Worrall Travel R's

Worrall Travel R's
Roz and Russ

Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

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We are the Worrall Travel R's Roz and Russ Worrall. Our goal before we "kick the bucket" is to see as much of the world as we are able, learn about world cultures, experience making friends around the world, and share goodwill and what we learn with others. WE HOPE YOU JOIN US VIA THE BLOG ON OUR TRAVELS.

We started our world travels in 1969 in VW camper van in the USA, Canada, and Europe, but didn't actively blog about our travels until 2009 aboard our sailing vessel SV Worrall Wind, a 44 ft Nauticat Ketch.  On September 5, 2009 we left San Francisco and took a left at the Golden Gate to Explore the World.

From to Sea to Land
After almost 4 years of cruising Mexico and the South Pacific, we sold our beloved boat in Australia, 2013. The Worrall Travel R's are continuing our travels around by many other means of conveyance -boats,trains, planes, sometimes camels, elephants, rickshaws, and hot air balloons.. 

Russ is a retired engineer, optometrist, professor from U.C. Berkeley. Roz is a retired computer programmer/analyst, educator, (teacher, administrator, professional developer). 

Our Mantra:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mazatlan to Puerto Vallarta - A Whale Tale

Happy Holidays From Paradise!

We arrived at Paradise Village Marina in Nuevo Vallarta on Sunday, December 20 after nearly a week of sailing down the coast from Mazatlan.  Abby and Neal will be joining us this evening for a week’s visit.  We are looking forward to their arrival as we have been saving our Puerto Vallarta explorations until they were with us.  We hope to visit PV on Christmas Eve Day and Evening, spend Christmas Day on the beach here in Paradise Village, and visit the Marietta Islands on Saturday for whale watching, snorkeling, and wildlife exploration.  Wishing you love, family, and health for the holidays.  We’ll be thinking of you and wishing you were here with us!   Here is a recap of our week to PV from Mazatlan.

Monday, December 14, 2009 - Readying For Departure

We returned “home” to the boat last night and unpacked so that we could spend today and
tomorrow preparing for our departure to  Puerto Vallarta via Isla Isabella, San Blas - Mantanchen Bay, and Chacala.

Russ and I spent the day doing boat chores including a defrost to our new refrigerator and freezer before re-provisioning. I had forgotten how nice a frost free refrigerator and freezer is.  It looks like I may need to do a defrost every two months or more.  My hair dryer made quick work of the defrost job.

I put up our little Christmas tree, cleaned, and invited Dave and Marcia and Laurie and Michael over for a farewell bar-b-que.  This will most likely be last time we will see Juniata for a long time as it is Dave and Marcia’s current intentions of staying in Mexico for a few more years before returning to the Pacific Northwest.

We hope to see Dave and Marcia periodically in California on our trips home.  We will see Laurie and Michael in Puerto Vallarta in late December.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 - A Whale Tale

I got our Copper Canyon blog posted before we took a bus to the downtown area to the big super market called Mega!  It was a beautiful market where we able to get all that we needed for our week long trip to Puerto Vallarta.

We returned back to the boat about 15 minutes before meeting Berkeley Yacht Club friends Mary Ann and Dave Plumb for lunch at 1:00 at the Gus Gus restaurant, 50 feet from our boat.  It was nice seeing them.  They started their adventure five years ago on their boat Star Dancer, and Outbound 44. 

After a catch-up lunch, Dave and Mary Ann returned with us to Worrall Wind for a quick visit and update of new systems we had installed since they were last aboard several years ago.  I washed all of the vegetables and repacked the meet for refrigerator and freezer.  We closed the ports and hatches, checked out of Marina Mazatlan, gave hugs to Dave, Marcia, Laurie, and Michael, cast off the bowlines and were on our way by 4:00 p.m.

It was an incoming tide with breaking 4-6 waves as we left the channel  into the Mazatlan Marina area.  Immediately we got a salt water soak from bow to stern.  The wind was blowing from the north which would be great for a downwind sail, but the swell was coming 90 degrees off the wind (from the east) which meant we it would be a rough, rocky rolly sail southbound.  I went below to secure anything and everything that would get tossed about in those conditions.  Having done that as best I could, I took over on the fan tail at the helm, turned the boat into the wind, and we raised the main and jib, then fell off  to see how rolly the ride would be, leaving the motor in idle.  Russ went below to fire up the computer and and radar before the sun went down.  This would be our first night sail on a new moon with only starlight. 

As Russ was in the pilothouse, and I was at the helm in very lumpy seas with the motor still in idle, about 1 or 2 miles off the Islands just east of the Mazatlan coast in about 60 feet of water, I noticed a huge splash about a football field away on our portside at 10 o’clock.  At first I thought it might be a rock with a breaker splashing against it.  Then I heard and saw the spray of the unmistakable blow of a whale.  I turned the boat to starboard to make sure there was plenty of distance between us as we continued south bound. 

Since the seas were lumpy and the sun was beginning to set, it was difficult to see the whale, but the blows were coming closer and now directly on our beam.  I looked and saw a huge whale on top of the water now galloping directly at our beam 200 feet away.  Oh, @#%!.  If I didn’t get of the way it looked like we would be broadsided.  Fortunately, the motor was still in idle.  I’m not able to distinguish types of whales.  All I know was this guy was BIG and barreling. After one of our Baja Ha Ha  hit a whale and sank a little over a month ago, I am a little leary of these big beasts and the damage that can be done to sailboats in short order.

I gunned the motor and the whale fell to the port quarter and dove below the surface about 100 feet away either under the stern or behind the boat.  Where was it?  Russ came up and wanted to know why I was gunning the motor?  WWWWhale! BBBBBig One!   We watched and waited. Nothing.  Thank goodness, nothing.  I put the engine back to neutral and we turned it off.  Russ missed seeing the whale it all happened so fast, and of course, I was too occupied getting out of the way to take photos - but it is my first whale talen of any significance.

