I’m hanging out in Creel for a few days, a small mountain town set in the Sierra Tarahumara, the main hub for exploring the Mexico’s Copper Canyon – Barranca del Cobre – the world’s deepest canyon system. Every which way you turn, it’s up or down. The roads plummet from well over two thousand metres to just 500m, and back up again on the other side… Which is what I’ll be undertaking on christmas day, we ride over to Urique, a small and remote settlement set deep in one of the canyons.
I can’t say it’s the most charming place I’ve come across, but it’s a nice enough little backpacker hangout. And, most importantly, there’s some ace local singletrack right out of town. The main drag is awash with hotels, shops and tour agencies, bisected by the train line. The occasional cargo train clunks through town, honking its horn continuously, brakes screeching like banchees. The weekends are popular with Mexican families, and on a Saturday night, boys in cars crawl up and down the main street.
Still, there’s lots of Tarahumara Indians about too, and it’s not unusual to see a horseman clipping through town, a dog and a mule in tow.
Matt, who I’d cycled with in Canada, recommended us an appartment to rent. It’s rather luxurious, in a Mexican kind of way. It almost feels like we’re a family from one of the telenovelas – the Latin American soaps that are so popular here. After days in the tent, we’ve sprawled out into the bedrooms, kitchen, dining table, and pampered ourselves with fluffy towels.
My favourite detail is the huge bowl of fake fruit set on the plastic cover of the dining table. The peach even has some fuzz, and the grapes are a little squishy. Much time has been spent over dinner comtemplating this rather marvellous display.
Just as we were about to explore one of the local trails, we bumped into Jose Gomez, who took us on a three hour tour of some of the best local singletrack in the area. We passed by the Valley of the Frogs – squat, amphibean rocks – and the Valley of the Mushrooms – toadstool-like formations.
Nicest – and the least touristy – of the lot was the Valley of the Monks, whose rocks are considered by the Ramaruri to be symbols of fertility.
Canyon views abound in the Sierra Tarahumara.
Now that he is no longer towing his dog Lucy, Jason’s carrying a little 1/2 size guitar, so we’ve been chilling out to the sounds of some bluegrass tunes.
We’ve been travelling as a gang for nearly a month now. Still, it’s always nice to do your own thing, so while the others went to check out some hot springs, I hung out a little longer in Creel to catch up on some work. Spending a night in the dorm room of a hostel was a good reminder of the backpacker scene, with an assortment of characters gathered round the communal dining table – bookish engineering students from Oregon, a French family and two mexican characters from Oaxaca, in opposing yet matching 70s style ski jackets – red and white/white and red. They cut quite a look. The room key was novel too, a table knife used to pry open the lock.
When Jeff and Jason came back, we moved into a room in a family house. I particularly liked the toilet covers. Little luxuries like these are important when you’re on the road for a long time.
The Christmas carols, translated into Spanish, that pipe out of many of the shops were a reminder of the impending date. Our guesthouse had a tree too. Still, way less commercial than back home...
Looks like Santa visits Creel too.
Little Valentina, at the guesthouse we stayed in.
I also bumped into Roland and Belinda, who I met briefly in Alaska. Here they are on the road just south of Fairbanks, just a few days into their trip.
And here's Roland, some 5 months later. As well as the weathered look and inspirational beard, the bike and Bob were by now festooned with stickers and flags.
Their Co-Motion tandem, Big Bird, had been decorated with its Christmas livery.
In fact, there was a tourer get together. Karin and Marten from the Netherlands had also ridden down from Alaska, via the Great Divide.
For those taking the inland route, Creel is a funnel for cyclist's heading south. Much bike talk ensued. Note Belinda's Christmas-themed helmet...
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Cheap digs – 100 pesos for a dorm bed in Casas Margaritas, which includes breakfast and lunch. When they were full, they farmed us off to a family house a few blocks away, which was actually much nicer (200–250 pesos a room).