With Mexico so much in the news lately, I decided to make a quick trip to Copper canyon to see what’s going on. Emilio Kifuri of Canyon Travel had been after me for several years to visit a small lodge in the barrancas he calls “el Uno Lodge”. So we went to Chihuahua and caught the Chihuahua al Pacifico train, or el “Chepe”. For about $70 each, we bought first class tickets to San Rafael. San Rafael is two stops down from the Divisadero stop with its abundance of breathtaking views and international tourists. It is a relatively quiet logging town and logistical center for the railroad. We saw no other tourists getting one of off except those coming back or heading to “El Uno” We had no problem making contact with the Canyon Travel staff.
The 10 km drive took over an hour in a 15 passenger Ford Van; with the last two miles taking at least half of it. It is not a drive for the fainthearted. In a couple of spots, a failure of brakes or driver judgment could plunge the vehicle and passengers into the abyss. Some worry about drug violence on the border these days. When I am in Mexico, I worry about traffic accidents.
This remote and rustic accommodation, known locally as Hostal Otaviachi was built as part of a project where the Mexican Federal government financed a series of eco-tourism projects to benefit indigenous Tarahumara communities. A cooperative of 41 families chooses a board of directors to tend to the business of this particular facility. Canyon Travel made a deal with the local directors of Hostal Otaviachi to provide furniture, photovoltaic electrical system, propane hot water heaters, kitchen appliances, management, guide and kitchen staff and a marketing plan, in exchange for exclusive booking priviledges.
The facility is rustic, but comfortable. There are 9 large rooms with hot water 24 hours. The beds are firm and comfortable; the rooms have nice towels and even bathrobes. The rooms also have scorpions, so shake out your bathrobe before you put it on. I didn’t to my sudden regret. Each room has a view of the Urique River 5000 feet below. The first vertical drop from the Lodge is around 2,000 feet. Please stay on the sidewalk. To sum up an excellent experience in a few words, the food was simple and tasty with lots of blue corn tortillas. The huevos rancheros were the best I had tried in many years. The staff was gracious, most of them full or part Tarahumara. The property manager and head walking guide Adrian speaks English and is knowledgeable about the diverse flora and fauna of the canyon country. The hiking is steep and strenuous and with an altitude of about 7200 feet, the author had to pause frequently to sip water and catch a breath.
Though the train is the most common way for tourists to access these remote areas, new and well maintained paved roads now reach into Divisadero and San Rafael. A first class bus goes back and forth between Chihuahua and San Rafael several times a day. Though the train has a nice bar and restaurant, the bus has video monitors showing the latest hits. Instead of taking 7 hours from San Rafael to Chihuahua, the bus takes less than 5, and costs $28 per person.
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