As the night progressed the stars popped out and were amazingly beautiful.  The seas however and our tack southbound was very uncomfortable.  It was difficult for us to sleep and rest in these conditions.  I tried to nap between 6:00 and 8:00 with no success.  I relieved Russ of watch at 8:30 while we readjusted our course and trimmed the sails.  The wind was blowing between 15-20 knots, wind waves of 2--3 feet coming from northwest and sets of swells coming directly from west every couple of minutes and only 8 seconds apart at that.  Hydro did a good job keeping us on course, but isn’t able to recover quickly enough to reduce the roll when the swells are large and close together.

I was on watch for 8:45 to 1:00 a.m.  It was so rolly that I had to concentrate hard not to feel sick.  It was very dark so I couldn’t get a good fix on the horizon even with all the lights off. Usually focusing on a fixed object in the distance keeps me from feeling queezy in rough weather.  I really couldn’t see much.  It made me dizzy to look up and see the top of the mast  and wind vane roll from side to side across the star studded sky.  Russ was sleeping soundly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - Isabella is for the Birds!

Before turning over the watch to Russ at 0100 on Wednesday, we changed our course to be more comfortable with more of a following sea swell.  By the time I got to bed it was 2:00 a.m. I slept for about a half hour before the swell shifted around again or Russ changed course, then we were rolling again.  I came up out of the cabin at 4:00 a.m. unable to sleep in those conditions.  We pulled in the jib and gybed the main making sure that this time we stayed on course with following seas.  Finally, I went below and slept from about 5:00 -7:30 a.m when I woke to the sound of  the motor,  The wind had completely died just before dawn.

Once the motor was purring and the watermaker was doing it’s thing, Russ went down for a nap while I was on watch.  We arrived at Isla Isabella late morning and we anchored by 12:15 on the east side of the island in front of two large white (bird dung) pillars, right on the latitude and longitude coordinates from Charley’s charts.   Time for cleanup, lunch, and launch. 

We lowered the dinghy about 2:00 p.m. loaded with binoculars, camera, insect repellant, and water and headed south to a little cove where we beached the dinghy in front of a fish camp where pangas were tied up and the fishermen were cleaning their morning’s catch or repairing lines and nets. 

Isla Isabella is known for its seemingly tame wildlife.  Tens of thousands of birds habitat this island, primarily frigates and boobies with pelicans and seagulls. As we approached the island we could see swarms of birds fluttering, gliding, ascending, descending, and banking.  There are small trees and brush all around the island.  Birds are everywhere.  We didn’t really need our binoculars and hardly needed to use the telephoto lens on the camera to take close up photos.  The birds kept their eyes on us but seemed pretty unconcerned that we were within inches of them and their nests.

The October hurricane and spurred a lot of undergrowth and the trail had overgrown where we couldn’t really see it beyond a certain point.  It didn’t matter because we were able to see and take photos very close to he shore line of all the birds and Iguanas we came to see.  We Frigates Magfnificents blowing up their red throats to attract their white headed female mates and making an almost a purring sound while doing so.

Iguanas sunned themselves in the late afternoon sun.

A fuzzy white booby chick in its nest with its almost same-size mother who seemed to be giving it instructions on how to pick up straw.  The baby was more interested in watching us than in paying attention to its mother.  Repeatedly, the mother picked up straw, dropped it, and chirped to her offspring.

In addition the birds and Iguanas, the tide was out and we were able to see some vivid red and blue black crabs scrambling on the rocks.

They weren’t as tame as the birds and didn’t care for our approach.  We returned to Worrall Wind late in the afternoon and watched the sunset over the island.  By this time our lack of sleep was catching up with us.  After eating and sending off a few emails on our SSB sail mail, we were in bed fast asleep by 8:00 p.m. and slept soundly all night without the anchor alarm going off once.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 - Machete and One Armed Man with a Gun

We awoke refreshed. After we cleaned up, ate, listened to the net weather forecast, sent a few more emails, read incoming mail,  we weighed anchor by 8:30.  We had about 40 miles to travel before dropping anchor.  There was essentially not enough wind for us to sail so we motored on a heading of 120 degrees southeast towards San Blas and Mantanchen Bay at about 7 knots per hour.

We put the auto pilot on and only made course corrections to evade long lines left by fishermen in Pangas.  Long lines  studded with fishing hooks and lure are marked on  either side (often miles apart) with flagged buoys.  The trick is to not go between the flags so that you don’t get the line hooked on the keel, rudder or propeller of the boat.  We made it to Mantanchen Bay around the corner from San Blas and anchored by 3:30.  By 4:30, we were in the dinghy headed to shore for a quick look around, possible taxi into San Blas, and to make arrangements for an inland jungle tour up the river off of Mantanchen Bay.  The beach looked very tropical with coconut, banana palms, and mangroves.  Plumes of smoke dotted the shoreline where there were palapas (shaded outdoor area, constructed with palm and thatch).

There was only one other boat with us in Mantanchen Bay, Om Shanti.  The owners are the couple that just published he Cruising Guide for the Sea of Cortez.  Shawn and his friend Craig were on board, researching the next Guide for the Mexican Riviera.  We met them during low tide as they were dragging their dinghy to the water and we were dragging our dinghy on shore.  Both directions were a long drag, as the beach is quite shallow all the way out to the boats, only a 13 foot drop a mile out.  So when the tide goes out there is a lot of exposed gently sloping beach.  With a heavy outboard motor on dinghy, it is quite a bit of work to pull the dinghy onshore or off. 

We took the dinghy to the highest point of the water line and tied it off on a stake to the right of the restaurante Neptuno, hoping by the time we got back it would be floating in the water.  Later in the evening we were just hoping the dinghy would still be there. 

We had sprayed ourselves with insect repellant before going ashore, but immediately sprayed ourselves again as we were being assailed by no seeums and mosquitoes.  We had planned on asking the folks at Neptuno’s restaurant to keep an eye on our dinghy, but the restaurant was closed and no one seemed to be around.  In fact, there were very few people on the beach at all and most of the restaurants were either closed or preparing to close.  We walked down the dirt road to the next restaurant, Playa Hermosa. 

There was a a choking smolder coming from a smoke pot from under the palapa close to the kitchen.  The owner Alicia in her 60’s and her employee Baro about 40, explained to us that the smoke created by burning coconut husks kept the mosquitoes and no seeums at bay.

