It took a while, to to catch a ride from El Maviri. We’d caught an Uber there so Tyler and Dereck could enjoy some seafood as well as dip our feet into the Pacific. Eventually a small car, perhaps responding to Tyler’s begging gesture, reversed back off the bridge towards us. Edward Saldana and who I assumed was his wife, spent half their time in the US, and the other half in Los Mochis. He dropped us off at the bus terminal where we soon hopped into a chicken bus. The bus was packed, and it seemed to take a lot longer to get back to Sufragio. As we walked towards the grocery store by the station, I reminded myself that I’d soon be parting ways with my travel companions. I cooked the last of my couscous and was waiting for it to cool when the military walked in. The guy who seemed to be in charge spoke some English and when they worked out Dereck and Tyler wanted to catch a cargo train, they actually called someone to check when it would be leaving. It was leaving in 20. “Better hurry” they said offering to guide them to the train. Whilst they quickly packed they told us that you might need 20/30pecos to bribe the guards in Mazatlán in order to stay on the train. I said farewell and parted ways with my traveling companions from the last week.
I confirmed that the other half of the shop was in fact a hotel. It was already dark, and I asked if I could camp in the courtyard. The man said it wouldn’t be a problem and also refused to charge me. Already dark, it was a relief. I’d rather move on in the daylight. Lots of people had told me that the nights could be dangerous.
I woke relatively early, buying groceries before heading to the bridge. I waited a while trying to keep a low profile. But as a guero, the glances soon told me that I’d been detected. Someone came to find out what I was up to (and probably to sell me some mota). In broken Español I soon learnt that ‘my’ train had left early that morning / late last night. Shit. I’d been given the wrong info. Hanging around a bit, I soon went for a walk thinking to wait at the station – maybe I could find out when a train would leave?
No one stopped me as I walked confidently in the main entrance. I sat down, eating lunch as I questioned the few employees that passed by me. I can’t actually recall what they told me, something about 10 tonight? Nevertheless, I was soon asked to leave. They gestured at the cameras. I don’t think the workers cared, but the ppl looking through the cameras did. I headed back to the bridge, deciding to settle in there and wait it out.
Sitting down in the shade, I thought myself unlucky, not really thinking about the situations everyone around me was in. A car passed, slowing down to say something in Español. I caught the word “eat” and soon worked out what they’d said as ppl flocked to the other side of the bridge – it was a food handout. I felt bad lining up, but in the interest of appearances, I thought it was important. I was already taking especial care not to take our my camera, phone, or anything else that might scream wealth. I squatted, and as a good gesture, offered a man’s puppy some food. It turned out it wasn’t his, but sitting against the wire fence, it did start a conversation with the Honduran. His English was actually quiet good, and we spoke for many hours, passing the time by throwing small rocks at the opening of a plastic bottle I’d propped on an angle between some rocks. When afternoon arrived, a bus dropped off a bunch of ppl under the bridge apparently they work on farms (fruit?) for 100 Pecos a day.
Time passed slowly. Due to some train activity my Honduran friend and his traveling companion got up in readiness. Another food vehicle came. Again, I was annoyed at the amount of styrofoam used, much of it simply discarded on the ground. I wondered why there weren’t more littering the gnd. I was reminded of the answer as the sun began to set and the scent of burning plastic filled the air. Bottles, foam plates, grass, twigs. All were gathered with little judgement save their combustibility. It reminded me of the wait in the Chihuahua yard. As it turns out, burning areas is so common I seemed to regularly catch the scent in the state. A family arrived and I have the children my last avocado… So many ppl fleeing to the US.
I was happy when ppl started moving towards the station. Feeling safer as I settled down by a pillar. Trains shunted back and forward. I hoped I was in the right place. Almost everyone was undoubtedly heading north to Mexicali. I tried to stay vigilent, always taking note of the engine numbers. I woke for the nth time. Two 4ks went past at quite a clip. Some people where in the gondala behind the engines. This was my train. I collapsed my sleeping mat scanning the line. Gondalas as far as I could see. The train would only pick up speed, so I ran along the platform grabbing a rung, and soon pulled myself up into the car. The train was loaded with pellets of iron ore. Touching it left you quite black. It wasn’t the idyllic ride I’d been hoping for. I flattened out an area in the middle which was the lowest. Stretching out on my mat, I still couldn’t escape the wind. As we climbed into the mountains I knew it would be a long cold night. I slept little and was awake when the sky showed the smallest hint of morning. I couldn’t feel my feet. It was around freezing I guessed. I was happy to arrive in San Rafael and immediately began walking about to get warm… And find a bathroom. I crossed the town and headed back to the station. I was refused a baño despite knowing there was one. (When the cleaner left I let myself in…)
Buying supplies from the shop with large cheese puff bags (not many will get that reference), I caught a bus to Divisidero, utilising the wifi to again look over my planned trek…
There was little information on the walk and the digital topo map I had made no sense in many places, the contour lines a jumbled mess. The plan was to drop down to Ojo de la Barranca and then head up the opposite side to the primarily Tarahumaran town of Pamachi. Then cross the canyon again to Areponamichic, hopefully locating a spring on the way back up. I’d read a similar trip online and spent hours matching up features on Google’s satellite imagery. I felt like I’d done as much preperation as I could realistically do and headed off.
