Copper Canyon revisited

"Hangover Hospital"

“Hangover Hospital”

 

Stepping off the train (“El Chepe”) at Creel, the hub of the Copper Canyon region, I felt glad to be back. I walked along the platform towards the plaza, enjoying the moderate temperature. At 7,644 feet, Creel avoids the worst of the summer heat. I passed the restaurant El Tungar, whose sign advised the visitor that, if he had not visited El Tungar, he did not know Creel. On the side wall, was the familiar illustration of a hung-over patient about to be cured by a bowl of El Tungar’s menudo.

The plaza was quiet, with a scattering a Tarahumara women sitting on the ground in front of their wares. I recognized a couple of faces of hotel people and exchanged greetings. I had not been to Creel for 4 years, since narco-gang killings in 2008 and 2010 started a boycott of the area by Americans. Now it seemed to be peaceful again, and it also appeared that a lot of improvements had been made.

Passengers boarding
Passengers boarding

In recent years, Creel, Batopilas and El Fuerte were designated “Magic Towns” by the Mexican Government. This rare and coveted award meant that huge amounts of money were being invested to improve infrastructure and add new services for tourists. In Creel’s case, this included a new international airport, due to be opened later this year. Batopilas was due to get a paved highway (construction well under way).

Meanwhile I noticed the familiar façade of Margaritas guest house on the plaza, now with a third floor added. Outside the church next door, a bust of Father Verplanken, a Jesuit priest dedicated to helping the Tarahumaras, gazed towards the plaza. In the plaza, another bust, of Ernesto Creel, the railroad magnate from whom the town gets its name, was joined by a metal sculpture of five musicians.

As I walked along the main street, Avenida López Mateus, I noticed improvements to the sidewalks, many more tourist shops, as well as bicycles and ATV’s lined up for hire. I checked into Margarita’s Plaza Americana (US $41 a night, including dinner and breakfast. Then I headed towards Creel’s only tourism agency, the 3 Amigos, to talk with the owner, Ivan, and his wife, Yolanda. Ivan was out guiding, Yolanda was working at home, but I caught them later that evening at their house.

Margarita's Plaza Americana
Margarita’s Plaza Americana

Ivan brought me up-to-date on developments in the region. The Chepe railroad’s economy class train, previously running daily on a schedule two hours later than the first class train, had now been added, on the three days a week only, to the first class train. Three different bus lines now link Creel with Chihuahua (4+ hours journey time, US$33, one way. A new, stylish hotel Quinta Mission, is being completed on the site of the old lumber mill in Creel with prices comparable to those of Best Western in Creel.

Creel musicians

                    Musicians in the Plaza

Ivan then told me about the Adventure Park at Divisadero, a development of 7 zip lines, a cable car and the Via Ferrata, which was transforming the immediate canyon area. Via Ferrata (literally road of iron) includes rappelling, walking a wire, climbing a canyon wall and crossing a swinging bridge. A super zip line, Zip Rider, speeds you downhill at up to 65 mph, dropping 1,450 feet, the longest in the world.

I said to Ivan that, as a traditional rock climber of long ago, nothing interested me less. Ivan replied that he had heard the same reply many times and, when challenged to test the experience, all those objectors agreed it was quite exceptional. “You are diving on a wire at high speed yet close to the ground. It’s as close you’ll get to being a bird”, he said. I have to say that my past experience in the Copper Canyon has been of the more natural variety; nevertheless I’m sufficiently intrigued that I will sign up at least for a zip line when I next visit. I can now get the old and the new.

Ivan told me that parts of the downtown area of Chihuahua City have been converted into pedestrian areas. A new, well-priced hotel (the Plaza), adjacent to the cathedral, opened two years ago and is very popular. A new restaurant (El Meson de Catedral), with a terrace, overlooks the cathedral from the other side. I visited both places on my way back, and found the improvements and some new additions, exactly as described.

"El Chepe" arrives. "El Chepe" arrives.

“El Chepe” arrives. 

Given formidable problems of security and resulting negative PR leading to the absence of US tourists to the Copper Canyon in the past five years, the Mexican government’s investment in the region shows a major commitment. It is paying off. Now US operators are planning to restart Copper Canyon trips. Proven operators in Copper Canyon, who are already up and running, include  Authentic Copper Canyon Mexico Train Trips and the horse rides outfitter, Ride Mexico.

Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change

Comments

  1. Amanda Hughes Horan says:

    Hello Jim – good to hear that you’re back down in Mexico! Enjoy Copper Canyon –
    Take care and we’ll be in touch soon!
    With all my best,
    Mandy

    P.S. Mummy having a cup of tea and says hello too. She’s intrigued by your blog!

  2. Thanks for keeping us up to date on the Creel area my last visit was in the 90″s. Good to know that the Copper canyon area is safer now.

  3. Mary Luzius says:

    I remember being on the train when we took the picture of you with the conductors hat.
    What a great trip that was! I’m so happy things are improving there!

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