Late afternoon and morning were the worst times.  We had a cold beer.  We were the only customers, and as far as we could tell, we may have been the only customers on entire beach.  Baro and Alicia said midweek was quiet  and local folks were  attending a Navidad festival in San Blas.  Alicia has two children, both are in the U.S. Army.  Her daughter is a doctor in San Diego with the Army.  She has gone to visit her children, but doesn’t think they will ever come back to Mexico.  We couldn’t quite make out enough from our limited Spanish to know if there was some special immigration  advantage for non-Americans by joining the U.S. military.

While we drank beer and they proceeded to close down the restaruant for the day, they offered to call a taxi for us.  The taxi arrived about 20 minutes later, and all of us, including Alicia and Baro squeezed into the cab. We were a bit unnerved when Alicia brought a big unsheathed machete into the cab.  Visions of psycho played through our heads. 

We left our little dinghy on the beach unattended as no one was around.  Baro offered to keep an eye on it the following day when we went on the jungle tour,  but for now it was on its own.   And we were on a deserted beach in a cab with three strangers, one of whom had a machete!  If thee folks hadn’t seemed so nice, we would have been seriously worried.

We dropped off both Alicia and Barrow on the way to town, but before doing so Alicia made arrangements with the same taxi driver to pick us up at 9:00 p.m. and bring us back, and recommended a restaurant in town called La Isla Tony.  Tony is Baro’s uncle.   It was a few blocks from the main square, and we most likely would never have found it if it hadn’t been recommended and the taxi driver had taken us directly there.  The walls and ceiling of the restaurant was filled with seashell art. 

Russ and I had some of the best food we have had to date in Mexico.  Mantanchen Bay’s  northwestern point separating the bay and the town of San Blas is called Punte Camaron (shrimp).  So naturally, we decided this would be the place to order shrimp.  Russ had shrimp in a rich white cheese cream sauce and I had  Mexicana, spicy with vegetables, plump, succulent, and delicious.  Bueno!

After our meal, we walked the few blocks into town.  The children had just finished performing Christmas songs and families were milling around in the town square eating ice cream, sitting on benches, playing tag, and crossing the street to attend evening mass at the church.  Russ and I also milled around, visited local shops and stalls and were eating an ice cream on a park bench  about 8:00 p.m.  We had seen just  everything there was to see in town and were wondering what to do for the next hour.

There were some other Americans sitting on a nearby bench.  The women had wondered off towards a shop, and  a big older American man struck up a conversation with us.  We think he may have been the man referred to as  grumpy Goldy in Charlie’s Charts.  He didn’t really tell us his name, but he asked us “Haven’t I seen you folks here before?”  We told him it was our first time to San Blas.  He asked where we were staying, and we told him we ,were nchored in Mantanchen Bay.  He looked at us and asked where we left our dinghy.  When we told him, he just looked at us like we were idiots and said “Hmmm.”

After this brief conversation and  what wasn’t said, we became increasingly uncomfortable about our dinghy.  What if someone took it or took off our motor, how would we get back to our boat?  Our boat was anchored a mile or so off shore.  We worked ourselves into such an agitation, that we walked over to the taxi stand where we were to meet our driver 45 minutes early. The other drivers made a call to Lupe our driver and he came within a few minutes to take us back to where he had picked us up.

As we drove down the deserted beach road, a one armed man  dressed all in black stepped out from the shadows with a gun!  It turned out he was a private security guard for the beach road.  He asked Lupe what his business was and presumably Lupe told him he was dropping us off so we could get back to our boat.  The guard was satisfied and let us pass.  A little of our anxiety lifted when we realized that the guard was probably cooperatively payed by the palapa/restaurant owners to prevent night time mischief and vandalism of their open air establishments.

Lupe swung the taxi around and shone the headlights where we had left our dinghy.  And
there it was!  What a relief.  Everything was just as we left it and the water was only a few feet from the back end  The driver kept his lights on it until he was satisfied that we had started the motor and were headed out to the boat.  We had left our anchor light and some interior lights on when we left, so that the boat was visible and looked occupied, so we didn’t have any problem finding the boat in the starlit night.  We raised the dinghy on its davits out of the water and went to bed.

All and all, except for our own imaginations running amok and a few no seeum bites, we had a very pleasant afternoon and evening with very sweet and friendly Mexicans. 

Friday, December 18, 2009 -  Not Disneyland Crocs!

We had read in our guide book that if we wanted to see the most abundant jungle life, we should go early in the morning. Since “early” means different things to different people, we decided that 9:00 a.m. would be early enough, at least for us.

For our day in the jungle, we pulled out the heavy artillary, DEET 30.  We both wore bathing suits in case we decided to swim in the fresh water spring and shirt cover ups.  Where the shirt and shorts didn’t cover, we slathered ourselves with repellant and headed to shore about 8:00 a.m.  We had about a half hour walk once we tied up the dinghy.  We drug the dinghy on shore and tied it to a large rock in front of the Playa Hermosa Palapa.

The restaurant would not open until 9:00.  Alicia had offered to make us a “Starbucks” like cup of coffee when they opened, but we wanted to get to the jungle ride early.  We did meet Baro and Alicia, machete in hand, walking down the  road towards the restaurant as we headed toward town and the jungle ride.  Baro promised to look after our dinghy so that we could enjoy our day without worry. 

We arrived at the jungle tour.  We were the only tourists in sight.  The 4 hour boat tour required a minimum of 4 people or we could pay the 4 person price of $440 pesos, about $35.  We waited about 5 minutes and when no one else showed up, we paid the 4 person price and had the guide and the boat  to ourselves.  We were told to keep our hands and feet in side the boat.  This wasn’t Disneyland and the crocs were real.

The guide  in his late teens, early 20’s, spoke very little English, but he had a good eye for wildlife and would slow the boat down, turn it, back it up, and position it in different places along the estuary so that we could get a good glimpse of the birds,




and turtles.

I kept thinking of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the Jungle Queen, wondering if there were leeches in the water…or worse, snakes dropping out of trees. 