A good trail skirted the rim, and I made good time whilst enjoying the viewes down into the canyon. Barrancas del Cobre is actually an umbrella name for a collection of seven canyons (making its constant comparison to Arizona’s Grand Canyon a little unfair). The Urique Canyon, where I planned cross, is the deepest of the canyons, reaching a depth of about 1870m. Seeing as I was crossing twice, I had a lot of elevation change ahead of me!
The trail went past a lookout that was probably popular for hotel guests, and the reason the trail was well maintained. I met a local there and pointed out my route to him. He approved, pointing out another common route into the canyon. It was already late, so I continued on my way, pausing now and then to look at all the canyons merging as they dropped down through the cliffs.
I began dropping down the first cliff band, passing some dwellings built into the bluff. Heading much further north than I’d expected the trail became more and more vague. From a couple of farms with empty maize fields, I followed a trail down a gulley beside an obvious gentle sloping ridge.
The trail was fairly well established, but hard to follow in places were it crossed sections of rock. I had to backtrack several times in search of the way on.
As I descended, continuously checking my map, I was suprised to run into a dwelling perched on a small saddle with sheer cliffs on either side. An amazing spot. A couple of kids where cleaning a log with an axe, and stopped working when they saw me descending from above. Most Tarahumaran people I’d ran into seemed unwilling to talk to outsiders. These kids seemed overly cautious and I made sure to keep my distance when I yelled out my destination to check I was on route. They didn’t really want to talk and I quickly left to ease tensions.
Following the route on the map, I left the main trail, hoping I hadn’t mistaken where I was on the map. The gulley was horrible. Sliding on the scree slope I tried to avoid plants, all of which seemed to boast nasty spikes. Now and then I found what seemed to be an old path but usually lost it quite quickly. Finally the gradient decreased and i paused to look at strange mangoe shaped fruit on trees with thorns on the trunks and branches. When mature, the ‘fruit’ seemed to explode into a ball of white fluff. (Looks like they are called kapok trees, or the silk cotton tree).
My knees were starting to hurt and I has happy when the trail improved, passing the walls of some old dwellings (water source nearby). Reaching the Urique was a relief. I dumped my gear stripped and went for a quick skinny dip in the frigid water. Happy, I dried off by a fire and set up camp. I ate well and slept well.
The next day I cached my gear and headed upstream to look at the confluence of the San Ignacio and Urique. This involved crossing the river many times, and I soon gave up on keeping my shoes dry. Where they joined was very narrow and I wished I had more time to explore. As it was, I’d be lucky to reach Pamachi. (Found some bobcat tracks on the way back).
Returning, I went down stream, quickly reaching Ojo de la Barranca. Happy to cross for the last time, I turned around and thought I could just make out Divisidero.
Following the arroyo up, I remarked at the transition from the conifers up high to figs and ceiba now in the shady valley. There wasn’t much evidence of traffic, but occasionally I found signs of machete being used to cut through the scrub. Out of water I happily filled my bottles from a spring coming in from the right. I found that two sticks with slight separation worked well to direct the trickle into my bottles. Continuing further up the arroyo, I eventually decided I’d gone up far enough, probably missing the exit trail to the paths I’d seen on the satellite imagery contouring parallel to the creek. I began looking for a way out and scrambled up to a well constructed path. I heard voices up near the cliffs and as I climbed was suprised to find a number of houses on either side of the valley. Their occupants either looked at me quietly from afar, or simply vanished. Two children where herding goats along the sloped. Other livestock coralled into natural alcoves fenced with sticks. The continues bark of dogs followed me as the light began to fail. Tired, I eventually decided to bivouac by the trail, making camp by a small stone wall. The pesky dogs continuing to bark through the night.
I awoke to a man staring at me. I sat up suprised and said good morning. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I pointed in the direction I was heading, saying Pamachi. I lay down for a while expecting him to continue on his way. But it didn’t happen and he just quietly remained. Getting uncomfortable, I began packing, I had a strong feeling he was waiting for me. Sure enough, once packed we headed up together. He let me lead, occasionally correcting me if I took a less efficient route to the one he knew so well. The cave like formations in the cliffs above were interesting, and I soon noted the rock saddle up ahead I’d read about in several reports.
