Viajera Soltera ~ Solo Traveler Álamos Adventure

28 04 2013

The traveler sees what he sees.

The tourist sees what he has come to see.
G.K. Chesterton


For me, the ideal time to experience Mexican tourist areas is in Low Season….April and May are my favorites. Most Snow Birds have returned home, shopkeepers are elated at the possibility of a customer, and the temperature has not yet reached sizzling.

When traveling by bus in Mexico, it pays to be vieja. Well. Not that I ever plan on being “old,” but my official age does qualify, and I’m certainly not too proud to request the Old Person discount (no special card necessary, just proof of age). With it, my six-hour bus trip costs only 95 pesos.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Buses in Mexico create their own Adventure – comfortable although frigid and usually showing American movies with Spanish voices dubbed over — gotta love Sylvester Stallone brandishing a knife and barking orders in high-pitched Spanish. Vendors hop aboard for a short stint to offer tamales, dulces, and fruits. On this particular trip, the special treat was a sweet quesadilla stuffed with pineapple.

I’m phasing into traveling Very Light, adding yet another interesting aspect to my trips – living out of a backpack in which my computer, two phones, iPod, Kindle, camera and various power necessities take the majority of space. (Note to self: Purchase larger backpack. Smaller computer. Fewer electronics? Nah.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Upon arriving in Álamos, Sonora – designated a Pueblo Mágico by Mexico — I spotted a vine-covered posada for $500 pesos/night —  including almost-good morning coffee on an almost-private patio overlooking The Square – thus providing a vantage point from which to witness the town awakening in the morning and, with a glass of vino tinto, observe nighttime activities.

Posada de Don Andrès is an ideal location — night-time perhaps not quite so perfect with the questionably-talented yet enthusiastic musician at the otherwise deserted Cantina across the street till nearly 2:00 and the Singing Truck announcing something obviously important at 7:00 am sharp…. Proprietor Jorge cautioned me that a farther-back room might be more tranquila/peaceful. I prefer the heart of activity.

Hence, I sip coffee, check emails, and watch the community come to life from my wrought-ironed, bougainvillea-adorned patio. On The Square, white-hat vaqueros lean on their camionetas, taco carts roll in, tenderos unlock doors and toss buckets water onto the street….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Álamos , a beautiful specimen of Mexico’s Colonial period, is known as “La Ciudad de los Portales” (portales — roofed verandas or walkways).  After reserving my room, I walk up Callejon de Besos, (kissing alley) to the Tourist Center in the Plaza de Armas for a bit of local history and to arrange excursions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My touring chariot is an ancient Jeep which includes Ligo — an attractive guide about my age whose somewhat-English meshes nicely with my somewhat-MexSpanglish — as well as a creative paintjob highlighting marvels of the area. And.  !?just when I thought life couldn’t possibly get better?!  An Ooompahpah Ooompahpah horn which also bugles out animal imitations, cocks crowing, and tacky tunes.   I LOVE IT!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Access to the once-active mine, Libertad de la Quintera, requires four-wheel drive. Dodging cacti, tumbleweeds and lizards we wend our way up. Ligo, flashlight in hand, motions for me to get out and follow. He crouches and descends into an intimidating hole. Alice in Wonderland?

I have a momentary lapse into Common Sense: Who is this guy? A deserted mineshaft?! in the wastelands of Mexico?! What the hell am I doing?!

Good judgment, however, seldom creates Interesting Experiences.

I dutifully follow into the bowels of the earth, winding through tunnels, peering into holes where lamp light disappears to nothing, dodging startled bats that circle our heads before returning to rest on inverted roosts.

I ask Ligo to turn off the lamp. Complete. Total. Black.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We proceed to La Aduana with its sweet little church, circa 1538. Adobe homes. Abundant flowers. Friendly people. I couldn’t resist purchasing two hand-made pillows, orange marmalade, honey and seriously-hot salsas. I visualize myself: Boarding the bus juggling plastic bags and string-wrapped parcels in addition to said back-pack – a striking image as an authentic Mexicana. (Yeah. Right.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Friday evening. Town Square dutifully rolls up the streets for a while – then around 9:00, the area livens up. Apparently, anyone owning a “peeck-up truck” has it equipped with an external boom box and  hopped-up amplifiers. Singing Truck circles the area blaring songs from the 50s while announcing disco (Yes. Somewhat of a disconnect.).  The public bus arrives with screaming brakes. As this cacophony dies down the local cantina gears up. Ahhhh —  fin de semana – the week-end. Eventually — around 3:00 am – silence.

