from traveler' journal
this is a very sensitive account of a young traveler of his journey.
please tell your reactions.
from traveler's journal
It's already been a week since I finally met up with Caroline at the airport in Mexico. How eventful that day turned out to be, and it feels as if this week has flown by. In fact, if I thought the beginning of the trip was eventful, I obviously hadn't expected the week to produce the events that it eventually did. In many ways though, this is what I had expected might happen, as I signed off my previous journal entry.
We woke at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning to board the long-anticipated Copper Canyon Railway which would take us from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, with a brief stop-off via the small town of Creel. I'd expected a cramped smelly stuffy and uncomfortable carriage but when we got there, the trains were immaculate, exceeding the standards of any trains I had ever seen back at home. We left as the sun began to come up but it was not enough to overcome my overwhelming desire to make up for the 4 hours sleep I'd had in the hot stuffy hotel room in Chihuahua. In fact, I'm surprised I got any sleep at all in that hotel because when I came in to have a shower before sleeping, the water had stopped. Not a very pleasant way to "wind down" having spent the day running around buying groceries and sorting out tickets in the intense heat of the city.
After a few hours kip on the train, I decided to make the most of the journey and actually get out and feel the wind and see the landscape. Everything semed quite open and the mountains in the distance were offering a kind of allure to what we would later see as we went through the Copper Canyon. The air was fresh and this added to the expectancy of the whole situation. We were going to be stopping at the first stop of Creel, about 4 hours away and checking the area out around there before re-boarding the train onto Los Mohis. The trian was pretty empty, rather confusing really considering the girl at the airport who had sorted it out for us told us we had taken the last 2 remaining tickets. It was nice to meet the pleasant couple from Seatle, Jack and Mary, and to exchange some information regarding various destinations in Baja. Didn't want to ask though whether they had fallen out since they were sitting on opposite seats across the central isle. Before long though, we said goodye to them as we left the train at Creel.
The town seemed tiny. As I've said before, these destinations recently have begun to numb my sense of actually realising I'm at a certain place, and it wasn't until we got to Creel that I could really turn around to Caroline and say "I really feel like we're in Mexico now". It seemed really pleasant, though obviously moulded slightly over the years to accomodate all the tourists that passed through on the trains. Things were still pretty laid back despite this, though I think this was because it was not yet high season. The laid back feel seemed to manifest itself into everyone that was there, including us. By 4pm we finally managed to sort out what we were going to do and more importantly, had managed to rent the bikes for our "mild" cycle ride to the lake. I'd continuously tried to be optimistic at Caroline's ever decreasing confidence in the weather which, throughout the journey on the train in the morning, had looked very promising. Well, I was determined to give it a try anyway. We had cycled out probably a couple of miles when the rain started to fall ever so gently... and then slightly heavier... and then the full torrent of the clouds I'd been starring at for the entire (brief) duration of the ride came out in full force. We managed to find shelter by a rock off the roadside with the hope that it might just pass. Yeah right. After much denial, I had to submitt to the fact that no, the rain wasn't going to pass but instead, the rest of the day was going to be a wash out. I was dissappointed to say the least, but part of me also didn't mind hanging about the town just "being" there and soaking in the contrasting way of life which I was being exposed to for the first time.
We watched the bike lender chuckle to himself as we came back (having managed to hitch a lift back on the back of a dodgy truck!) soaked. You had to laugh though really. We'd spent ages selecting 2 half-decent bikes for our "treck" and there we were, standing soaking and having hardy made it out of town! Time to get the playing cards out.
The following morning offered a lot more promise as we made a second attempt at reaching the lake. We'd set ourselves 2 and a half hours for the ride there and back, desperate to ensure we'd be back on time to get back onto the train heading for Los Mochis. So we cycled. We stopped to meet some really shy native Indian children who I think were facinated by us approaching them. When we finally got to the Lake, we literally had 10 minutes to take some pictures before we had to dart back to the town to get back on the train. This was where the fun really began.
