32. MEXICO, Copper Canyon

Copper Canyon. The wonderful, dramatic place with deep canyons, huge mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, within 50-60 kms complete climate change and yet totally abandoned by international (especially US and Canadian) tourist. Sadly this area of Mexico (if not the whole country) has a negative propaganda and that scared the tourists away, since 2007ish. As I mentioned in my earlier story, I had my doubts too but having spent over a month in and around the Copper Canyon changed my feelings towards this beautiful place.

We were making very little progress for several reasons; me ill first so had to stay in Creel for about 10 days, then such challenging winding, steep and narrow roads that some days, after driving 7-8 hours we actually made only 40km progress, then just enjoying an area so decided to stay more nights, then John’s got ill (same bug) and then enjoyed time at other places with loving and fun hosts we had to stay longer than we planned.

The temperature was wonderful up there. Just as we like it; 18-22C (64-72F) compare to the near 50C (122F) on sea level. (We’re a little obsessed with temperature -it seems to drive us on the travel) It is also the rainy season so everything is green and lush.

We started our “ring tour” around the huge canyon in Creel (that’s where I got ill so stayed longer than we wanted) But we discovered the beautiful country and nature in the surrounding area where the shy Tarahumara Indians live in small communities or just on their own as a family. They work on the fields, keep cows and horses and still wear the traditional super colourful clothing. Creel is right north of the canyon at over 2000m elevation. This was probably the busiest town around the canyon where tourists (used to) park themselves up in a cozy Alpine-style hotel and do day trips in to the nature, hiking, biking, climbing, fishing, swimming and so on. Although we felt a little alone as there were no tourists at all. We came across Ivan who runs a adventure shop. Used to be very busy, renting out bikes and motorbikes, planning day trips to hikers and so on. Ivan is a world-travelled, open minded guy who has a real passion and humble love for “his” canyon and its area. We loved popping in and get lost in talking with him for hours. He told us about how businesses here and around the area that depended on tourism went bust, shut down or slowed down dramatically. The Mexican government in 2008 invested a lot in to promoting the Copper Canyon for Mexicans. As Ivan put it “and the Mexicans came to the rescue!” so by now if there are tourists here, they are most likely from bigger cities and Mexico City. Eventually (once I felt better) we rented a couple of mountain bikes (pretty top quality ones) from Ivan and had an amazing day trip around the area.

Then we moved on towards the heart of the canyon. We decided to tour around the canyon anti-clockwise so after Creel our next destination was Divisadero and the Parque de Adventuras Barrancas del Cobre. They built an adventure park where there are 7 ziplines, a gondola couple of foot bridges over the canyon and hundreds of tracks for hiking and with a huge and modern visitor centre. We spent a day “adventuring” -ziplining and hiking which was reasonable fun (then hiked down right to the bottom of the canyon to a small indigenous village) but again, apart from a handful of Mexican tourists, we felt completely alone. Very odd. Imagine the Grand Canyon at its peak visitor time but with only 15-20 tourists… We found one posh-ish hotel built on the edge of the cliff with spectacular view, where all those few tourists stayed in fairly luxurious circumstances. This hotel had “happy hours” which didn’t turned out very happy for us. The “certain type” of beer that John ordered and a most average Mexican white wine I ordered (2 each) turned out not to be in the happy hour range (just forgot to tell us) so we had the most expensive couple of ordinary drinks in history. I think the fact that we were a couple of Gringos (which isn’t even true!) pushes prices upwards wherever we go. This is apparently one of the challenges yet to come and something we just have to learn deal with… Ah well. For consolation we were able to park up overnight right on the edge of the canyon and that was free.

Campsite at the canyon

Campsite at the canyon.
Copper Canyon
June 2013

Then a few days drive on unforgiving roads stopping for the night wherever we felt safe and ended up in La Bufa (even our crappy map marked it as a village -our map doesn’t really mark places only if they are big enough) but La Bufa had 4 houses -one is a shop and yet, it made it on the road atlas! La Bufa is in rural area and in a deep valley with only indigenous people living there and further up in the hill. Though the little shop is owned by a wonderfully eccentric American lady, Sherry (Ivan, in Creel, mentioned her so we sort of knew about here but as it happened so many times before, after someone recommending anything for us to visit, we find places shut down, closed, not-existing, people moved on etc. So we didn’t hold our breath) After over 8 hours very tiring drive on very difficult roads I was really hoping we are going to find this lady and be able to park up by her shop. And yes, Sherry was there! Business as usual, just having to got back after her 3 hours (one way, on steep mountain roads) drive from the nearest town where she did her weekly shopping to stock up her shop with the beloved Coca-Cola, corn and wheat flour, fresh tomatoes, onion and lots of packs of cookies. She is in her early 60’s but I haven’t seen more energetic, more full of life little lady than her before. We ended up at her property (which was half km downhill from her shop and stayed there for 6 extraordinary days.)

