Sunday, September 10, 2017

TROPICAL STORM LIDIA – 80 HOURS OF RAIN

August 30, 2017

The Medical Clinic
I was sick and it was raining.  There wasn’t much to do.  I practiced the guitar, read, and slept.  Finally, I dragged myself to the bus station and went to Bucerias to get my new glasses.  I had just enough energy to go to the bank, collect my glasses, and come home.  On the way home, I stopped at the medical clinic to see how I was doing.  There was a different doctor, also named David, who listened to my lungs and told me I still had a bit of a wheeze.  My blood pressure was elevated from trying to breathe with crummy lungs.  He told me to come back again on Friday.  They charged me nothing for the visit.


August 31, 2017

It rained again on Thursday.  It seemed like it had been raining forever.  All the streets were running with water.  About 9:00 in the morning, the power went out and stayed out until about 11:30.  It seemed very quiet without the constant drone of the fans.  Fortunately, it was cool enough without them.

I ducked out for a bit in the afternoon and made a dental appointment for the next day.  Then I spent the majority of the afternoon working on my blog.  Thursday night was movie night.  It was only raining lightly, so I walked over to the marina to watch The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, a strange comedy with a great cast that left us wondering what the heck induced them to make that film?

September 1, 2017
The Sun Finally Came Out on Friday

It finally stopped raining on Friday.  I went to the dentist and got my teeth polished.  Then I picked up my medical records and headed back to the clinic.  My wonderful nurse, Alberto, was there and made sure the doctor saw me right away.  They took a second chest x-ray and pronounced me improved, but still not well.  Apparently, my lungs were as irritated as those of a smoker.  I assured them that I had never smoked.  The doctor warned me to take it easy on exercise and sent me on my way.  Once again, no charge.

Las Sillas Rojas
My Tacos
The sun was finally out, which was wonderful since we had dominoes and margaritas at the Poolside Deli scheduled for Katrina’s birthday.  I got a chance to see Mike and Katrina and Fred and Judy from Wings, the boat I raced on from time to time.  I also got to meet some new people that I would no doubt see again in the future.  We had a great time and I managed to get completely smashed on two small margaritas.  I could barely drag myself to the Red Chairs for tacos afterward.  Fortunately, I did make it, since I had been trying to get tacos for over two weeks.  I had a couple of carne asada tacos and a Coke for 45 pesos (<$3.)  It seemed like a very satisfactory day after all that rain.



September 2, 2017

The Precious Fan
    

Saturday was my last full day in La Cruz and it seemed like I should try to do something worthwhile, but all I really wanted to do was sleep.  I was exhausted from all my activity the day before and felt like I needed to recover.  I lay around in front of the fan, chatted with my housemates, and tried to finish my leftovers.  Later in the day, I started to pack.

No matter how seemingly dull my time in La Cruz, I am never ready to leave.  I was, however, eager to get to a drier climate in hope that my lungs would clear up.

September 3, 2017

The Neighbor's Dog Via Prisma
I slept late and barely had time to make a nice breakfast and finish packing before it was time to say goodbye.  I dragged my bags two blocks to the main drag and flagged down a taxi to take me to the airport.  He overcharged me, but it was a nice SUV and I was too weak to argue.  I figured the tip was included and let it go.

It was a pretty drive to Puerto Vallarta with everything green and lush.  The elevated bypass through Mezcales was almost completed.  I figured it would be done by the time I returned.  I got to the airport with plenty of time to check in and get through security.  My flight to Phoenix left on time.
Crossing the Rio Ameca

I had a five-hour layover in Phoenix and was cold the whole time.  The plane was cold, too.  The only time I was comfortable was on the jetway.  I grabbed a meatball sandwich in the airport.  It was the first real meal I had had in days and was probably good for me, but nothing really tasted good.  I was sick and just wanted to get home.  Eventually, my flight to Sacramento left and a couple of hours later I was in Sacramento where it was a lovely, warm evening and JR was there to pick me up.  Sorry as I was to leave Mexico, it was good to be home.

Friday, September 1, 2017

PNEUMONIA IN PARADISE

August 23, 2017

I awoke to the welcome sound of a cooling rain.  I felt incrementally better and, after the rain subsided, I managed to dress and make it the two and a half blocks to the store.  They didn’t have any chicken soup, either, but I managed to get some toast (in Mexico, you can buy bread pre-toasted) and a popsicle.  I had been able to drink two whole glasses of liquid that morning and the popsicle went down successfully.

I still didn’t have any energy or appetite, but I made myself eat a couple of pieces of toast and then settled down to a day of reading and hacking up disgusting yellow goo.  I had stopped worrying that I was going to die and was now just worried about making it to my Thursday and Friday appointments, having already slept through the eclipse and my friend Gregg’s birthday party that I had so been looking forward to. 

August 24 - 25, 2017

I was still too sick to make it to Bucerias to pick up my new glasses.  I lay in my bed and coughed.  I coughed all night and slept fitfully in the mornings.  Nothing tasted good.  I went days without eating, living on juice and hard-boiled eggs.

I had a dentist appointment at 3:00 on Friday and I went just to tell him I was sick.  At that point, I was getting very worried and was seriously considering going home, so I didn’t make another appointment, but told him I’d come back if I decided to stay.  From the dentist, I made my way very slowly through La Cruz to the highway and along the lateral to the 24 hour medical clinic.  I needed help.