The  tour took us to a croc farm at the mouth of a natural spring where native animals were being housed and displayed including parrots, deer, and wild boar.

The mouth of the spring was closed off by a fence, presumably to keep the crocs out of the spring.  Tilapia and turtles were abundant in the spring.  The owner had some very large crocodiles in cages, one of which was over 50 years old and quite a giant.

There were also cages where baby crocs were being protected and would be released when they were old enough to survive in the swamp on their own.

After leaving the croc farm, we headed up another branch of the river to another freshwater spring and swimming hole, once again gated off with a chain link fence running through the water to  keep out the crocs. 

We met a nice Canadian family at the restaurant.  The father was about our age.  His two grown daughters with their children and his teenage son all went swimming.  The girls had been to pond 13 years before when they were teenagers and had fewer hesitations than we did about swimming in the spring.  Somehow, that chain link fence just wasn’t convincing enough for us to do anything other than cool off our feet.

We enjoyed an hour at the springs, eating lunch, socializing with the Canadians, and drinking cold beer before heading back down  the river to the sea.. We arrived at the jungle boat port around 1:00 p.m.  Thanking our guide, we headed back down the road to  our dinghy.  When we got to Playa Hermosa, we were ready for another cold beer and some coconut milk.  Baro now showed us what the freshly sharpened machete could do as he wacked the top of the coconut.

We sat under the palapa drinking coconut milk, looking at our boat bobbing up and down in the bay and wondering if this was all real or just a dream.

The tide was once again going out, almost faster than we could drag the dinghy to the water’s edge.  Unthinking, I took off my bathing suit cover-up as we labored under the afternoon sun.  My arms, chest, and back had not be slathered with DEET, and within minutes I had 15-20 new bites from no seeums.  Immediately, upon returning to the boat, I showered and dabbed the bites with After Bite.  Unfortunately, I think we carried some of the no seeums back to the boat in our hair and clothing.  Despite our efforts to keep the critters out of the boat with our no-seeum screens covering all of the ports, hatches and doors, we got more bites during the night as we slept.

Saturday, December 19, 2009  - Itchy Scratchy on Our Backy!

Well, we got our share of bites.  I got most of them I think.  I could now see the no seeums glued to the inside of our screens against the light of  the morning sun after their midnight feast on my arms, neck, ears, and face.  I squirted the little devils with mosquito repellant and they died on the spot.  Small victory.  I spent the rest of the day dabbing myself with After Bite. We later learned that Mantanchen Bay is the No Seeum Capital of the the World.

Today was the day I decided!  Time for a haircut.  I couldn’t stand the growing mop any longer and asked Russ if he were up to the task.  He hemmed and hawed, but finally agreed to give it a try.  I kept reminding him just a quarter to half inch at a time.  I panicked when I saw an inch of hair fall on my shoulder. We reviewed the steps about sectioning the crown, creating a guide, working around, vertical cuts, etc.  I took care of the front and sides myself.  Together I think we did a pretty good job.  My hair is shorter and I don’t feel compelled to wear a bag over my head.  That’s a good thing! 

We left San Blas, Mantanchen Bay about 11:00 a.m. for a short sail “motor” 20 miles south to  another cove called Chacala.  We anchored about 3:00 p.m. in 27 feet of water offshore.  There were four other boats in the bay including Om Shanti that had been in Mantanchen Bay the day before and Laura, our Baja Ha Ha friends, that we had traveled to the Copper Canyon with.  Laura had left Mazatlan two days after we did and had come straight to Chacala on a 22 hour passage.  They had just arrived at noon, a few hours, before us.  Laurie and Michael had come here 15 years ago on their honeymoon.

The four of us walked around the cobbled streets of Chacala and had beer and margaritas as the sun sunk low in the sky.  Russ and I headed back to the boat leaving Laura and Michael so they could have a romantic dinner and celebrate their anniversary.  Laurie kept our camera and took pictures of Worrall Wind as the sunset.

 Later that evening, they stopped by the boat and dropped off the camera.  We all wished each other pleasant sailing, knowing that we would see each other again in Puerto Vallarta at Christmas or shortly thereafter.

Sunday, December 20, 2009 - Nuevo Vallarta

We weighed anchor at 8:00 a.m. and again motored as there was less than 3 knots of wind.  The sea was smooth with gentle swells.  We had about 50 miles to travel to get to Neuvo Vallarta and Paradise Village Marina.  The day was beautiful. Along the way we saw a whale spout and dive, and a few dolphin swimming with the boat.  Boobies occasionally circled the boat looking for a place to land, but ultimately deciding not to.  We arrived at Paradise Village around 3:00 p.m. and we got settled for the night in a a temporary slip.  We will spend the next few days orienting ourselves to the “Village”, cleaning up the boat, doing laundry, shopping, chores, etc.  We are looking forward to Abby and Neal’s arrival midweek so we can relax and recreate with them.  Have a terrific holiday.  Will catch up with the blog after the New Year!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copper Canyon Excursion

Check out the new link on left navigation bar to our Baja Ha Ha Adventure!

We have had a wonderful excursion inland from the warm sea coast of Mazatlan northeast to the frosty mountains and valleys of the Copper Canyon.  The Copper Canyon is comprised of seven large valleys and is 7.5 times bigger than the Grand Canyon, over 250,000 square kilometers.  While these mountains are beautiful to look at, they are not hospitable for farming.

Yet when the Tarahumara natives (traditional farmers) were conquered by the Spanish and Mexicans over the centuries, they were moved to the mountains where they eek out a meager, poor livelihood.  The land produces very little food and they are too poor to have many farm animals or working animals. They make most of their income from making handcrafts and selling to tourists.  The early Jesuits gave the Indians the global name of the Tarahumara which means basically natives saved by the Catholic church to four separate tribes.  The tribe we saw the most in the Copper Canyon was the Raramuri.

