San Carlos–Copper Canyon–Mazatlán

Our friends Laura & Rich arrived Oct 30. Boat is ready to go and so are we!  First stop Topolobampo, 196 NM. We departed at 0130 Nov 1 with an unfortunate “south wind”, and a bumpy ride come mid morning.  I overcame some queasiness, and we arrived Topolobampo marina Nov 2 mid day.  We docked for a couple days in Topolobampo and got ready for our Copper Canyon Tour, Nov 4-10.

Copper Canyon Tour

 Copper Canyon, view from El Chepe

Copper Canyon, view from El Chepe

Sometimes you have to get off the boat and explore on land. Our Copper Canyon excursion took us by train (El Chepe), atop a “van” to the bottom of the Urique Canyon, by foot (hiking paths through Rarámuri villages), and even by Zip Line across three canyons at 65mph!

The Copper Canyon (Spanish: Barrancas del Cobre) is a group of canyons consisting of six distinct canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental. According to Copper Canyon Insider, Mexico’s Copper Canyon is seven times larger than the United States’ Grand Canyon, spanning the 372-mile Copper Canyon nature preserve.

Cristina, Rich, & Lisa

The success of our tour rested first on the small, but capable shoulders of our tour guide, Cristina. When we booked this tour with Authentic Mexican Travel, we were at first skeptical of having a guide, usually preferring to be spontaneous and independent intrepid travelers. Having this guide turned out to be the right choice for us. Cristina surprised and delighted us with her knowledge, humor, great conversation and tenacity to make our trip all we had hoped for. 

El Fuerte

Our first stop was El Fuerte.  Cristina began with a walking tour of the center of town. She is passionate and wanted to share much history with our tired brains. We laughed a lot as Rich blatantly admitted “ less history” is better.  She laughed heartily, but still insisted on slipping history in as often as possible. A funny thread that continued throughout our week’s tour.  At the Palacio Municipal there is a large mural with a pictorial history of El Fuerte. She asked us how many minutes should I explain the story in? We challenged her to do it in five, which she almost did!

Tarahumara, Rarámuri, Ralámuli

The Rarámuri or Tarahumara are a Native American people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability. They live remotely in and around the copper canyon. Amongst the caves and cliffs of the canyons, they raise families, farm, make crafts for sale at markets (baskets woven with apache pine needles and sotol leaves a speciality), and  they run.  Cristina referred to the indigenous people in three ways: Tarahumara, Rarámuri, Ralámuli. In some ways, we learned they are synonymous; yet, there are cultural and language distinctions among the groups

Cristina talks & we listen!

Cristina talks & we listen!

For us it was all about the pronunciation. Each day we tried and by day seven, we could pronounce each word, almost. (Patient Cristina, more laughter). However we say it, we all appreciated the spirit of the people, their vibrant colors, their simplicity, their strength and joy.

 click here to hear Cristina

El Chepe to Cerachaui

Day 2 we boarded El Chepe for Cerachaui. Cristina arranged for a driver to meet us at each train stop. It was all organized and efficient. The train ride was comfortable, though occasionally hot and smelly with exhaust fumes between the cars — but the scenery was spectacular. Cristina alerted Michael of photo ops at every turn. She pointed out the native plants such as the Blue Agave, Sotol and the Apache Pine —and sprinkled in some history as we travelled along, snacking on delicious corn cookies we purchased earlier at the roadside horno.

San Isidro Lodge (Near Cerachaui – Urique Canyon)

Staying at San Isidro Lodge was a highlight of the trip.  Tito and his brothers Mario and Luis with their families live and operate the ranch, passed down from grandparents. The ranch includes several log cabins for guests.  We took great hikes around the property, beautiful vistas, so peaceful. We ate meals family style in the main dining room off the kitchen. The food was homey, fresh and delicious. I loved the coffee after dinner with cinnamon and the popcorn passed around the campfire each evening before sundown. We were entertained by the roosters and chickens, turkeys and guinea hens all roaming and living together in relative peace. Kitties (Tuna and Memo, short for Guillermo) followed us around. Memo was fond of Michael’s lap with morning coffee or afternoon cerveza on the chair swing. 

Our second day featured a harrowing trip for me & Laura on top of a GMC down to the bottom of Urique Canyon. Especially unnerving to see the numerous “memorials” left along the narrow road. We enjoyed a beautiful lookout along the way and a walk and lunch in Urique at the bottom of the canyon. 

Our last quiet evening at the lodge we shared the campfire with other guests, which happened to include Manuel, a renowned Tarahumara featured in Born to Run. 