Dr. David Peralta and the rest of the staff at the clinic were literal lifesavers.  They took a chest x-ray and determined, right away, that I had pneumonia.  They have a hospital type room in the back and they installed me in a comfortable bed with air conditioning and hooked me up to IV antibiotics.  I could hardly breathe, so my wonderful nurse, Alberto, administered periodic nebulizer treatments and pounded on my back to loosen the phlegm.  Everything was very cool and quiet.  I felt like I was at a spa.

Seven hours of constant care, x-rays, medication and all came to less than $400.  By the time I left, I felt much, much better.  It was nearly midnight by the time I got home.  I even managed to sleep the rest of the night.

August 26, 2017

Saturday Evening Churchgoers
Saturday, I decided that I had to eat something.  Nothing sounded good, but the texture of nice, soft cake sounded nice.  I decided to go get a piece of carrot cake.  I walked several blocks to the cake shop, but they were closed for renovations.  The next-door neighbors were making pozole, though.  Soup sounded like a much better idea, anyway.  I bought a quart of pozole for 50 pesos and staggered home.  I was dripping with sweat and much too hot to eat when I got home.  The soup went straight into the refrigerator and I went back to bed.

My Pozole Stand

August 27, 2017

I coughed all Saturday night, not dropping off until nearly 5:30 AM.  When I woke around noon, it was time to eat the pozole.  It reheated nicely and I managed to eat it all, although it took me a couple of hours to get it all down.  It was spicy, garlicky, and greasy and felt like a sure cure.  I was still very weak, but could breathe better and no longer felt like death was imminent.  In the late afternoon, I went out for liquids and bought a lovely lemon popsicle.

August 28, 2017

Homemade Pozole
Monday came and I still didn’t feel up to going to Bucerias to get my glasses.  I did manage to make a bacon quesadilla and practice the guitar for a few minutes, though.  I took my clothes to the nearest laundry and then walked as far as the marina for a change of scenery.  I really wanted to walk to the breakwater to see the dramatic clouds on the mountains, but that proved too much for me.  I lounged nearly all day and even nodded off a bit in the afternoon.  Sleep still proved elusive.  Every time I got horizontal, I started to cough.
La Cruz Was a Bit Soggy

The Empty Marina

I stayed up late, writing and drinking a rum cocktail I hoped would prove cough suppressant.  It rained all evening, which cooled things off and made it quite pleasant.






August 29, 2017

I actually managed to sleep through most of the night, so felt better on Tuesday.  Mexican doctors don’t seem to believe in cough syrup, which may be good for getting the phlegm out of your lungs, but doesn’t help you to sleep. 

I fetched my laundry and managed to walk all the way to the breakwater in the early evening.  I stopped for dinner at La Cava de los Martinez, down the block.  I was the only
View From the Breakwater

Dramatic Clouds Over Town
customer.  I managed to eat a tostada and drink my first (and probably last) margarita of the trip.  They were very nice, but I felt like I was disturbing their family evening.
I had enough energy to play the guitar a bit during the day, but didn’t dare try to sing.  Evening saw me curled up with Netflix on my phone.
La Cava de los Martinez




Thursday, August 31, 2017

MY SUMMER EXPERIMENT – LA CRUZ, AUGUST 2017

August 16 – 19, 2017

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that I keep returning to the little village of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle in Nayarit, Mexico.  I like it a lot.  So much, in fact, that I fantasize about living there year- round.  The only thing standing in my way was – summer.  Everyone told me it was unbearably hot and humid.  Most people leave.  I was going to come last summer, but got waylaid by a sailing race to Hawaii.  This year, I decided to give it a try.


Agave Azul Welcomed Me Back
Thundery Day at the Pool
I arrived late on a sultry Wednesday afternoon and made my way by bus from the Puerto Vallarta airport to La Cruz.  The bus was hot, but no one seemed to be expiring.  I didn’t either.  I managed the walk from the highway to my room near the marina and even found fifty pesos along the way.  I figured La Cruz was buying me a margarita.

I had chosen the darkest, coolest room in the property and it came equipped with two fans.  I needed them.  I went out and bought some cold drinks and food for breakfast and then settled in to rest.  It started to rain just as I was thinking of going out for dinner, so I declared it too hot to eat and stayed in.  La Cruz was definitely quiet.  The only music I could hear was a drunken neighbor singing and the cantina across the street.  Fortunately, the fan drowned out those noises. It was fine.  I slept for nine hours, more than I had slept in weeks at home.

I had a mission for Thursday.  I had lost my glasses while white-water rafting the week before.  As that pair had cost me $1000 at home, I decided to replace them in Mexico.  Dr. Alma in Bucerias had been recommended to me by various people, so I got up in the morning and, after deciding I still wasn’t hungry, headed over there.  Dr. Alma is located in Bucerias on the water-side lateral between the big notary public and the intersection where the Santander Bank is.  Her office is set back a little from the street and can be hard to find, but it’s worth it.  I got the exact same glasses that I had lost for 3780 pesos or about $216.  They would be ready in a week.