For the two of us, our seven day trip cost about $1,000 including tax and gratuities.  We traveled by taxi, bus, train and foot ($258.00 for two).  We experienced rustic to boutique accommodations ($440), excellent food - none of which made anyone sick- ($200), purchased handcrafts for Christmas presents to support the Tarahumaran ($50.00), took some  excellent tours (one on mountain bikes and one van tour - $84.00), and enjoyed the companionship of another cruising couple as we traveled inland together.

Here is a recap of our trip along with some photos:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Having packed the night before two small backpacks and a rolling pack with trip necessities, we were ready to go early Monday morning.  It was hard to pack thermal underwear, earmuffs, and gloves while enjoying the 80 degree weather of Mazatlan. We met Laurie and Michael, another cruising couple from Nevada City,  by the Marina office just before 7:15 when the taxi picked us up and took us to the Bus station in downtown Mazatlan.  We met Laurie and Michael on the Baja Ha Ha.   Elvira in the harbor office had made the taxi reservations and the week’s hotel reservations for us on the previous Saturday. 

We bought our bus tickets from the TAP bus line for our trip 7 hours north of Mazatlan to a town called Los Mochis. We had wanted to get a train from Los Mochis to El Fuerte, but were told that there was a problem with the tracks between the two towns, and we would have to take the bus.   Since we had a half hour to wait, we looked around for a cup of coffee,  to no avail.  We found a couple of places that sold instant Nescafe.  I bought a cold bottled cappuccino instead.  If I can’t find real coffee by tomorrow, Nescafe will look pretty good.  For our trip, we bought a couple bottles of water to go along with our nuts and snack pack we had brought from the boat.

We boarded the bus and were on our way, stopping periodically for five minutes here and there, just long enough to buy a few snacks (mostly cookies and chips), drop of and pick up some passengers.  The bus had bathrooms and played movies continually which we had to listen to whether we chose to or not.  There were no individual headphones.  We saw in English with Spanish subtitles the very sad movie called something like “Getting on without her” with Julie Christie playing the part of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease.  The other  two movies were dubbed Spanish….Batman and Maxwell Smart. 

Three times during the trip, the train stopped and official agents boarded the bus.  The first official was from immigration.  He walked up and back the aisle looking at each person, not speaking.  Apparently satisfied.  He got off.  The second stop, a federale (federal agent) boarded the bus and did the same thing, except he did stop and ask a few Mexicans questions.  He didn’t ask us anything.  The third stop was at a fruit inspection station, and without any prompting most of the young men got up and got off the bus.  We stayed on the bus.  The fruit inspector got on the bus and rifled through the bags left on empty seats, presumably by the young men who had gotten off the bus. 

The inspections were very interesting, and we didn’t quite understand each of their roles.  We expected that at least once, we might be asked to show our passport or tourist visa, but we were not asked.  We passed through many agricultural areas that were irrigated from large aqueducts.  The land looked much like the agricultural areas in the central valley of California with frequent palms and cactus.

We arrived in Los Mochis around 2:45, and walked a long three blocks through a part of town that was not very picturesque to another bus station where we boarded a different bus company’s bus El Norde Sinaloa for a ride another hour and half east to a town called El Fuerte.  The bus left at 4:00 p.m.  Once we were boarded, a young man came by and handed us each two snack packs containing chocolate covered marshmallow graham crackers.  Russ commented, “Just like Southwest.”  Well, not quite!  A few minutes later after we ate the snacks, the boy came back with a trash bag.  We noticed some people handing the snacks back and others paying him for the snacks as they handed over their trash.  We forked over quatro pesos.  Some airlines are charging for snacks, but you usually know it up front and not after you haven eaten the product.  Now we know.

It was dark by the time we arrived in El Fuerte.  The bus stopped in the middle of a small street by an open market place.  We climbed off this bus and asked directions in our best Spanish to the Hotel Torres Del Fuerte.

We had read that this was a renovated Hacienda and were excited about staying here.  The hotel was a short walk from the market place.  El Fuerte is a lovely Mexican town with cobbled streets.

It felt like a movie set.  The hotel was charming.

It cost us about 1200 pesos (a little less than $100.00 per night).  We had tapas, black sea bass, and pork tenderloin for dinner.

Our room - the bridal suite

There was a small tour group at the Hotel and we were able to take advantage of a special entertainment that had been arranged for the tour group.  There were some Raramuri (Indians) and Mexican folk dancers.

It was  a lovely evening.  The owner of the Hacinda, Jesus who attended UC San Francisco, talked us in to returning on Saturday, December 12 and spending the night again instead of going to Los Mochis.  He even called Los Mochis and cancelled our reservations for us.   El Fuerte is much more picturesque and we wanted some more time to look around in the daylight.  Our taxi would be picking us up around 9:00 in the morning to take us to the train.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

We were up early again and had a buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, chorizo, refried beans, pancakes and fruit.  Before the taxi came, we scurried downtown for a quick look around and to pick up some lunch supplies for our trip.  We were taking the second class train (half the price of the express train), and it does not have a dining car, just more sweet snack stuff.  Russ and I bought a stack of fresh tortillas, a soft cheese, tomatoes, mandarins, bananas and bottles of water for about $5.00 dollars.  We snapped a few pictures knowing we would be back on Saturday for more and dashed back to he hotel to get our 9:15 taxi to the train station which was  7 kilometers away.

We figured out that we just needed to board the train and pay once we were on.  The first class train was late.  Our train was behind the first class train by 20 minutes.  The small tour group that had been at our hotel the night before was boarding the first class train.  We watched and wondered with a little concern how different the second class train would be.  Russ saw this train on a side track and wondered if they wold hook it up to an engine for us.

Three federales (federal police officers dressed in black with machine guns) boarded the first class train.  Yipes!  Were they  worried that the first class train was  going to be hijacked?  Turned out, we had some federales who got on our train as well.  It must just be standard procedure.  Our trip from El Fuerte to Posada Barrancas on  the second class trained turned out to be just fine.  Nice seats, air conditioning, nice people.

We enjoyed a scenic ride that gradually climbed upward into Manzanita and oak forests and then into pine forests, mountains and lakes.

