to Batopilas, our guide was Fernando, brother of Ceasar, and a really good driver, considering the terrain.  The trip takes about six hours there, and four and a half  back, taking you through a large stretch of Copper Canyon.  About two thirds of the drive each way is spent on a hairpin dirt road, frequently lined with burros, mountain goats, cows, pigs, horses, and Tarahumara homesteads.  This one lane road winds up and down along the canyon walls, literally, until you finally arrive in Batopilas, a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, nestled at the bottom of the canyon (nearly 6,000 feet deep), along side the Batopilas River.  Although the river is beautiful, we heard that it is polluted since the town sits right on it and unfortunately, some of the town's waste goes right into the river.  As such, you can imagine our surprise when  we saw one of the locals dip his mug into the river and drink the water straight up.  We would surely be dead if we tried to do the same!  As another aside, the water is generally not safe to drink in most places in Mexico, but thankfully, there is bottled water everywhere here (or at least thus far).

Batopilas is an old silver mining town, that apparently was once very wealthy, and is now a beautiful and relaxing place to live (about 1100 people live there year round).  Unlike Creel, which is in the 50s and 60s during the day and below freezing with snow and ice at night (Ruthie even fell down the stairs one morning after slipping on ice that had formed over night and got a big bruise) at this time of the year, Batopilas has a tropical climate and was in the 70s and 80s during the day and 60s and 70s at night.  We spent our evening wandering around, crossing a cool suspension bridge, and calling home as it was Thanksgiving.  Since there were no public phones anywhere to be found, we made these calls from the local telephone office - there are two in town - which had two phone booths and two phone lines.  The proprietor of this establishment dials the number you want to call and then tells you to pick up in one of the phone booths depending on which line he called out on.  They also receive phone messages for you.  It was awesome.  Later that evening, we ate delicious Thanksgiving enchiladas on some woman's porch, followed by drinks at the local Swinging Bridge Bar & Restaurant with Arturo, a local tour guide and cabellero, and Poppy, a bold solo traveling, tequila drinking Greek woman.  One of the highlights of this bar, besides the drunk caballeros (one of whom literally fell on his face at his table he was so tipsy), were the two Proclamations from 1916 or thereabouts on the wall concerning Pancho Villa.  One was a notice of a $5,000 award for his capture, and the other was a notice offering gold to anyone who rode to libertad with him.  We spent the night at Hotel Mary, which was clean, had hot water, and cost only 200 pesos ($18 US dollars) and returned to Creel in the morning. 

Upon returning to Creel, we went on a great five mile run (although the nearly 8,000 feet in elevation made it more difficult than we anticipated) out to the Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms), which has about 10 thirty foot high rocks that look like mushrooms.  The San Ignacio Mission and Valle del Ranas (Valley of the Frogs) are also located in the same area.    After dinner that night, we went with some Brits to one of two local internet cafes, which seem to be in every neighborhood in Mexico, even in small towns, to check email.   Because it was so cold that evening , we got a drink at Tio Molcas, which although a bit touristy, has a nice big fire place smack dab in the center of the bar, and then hit the hay as we had to get up early the following day to catch the train to Los Mochis.
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