While I was in Bucerias, I went to the bank, took a few photos for later painting, and then stopped in a café for a bagel and a smoothie.  Bucerias, swarming with Canadians in the winter, was deserted.  It was heavenly.  I strolled a bit, enjoying the lack of pushy vendors and then grabbed a bus back to La Cruz.  After stopping to make a dental appointment for the next day (I use Dr, Alex on the corner near the plaza,) it was time for a swim and an afternoon/evening of guitar practice and reading.  Once again, it started to rain at dinnertime, so I passed.  It stopped just in time to make it to the marina for movie night, where I got to spend a couple of air-conditioned hours and see some friends.
Bucerias in the Summer

I am not fond of the dentist and spent the first part of the day practicing the guitar and dreading my appointment.  Finally, it was time to go.  The dentist cleaned my teeth for 500 pesos (about $28.50) and sent me off with a prescription for medicated toothpaste.  I went straight to the pharmacy, but they were closed for siesta.  No one takes siesta during the winter, but most things are closed from 2 to 4 during the summer.  I went back to the pharmacy at 5:00, but the pharmacist was out and the clerk couldn’t dispense prescriptions.

The night before, at the movie, my friend Katrina had convinced me that 6;30 pm was the best time to run because there was a cool breeze.  She was right.  There was a breeze.  Still, it was all I could do to manage two level miles in the heat that my phone app said felt like 109 degrees.  After, I stood in the pool up to my chin until I cooled off.  Then I dressed and went back to the pharmacy (success, at last) and then crossed the street to eat dinner at the Octopus’ Garden.

On the way home, I decided that I needed an ice cream bar.  I went into the Kiosko and was baffled to find it so packed that I couldn’t even get close to the ice cream case.  People didn’t seem to be shopping, but just hanging out.  I gave up and went to the ice cream parlor down the street where the woman insisted that I looked French.  We finally agreed that it was because my grandfather was Belgian.  Later, I learned that everyone hangs out in the Kiosko because it is air-conditioned.

Saturday, I finally awoke on Mexican time and made myself a smoothie and some coffee.  Everyone else in the house was gone for the day, so I had the place to myself.  Before it got hot, I walked across town to say hello to my friends, Jen and Gregg, who live in La Cruz full-time.  We chatted and drank coffee until noon and then I headed home to practice the guitar until my fingers literally started to blister.  By 7:30, I roused myself to walk up to Enrique’s for dinner.  It started to sprinkle on the way back, so I didn’t stop to listen to the band playing in the park, but came home to write, instead.

August 20, 2017

Cheko Playing at Paninos
Cheko Ruiz, one of my favorite musicians ever, was supposed to be playing at a coffee house in Bucerias, so I got up early and dragged myself over there, even though I could tell I was starting to come down with a respiratory infection.  The show was supposed to start at 9:30 but, when I arrived shortly thereafter, there was no sign of Cheko.  I ordered coffee and breakfast and enjoyed the air conditioning and the over-solicitous waiters for an hour and was just about to leave when Cheko arrived.  By this time, I was starting to feel rather sick, but managed to listen for half an hour before I realized I would have to leave if I were going to make it to the grocery store.

I’m not sure what possessed Cheko to play there.  Usually, I pay 200 pesos to see him and here there wasn’t even a tip jar, although I suggested it on my way out.    Nobody was paying any attention except me and the waiters who were having a hard time not dancing.  We were inside in the cool air and Cheko was outside sweating in the sun, looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Maybe he just had to play, whether people listened or not.
Deserted Bucerias

I managed to walk the three quarters of a mile or so to the Chedraui and get my grocery shopping done.  I ran into my friend, Lynn, from the Wings race crew and we chatted for a few minutes.  I was flagging by the time I left the store and the walk across the highway to the bus stop seemed endless.  When I got to La Cruz, I got off at the wrong stop and probably would have sat down and cried if a nice man hadn’t carried my groceries far out of his way.  I practically had to lie to him to keep him from coming all the way home with me.

Maybe I should have let him because, by the time I got home, it was all I could do to put the groceries away and collapse into my bed.  My chest was on fire and I was developing quite a fever.  The rest of the day passed in a delirium of waking and sleeping.

August 21 – 22, 2017

There is nothing like having a high fever in a hot and humid place.  I lay in front of the fan and wished to die.  Everything hurt.  I could neither eat nor drink more than a sip at a time.  I kept trying to drink liquids, reasoning that my pounding headache was probably the result of dehydration but, at my snail’s pace of drinking, everything became warm and nausea inducing before I got far.  I was weak and shaky and had run out of aspirin.  My voice was reduced to a tiny croak.  I slipped in and out of consciousness.

Fortunately, late on Tuesday, Ulla emailed me to ask if I needed anything.  I requested aspirin and chicken soup.  I got the aspirin.  With my throbbing headache somewhat tamed, I fell asleep and slept real sleep, not fitful dreaming.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

TOUR TO COPPER CANYON

March 17, 2017

We booked our tour to Copper Canyon with Mex-ECO Tours.  We had arrived in Guadalajara a day ahead of our group, so were meeting them for the first time on Friday morning.  We had been told to meet the group in the lobby at 4:15 AM.   Dan, the tour organizer, was there, although no one else showed up until 4:30.  It was probably 5:00 by the time we located the entire group and got loaded into the van.  There were nine of us from the Hotel Morales and an additional six from the Chapala area were supposed to be collected by a different driver.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t locate four of them and their contact phone number wasn’t working.  In the end, they had to reschedule because they missed the flight to Los Mochis. 
Chaos in the Guadalajara Airport

We drove to the Guadalajara airport where we were to catch a 7:00 flight to Los Mochis.  Dan
whisked us through check in, where we were lucky to be part of a group and able to bypass the general chaos at the ticket counter.  Security went smoothly and we had no trouble getting to the gate in time.  The flight to Los Mochis took about an hour and a half.  The Los Mochis airport was small and easily navigated.  When we were all finally united and loaded into the bus, our group numbered only eleven plus Dan, the tour organizer, and Pancho, our guide.