We followed one valley with a gorgeous river with deep swimming holes that looked like it would be quite a nice white water ride when rushing.  The river valley reminded us of the Feather River Canyon from Chico to Lake Almanor in California.  A little after 1:00 p.m. we prepared a terrific picnic lunch while sitting in our seats.  Laurie and Michael contributed salami and mozzarella cheese to the feast.

It was only later in the train station where we read that eating and drinking in the passenger cars was strictly prohibited.  Thank goodness we didn’t make a mess or spill anything.

We arrived late afternoon in Posada Barranca (7,500 feet elevation) which consisted of an ascending and descending cedar plank platform on either side of the track.  There was a handsome Mexican man about our age with silver hair and mustache, cowboy hat, Levi jean jacket, jeans and pointed leather cowboy boots waiting for us at the train station with his van. Armando is the patriarch and proprietor of Cabañas Diaz. His  2 year old grandson, Diego, was with him.  We drove a short distance (perhaps a ¼ mile through the small community past  a small church, pre-school, school, grocery store with mostly non-perishables, and a festively decorated cemetery,

left from the Day of the Dead.  Armando turned up a very rough rode to his home and a small motel like establishment adjacent to his home with rooms “Family Diaz Cabañas”. 

The sun was low in the sky and there was a chill in the air.  We were at 7500 feet elevation.  Wood smoke filled the air. It was refreshing and reminded us of home.  I was glad I brought my long underwear.  Armando showed us our rooms.

They were very rustic, more so than the Sierraville Motel or Canyon Ranch Resort.  We had a small fireplace with a wood box filled with oak, hot water, but no pressure, a tiny bathroom not big enough for more than one person at a time, clean but very worn towels, two very hard beds with heavy wool blankets, a bald overhead light, and a TV that had rabbit ears and didn’t really work.

We took a short walk to look around and gather some tinder and kindling to light the fire.  Armando supplied us with a couple of matches and a piece of kindling that had been dipped in paraffin or some other combustible that would help us get the fire started.  There was no other heat in the room and the temperature was dropping.  There was no flu to damp down the fire, so most of the heat went up the chimney.

Once we got the fire started, we walked up to Armando’s home, met his wife Linda, and daughter, Ophelia (daughter-in-law?) and sat down at the family table for dinner.  I think the family eats here when they don’t have guests.  They did not sit down with us.  There was a large family kitchen on the other side of the dining area that had an eating bar for the family.  The children were doing their homework, and the family in the kitchen was watching TV.

Ophelia brought us each a cup of  steaming water to make tea or Nescafe.  Then she brought out fresh salsa with lots of jalapeños, tomatoes, and onions and hot tortillas followed by a hot lentil soup.  The main course was a large bowl of chicken vegetable soup.  The chicken was in big pieces still on the bone.  Ophelia also brought out rice and refried beans.  The meal was hot, filling, and very tasty.

After our meal, we went back to our respective rooms.  It was only 7:30 and our room was still very cold.  Taking a shower from a dribbling faucet wasn’t appealing, so we jumped into bed and read with our flashlights.  We threw in a few more logs in the fireplace around 9:00 and slept until 1:00 in the morning when we woke up completely tangled in the sheets and blankets. 

The sheets, unlike cotton sheets, were a slippery nylon that had long lost their fitted corners and had come off of the mattress like a snake skin.  We found ourselves on a bare mattress.  After getting up and remaking the bed, we through the last of the wood in the fireplace and crawled back in the sack. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When we awoke at 7:30 a.m. we were once again completely tangled up and the room was icy cold.  Again, no hot shower.  Russ turned it on, but it was just a dribble.  We hurriedly dressed and went up to the farm house for breakfast.

Ophelia brought each of us a large bowl of sweet creamy oatmeal, eggs, beans, tortillas and chili.  I was desperate for coffee….There was only Nescafe, so Nescafe it was. 

After breakfast, we took a walk to an area that was to give us our first glimpse of the Copper Canyon.

The early explorers mistakenly thought the green lichen on the rocks was copper and hence it was named.  I don’t know if there are any significant amounts of copper in the canyon.

Nevertheless, we were approached by locals to buy some copper bracelets, which of course we did. 

Tarahumaran Cave Dwelling with a View

Tourist Hotel with a View above Tahraumaran Dwelling

Laundry Day

The Tarahumara natives the primary residents of the Copper Canyon, mountains and valleys, having been conquered many times by Mexicans and Spaniards over the years. When they tried to rebel, the were beaten back and displaced from more fertile lands to the mountains.  They now live as dirt poor  farmers as the mountains do not have the best grazing or agricultural land.

There is the prevailing belief of the Mexicans that the Tarahumara prefer the “simple, traditional” life they lead.  I personally think that the tribe has worked hard to maintain their traditions, but they have no real choice or economic means to be anything or do anything other than what the situation presents. The girls are married after their first menstrual cycle (12-14 years old average) to boys (14 -16 years of age).

It is not uncommon to see 13 year olds with babies on their backs. Most of the small children we saw has snot running from their noses and watery eyes.  The would look at us with sad eyes and ask for pesos in exchange for little handcrafts, claiming they were hungry. It was difficult to say no to them and in many cases we caved, buying little trinkets and giving them cookies.

The Tarahumaran men and boys where fairly conventional clothing.  Some men still wear traditional loin cloth and blousy shirts.  The women and girls wear very colorful full skirts and shawls.  Beautiful woman to Raramuri  men are short, stout, and sturdy to bear children and work hard.  The women take care of making all of the clothes, home tools, meals, and woven handcrafts.  They have no electricity so all is done by hand.  The boys and men farm the land, herd sheep, and work away from home as laborers and farm hands.  When the family is together, they live in in dwellings in cliffs and crudely built houses with dirt floors and pit fires.

They make their living by weaving shawls and beautiful baskets.  Their life is hard.  There are 65,000 Tarahumara natives in the Copper Canyon area.

While we were still in Posada Barrancas, we  saw the hotel we had chosen not to stay in because the rooms were $200.00 a night, about 2,400 pesos. (Photo of hotel above)  Retrospectively, it would have been nice to stay in a place with better views and accommodations, but we really enjoyed the experience of being on a Mexican ranch-farm, even though it was cold and rustic.  

