Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sheer Laziness in the Copper Canyon

'Twas Mexican Time at its finest. We'd biked just three kilometers in four hours. It was already 2 p.m. and we had about 19 kilometers left to go on the trail. We needed to return the bikes by 7 p.m. At least our bellies were full of peanut butter and tortillas. We'd need the energy.

A bit of a backstory is required here. We were in Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre), a massive series of mountains and valleys that's about four times the size of the Grand Canyon up north. The "we" in this scenario is myself and Maricruz, one of my dearest Culichi friends (and the only other person I could convince to join me on this crazy adventure), along with two random-but-lovable backpackers from London that we'd met along the way.

Copper Canyon is located in Chihuahua, a state that's famous for little dogs and amazing cheese, which lies just to the east of Sinaloa. The canyons themselves are only about 200 kilometers away, but the only way to access them is via the Chepe, the Chihuahua-Pacífico train, a journey that takes about 12 hours each way. It was on this magical train that the Culichi, the Gringa, and the two Brits formed their unlikely friendship, cementing plans to tackle the Barranca together by bike the following day.

So the four of us found ourselves in the Barranca's infamous Mushroom Valley (Valle de los Hongos), victims to Mexican Time. We'd putzed around Creel, the little mountain town where we'd stayed the night before, spending a good part of the morning stocking up on essentials for our bike expedition: red wine, the aforementioned peanut butter, and the knockoff Notre Dame baseball caps to keep the sun out of our eyes. Finally on the bikes, we'd taken our sweet time getting to our first stop, a cave that was home to the Tarahumara, an indigenous community that's called the canyon home for hundreds of years. And then we leisurely peddled into the Arareko Valley, home to rocks that look like mushrooms, frogs, and, yes, even erect penises.

We paused for pictures approximately 546 times along the way.

We each took a turn falling off our respective bikes.

We stopped to eat bananas.

We climbed rocks and did yoga poses on top.

We giggled.

And then, shortly after our leisurely lunch of peanut butter and tortillas, we realized that it was 2 p.m., and we'd ridden the equivalent of about 1/4-inch on the full-page route map given to us by the bike company in Creel.


Maricruz, the only sane one of the group, opted to flag down a passing tour bus to get back into Creel. She'd hurt her knee in an Mushroom Rock-related incident and didn't think she'd be able to keep up with the breakneck clip that would be required of us to get back to Creel on time.

That left me with the two Brits. We peddled the 19 kilometers through the rest of the valley, past pine forests and Tarahumaras, across an old airstrip, and directly through rather large, water-filled potholes in the road that left us mud-speckled but refreshed. We reached Lake Arareko at about 6 p.m., just in time to cut our plastic water bottles into makeshift wine glasses, ready to share the Cabernet that one of the guys had been toting in his backpack the whole day.

We biked back to Creel -- muddy, sunburnt and buzzed off the red wine -- and somehow managed to turn in our bikes just 20 minutes late. Thus ended a wonderfully lazy day. Dear, dear Mexican Time, how I love thee...

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