Downtown Los Mochis
We stopped in downtown Los Mochis to eat breakfast.  I was interested in the town because my family had moved from the United States to Los Mochis in 1928 to raise tomatoes.  They hadn’t lived there since the 30s, but it was interesting to see.  Los Mochis was the bread basket of Mexico.  All kinds of fruits and vegetables were grown there.  It looked very much like California and I could see why my relatives had found it attractive.  The agriculture in the area had originally been developed by an American named Benjamin Johnston who founded the United Sugar Companies.  My father had told me the family had a connection to the sugar industry and I longed to trace the connection that I did not doubt was there somewhere.
Sinaloa Farmland Outside Los Mochis

Driving to El Fuerte
It was a two-hour drive from Los Mochis to El Fuerte where we were to spend the night at the Posada del Hidalgo, a collection of large old homes that had been converted into a charming 80-room hotel.  We passed several groups of Mayo Indians along the way.  As we arrived during lent, they were all wearing white and sporting fanciful, if somewhat macabre, masks.  Wearing these masks in the heat was their idea of doing penance.  One of them was disguised as Donald Trump, with a huge, orange pompadour.  It was quite warm when we arrived and, after three nights with no more than five hours of sleep, all I wanted was a nap.  I never did get to sleep, but managed to rest for a few hours.  Then Betty and I went out and walked to a café under an arcade bordering the jardin.  We each drank a beer and I had camarones rasurados, which were basically shrimp ceviche with whole shrimp.  Then we returned to the hotel because I needed to meet my group to go rafting on the El Fuerte River.

There was nothing exciting about rafting on the El Fuerte River because there were no rapids and I didn’t get so much as a single splash.  Unfortunately, I had left my camera in the hotel, having been completely drenched on other rafting trips.  Still, out guide was excellent at picking out different birds to show us.  A great blue heron followed us most of the way and we saw ducks, egrets, kingfishers, hawks, osprey, caracaras, and two kinds of vultures.  We stopped at one point to visit a sort of botanical garden planted along the path to some elaborate petroglyphs that had been carved between 700 B.C. and 1300 A.D.  The path had been planted with Neem trees, which supposedly repelled mosquitoes.  They were much needed because the mosquitoes were thick and not easily discouraged by repellent.

La Posada del Hidalgo in El Fuerte
After returning to the boat, we drifted down the river past an island inhabited by 61 white tailed deer and a large picnic ground, before landing at the bottom of the hill in El Fuerte where a short walk returned us to our hotel.

Our Room in El Fuerte
I barely had time to change clothes before it was time to meet our guide for a short walking tour of El Fuerte.  Pancho walked us around the square and showed up the City Hall, original General Store (now a fancy restaurant), and church.  Honestly, I didn’t get much out of the walk because the jejenes (no seeums) were so terrible that I could think of nothing except escaping them.  I was interested to learn that the “fort” on top of the hill behind the hotel was of quite recent construction and had been built to disguise a water storage tank.

We weren’t interested in dinner, but I did go up to the pool bar to have a glass of wine and watch the Zorro Show.  Someone with the
Zoro Statue at Posada del Hidalgo
Church in El Fuerte



















name of Diego de la Vega was born in one of the homes which comprise Posada del Hidalgo and they capitalized on this fact to claim that the hotel was the birthplace of Zorro.  Every night, they put on a short musical show featuring Zorro and his pretty female companion.  “Zorro” sang and they both danced while musicians played Norteno music.  It was cute and would have been enjoyable had a group of rude smokers not colonized the table where I was sitting with another non-smoking member of our tour.  I was forced to get up and leave.

Plaza in El Fuerte
Fake Fort in El Fuerte
 


















Once again, we had an early start the next day, so I retired early, but stayed up writing until 10:30 because there was much to chronicle.

March 18, 2017

Chepe Train Station at El Fuerte
Both Betty and I were awake by 5:00 am.  I gave up on trying to go back to sleep and got up at 5:50.  Breakfast was at 6:45 in the dining room where there was a nice buffet.  We loaded into the bus at 7:30 and made a short trip to the very unassuming El Fuerte station.  The train left about 8:00.  The Chepe train was operated by Ferrocarril Mexicano.  It was begun in the late 19th century to link Texas with the Pacific, but had only been completed at far as Loreto (Loreto in Chihuahua, not the Loreto in Baja) before the Panama Canal opened and the project was abandoned.  Running a railroad through the mountains and canyons was deemed to be too difficult.  Finally, the Mexican government decided that the people living in the Sierra Madre needed to have a means of traveling to Chihuahua or Los Mochis.  Work was resumed and the railroad was completed in November of 1961.
The Inside of the Train


Map of the Chepe Railway
             













When the government privatized the railroads in Mexico, they did so with the stipulation that the purchaser would continue to operate the Chepe train to provide public transport to the Sierra Madre.  If you have ever dreamt of taking the train trip through Copper Canyon, you should do it soon because there is a highway being built to link Chihuahua with Los Mochis and, when it is completed, the railroad wants to cancel regular service and run only high end tourist trains at many times the current price.

