"El Chepe" Experience

January 7, 2018

There are stories you can talk or write about and there are stories you only can convey by simply showing what you see and hear. Still I feel that I need to write about my experience to show you what I have seen to offer you a new world.

 

 

 

One of the most extraordinary experiences I have had in Mexico is my journey from Los Mochis to Chihuahua which I made by taking the "El Chepe" train. Platitudes like ‘the Journey is the reward‘ may hurt when reading this but it's true. I have heard of the "Barranca del Cobre" (or Copper Canyon in English) when I was already in Mexico and was browsing the National Geographic Website.

I came to Mexico without any preparations but I knew that I wanted to take this adventure of riding a train for 15 hours and see how the landscape changes and aims at the breathtaking view of the Canyon. Doing a ride for 15 hours sounds boring but in this country it definitely is not. Let me tell you why.

 

There aren't many people who are doing this kind of trip as it isn't as well known as other sightseeing spots in Mexico. So if you want to do this trip, do it now.

We went to the ticket counter at 5:00 AM and were already surrounded by a huge group of local people. Of course they were looking at those two young people carrying huge mochilas on their backs, which were bigger than themselves, and had smaller ones in front of them, wearing them like accordions.We must have looked very odd to them.

 

We only bought tickets up to Creel, a small village in the middle of Copper Canyon because the ride from Los Mochis to Creel is the most scenic of the whole train ride. After Creel, the landscape is not as stunning, so it made sense to only do this part instead of the whole ride. You’re better off with a much cheaper bus ride.

The economy ticket for the trains costs about 1033 Mex$ (effective 21.11.17) to Creel and can also be bought on board. We are Germans. We didn't want to take that risk. The tickets come automatically with seat numbers and before you enter the train the conductor checks your ticket and shows you the way. If you have the choice, sit on the right side of the train as he view is much better.

 

 

 

The train left one hour later at 6 am. We were lucky that the taxi driver gave us that information the night earlier as we couldn't really find information about departure times. So far so good. We made it on board and took our seats.

 

As soon as the train left we could finally lay back, relax and enjoy the ride. Four hours of sleep weren't enough and it takes about 10 hours to Creel. So we had plenty of time for sleep. At least we thought so.

 

Nights are for sleeping and days for marveling 

 

One thing I have learned in Mexico is that nights are for sleeping and days for marveling as every street and landscape is so fascinating and beautiful that it would be a shame to miss it.

 

The train departed in Los Mochis, drove through the suburbs of the wild landscape of Sinaloa and changed into the mountainous scenery of Chihuahua. The sun was rising and shining through the sun-blinds throwing shadows all around on every object of this untouched morning.

People outside the train passing us by started their day as usual while we were immersing ourselves in the moment. It felt like watching a movie which went by very fast. Everything was so different to what I knew. Everything felt exciting.

I felt like being in the Wes Anderson movie "Darjeeling Limited", only that I was the leading role and that this was not a movie.

 

Equipped with our cameras and our curiosity we went looking for some food. I really couldn't believe how everything looked like: the furnishing, the colours, the light and the cook of course making Tacos. Viva Mexico!

The Mexican conductors looked at me as if they were hired for this movie to look super cool. Those characteristic faces and the costumes, it was perfect. At first they looked at us somehow sceptic not knowing what we were about, but then accepting more and more our curious natures which were fascinated by every item of that bistro and trying to capture it. Needles to say I have befriended those guys in no time.

 

 

 

In terms of food we weren’t prepared for this ride. But I fell in love with Mexican food and had one of those delicious Enchiladas and Quesadillas for breakfast. With hot Salsa of course.

Hours went by and people woke up listening to Mexican music from the 30s and 40s which completed this picture of this sweet oddity.

 

As I was running around taking pictures from every angle of this train one of the younger conductors took heart to talk to me and asking me about my relationship status. Five minutes later I found myself surrounded by a group of Mexicans which wanted to know everything about that „Gringa“.

 

They were keen on making me taking the train like the locals as they don't see as many tourists from abroad. While Europeans travel Europe and the rest of the world, Mexicans travel their own country. They love their country and many do not have other opportunities. So if you want to know where to go just ask them. My list increased from one place to hundreds of places that are now on my place. And here is some advice: If people ask you how you like their country and you say you love it, they will love you and try to help you out with any kind of advice they can. If they don’t have advices, they will still have a smile on their face and you’ll end up learning more about their culture instead. Of course be honest. But I haven’t met anyone who doesn't love this country. Everyone is so happy and nice. And they have so many reasons to complain. Just think of whose name can not be named. But they don't.

 

 

 

 

 

The train stopped half way and a salesman entered yelling "Enchiladas, elotes, manzanas, mandarinas". We were so lucky. By that time, we were starving and hoping for lunch. Luckily those were the best fresh cooked and cheapest Enchiladas I have ever had in my life. As the "El Chepe" passes by every day at the same time local people know that there are hungry people on board. I think this man makes his living only by selling food on this train. Don't be scared, it's definitely worth trying!

About twenty minutes before Creel, the train stopped again to let the tourists get out of the train and let them shop for food and crafts at the surrounding market. Women from the Tarahumara sit on rocks with their children to their feet and work on their handcraft. They are so into their work that it seems like they're not only from a different culture but a different world.

 

 

This journey was worth every minute as you drive through the Copper Canyon which is by the way four times bigger than the Grand Canyon. You see how the landscape changes, you meet people who live there all their life and can tell you stories about how it really is to be in Mexico. The moment you arrive at the Copper Canyon will amaze you. You can enjoy the view almost by yourself as it is not crowded.

 

I have heard of so many people who rather go to beach resorts and stay there for two weeks without seeing anything from this country because they are afraid to venture outside of their comfort zone and to because they are scared of getting robbed or something else. However, when you are daring to go outside and open your heart, you will be rewarded with unforgettable experiences. What I have experienced was friendliness, hospitality and adventures I could fill a book with. But this was only the Chepe Experience.

 

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© 2019 Norah Abdul

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