Saturday morning. On the bright side: An opportunity to actually use my newly acquired Mexspanglish idioms.

!!!???Que carajos???!!!                !!!???What the hell???!!!

 I was mentally prepared for cantina activities and weekend-revelers. All part of the “Mexican Experience.” However. At 6:00 am. Sharp. What would be the one thing a sleepy traveler might least anticipate? Re-roofing the hotel. Above my bed.  ?Porque no? ?Why not?

 At least Jorge had hot coffee waiting on the patio.

Sigh.  Nothing quite like a Mexican tourist town in Low Season….

P1270922“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”                ~  Mary Anne Radmacher ~

Note:    Pueblo Mágico

Álamos was named a Pueblo Mágico in 2005 — a designation given by the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism to towns that offer a ‘magical’ experience by reason of their natural beauty, cultural riches and historical relevance.

You did WHAT? You went WHERE? My solo venture into Mexico’s Copper Canyon

18 03 2013


It’s been over a year.

My hiatus from blogging.




Emotional journeys:





My Mother’s death.

Re-evaluating Friendships.

Cherishing True Friends.

Releasing others.

Connection with Family and divesting Self of possessions in Colorado.

 Experiencing extremes in Oklahoma: Great Love and Ugliest Greed.

Thanksgiving in Mexico with daughter Jessica and hubby John.

Nicaragua with daughter Leslie and other elite Obstacle Racers.

Puerto Morelos, which is now Home.


And now:

My solo journey through northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon.



?Por qué no?     Why not?

Barring having That Special Someone with whom to share experiences,

I prefer traveling solo.

Plan as I go.

Turn on a dime.

Meet interesting people.

This impromptu journey

far exceeded my already-high expectations….


Day One

6:00 am ~ Boarded the train Chepe (Ferrocarrill Barrancas del Cobre) at Los Mochis, Sinoloa, Mexico, with my ticket to travel 650 kilometers to Chihuahua City ~ looking forward to majestic vistas voyaged through 39 bridges (the longest, 500 meters) and 86 tunnels (the longest, 1500 meters).

So I’m drinking coffee in the dining car, watching shrubs and saguaro cacti roll by and planning my journey. After reading various on-line sources, I decided that a “must” includes experiencing Copper Canyon via zip line (tiroleses)  ~ soaring over 1500 meter-plus canyon drops ~ and returning to the rim via cable car (teleférico). Even more importantly, however, I’m counting on this trip giving me the opportunity (forcing me?) to practice and expand my Spanish-speaking skills.

It’s tempting to take photo-after-photo of the passing scenes – but  I simply sit back to enjoy The Train Experience…..

Six hours of beauty before my first exit at Baruchivo where I selected a shuttle for Hotel Pariaso del Oso – Paradise of the Bear. Excellent choice! Family-owned. Rustic elegance (isolated ~ amazing setting ~Mexican antiques ~ wood-burning stoves).  Only three of us staying here, although two weeks ago this was home base for Caballo Blanco, the 80-kilometer ultra-marathon run in sandals.

Paraiso del Oso has  nothing to do with actual bears – it’s named for the rock formation that looks like cartoon character Yogi Bear.

This afternoon included a rugged 25-kilometer drive on what I would call Oh My Gawd Road to Cerro del Gallo, the spectacular lookout over Urique, bottom-most village. The road, however, was even more incredible than the destination. Sheer drop-off. No hint of a guard rail. Driver Rafael made numerous photo stops, also conveniently doubling as his opportunity to pull out the portable generator to fill a pesky leaking tire.

Following dinner lit by hurricane lamps, my two fellow travelers and I shared popcorn, tequila shots and stories by the cozy rock fireplace.

Sky and stars enveloped me in silence as I returned to my room, where, bundled under wool blankets, I fell asleep to the sounds of a crackling stove and, later, spatters of rain on the tin roof….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day Two

Crisp morning. Breakfast with thin coffee ~ and off to view the village of Cerocahui.  Taking photos, I got separated from our three-person “tour.” Missed seeing the boarding school yet enjoyed an even more enticing experience while attempting my fractured Spanish with locals and subsequently being invited into Lucero’s home to see her kitchen and herb garden. I broadly hinted for a taste of the boiling frijoles. Alas, they weren’t ready.