Reservoir on the El Fuerte River
The current carriages are a bit run down and the train travels fairly slowly.  Still, it was a very scenic, four-and-a-half-hour ride to the Bahuichivo.  At first we traveled through a forest of mesquite and cardon cactus.  Soon, we joined the El Fuerte River and followed the canyon up into the mountains.  We crossed the Aguas Calientes Bridge and came to a large reservoir.  We continued to follow the
The El Fuerte River
canyon for another couple of hours, gradually climbing and enjoying views of the green river and towering cliffs, until we crossed a bridge and made a 180 degree turn before reaching the Temoris station.  Above the station were a couple of railroad memorials, but we passed them too quickly for me to capture a photograph.  Taking photographs from a moving train involved a lot of luck because I had to press the shutter release slightly before I wanted to capture a photo and sometimes my timing was off and I got a shot of a blurry tree or the side of an embankment.  Once in a while I recorded something exceptional by happy accident.  It was a crap shoot.

Temoris
After Temoris, the train began to climb and then entered a 937-meter long tunnel called La Pera that made another 180 degree turn inside the mountain.  We continued to climb until we emerged onto a high plateau of grassland and scattered pine trees.  Cattle were grazing up there.  Another hour brought us to the Bahuichivo station where we disembarked.

The Country Above El Fuerte Canyon
The Mision hotel sent a van to pick us up from the train and drive us the twenty minutes to Cerocahui.  We were ravenous upon arrival and ate lunch in the rustic dining room before locating our rooms.  Meals were included with the hotel rooms because there were no other restaurants in the tiny town.  Our group had rooms together in one building at the back of the property, across a vineyard from the main building.  Many of us spent a very pleasant afternoon chatting with Pancho on the veranda.  We discussed history and languages and all kinds of things while sampling a little tequila.

The Vineyard at La Mision Hotel

Our Room at La Mision

Classrooms at the Tarahumara Girls' School
We were due to visit the Tarahumara girls’ school next door at 4:00 and just before that we heard thunder and it began to rain.  It was just a thunder shower and didn’t last long, although it sprinkled on and off for the next couple of hours and the black clouds blotted out the sun, causing the temperature to drop rapidly.  Suddenly, we were glad we had brought warm clothes.
Tarahumara Girls' School Playground

We walked over to the girls’ school where one hundred primary school Tarahumara girls from


all over the Sierra Madre stayed from Sunday evening through Friday, except for the ones who lived too far away and stayed there continuously.  Many of these small girls walked four or five hours by themselves to get to the school.  The Tarahumara people grant their children a great deal of autonomy.  All of those girls were there by choice.  The nuns might try to convince them to stay if they wanted to leave, but would not try to stop them.

Girls Getting Ready for Mass
It was Saturday and the girls were getting dressed to go to mass when we arrived.  They were sitting on the schoolyard steps, having their hair braided, or playing jump rope.  Our group brought donations of soap and shampoos from hotels, candy, and books.  Some of us donated money to the nuns to help feed the children.  The little girls were all wearing colorful, pleated skirts with floral patterns.  They wore equally bright shirts and jackets and covered their heads with bright bandanas.  We were granted the right to take photographs of them, but they were somewhat shy.

Dormitory at the Tarahumara School





Pancho showed us around the school and we saw the laundry, dining room, kitchen, and dormitories.  One of the employees was preparing dinner, making thick flour tortillas on a huge cast iron stove.  One large tortilla was the entire dinner for each girl, which didn’t seem very nutritious.  They were all very tiny and none of them were overweight.  The dormitories were so full of beds that there was no room to walk except down the center aisle.  Each room held twenty girls, but they had colorful bedspreads and curtains and didn’t look institutional.

Tarahumara Girls Walking to Church

The girls filed out of the school and headed up the road to the church for mass.  We trailed along behind, taking photos of the colorful parade.  We visited the church briefly before the mass began and then adjourned to the game room at the hotel where Pancho spent an hour educating us about the canyons and the Tarahumara Indians.

Green Sandstone
Copper Canyon derived its name from the green stone that resembled copper ore, but turned out to be only lichen covered sandstone.  Many minerals could be found in the canyons, but copper was not one of them.  Still, the name stuck.


The Tarahumara Indians were scattered throughout the Sierra Madre and the outskirts of Chihuahua.  They greatly valued independence and did not cluster together in villages, living instead in family groups of two or three houses.  Most of them lived by subsistence farming.  According to Pancho, they valued their privacy so much that, rather than knock on someone’s door when coming to visit, they would sit down and wait until barking dogs brought their presence to the attention of the occupants.  Dogs were important members of the family and provided warmth on cold nights.

Another group came into the game room and cut short our interesting lecture, which was probably a good thing because I was in need of a nap.  We had an hour to relax before dinner, but the room was quite chilly.  We asked them to light the wood stove before we went to dinner and after a lovely dinner of onion soup, black bass, and apple pie we returned to a very toasty room.  It was all I could do to write down the salient details of the day before falling asleep.

March 19, 2017

We had another early morning.  The fire had gone out and the room was cold, but not freezing. 
Flowers on the Dining Room Ceiling
Breakfast was at 6:45.   The wonderful chef, Ivan, who had prepared our exquisite dinner the night before had been busy again.  The table was laden with exceptional pastries and everything was quite good with the exception of the chilaquiles.  We were very impressed with his efforts.

View from the Spring
Van Stopped at the Spring
Shelter for Vendors at the Viewpoint
By 7:30, we were loaded into a van and headed up a dirt road for an hour and a half to the Cerro del Gallego viewpoint, stopping along the way at a spring to take pictures.  The viewpoint offered a spectacular view of the Urique Canyon, with the town of Urique nestled in the bottom.  Pancho had said that the Copper Canyon was what the Grand Canyon wanted to be when it grew up.  While the Grand Canyon was much older, Copper Canyon was much larger.  It was so large that it was almost impossible to perceive it as a canyon, rather than just a series of mountain ranges.  The stone lacked the intense colors of Arizona and Utah and the canyon walls sloped instead of being sheer.  There was also much more vegetation.  If the Copper Canyon had been bare, red rock, it would have been mind blowing.