Campsite at Sherry's La Bufa, Copper Canyon July 2013

Campsite at Sherry’s
La Bufa, Copper Canyon
July 2013

Though John started having the same symptoms that I had a couple of weeks back. Just as he and Sherry were getting lost in a deep solar-panel, solar-controller and battery discussion. She was fascinated (and understood so much about it) by John’s knowledge, for Johnny’s biggest joy as he can talk about it for days. He loves the subject and wanted to help Sherry to improve her system (in her shop and her house). But due to his sudden illness he had to put hold on to the solar panel maintenance and was forced to stay in bed for 3-4 days.

As we were in a valley, it was hot and humid. But apart from the heat and the millions of blood-sucker creatures (one day john counted over 300 bites!! on his legs) it was actually a nice little place to be “stuck”. Poor John was so weak, he was just sleeping for days.
In the meantime Sherry and I packed up her tools in a backpack, climbed up (literally) the mountain to the waterfall, where she gets her water from, to see where the leak is and maintain the pipeline all the way. I asked her how many times a season/year she has to come up here (I can tell you, it’s not for the fainted hearted, we were climbing vertical walls, crawling through lethal thorny bushes and so on in the sizzling sun), she said usually twice a year. Gosh!After we repaired the several leaks and climbed back down, we then rebuilt her watering system in the garden (she’s got about 40 fruit trees, grapefruit, orange, lemon, avocado, mango and endless flowers and a veg patch) We built a base for and put-in a second water tank, re-piped the orchard and stuff. And this was only the first day! Man, this woman is unstoppable! She put me in shame with her strength and efficiency of lifting heavy stuff and so on.

She was also excellent fun, we connected immediately and after the job was done we picked a few melon-sized grapefruits and there came the Salty Dogs! (3 ice, vodka and freshly squeezed grapefruit) Man! Nothing better than that after some good workout. Then there was a tremendous amount of girly chats. I felt for Johnny being ill along with a guilty pleasure of having such a good time with my new girlfriend! As per for Johnny, if the bugs would have not knocked him out, the girly chats Sherry and I had would’ve done the job.

The following few days involved more pipe tweaking, one more trip to the waterfall (something happened so gotta go up to check it. This time I took a garden clipper with me and cleared the path all the way!) Then more watering, more itching from the exceedingly annoying blood-suckers and more Salty Dogs. As expected after the 3rd day Johnny was strong enough to get out of bed so he joined us in the evenings then he dived back in to the solar panel discussion with Sherry, and tweaked stuff to improve her system. (not just at her house but up in the shop as well)

Sherry is a small lady with a pretty face, she is sharp and youthful in her thinking, she has amazing stories and a brilliant sense of humour but above all she has a kind and generous heart. She shared her house and everything in it, her garden, her food and water with two strangers without question.

It was a match made in heaven and now she is sharing her friend Carol with us. Carol lives up in the mountains about 3 hours drive from La Bufa on the way to the town where Sherry does her weekly groceries for the shop. She had to come up too on the same day as John and I so we thought we could go together, meet Carol and stay there for a couple of nights -if we can.

So there we were. Meeting another wonderful lady who inspired us with her way of living life. Carol has a land (with perfect temperature and no bugs!!) with a gorgeous Alpine-style house that she built + a guest house, an amazing quirky veg and flower garden, sheep, chickens, hummingbirds and her 4 dogs.

Camping at Carol's. Casa Carolina Copper Canyon July 2013

Camping at Carol’s.
Casa Carolina
Copper Canyon
July 2013

Carol has a gentle quiet personality with a constant smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. One thing we noticed in common with Sherry was that Carol has this effortless generosity as well, sharing everything she has with me and John. We felt privileged to meet these two wonderful, brave hearted, feral cats who made our travels already worthwhile.

Carol and Sherry

Carol and Sherry

We kept meaning leaving each morning and somehow, naturally we stayed one more night… Then the next morning we didn’t leave, again. And one more lovely dinner of roast lamb and wine with friends. And so much to talk about… However after can’t-remember-how-many days and dinners we felt it was time to say our goodbyes to the canyon and to our friends and a sunny morning we waved goodbye.

We were about to have a couple of long days drive ahead of us. We are heading to the area where are more colonial towns with history to tell, local heroes, legends and art. Looking forward to it and to our adventures yet to come.

Next San Miguel de Allende