Divisadero for two nights at Hotel Mansion Tarahumara El Castillo

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Hotel Mansion Tarahumara El Castillo

On Day 4, Gustavo drove us to Divisadero, stopping at Cerachaui along the way. Cristina gave us a quick tour and history of this town, where she had once worked at the hotel. Quite a Mission & boarding school for girls founded by Padre Andres Lara. The distances that the Rarámuri must travel for school by foot are daunting. Understandably, the boarding school is a viable option.

To say we had rooms with a view at the Hotel Mansion Tarahumara is understated. However, we did have to climb 223 steps to reach them! And for each meal we had to descend them. Let’s just say we were extra careful to not forget anything in the room. We relished the workout, feeling a bit of the Tarahumara spirit and the view was beautiful.  We had our own table in the large dining room. We enjoyed our meals with Cristina, chatting about the day, practicing our Spanish and she English. Mas laughter.

Day 5 at the Parque de Adventura, Rich & I braved the ZipRider,  reportedly the longest zipline in the world, 2545 meters (8,350 feet) long with a max registered speed of 135 km/hr (84 mph)! with a vertical drop of 450 meters (17% grade). For us is was a 2 minute ride at 65 mph, with 2 initial seconds of terror followed by an exhilarating peace. We hiked up to where our group was waiting for us to return by the Gondola.  The park offers other excitng attractions for thrill seekers and challenging hikes. We celebrated with hamburguesas and cerveza.

Winding Down

Day 6, after a lovely morning hike, we left to catch El Chepe back to El Fuerte for our final night. It was a longer ride back. As the daylight dimmed, so did our view. Perhaps sensing our restlessness, Cristina led us in some spontaneous spanish lessons. Standing in the train isle, she led us reciting the names for body parts and sharing proverbial phrases of our cultures. One example Cristina shared: Camaron que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente: says that Sleeping Shrimp the current will take it away….is referring about lazy people…when people do not do anything we use it.

Arriving in El Fuerte, we dined together at the hotel restaurant, toasting with tequila shots, and tasting black bass.

Day 7, Breakfast, a brief walk about town and a return trip to Footloose at Topolobampo Marina.  We invited Cristina aboard to see the boat and to say our goodbyes to our new Amiga.

Onward to Mazatlán

Back on the boat, I made chicken soup and we prepared for the next day’s journey, 222 NM to Mazatlán, with possible stop at Altata at 128 NM. The approach to Altata turned out to be a no-go zone,  due to the current, big breaking waves and indistinguishable entrance. Decision made to avert, we set our sights on the next waypoint, Stone Island Anchorage, Mazatlán.  We enjoyed a beautiful long sail throughout the day and night. Finally, got the right wind! Wanting to arrive in daylight, we decided to reef the main and gennaker to slow down our progress.  Gorgeous, calm & starry night made for peaceful watch standing. The wind died around 0530 so it was time to motor, leaving the main up for a bit to help. What a morning, warm and steamy.  For their last watch, Laura & Rich were treated with many Dolphin visits, along with the sunrise and then there was Mazatlán in the distance. The only disappointment of this trip was our fishing. We caught 15 skipjacks at last count, all released. Where are the Dorado?   next time?

Anchored at Isla de la Piedra (Stone Island), 0900, Nov 13

We swam to cool off and enjoyed boat naps. Went to shore for garlic shrimp pizza & cervezas at Benjis, one of a few restaurants on shore. It was dark as we were seated on the beachfront and Michael requested some light. Expecting a candle? no – out they come with a string of christmas lights to hang above our table!  We love anchoring out, so many unexpected stories.  The next day, Laura & Rich hiked to the top of Isla los Chivos (Goat Island) while Michael & I rested. That evening we had a party on Footloose with a feast of grilled Arrachera and veggies, rice, coleslaw and música, including some bucket drumming and singing our hearts out to Eagles Hits.

El Cid & Farewell

We moved to the El Cid Marina and Resort where we have a reservation for a few weeks. We enjoyed a few days here with our friends at the pool and visiting old town before their departure on Nov 18. Our last evening together we went to dinner at El Presidio, great ambiance and food.

We were sad to see our friends go after such a fun time shared. We think we gave them a fair glimpse of the cruising life. We are excited for them, knowing that they are that much closer to finding their own boat to take cruising.  ¡Salud!

3 thoughts on “San Carlos–Copper Canyon–Mazatlán

  1. Laura & Rich

    With a glass of wine, like you suggested Lisa, while we reread our Footloose, Michael and Lisa adventure, Cheers!
    So fun reliving it in your eyes and words.
    Thank you BOTH for more than a taste of what will come…it was truly a terrific adventure with our buddies.
    Laura & Rich


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