Urique Canyon
The Cerro del Gallego viewpoint was well developed, with a glass floored viewing platform extending over the canyon and a covered area for vendors to display their wares.  We spent about 45 minutes taking pictures, shopping, and enjoying the view.  I didn’t buy anything.  We bumped back down the road to Cerocahui.  It was clear why the locals relied on the train to travel to the cities because that road was only paved in the stretches nearest the towns.


Cerro del Gallego Viewpoint
Tarahumara Basket Sellers
We made a brief visit to the hotel to change clothes and finish packing and then loaded up the bus and headed to the train station.  The 90 minute train ride from Cerocahui to Barrancas was pretty, but not spectacular.  The train wound through mountains and forests of white and long needled pines that the Tarahumara used to weave baskets.  At one train station, some Tarahumara women approached the train to sell baskets.  I didn’t buy any, but that turned out to have been the spot with the prettiest baskets and I rather regretted not having bought one there.
Burro on the Way to Barrancas

The  Barrancas Mirador Hotel
It was nearly 3:00 by the time we got to the Barrancas Mirador Hotel and sat down to lunch.  The hotel was much larger than the others in the chain and was built right on the side of the canyon with spectacular views from every guest room.  While tours generally chose between the smaller hotels in the chain when planning their itineraries, all of them visited the Barrancas Mirador because it was built at the confluence of three canyons and offered the best views.  Unfortunately, it was much more institutional than the smaller hotels.  We had the exact same meal that we had had for dinner the night before but, rather than being exquisite, the black bass was dry and fishy, the potatoes undercooked, and the vegetables boiled to death.  Most of us just picked at the food, even though we were hungry.

Rear View of the Mirador Hotel
We didn’t have long after lunch before we left to go on a hike down to some Tarahumara dwellings and then up and around onto the top of the mesa.  The Tarahumara lived in small, family groups in places where there were freshwater springs.  The water in the pool from which they took their drinking water was crystal clear.  The Tarahumara are great basketweavers and they were selling baskets even down along the trail.  Their baskets were woven from strips of agave and/or pine needles, sometimes dyed brilliant colors.  They came in all shapes and sizes, from tiny ones the size of a snuff box to large ones sufficient to be used as wastebaskets.

After the hike, I went back to the room and sat on the balcony, admiring the view and sipping tequila until it was time to report back to the dining hall for dinner.  I took a lot of pictures, as the light on the canyon changed constantly, suddenly revealing distant ranges or depressions.  The view was just too vast to comprehend.
Spring Near Tarahumara Homes
Tarahumara Dwellings
The High Point of Our Hike
Dinner was even more disappointing than lunch.  We had overcooked chicken cutlets with cold, salty pasta.  Fortunately, I was offered a salad when I asked for my chicken without mustard sauce.  There was no dressing, but I had been dying for a plate of greens.  The dessert was some sort of custard on top a brownie-like chocolate cake.  I am fond of custard, but most of our group did not like it and had been served something custard-ish at almost every meal.  I couldn’t attract the attention of a waiter, so went to the bar for a beer.  It was a nice Bohemia dark, but they charged me 75 pesos, which was about three times the normal price.

video

Still, I stayed in the bar after dinner with Pancho, Dan, and a few others and nursed that beer until they closed the bar at 9:00 and we all went up to our rooms.  I was tired and didn’t last long before falling asleep.


March 20, 2017

Sunrise Over Copper Canyon
An alarm in another room woke me at 5:30 and I got up and watched the sunrise for a half hour or so.  I needed to put on a fleece, but my bare feet were okay.  The weather was so much warmer than we had expected that some of us were caught without proper clothing.  I would have been fine without the long-sleeved shirts I had looked all over Nuevo Vallarta to find.

Breakfast was at our leisure between 7:00 and 9:00 but, when we got there at 7:30, they were already out of fruit other than watermelon and pastries.  I did manage to get some decaffeinated coffee, although it was instant.  There were no knives in evidence anywhere, making it difficult to put butter on the toast, which was my only choice other than spicy Mexican food or cereal.  I did get some decent eggs scrambled with slices of ham lunch meat.  When we left about 8:30, they were just bringing out another round of fruit and pastries.  Clearly, the kitchen was having timing issues.

The Gondola at Barrancas
The Zip Rider















We met at 9:30 to go to the local adventure park, which offered zip lining and a gondola ride.  I planned to go zip lining, but a large group had arrived before us and they were out of equipment.  I would have had to have waited until 12:30 and missed lunch in order to go zip lining.  I didn’t want to spend 600 pesos to wait around in the hot sun for hours and spend all day at the adventure park, so I changed my mind and went with the others on the gondola ride.
View From the Far Side of the Gondola


Looking the Other Direction
The view really was quite spectacular on the gondola and even more gorgeous from the promontory on the other side.  We could see areas of the canyons that were hidden from view at the hotel.  There were many Tarahumara selling baskets and handicrafts and we spent most of an hour shopping and taking pictures.  Tarahumara children, dogs, and even goats wandered about the area.  One fellow entertained us by singing and playing the guitar.  I hadn’t meant to buy anything, but I finally succumbed and bought a pair of wooden earrings for thirty pesos and a lovely basket for sixty.  It seemed ridiculous that I had paid more for a beer in the hotel than I gave that woman for a basket that had taken hours to weave.
My Tarahumara Basket

It took forever to round up our entire group and find Pancho to drive us back to the hotel.  We were late for lunch and our food was somewhat cold and congealed by the time they served us at 1:30.  Lunch was shrimp and vegetables, sautéed in white wine and served over rice with cheese.  It tasted okay, although Betty’s was so cold that she sent it back.  The replacement meal looked lovely and I’m sure ours would have been equally appetizing had we arrived as planned at 1:00.  Dessert was a lime mousse that was tasty, although not well received by the custard haters.