We made it to the train station on time and ironically, after all the rushing, the train was running late. Caroline went off to get some bread and cheese and as she went, much to my horror, the train pulled in. Worst still, as I stood there with all the bags on me trying to tell the guard that "Mi Amigo" was going to be "un momento" he just shook his head and told me to get onto the train. Of course I didn't (!) and I just stood there as I watched our 1st class train go off into the distance. The timing of Caroline's return can be described as nothing short of perfect, as she got back just as the train was still in view! The forthcoming 2nd class train was what we were left with, along with a very annoyed oriental guy walking off in disbelief! Fortunately, due to some quick inginuity on Caroline's part, she discoveed there was a bus going to Divisidaro (the next stop for the train) which would apparently arrive there before the train did. This would be perfect... assuming the bus didn't break down or hit a landslide.
I've never really chased a train before, but this felt pretty close to such an activity. We rode swifty through the mountain roads, curving through some amazing landscapes and views. There's a funny sensation that exists at the apex of mild frustration, apprehension, and excitement and I was right there as I put my head out the window of the bus. Miraculously, we arrived at Divisidaro 5 minutes before the 1st class train pulled in for it's 15min stop. I instantly recognised the couple we'd been talking to in the station in Creel, as they walked off the train, probably still chuckling from the events that occured in Creel station.
So everything was back on schedule again - I felt relieved. The guard came over to check our tickets and I think he and I recognised each other about the same time - "It was you who wouldn't wait un momento for mi amiga!", I felt like saying if only my Spanish was up to it. We laughed about it though, as really, in hindsight, it was rather funny.
We made a couple of other stops after Divisidaro before the long treck through the Copper Canyon. I took the opportunity to buy something from one of the ladies selling items by the trackside, for an apparently inflated price. I wasn't really too bothered about her "riping me off". It was quite sad to see them, these women with their babies on their back, wearing worn out sandles strapped to their ankles, carrying these woven baskets hoping the people on this 1st class tourist train could spend a minute fraction of their wealth to provide a proportion of their daily living need. There was something really wrong about the whole situation. We pulled out not long after I'd bought the small basket, the ladies still didn't look much happier than they did when we first arrived.
The highlight of this railway most definitely was the meandering ride through the canyon. I lost track of how long I stood outside taking photos of the canyon, I was just transfixed by it all. At some points we'd be high in the canyon and looking down on the river that ran through the valley below and then another time we'd be right by the river looking up to the monstrous rocks way up high above the canyon. The train journey reminded me a little of the Kuranda scenic railway that I'd taken in Cairns, but this was different. We'd met Christian and Bettina at the station in Creel and spent time getting to know them on the 9 hour journey ahead of us. For a time, Christian and I competed to see who could take the most shots in the Canyon but it got a bit silly as I felt my fingers getting numb! It was amazing though, I felt brerathless as we sped through the winding track, the whole landscape evolving constantly before our eyes.
There was one section of track where we went extremely slowly around and as we did, we could see a number of carriages on their side, lying on the side of the track. I thought these might have been old abandoned trains from many years ago but in fact, they were actually from a train which had passed this way only a few days ago and had toppled over on the slippery track. Many people on our train went over to one side to see this and I wondered whether WE'd topple over as well from the leaning.
After a long treck through the canyon, we began to level out and the landscape became more reminiscent of the landscape we'd seen at the first part of the train ride to Creel. We seemed to be going through completely flat open plains as the sun began to set on the dusty horizon. I'd lost count as to which number sunset this was that I'd seen throughout this trip but as I once said before, it was as unique as any sunset I'd ever seen before. Night set in soon after, and there were only a few hours before we were due to arrive.
There was a shot in the dark chance that we might make it in on time at 9pm in order to dart to the ferry port and hopefully catch the 9 hour overnight ferry to Los Mochis on the Baja side. The train had been running late all day (of course, as we knew from the events at Creel station earlier that day) but there was a slim chance timings would work themselves out. 9pm passed, then 9:30, then 9:45... and as we pretty well concluded that there was no way we could make it to the ferry, the train then came to a standstill. Only a few kilometers out from our destination, there was apparently an obstruction on the track and there was no way of clearing it. After much waiting, we were finally ushered off the train and onto the trackside. It was all a little surreal, what with it being so late and then the fact we were all standing around at the side of the track in the middle of nowhere with the train security personal standing by in case anyone tried to attack us. We were taken away swiftly though by minibuses and taxis and finally, ourselves as well as Christian and Bettina made it to the hotel in Los Mochis.