Our bill for the room, meals, pickup from train station and drive to scenic Divisadaro to get a better view of the canyon and to board a bus to Creel was 740 pesos, $59.20! Armando dropped us off in Divisadaro which is a tourist area park for viewing the canyon.  We said adios and spent the late morning and early afternoon exploring the views via lookouts and suspension bridges, the local artisan market, purchasing a basket and some bracelets, and enjoying some of the pan fried local cuisine.  Photos below:

A hotel built right on the cliff had gorgeous views of the canyon….almost better than HD TV!  We all decided that we would have preferred staying in Divisadaro at the expensive hotel and if we had to do it over again, we would as two couples, shared a double, double room which would have brought the price into the ballpark, about $150 per couple.

The bus to Creel arrived at 2:15.  We boarded an almost completely full bus and were lucky to find seats.  The bus was filled with local Mexican and Raramuri Indians in their colorful attire.  They watched the TV on the bus as if they were in a trance.  No one was talking or making any noise.  The movie was very contemporary dark violence America with dubbed Spanish.  The story and scenery must have been totally foreign to the ways of the Tarahumara culture. Much of it was personally foreign to us as well.  I didn’t really watch it, but the other passengers were glued to it.   The bus winded its way down a steep two lane highway to Creel.

After an hour on the bus we arrived in the mountain-valley town of Creel that reminded us of Truckee, California.

It was crispy cold and wood smoke filled the air.  The first thing we noticed was the uniformity of the beautiful sidewalks and the underground utilities on the main street with decorative lamplights.  We later found out that Creel is considered a “magic” city and qualified for government assistance to beautify itself for tourist trade.  As soon as we got off the bus, a cadre of young adolescent boys aggressively tried to steer us to the Best Western Motel in the center of Creel.  They would not take no for an answer, and ignored our No Gracias, continuing to hang around us.

One of the boys had a pellet gun that he previously shot at the bus when we were arriving,  They were almost like little gangsters wanting to guide us around and carry our bags with their pellet gun in hand.  We thought we had successfully shaken them off, but they had followed us to the Parador La Montaña.

As soon as we had stepped in the door, the boys stepped in behind us and began to claim a fee from the inn keeper that they had guided us to the hotel.  Michael, who speaks Spanish, indicated to the innkeeper, much to the boys’ disappointment that we had reservations.  They slunk out of the door and into the evening.

The lobby of this hotel has a Christmas tree, beamed ceiling, and large fireplace where we vowed to sit and drink a glass of wine.   While Russ, Laurie and Michael did a little scouting around after we had checked in, I took a hot shower and spent a few minutes catching up on the blog that I had started on the train the day before.  We met for dinner in the hotel dining room at 6:00 to strategize our time in Creel.  Tomorrow, we are renting mountain bikes for the day and visiting local sites. Russ refers to tomorrow as a “lazy day mountain biking day.” Ha,  that’s  an oxymoron!  He was trying to appeal to my “I hate exercise” mentality.  A 20 kilometer mountain bike experience on rutted dirt roads and trails in the mountains for anyone other than Russ is anything but lazy. On Thursday, we are signing up for an all day tour that will take us to some sights farther down in the valley and surrounding area.  Now, that’s what I call a lazy day.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The heat kicked on in our room about 7:30 a.m. and drove us out of bed quickly to escape the inferno. Apparently, the hotel is having some problems regulating the system. It’s either off or gale force ON. We ate breakfast in the dining room of the hotel with the intent of meeting up with Michael and Laurie for our lazy day of mountain biking at 9:00.  It was so cold however, that when we did meet up with them, we postponed our ride until later in the morning when the temperature and wind chill wouldn’t turn us into to popsicles.  Russ and I spent the morning browsing through the shops in town and trying to unsuccessfully connect with the WiFi in our hotel to get our email.  That was the lazy part of the day!

We met up with Laurie and Michael, purchased a few lunch supplies from a local market (tortillas, ham, cheese, cookies, and bottled water), rented the mountain bikes for a half day (about $5.00 each)  and took off on our adventure.  We traveled about 20 kilometers on dirt roads and visited the cave dwellings of the Tarahumara natives, valleys of the mushrooms,

frogs, monks, and pine forest.  We also skirted by a beautiful alpine lake, lego Arareko  The scenery was beautiful, the sun was shining with wispy ice clouds, and the air was frosty. I was glad I was wearing thermal underwear, ear muffs, and gloves.

We returned the bikes at 4:30, and dropped our tired fannies in front of the crackling fire in the hotel’s lobby with a glass of wine, had another terrific dinner and retired to our rooms by 8:00. (The glass of wine by the fire wasn’t quite as easy as I wrote it.  The hotel didn’t have any wine, so Laurie ran down to a  local grocery store and purchased a wine she was not familiar with but liked the label.  When she brought it back to the hotel, the staff couldn’t find a cork screw.  They finally found a broken one that Russ was able to open the bottle with anyway.  The wine turned out to be very sweet like a port/sangria.

We were all disappointed, so Russ went down to the store and bought a Merlot which turned out to be a hit. Laurie left the other bottle for the staff when we left.  Tomorrow, we are on a full day tour to the bottom the of the canyon and waterfalls.  This time in a 4 wheel drive, air-conditioned Suburban with cushy seats.

Friday, December 11, 2009

After another early morning blast of the heater (Russ took advantage of the hot wind blast to blow dry his just washed underwear in less than 10 minutes), we ate breakfast in the hotel and arrived at the Three Amigos tourist company where we met up with Julio, our guide and driver.  Julio spoke excellent English (attended Garfield High School near Pasadena), answered all of our questions, and was very knowledgeable about the history, traditions of the Tarahumara, and the geology of the canyons.  He spent the entire day with us.  It cost us about $50.00 per person.


He took us to some of the most wonderful overviews of the different canyons and rivers. Since many of the places he took us required 4 wheeling, and little hikes that were not in obvious tourist places, we felt very fortunate that he was our guide and shared his favorite places and knowledge with us.