We had the rest of the afternoon free until a basket weaving demonstration that was planned for 5:00.  I intended to do some writing, but lay down for a quick nap and slept until 4:30.  The Tarahumara celebrate their holidays with extended drinking binges.  It was Lent and the woman who normally conducts the basketweaving demonstrations had already started drinking.  Pancho tried to arrange someone else, who agreed earlier in the day, but backed out at the last minute due to lack of materials.  We met in the game room at 5:00 only to be disappointed.  This was the second time that we had found the Tarahumara to be what we would term flaky.  Our friend, Shanti, had ordered some sandals that were to have been ready for us to take back with us.  Unfortunately, the artisan had been drinking for a week and had never made them for her.

Tarahumara Woman & Child
The average life span of a Tarahumara was less than fifty years.  Tuberculosis was a big killer, as was malnutrition.  We could see that alcohol must have contributed to the problem.  It was almost possible to understand why missionaries would want to change the customs of these people.  It was only their extreme independence that had maintained their traditional ways.  Still, they had adopted solar panels and cell phones and didn’t hesitate to take the gondola across to sell their wares on the far side.  We rode across with a girl about twelve who was taking the gondola for the first time.  She was alone and she actually conversed a little with Betty, who was fascinated with the pencil thin pleats on the traditional Tarahumara skirts and wanted to examine one at close range.  Most of the Tarahumara women would speak only enough to transact business and betrayed no facial expression.  Still, they never denied us permission to take photographs of them or their children and they made colorful subjects.

With the unexpected free time until dinner, I returned to my room to do the writing I had meant to do earlier.  I couldn’t resist snapping a few more photos of the ever-changing view.  The food might have been lousy, but one couldn’t fault the setting.
Sunset Reflected on the Clouds Over Copper Canyon

March 21, 2017

The food had all been gone when we arrived for breakfast at 7:30 the previous day, so we were sure to get there right at 7:00.  That morning, nothing was ready and we had to wait until nearly 7:30 to get food.  Even the coffee bar wasn’t prepared to make coffee until about 7:20, but I did finally manage to get a latte.  I had been warned that the coffee was exorbitantly expensive but, after having paid 75 pesos for a beer the night before, 70 pesos for a latte didn’t seem too bad.  It tasted fabulous and was worth the expense.

View From Divisidero

We left by bus about 8:30 and drove to Divisidero where three of the canyons come together.  I had been trying for days to locate a map of the area, but never succeeded.  After searching the internet for maps, I came to the conclusion that the area was so complicated that maps were more confusing than clarifying.  As near as I could tell, Divisidero was at the confluence of the Urique, Cobre (Copper), and Batopilas Canyons, but the “Copper Canyon” area consisted of six major canyons and they all looked somewhat alike.


The Overlook at Divisidero

There was another developed overlook at Divisidero and a bit of a town.  Tarahumara vendors were selling baskets and handicrafts and some of the tour members took advantage of the opportunity to make some last purchases.  I took photographs.


Loaded back on the bus, we continued along the new highway that would one day reach Los Mochis.  We passed a natural gas pipeline and an airport, the construction of both had been stopped by Tarahumara legal action.  The Federal Government had simply taken Tarahumara land without their consent and the Indians had been successful, thus far, in thwarting both projects.

Creel
Eventually, we started to descend and passed through the town of Creel, where many visitors to Copper Canyon base their explorations.  Creel is largish and not terribly attractive.  Its main draw was that there were cheap hotels and it was possible to take day tours into the canyons from there.  For people travelling on their own who didn’t wish to pay the 3800 pesos a night to stay at the Mirador, it was a good option.  I was glad that Mex-Eco Tours had opted to put us up in more scenic accommodations.

Homes in Creel


We dropped down out of the mountains and into the great agricultural area of Mexico.  The state of Chihuahua grows all kinds of fruits and vegetables.  Its cold winter climate makes it suitable for growing peaches and apples and they are the third largest producer of apples in the world.  Most of the apples grown there are red or yellow delicious, varieties I usually avoid.  I did buy a bag of dried apples and some tasteless beef jerky at the convenience store where we took a bathroom break.






Chihuahua Countryside

Apple Orchard in Chihuahua
Mennonite Home
More driving through agricultural land brought us to the Mennonite settlement.  About 100,000 Mennonites lived there, having come there from Canada ninety five years before when they were deported from Canada for refusing to comply with the requirement to participate in military service.  These Mennonites no longer drove about in horses and buggies.  Most of them drove trucks and, while some of them were conservatives and maintained their traditional dress, others were almost completely modern and embraced all types of technology.  They still tended to large families and lived in large, modern, American style houses like one might see in wealthy suburbs in the United States.