It appeared that Caroline and I had similar draft itinineries as Christian and Bettina so there was a possibility we might hook up together to travel. The next day, after a morning of travel chores and laundry, we made our way to the little town of Topolobampo, where we would be sailing from, for a lazy afternoon before our overnight boat ride to La Paz. Lazy is most definitely the right word to describe not only the afternoon, but the place. The town was very pretty and laid back and equally so, the restaurant we planted ourselves at. I feel somewhat haunted... (or maybe that's the wrong word) by Santana as I have vivid memories of sitting in the hostel in Barcelona listening to his new album - when we were in the restaurant in Topolobampo, there he was again! In the course of that afternoon, we encountered a number of "locals" who provided much intrest and some amusement.
Firstly, one of the guys, a marine biologist who had been sitting at another table got into a long lengthy conversation with Caroline about the forthcoming elections and why he was going to vote for the candidate that he'd chosen. He reminded me a little of the restaurant owner in Chihuahua who had been equally as passionate in expressing his views on Mexican people and various other subjects. I didn't understand much of what he said but I did sense a real sincerity as he left us to continue our afternoon by wishing God's blessing to be with us in our travels and wherever we went. It was really nice.
Later, the Marachi singers came waltzing into the resturant as we giggled at the inevitabilty of them playing for us. We bargained for 3 songs and they seemed to (to my inexperienced ears) reproduce them well. The guitar player seemed on another planet as he stood there looking bored, all beit for a sudden gesture to the bass player to look over his shoulder where I guess a friend of theirs had just walked past. They fullfilled many stereotypes I'd had in my mind about these Mexican Mariachis.
We took the alternative form of transport to make the coupld of Ks journey to the pier we were sailing from. The little motorised boat took us all, bags included, across the bay to the ferry as we watched the mystical sunset over Topolobampo. I felt confident, as we stood preparing to board the ferry, that sea nausia would not be a probem for me since my boat trips in Cairns and the time on the Solway Lass. How cautious one should treat confidence. We sailed out a little later than scheduled and for the first part, it seemed quite calm. Before long though, as the last visible signs of the horizon dissapeared into the distant night, the ferry began to sway quite noticeably. Before long, my apparent sea confidence was being slowly etched away and I found myself feeling the effects of "being at sea". There is a psychological game that the mind plays with itself and it goes something like on one hand, complete denial through disbelief that the sea is really affecting you, and then the other, the body responding with something along the lines of "so what do you call this that's going on in my stomach?!". The body ultimately won the game, as I ran like mad from our cabin to the toilet to be sick. "Feeling rough" is one way of describing that period, as I took my sleeping bag and sat out in the Salon instead of sleeping in the cabin. The irony of the situation was that Caroline and I had decided to be economical by taking the Salon seats instead of the beds but when we boarded, we discovered Christian and Bettina had got 2 spare beds in their room so we took those. Things seemed to become quite vivid in my mind as I sat there in the early hours of the morning trying to control the random movements in my stomach. The words "I am NOT sailing back next week to Mazatlan - I'm going to get a flight!" kept ringing through my head like a loud siren. I also began to think about what it must have been like for my father when he sailed to England from Hong Kong when he was 24, and the stories of being sea sick on his month long journey. Like father like son. I fell asleep before long, and the next time I looked, I could see the horizon out of the window... surely, it was time for sunrise.
I felt on top of the world. Only about 6 hours ago I felt like I was going to die and now, I was filled with the freshness of dawn and the anticipation of seeing a sunrise. As I went to go outside, I found Christian looking for me - I think he seemed somewhat surprised to see me in such a fit state. We went onto the upper deck and sure enough, there it was, the sunrise over the horizon. I had had dreams ages ago to spend the morning of the millenium aboard a yacht on the equator watching the sunrise on the 1st January year 2000. This was pretty close to what I had dreamt about, be it a few lines of latitude out and a few months late. We even spotted a pack of Dolphins in the distance, as well as endless Seaguls and Pelicans swooping past. It was the perfect calm after the stormy night I'd just had.
Not long after, we docked into La Paz. The sun was beating down quite heavily and yet it was still the early hours of the morning. We decided the 4 of us would travel around Baja California together and soon after breakfast, Christian and Caroline came back from Thrifty's with our waiting carriage : a red Nissan Saloon. Funny really; my apprehensions of a rough Copper Canyon train ride never did materialised, I had no apprehensions of the ferry ride yet I guess I should have in hindsight, and now so far as busing it around Baja California, instead we were being chaufeaur driven, and it was becoming just like a family holiday out in the car. First stop : Todo Santos.