Rain poured down and the wind howled all night on the little mountaintop village of Creel. And in the morning…
“No hay luz. No hay agua,” said the young manager. No hay nothing–anywhere in town.
It’s easy to live without lights, even on winter nights when darkness falls at 5:30, but water is another matter. The manager apologetically delivered a candle to my room, as well as a bucket of water to take care of the, ahem, “deposits” in the commode.
There were no “deposits” in my commode, however, because of a well-timed attack of what travelers in Mexico call Montezuma’s Revenge. In the preceding couple of days, I had burned through about a week’s worth of “deposits,” and thus was in good shape for a power outage. As the scent from the rooms of other guests seeped into the hall, I was probably the one person in Mexico at the time who was grateful for having had the “Revenge.”
Creel is a frontier-like town in high indigenous country at the north end of the intersecting canyons called the Barranca del Cobre, or Copper Canyon. It’s a major stop for the famous Copper Canyon train–the Chihuahua-Pacific Ferrocaril–or El Chepe. Most tourists are there for the train, and so was I.
I had not, however, counted on the storm, and I hadn’t counted on waking up to a layer of snow and ice covering Creel like a badly crocheted doily. The women in the hotel kitchen gamely dished up the free breakfast that came with the room, despite lack of power and water. And I slipped and slid on the slick streets to wait for the train with a surprisingly hardy gang of fellow travelers pulling their rolling luggage over the icy cobblestones.
El Chepe does train travel with class–fancy old-fashioned uniforms and a real huff-puffing engine.
There is a surreal quality to an experience that you’ve dreamed about for a long time. Here I was. In Creel. In the old-fashioned train station. Ready to board El Chepe and to see the Copper Canyon, a trip that I’d heard of more than a decade before.
Snow? Cold? Late train? No power? No matter. Finally, the monster train steamed into the station like a purebred Spanish stallion. Suddenly, a rush of people were disgorged from the back and another glob loaded into the front of the train, in a mostly quick and orderly fashion.
And we were off.
The ride was just as I’d imagined–the train wheezes and groans like the Little Engine That Could up passes and over bridges. Maybe the scenery wasn’t quite as grand as I’d expected–more forest-y than grand-vista-y.
But the view from Divisidero takes your breath away.
Every train stops for 20 minutes at Divisidero. First, you encounter a mob of stands selling gorditas (seriously, the BEST gorditas I’ve ever tasted). Then, you make your way through a cluster of Tarahumara women selling their amazing handwoven baskets.
THEN, You are gobsmacked by the view.
It is breathtaking, but you have only 20 minutes to gulp, buy, and galk, so you act like the worst of tourist charicatures. You shove your way to the overlook. (If you’re lucky, you won’t have to push grandma over the rim.) You snap a frenzy of photos, then you rush to slam down a gordita and buy some baskets before the train leaves.
If I had it to do over, I’d have stayed a night at the pricey Hotel Divisidero where I could have done nothing but spend the rest of the afternoon galking at the massive cliffs and eating gorditas.
But…20 minutes later, the train was chuffing out of the station.
My destination for that evening was Urique, yet another town at the bottom of the canyon. I’d heard of a sweet, restful semi-paradise that had been built over the years by a young and romantic American (who was now no longer young), and his Mexican wife. To get there, I had to get off the train at Bahuichivo. (Bah-wee-CHEE-vo), a couple stops down from Divisidero and take a van to the bottom of the canyon.
Clearly, I had learned nothing from my last descent into the canyon.