Train ~ I observed much more interesting people boarding the Economica car than my Primero one….Next time.

Exited train an hour-and-a-half later at Areponápuchi (Posada Barrancas) ~ I’d pretty much decided to take the advice of Ana Maria, doña of Paraiso del Oso, and stay in Hotel Mansión Tarahumara.  A nice man loaded my suitcase into a pick-up truck (seemed promising). Then. I realized North American and European tourists were being herded toward the cattle-car-size La Mansión bus! From the corner of my eye I spotted a battered SUV with handpainted sign for Cabañas Diaz. Yes! Sr. Armando has a room. Retrieved my suitcase. Off for more adventure along with a nice-looking couple from Guadalahara.

I did not make this journey to hang with North Americans!

So instead of $1500 pesos/night, I’m paying $250. Adequate room. Hot water. Amazing home-cooked meals. Magnificent people.

Reserved two nights.


Fireplace, a drafty door, and five (!!!) wool blankets. Could this be indicative of the approaching night?

Laura, Armando’s daughter, served up delicious caldo de pollo, hand-made tortillas, and fresh salsa with mucho serranos as her children sat by the wood stove plucking off tortillas. Also sharing the meal was an American who looked 110 but was probably only 80, goes by name Mango and built a house here 25 years ago. He’s helping me acclimate to my surroundings, pointing me toward the best tienda to buy cervesa (although it seems they Gringo-ed me ~ 100 pesos for six Tecates!).

With the afternoon ahead of me, time to see the canyon. Armando pointed me toward the rim. We’re already at about 8,000 feet. Turn left at the family cemetery, take the steps built into the mountain up another kilometer or so, past Hotel Masiòn, around some narrow ledges….

I’d heard others rave about this area and read that this is one of the largest in the world and more vast than the Grand Canyon ~ 6000 versus 4500 feet deep and four times the volume, with seven major and over 20 minor canyons rather than vertical walls down to a single river like the Grand.

Nothing had prepared me for the magnitude and grandeur of Copper Canyon.

A great start to this Journey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day Three

I now know the difference between a “wood stove” and a “fireplace.” A wood stove (Paraiso del Oso) heats the room. A fireplace (Cabañas Diaz) creates delightful ambiance and heats the chimney.

And don’t let anyone fool you with Good-Old-Days nostalgia about sleeping under wool blankets, awaking with a frozen nose.  ?Really?  But this trip is An Experience ~ right?

Mexico’s Copper Canyon dwarfs USA’s Grand Canyon, and photos don’t begin to do it justice. As I’m standing at the rim, 7,500 feet above the canyon floor (Well. Only about 900 directly below me) and surrounded by incredible views, a cute young man is adjusting my harness, checking my helmet, handing me gloves, giving last minute instructions…..

Lista? Ready?


As with every venture — the first step is the hardest.

And taking flight is exhilarating!

Hiking between the seven stations of the world’s fifth-longest zip line was equally heart-stopping. Narrow ridge trails. Abrupt drop-offs. What’s a handrail? And two incredibly long, blowin’-in-the-wind suspension bridges.

Line Four. Is that dot the landing station? OMG! Over a kilometer of cable, a spine-tingling drop of over 1500 meters, and speeds up to 100 km/hour. Hooked up, pushed off, and peacefully flying ~ I gazed in awe at panoramic views experienced no other way….

A sphincter-puckering adrenaline rush.

Danger. Views. Soaring. Joy.

I traveled somewhat unprepared for the altitude, so Armando loaned me his down jacket for this venture. When he retrieved me mid-afternoon, the sun was bright, and I took the opportunity for a hot shower before the chill of the evening. He was then kind enough to take me to nearby Divisadero to walk the shops. In my crude Spanish, I asked him to return in two hours. Gorging on chilis rellanos and blue-corn tortillas stuffed with chipotle-pollo cooked on 50-gallon barrels and walking by tienda after tienda of handcrafts took less than an hour. Hotel Divisadero Barrancas looked inviting. Yes! Enjoy the canyon beside a roaring fire, via a grand picture window ~ sipping a glass of vino tinto.