Mennonite Museum
Before lunch, we went to the Mennonite Museum where we toured a replica of a Mennonite home.  Traditional homes had a horse barn attached and three bedrooms: one for the parents, one for the girls, and one for the boys.  Each home also had a "women's work area."

Mennonite Home Where We Ate Lunch
We ate lunch at one of the more modest looking Mennonite homes where the wife fed tour groups and sold baked goods and handmade clothes.  I felt like I had suddenly landed in the Midwest somewhere.  The yard was cluttered with farming implements and animal pens.  Lunch was sausage and cheese on homemade rolls with a plethora of cookies for dessert.  It wasn’t fancy, but it was a nice change and we all felt like we had been transported back to our childhoods in the very 1950s looking kitchen where we ate at a long table.
Another few hours of driving after lunch brought us to the city of Chihuahua.  After having been in the mountains for the past week, the sky seemed vast in Chihuahua.  It was warm and the city was almost eerily empty.  Pancho told us that people go to work very early in Chihuahua and don’t go out much during the week.  One the weekends, it is livelier.  We certainly saw no evidence of any crime.  According to Pancho, what violence there is in Chihuahua occurs only between drug cartels and occurs mainly on the outskirts of town.  Downtown was as safe as any large city could be.

The Pancho Villa Museum
Car in Which Pancho Villa Was Killed

Our first stop was at the Pancho Villa Museum, located in the former home of his one legal (he was rumored to have had 25) wife.  It was a beautiful home, surrounding a courtyard with a fountain, with additional rooms around a rear courtyard where his security forces had lodged.  The house had high, embossed and painted ceilings and tiled floors.  He had lived there in style.  The carport in back contained the old Dodge automobile he had been driving when he was ambushed and killed.  It was riddled with bullet holes.  We spent about an hour viewing the museum and then proceeded to our downtown hotel.

We spent the last night of the tour at the Quality Inn.  The hotel had no doubt been chosen because it was the only hotel conveniently located near the cathedral square, but it was a real letdown after the nice places we had been staying.  Our room looked out only to an interior light well and was badly in need of updating.  We spent only enough time to dump our luggage and use the restroom before setting off on a walking tour of downtown Chihuahua.
Central Plaza in Chihuahua
Cathedral in Chihuahua
The Federal Palace
Pancho had grown up only a couple of blocks from the hotel and seemed to know everyone we met.  He showed us the cathedral and the governor’s palace, on opposite sides of the plaza. Chuck Berry had died that day and some Pachuco street artists were dancing to his music in the square.

Mural of Miguel Hidalgo in the Federal Palace

Lincoln, Juarez, & Bolivar - the Peacemakers
The Federal Palace was currently filled with governmental offices and had been decorated with murals depicting the history of the revolution.  Miguel Hidalgo, the priest who had led the revolution, had been executed on the site and there were a couple of memorials to him in evidence.  As the sun went down, the lights came on and the pedestrian streets began to bustle and the restaurants and bars started to fill.  I didn’t see any actual dogs, but images of Chihuahuas were prevalent.  One massive mural adorned the side of a building.  I bought a mug with a Chihuahua on it for my dog sitter.
Betty and I stopped to have dinner at El Meson, a restaurant on the second-floor terrace of a modern building overlooking the square that was billed as having good steaks.  The location was excellent and allowed us to appreciate the juxtaposition of modern buildings with the 18th century cathedral.  I ordered a T-bone steak that was about two thirds of a pound, although not terribly thick.  It was well cooked and tasty and I was hungry enough to consume all of it, despite having had my doubts.
Me in Chihuahua

Pedestrian Street in Chihuahua

Chihuahua Mural

Chihuahua After Dark
We had another early morning the following day, so retired early.  Unfortunately, neither of us slept much until 1:00, although the hotel was quiet enough.





































March 22, 2017

We were blearily up at 5:15 so as to be in the lobby with our luggage by 6:00.  The hotel was supposed to have had breakfast ready for us at 6:00, but they didn’t and, when they finally brought food, there was nothing quick to grab and go.  For once there were no pastries and not even so much as toast.  Most of us made do with a little bit of fruit.  At least there were bananas, which we hadn’t seen for a week.

Our Guide, Pancho Renteria
We were on the bus by 6:45 and headed for the airport where we had an 8:00 flight to Guadalajara.  It was sad to say farewell to Pancho.  We were rushed, but managed to make the plane.  An hour and a half later, we touched down in Guadalajara.  There, Dan put Betty and me in a cab to go to the Zapopan bus station.  The rest of the group was headed to the La Manzanilla/Melaque/Manzanillo area and their path took them towards Colima.  We hadn’t been advised of the program, so goodbyes were somewhat hurried.  We hoped that we could see some of our traveling companions in the future when we anchored in their towns.

 It was a long, expensive (360 pesos) cab ride to Zapopan and then a five-hour bus ride back to Mezcales.  Dan had given us money to buy bus tickets and pay for a cab home.   A Primera Plus bus was leaving almost immediately and we hopped on without having time to buy lunch.  Fortunately, they gave us a croissant sandwich and a granola bar as we boarded.  I tried to listen to a book on tape, but mostly snoozed all the way home.  We caught a cab in Mezcales and were back at Agave Azul by 5:00.

Neither of us had eaten much all day, so we were hungry.  After an hour spent unpacking and getting organized, we headed over to the Octopus’ Garden for dinner.  I had a great big hamburger for dinner, the first I had eaten since leaving the U.S. months before.  It tasted divine.  Some friends were having a birthday party and we visited for a few minutes, but we were tired and left by 7:30.  I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.