We went to three of the seven canyons that comprise the Copper Canyon, the Cascade Casanare (waterfall) and mission.  When we reached the village with the Mission and Rumarai boarding school (a place where native children  from a broad geographic area are boarded all week from kindergarten through sixth grade and return home on weekends), the road was filled with families walking towards us.  The parents were “picking up their children” at dusk and walking miles and miles back to their homes and then many returning later in the evening for temple ceremonies in the mission church (which is a blend of Catholicism and native tradition.) Their church has an alter, but no pews as they express themselves in the temple with prayerful dance.

The temple is basically a dance hall with alters.

The Tarahumarans do not have cars.  Julio told us they preferred to walk.  The truth I think is that they are too poor.  They don’t even have work animals other than an occasional burro.  According to our guide, the natives have excellent night vision and do not need flashlights to see their way nimbly over the rough terrain.  See pictures below.

When we returned from our day with Julio, we tried a new restaurant for dinner and were not disappointed.  Russ and I had  something called a Norteño which was a skillet bake with beef, peppers and covered with melted cheese.  We tried to stay awake in front of the lobby fireplace in the hotel drinking hot cocoa so that we could see the annual festivities of the Lady of Guadalupe festivities that wouldn’t get started until 11:00 p.m. at the church.  Alas by 9:30 we couldn’t keep our eyes open and decided to go to bed, hoping we might enjoy some of these festivities in El Fuerte when we arrived on Saturday evening.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Once again, we awoke to the furnace blast, ate breakfast in the hotel dining room, finished packing, and checked out of the hotel by 9:30.  We wanted to take advantage of the anthological museum before we caught the premier train back to El Fuerte at 11:35.  We had been told by the clerk at the hotel that the train often came early, and we should be there by 11:00.  Apparently the trains don’t have a tight schedule.  They might come early and LEAVE early.  As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

The museum was very interesting.  One of the facts we learned is that the cross that is symbolic to Christians, is also a Tarahumaran symbol of universal man with his arms outstretched.  The Jesuits were pleased not to have to infuse a new symbol when they conquered these people. 

We arrived at the train station and found out that the premier train was coming about an hour early and the second class train was going to be right behind it an hour later.  We looked at the price difference of the tickets and decided that we would go second class and get to our destination two hours later than the premier train.  The premier train was $999 pesos per person(.$88.00)  The second class train was $385 pesos per person ($32.00). 

We decided to take the later train, saving each couple $100.  Again, Laurie and I hit the grocery store for some dinner supplies (yes, you guessed it….more tortillas, ham, cheese, etc.).  We were looking forward to stopping at Lucy’s stall in Divisadaro during a 15 minute stop for lunch. 

The second class train makes a few more stops, carries fewer tourists, but more locals, doesn’t have a dining car, and arrives two hours after the premier train.  The interiors are basically identical with plush, reclining seats, window blinds to cut the sun heat, heat or air conditioning depending on the time of day and elevation.  The only problem with the second class train was that by the time we got to some of the scenic areas it was dark.  It didn’t really matter because we had taken tons of photos on the way up the hill.  I loved the train ride, not only because of the sight seeing, but for the terrific opportunity to catch up on our blog as we comfortably traveled.  Now when we return to Mazatlan, I hope to upload it quickly with photos.

When we arrived at the train station in El Fuerte at 8:30 in the evening, we were met by the same taxi driver who had originally delivered us.  Just prior to catching  the later train, Michael had called Jesus at Hotel Torres letting him know that we would not be there for dinner.   Jesus made the taxi arrangements for us.  We were expecting to see the streets alive with festivities.  All we saw as we came into town was traffic going out of town.  The town itself was closed up tight.  Foiled again!  We don’t know where the Lady of Guadalupe festivities were being held, but far enough away where we could only hear faint music and occasional fireworks.

As we had never gotten around to eating our picnic dinner on the train, we walked around town and found a nearby restaurant.  Afterwards, we walked back to the Hacienda and went to our rooms.  This time we slept in the room Laurie and Michael had had when we were here last, and they experienced a new room.  All of them are uniquely and beautifully decorated. We enjoyed taking a hot bath and tumbling into a soft king size bed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Our alarm woke us at 7:00 a.m.  The hacienda does not have window glass in the rooms.  The openings are closed with wooden shutters.  Had the alarm not gone off, we probably would have continued sleeping as the room was pitch black.  We dressed, packed, and enjoyed an American style breakfast of hotcakes, omelets, fruit yogurt, bacon, and hash browns.

After breakfast, we walked up to the fort of El Fuerte that overlooks the Rio Fuerte and spent an hour exploring the fort and museum before returning to the hotel to check out, pickup our bags, and walk downtown to catch a bus to Los Mochis.

Since there is no bus station in Los Mochis, we went to the open market area where we had been dropped off.  The first bus to Los Mochis looked a little tired like and old school bus.  We passed.  The second bus from the Azules bus line looked like a decent ride.  It turned out that it was not a direct route and it took us two hours instead of an hour an a half to get back to Los Mochis.  It was also a little less expensive.

When we arrived in Los Mochis, we were dropped off in a part of town that was different than where we were before.  We found the Norte De Sinaloa line and decided to take this bus as one was leaving within just a few minutes and the TAP company only had a few Sunday busses running.  I almost missed the bus.  When we boarded the bus at 12:55.   It was apparent that it did not have bathrooms.  I got off the bus and hurried to the restroom.  When I came out, there was an attendant waiting for me that ran me out to the bus gate where the bus was “on the runway: ready to take off.  Russ and crew looked very relieved to see me board.  This bus line is cheaper than TAP, but there are no bathrooms and one must have a strong bladder and be very quick at the few bus stops.

We finally got around to eating our picnic lunch from the day before and settled into our seats for the final ride back to Mazatlan.  We should be in Mazatlan around dinner.  Tomorrow, we’ll take care of laundry, provisioning, and boat chores.  If we are successful with all of that, we hope to head to Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday.  If not Tuesday, then Wednesday.  I probably won’t post another blog until we arrive Puerto Vallarta sometime between December 18-22.  

Have a happy holiday season and winter solstice.