The saddle offered good views on both sides, and having skipped breakfast it seemed like a good place for brunch. I was suprised at all the houses below, many in fairly inaccessible. The Tarahumaran people seemed quite hardy and it was no wonder they were famous for their long distance running.
Continuing up the ridge the trail soon levelled. Following the rim of a small side valley with some spectacular rock pinicles.
We quickly reached the barren mesa called Rohuerachi. It was strange how bare it was. I thought it might have been from clearing at first, but the ground was all rock, so I wasn’t sure. As I passed rows of stone walls, built seemingly to catch water and prevent further erosion, I heard drums beating in the distance.
My partner soon parted ways without a word, and taking a bearing I headed in the general direction of Pamachi. I could soon see it below me, hidden in a shallow valley. For some reason I was suprised to see power lines. I hadn’t expected it.
There weren’t many people about. I wanted to find somewhere to charge my phone and maybe buy some food. The church seemed like a good place to start, but as it was locked I headed into ‘town’. I found chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys some donkey, and in the distance, saw some ppl in hills. Angry dogs greeted me so I headed back towards the church, double checking the school was closed. Hmmm. I started leaving the town but looking back saw the missionary come out of his house. I went to ask him. Braulio Vasquez had been stationed in Pamachi for over a year now. He was happy to help and let me plug my phone in. He was on his way to some kind of gathering. So he didn’t have to wait he offered (o did I?) to go with him. It was nice to walk unencumbered by a heavy pack. His English wasn’t spectacular but it was passable and we began to walk down the valley. We passed a lady carrying buckets of some sloppy off yellow. When Braulio greeted her, she put them down and after touching hands she dipped a weja (a gourd, cut in half and hollowed out for use as a scoop), into the bucket and have it to Braulio who drunk deeply, refilled it and offered it back to the lady in return. I too was then offered a drink. It was alcoholic for sure, and I found out later that it was a fermented maize (corn) drink called teswino (batari or suwí in Tarahumaran?). We parted ways and I tried to learn some basic Tarahumaran… Already struggling to grasp Spanish, I can’t say I did well…
Matetera ba. Thank you.
I also learnt the Tarahumaran handshake which is a gentle touching in the familiar handshake position, and then sliding your hands apart catching the fingers slightly at the end.
Soon we approached our destination, I could tell by the number of people outside the dwelling. I was introduced and was soon sitting amongst them removing the kernels from the cob and putting them into woven baskets. I think they then grind then down into pinole. Probably the females job seeing as it was all males outside. I played a little on the guitar that was there. It was in bad shape, and couldn’t be properly tuned.
I was called inside the house. It was dimly lit but very warm with the fire burning inside. I listened to the man who addressed me in Tarahumaran, not understanding a word. It seemed like some kind of welcoming ceremony, and when he held his hand out, I matched it with mine in a kind of handshake without clapping. Our hands rose and feel maybe ten times and it was done. I squatted to put some pecos atop the others in the small woven basket and excited the house.
A drum made from goat hide was soon brought out. A single line with a bead stretched across one side acted as a snare. Putting the bead in the middle, grass was stuffed into the hole so it wouldn’t move about. A sick was then found and carved into the rough shape of a mallot. Some discarded clothing was picked up wrapped around then end and tied on with some nylon string – again found on the ground. The excess pieces were trimmed and discarded. You could see the general was of life was living off the land. Take what you need and discard what you don’t. This clashes with the modern age of plastics and I drew a parallel to why there was so much trash lying around in México.
The mallot complete, people began beating the drum. I recognised it as the sound I’d heard when approaching Pamachi. Two alternating chords where strummed on the guitar to accompany. Another line of ppl let by another drum soon joined us. A fiddle too emerged.
Rattles were tired around Braulio’s ankles (I assume because he was the missionary, and an important figure?) and to the ever present beating drum, began dancing in a circle, utilising a flat spot on the hillside that had probably been used before. Others joined, and soon I too joined one of the several lines that had now formed.
As night set in, fires were started. Some people noticibly drunk from the teswino that had been past around in wejas since I arrived. The fiddle player had past out. I began to make progress with the children and started playing with them. They were fasinated with my camera and the hair on my legs. It was short lived though. We began playing a game of tag, when a lady came over and scolded one of the children. I didn’t know what happened but play abruptly stopped, and it was sort of the end of the night for me.
The temperature dropped and eventually Braulio and I departed. Interestingly, like all the other people who had vanished, you just leave at will, without a goodbye. After getting a little lost, we made our way back and I happily crashed.
