February 3 – 12, 2016.
Mazatlan or Topolobampo?
After more than 2 months into the Baja, we arrived on Mexico’s mainland on February 3rd, 2016 via the TMC ferry from La Paz. For 2 adults and our truck camper the cost was $4,230 Mexican pesos ($235 USD). After much discussion and research we decided to go to the Port of Topolobampo instead of Mazatlan which is further south and apparently safer. We could not pass up the opportunity to see Copper Canyon, that consists of six distinct canyons, larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. So we took our chances.
We got off the ferry around 9:00am and were driving on the road to Los Mochis (Yes, where El Chapo was captured in January) when we experienced our first “shakedown” which is the term used when the authorities exercise intimidation tactics to get money from you. In our case it was the municipal police of Topolobampo. As we drove through a large intersection we made the mistake of making eye contact with a the police unit sitting in the middle of the intersection. They swing around and pulled us over just past the light, we were almost already stopped. The officer was insisting that we were speeding, he said he was going to keep Joe’s drivers license and kept on showing us his ticket pad. Joe even politely mentioned he was a retired Customs and showed his badge but we don’t know if it helped or not. We told him we were going to the police station. The officer was impatient and was receiving no help from his partner who remained at the rear of our rig. After 5-10 minutes of back and forth nonsense in broken spanglish he shoved back Joe’s license and gave us a warning and let us go. As we drove off we noticed him and his partner in a big heated discussion. It was our first but certainly not our last shakedown but at least the ice was broken.
El Fuerte, Sinaloa
El Fuerte is a beautiful colonial town, part of the *Pueblo Magico program. It was founded in 1563 by a Spanish conquistador and served as a trading post for silver miners and gold seekers from the mines in the nearby Sierra Madre.
*Pueblos Mágicos or Magical Villages is an initiative led by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism, in conjunction with other federal and state agencies, to promote a series of towns around the country that offer visitors a “magical” experience – by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches, or historical relevance. (Source: Wikipedia)
So far we have visited a few of the one hundred plus Pueblos Magicos (Loreto, Todos Santos, Creel, Mascota) and were never disappointed.
Copper Canyon – Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua
The most popular way to explore the Copper Canyon is by train. We took the train from El Fuerte to Creel where we stayed three nights and took the train back to El Fuerte where we had left our camper.
Land of the Tarahumara
The Tarahumara or Rarámuri how they called themselves are Indigenous people of northwestern Mexico, they are renowned for their long distance running ability. Originally inhabitants of much of the state of Chihuahua, they retreated to the high sierra and canyons such as Copper Canyon on the arrival of the Spanish explorers in the 16th century. They have kept their traditional way of life but today they struggle to protect their land from being taken by the Mexican army, drug lords or corporations wanting to exploit their mineral resources. Tarahumara women wear the traditional brightly colored clothes and sell their crafts around the Canyons and the town of Creel. We saw a few men still waring the traditional Huaraches (car-tire-soled sandals) that inspired barefoot running.
Getting lost …
One of our most memorable experience was the day we rented mountain mikes to tour the main attractions on dirt roads/trails around Creel. A 20 km itinerary that was suppose to take about 4 hours. We were having a good old time until we realized we were lost. Somehow we had lost track of time and took a wrong turn that took us 15 km away from the trail. We went up and down mountains mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape and found ourselves in a dead end in a remote Tarahumara community. Darkness was coming and we did not have the stamina to go back up the mountain.
Luckily we spotted an old pickup truck (the only vehicle in the community) parked near one of the huts and were able to negotiate a ride back to Creel. The young Tarahumara man who immediately offered his hand asked us to wait and went back inside.
He came back out 15 minutes later with his young wife and their newborn baby wrapped in colorful blankets. We stowed our bikes in the truck bed and sat in the backseat. We were so thankful for their kindness we just could not believe it.
The road was so bad that it took more than hour pushing his 1977 Chevy 2 wheel to make it back to Creel. We tried to initiate a friendly conversation, but to no avail. On the way we picked up an old man on the side of the road, he was also going to Creel and strangely enough they did not speak to each other!
Once in Creel, we thanked Ignacio profusely and gave him $500 Mexican pesos ($28 USD) and a bag of peanuts and said our goodbyes.
Our four hour tour had turned into a seven hour journey! Joe even made it back to the hotel on time to watch the Super Bowl! WHAT A DAY!!!
We were a bit apprehensive about driving through the state of Sinaloa so we left early from El Fuerte to drive the 302 miles (486 km) to Mazatlan. We made it under five hours on the cuota (toll road) 15D with no incidents.
Mazatlan is a resort town on the Pacific coast where tourism and fishing are the main industries. It’s the birth place of the Pacifico beer and Señor Frog’s !!! It seems that it has past its prime but we still enjoyed long walks on the Malecon and exploring its restored Centro Historico (old town).