Published Jan 15, 2001
Dear Carl & Lorena
We made the trip to Mexico's Copper Canyon in November. This is the trip that you helped Justin and I plan the itinerary for -- and I am reporting back to you on details that I hope you will find helpful.
We were unable to do the hike from Batopilas to Urique due to time constraints and weather. Instead, we travelled by bus/train to Creel, van to Batopilas; where we stayed for 4 days before retracing our steps.
We took the bus from El Paso across the border to Juarez. As we drove to the Greyhound station in El Paso, parking was immediately an issue. We looked at several options; our choice was a parking garage right across the street. Well guarded, well lighted. We parked on the bottom within view of the guard, who generally won't wander about. 3 dollars a day. When we returned, all was well with the vehicle.
The bus leaves to cross the border every hour on the half hour. 5 bucks. At the border, we received verbal assurance from the bus driver that he would wait for us as we did the paperwork. We came back outside to find our packs on the ground, no bus. On the bus we had left two small bags of relative importance. ALWAYS STAY WITH ALL YOUR BELONGINGS.
We 'knew' that...In any case we were told to wait for the next bus, while a bus official radioed ahead about our bags. In a small panic and in a state of lack of trust, we hopped a cab (15 bucks to the bus station in Juarez.) to the bus station and found our bags waiting.
There was confusion with the terminal officials who had not been able to find us on the next bus and apparently there were several people looking for us. A security official sat us down and gave us a talking to, while we smiled and nodded, not understanding a word of his hurried spanish in our anxious state...we had severely underestimated the reliability of the folks we were dealing with, and we were humbled. We abruptly adjusted our collective attitude and continued our journey.
First class bus: Juarez to Chihuahua (Omnibus) -- $23 dollars each. We also exchanged some money at the bus station. Rate was 9.20 to 1. We saw two Danielle Steel movies on the bus -- quite dramatic. The bus made one food stop - cafeteria style restaurant - 2 burritos and a soda for 35 pesos. We stayed right next to the bus...the trip was quite pleasant.
Your suggestion of hotel -- The Posada Aida -- was most excellent. Clean, small, and a good mattress for 80 pesos for the both of us. We will return. The proprietress fussed over us, bringing us extra blankets which we did not need... In Chihuahua we ate dinner at Don Cremas - very clean and good food. Cold beer - Indio. We wandered around the city and felt safe.
The train left the city at 6 am and we grabbed a taxi to get there, with a stop at a grocery for snacks. I know you are familiar with the train so I'll leave that alone. It was pleasant and the food 'okay' but not spectacular or even worth mentioning. The tour groups eat first so if you're on your own, be sure to have snacks for breakfast because it'll take awhile to get served. The coffee is decent.
We disembarked at Creel. At the station, we were met by several people hawking hotels; we were attracted to a young woman who appealed to our sense of fiscal responsibility by promising us a 'backpackers hostel'. Margarita's guest house; 250 pesos a night for a private room for two, includes breakfast and dinner if you don't mind eating in a crowded room, the walls lined with folks waiting to eat. We'd have breakfast there (varied - oatmeal, tortillas, eggs, beans etc.), but go elsewhere for dinner. Hospital de Cruda has limited hours but is wonderful, as you recommended. Our other favorite -- Veronicas. We tried one other -- ugh - and stuck with the first two.
We met some interesting folks at Margaritas, and took a tour we felt we could have skipped (100 pesos each, local tour by bus and 'tour' of Tarahumara mission). In any case, Margarita's was comfortable and clean though quite busy. Great source of information.
Also it's very easy to exchange money in Creel -- there's a casa de cambio right on the main street with a good exchange rate and it beats standing in line at the bank across the plaza.
Bus to Batopilas leaves every other day, and there's a Suburban on the other days leaving from Los Pinos hotel. We managed to finagle space on a van doing a tour for tourists -- cost us 150 pesos, the tour members paid 200. The van made frequent and interesting stops for leg stretching, and a wonderful lunch break perched on a precipice. Took 7 hours.
When we got to Batopilas, all the hotels were booked for tourist groups. We had heard of senora Monse at Margaritas and headed straight there while the other tourists stumbled about in a confused state. Senora Monses has 4 rooms -- all clean -- 2 with private baths. Hot water if you tell her about it in advance -- hot water bong, wood heated. Our room on the river was 250 pesos a night; the others are 200 pesos, but we splurged. She has bottled water and is a wealth of information. The other tourists from the van finally landed on this hostel, one woman in tears at the state of the rooms (!!!!). Apparently their collective expectations were much higher -- and although they had planned (as a group) to stay several nights, they left the next day.
Restaurants: the Swinging Bridge was booked for said tourist groups. Beer is hard to find. La Zagjuan will have cold beer (and Luis will slip you tequila if he's in the mood), but food is not always available. We prefer Senor Che's. Senora Adenina is a wonderful cook. You need to go tell her what you want to eat and what time you'll be back. Dinner for 30 pesos each -- wonderful hospitality and Senor Che will slip out for cervezas.
A storm descended and this is where we decided against the backpacking. Navor is highly recommended locally as a guide - 150 pesos/day/person plus 100 pesos/animal for backpacking. Also does local tours. We did local hiking, on our own, when the rain let up.
W stayed in Batopilas 4 days -- one I spent in bed and senora Monse sent me to a local healer/massage lady who was wonderful. We went to her twice and spent some time talking to her and her family.
We cooked for ourselves for the most part - local groceries are fine, though baked goods are not very fresh. Spent much time just sitting and relaxing in the plaza.
On the return trip, we caught a bus (leaves daily 5 am during the week) 120 pesos for the both of us; full of locals and a herd of drunk cowboys. Harrowing and interesting. Bus driver had to stop at every stream to fill the radiator with water and provide constant maintenance to the dilapidated vehicle -- the recent storm didn't help that road. Bus finally quit outside of La Bufa, but we saved the day with duct tape from our packs. Unbelievable that the thing ran at all...
Back in Creel, we stayed this time at Los Pinos, not feeling like all the camaraderie over at Margaritas. Los Pinos smelled like disinfectant cleaner and was 200 pesos/night for a private room with bath.
Only second class buses are available for the return trip to Juarez, as far as we could tell. (We asked for first class, but you get what's there.) We took the bus all the way -- with all the usual second class stops, etc. Cheap, though (750 pesos for two)...and fun. No restaurant stops - few station stops for toilet - no toilet on board - bring food and water, plus we had a deck of cards.
Returning back across the border was a long slow process - we were slightly ticked that the other passengers were treated rudely and we were given courtesy (we were the only whites on board) at the border itself. All went well, and then we were back in El Paso.
It was Justins virgin voyage to Mexico, and he loved it, although he swore off corn tortillas for awhile. The food in the Canyon can be dull, but with your recommendations we were very happy.
Thanks for all your help in our planning this trip - your tips and of course the People's Guide proved invaluable!! All the little things - having coin pesos for bathrooms, hauling water and snacks, expecting time delays and keeping expectations expectant of surprises, A TRAVEL POCKET for paperwork/cash, having an inflatable pillow and immersion heater, reading material and cards, a small spanish dictionary for constant study, carrying toilet paper...on and on...all these little things prove invaluable in the big picture toward making the trip stress free and enjoyable - and I Iearned that level of detail from the PG.
If there are any small details I left out that you would find important, please let me know. .
Our next trip is to the Pacific Coast!