In the morning I ground Pinole (corn corn). He liked to add the powder to water to flavour it. Before I left, he explained a little about the previous night. I had actually caught the third day of “buena siembra” (good sowing) and the beating drums were to awaken the earth for the new season.
I waited around a bit longer, someone last night said they were going my way and I could accompany them. But Tarahumaran life was laid back and time seemed to have less importance, so I wasn’t suprised not to see him. I headed off alone, filling up my bottles at a spring I’d noticed yesterday afternoon. Some people from last night recognised me and I joined them for a while getting stuck for a while drinking more Teswino. Eventually I set off alone.
As I approached the rim, I decided to take a different ridge to the one suggested by the map I had. I backtracked a few times but it worked well and I was soon walking in the valley bottom. I was very happy to come across some citris trees. I greedily ate an orange and some grapefruit finding another grove further downstream.
The valley soon deepened and i eventually encountered a large waterfall of maybe 30m, followed by another. Scouting back, I found a bypass that had seen some use and eventually managed to scramble down to the bottom. More tricky downclimbs followed to get past smaller falls, one quite chossy, and I dropped my pack in fear the holds would fail. Some canyon sections forced me to get wet, but only to my thighs.
When I reached the river, the light was amazing. I had little time and after fording headed upstream to inspect a human structure. Crossing over a gate made from logs, I looked up at a cable with a small bucket spanning the canyon. I couldn’t see where it went. A young man was doing some burning and I asked him for directions. He pointed up the small side creek I’d just crossed. I hurried off. It was late in the day and I was hoping to find a hot spring.
As the light failed I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I diverted my energy into finding a camp settling for a spot right next to the water. I was a little disappointed at not finding the spring but was soon rewarded with something equally special. At first I thought it was my imagination. The light I’d seen was definitely not there when I double checked. But then I noticed more of them. It turned out there were bioluminescent centipedes crawling all around me. They would leave there light on for a short time before again disappearing into the dark. Looking around, you could broaden your vision and see quite a lot of them.
The next day I backtracked a bit gaining a ridge and following it up through the scrub. I contoured around to the next drainage noticing a great camp spot below me by the river. It would have been nice to stay another day, but I was already a day behind the planned schedule and had next to no food left.
I reached the base of a waterfall and had to do some exposed scrambling to finally get above it. Finding an obvious trail running perpendicular to my route I wondered where it had come up? I was happy that the trail flattened for a while. I climbed up to a dwelling hoping to get directions to the spring, but it was empty. Oh well. I had no food anyway.
The dwelling was the one I’d noticed from the top when I was with Derrick and Tyler. It looked amazing perched on the mountainside with the canyon behind it.
I tried to climb up to a cave in the volcanic rock. But low on energy I gave up after my first attempt and began plodding up a well used trail. Soon I knew where it would go, and hours later, was walking on familiar ground.
I took a variation back to Areopo. It seemed to save time, and in the least, required less concentration.
I was soon walking through town. A man in a car stopped to offer me a cabaña. He was the same person id talked to when I started the trip at divisadero. Cuanto cuesta, I asked. Thinking it would be nice. I continued to the shops deciding it exceeded my budget.
It started raining. It looked like a storm was on its way. I grabbed some groceries and headed into the bush finding a nice spot to pitch my tent. I ate and slept. It rained a lot, and was still raining when I woke sick the next day. I think a lack of food and water whilst exerting myself in the heart had done it. I didn’t really leave the tent the whole day. My nose bled and the seams on my tent started leaking. The stream below me me swelled, a second forming right by my tent and the small depression underneath me filling with water. I moved the tent and spent a second night in dampness.
The showers were more sporadic the next day and soon eased up enough that I decided to break camp. I plodded up to the road, bought more food and coughing put my pack down by the road to hitchhike. I soon got a lift to San Rafael. I hadn’t heard a train pass that morning and had decided to get out of the mountains. I had many other trips planned, but knew I’d be out of action for a bit. I also felt I’d had a good taste of the area.
Taking to a Honduran who had caught the wrong train. He confirmed that the Chihuahua train hadn’t past. My timing was prefect and a train horn soon sounded. I selected a car and was soon on my way. The clouds actually broke giving a bit of sun to light the nice views. I sat on top of the car for a while sharing the last of my food with a Mexican. We didn’t really say much.
I hid inside the port hole getting a little sleep in. I stayed vigilent, getting out when the train stopped. It moved, and I feel asleep, ignoring the sound of the pneumatics depresurising. When I woke I was in the middle of nowhere. In the last of six carriages. I guess they were going to be filled with grain. I was angry with myself. But knowing there was nothing I could do headed back to sleep.
The next day I walked into Cuauhtemoc. Then walking across town. Trying to hitchhike for a while before flagging down a bus. I’d learnt a valuable train hopping lesson.