Life is grand.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day Four

Frost. It had been a nippy night.

There was just time to take in the Canyon via horseback before boarding the afternoon train. I had explained to Armando that I grew up on a farm, riding horses ~ yet propped against the shed was my Mighty Steed. Perhaps I should carry him? Yet, soon I mounted, and with grandson Alexandro as my guide, we trotted off. I never asked my horse’s name but called him “Tortuga.” We forged a nice synergy, however, as Tortuga would stop at every curve to pant – while I’d take photos. On the return back up, he stopped so often ~ and I was loathe to whip the doddering dear ~ that Alexandro asked if I’d like to switch horses for a while. Much more interesting. As we entered town, Alexandro desperately indicated we switch back ~ I briefly considered saying that No, I was fine or pleading No entendo ~ but I relinquished, allowing him dignity.

Rocky trails. Steep grades. Grandeur. So far, I’ve experienced the canyon by train, aging car, tram, zipline, foot, and now horseback. Barrancas del Cobre ~ magnificent. Each experience better than the last….

Adios to Sr. Armando, Laura, the grandkids, and Tortuga ~ time for the afternoon train to Creel.

I now understand what the guidebooks mean when they call Creel a “teeming city.” Tourism gone wild. Pick-up trucks. ATVs. Souvenir stores. And internet! Still low-profile and “very Mexico,” yet also Very Busy. Quite the change from the serene nature and lack of ambient lights in Baruchivo, Areponápuchi, and Divisadero.

A couple glasses vino tinto “downtown” and an early turn-in at Hotel Real del Chapultepec ~ 250 pesos/night with actual heat as well as the wood stove ~ and internet. Luxurious.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day Five

Efrin, a Tarahumara Indian, picked me up for a tour in his bedraggled Ford Focus which immediately needed gas. We weren’t, however, stopping every thirty minutes to air the tires….

The canyon is different here ~ gentle slopes, grand boulders and stories-tall waterfalls, much-frozen this time of year. We visit Elephant Rock (yep. Looks like an elephant) and Valley of Mushrooms (phallic?).

Tarahumara Indians live in these canyons and walk the streets of Creel in their brilliant dress, selling intricate baskets and crafts. As Efrin was born here, he knows everyone. The “standard tour” included Cascada de Basaseachi waterfalls, a school, San Ignacio Mission (over 300 years old) and the canyon itself. An ancient-appearing woman was sitting in the sun, sewing, beside her door ~ a splash of dazzling color amid the ashen landscape. Upon my request, Efrin asked permission to go inside. Nestled among gigantic boulders, her home too, was gray: constructed of mud bricks with tiny windows, wide-plank floors, wood stove-oven with frijoles and nopales/cactus aromatically simmering atop, shelf, small table, cloth and basket supplies. I saw neither bed nor hammock.

Simplicity personified ~ exuding an incredible sense of color and beauty, magnificence, peace….

Two words in Tarahumara: kuira (hello/hola) and matetereva (thank you/gracias).

Afternoon train with a six-hour ride to enjoy the sunset and Chihuahua City in a delightful boutique hotel, San Filipe Real, and a very short night before catching the early morning flight to Mexico City and Cancun, then the ADO bus home to Puerto Morelos….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


How did I fare with my Spanish language skills?

Sadly lacking.

Yet there was no shortage of sharing

joy, smiles, laughter

stars, waterfalls, nature





~ oneness ~

Did I feel safe?


 Would I do this, or similar, again?

In a heartbeat.

 I am truly grateful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Lonely Planet guidebook chapter, Northern Mexico

The Train: Chepe Ferrocarril Mexicano,

Hotel Paraiso del Oso ~ Cerocahui, Chihuahua ~ ~ MX Cel 635.108.6301 ~ USA 800.648.8488

Cabañas Diaz ~ en la Sierrra Tarahumara ~ Areponápuchi, Chihuahua ~ ~ MX 635.

Hotel San Felipe Real ~ Hotel Botique~ Chihuahua City, Chihuahua ~ MX 614.437.20.37 ~ MX Cel 614.247.1684

Were I doing this trip again, I would start the trip in El Fuerte and enjoy at least a day there. I understand it is a charming Colonial City. Not to mention that the train arrives around 8:30 rather than the 6:00 am Los Mochis departure.