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Mexico’s Copper Canyon Learning Tour

For Chris

From Tom B.

Mexico’s Copper Canyon

About 7 years ago we were turned on to Mexico’s Copper Canyon (a group of six connected canyons) and train ride by Chris Willemin, a dear amigo of our daughter, Mariel.  Chris made his trip to the canyon and, sadly, died in a car accident shortly afterwards.  We recently finished our own beautiful, inspiring and eye-opening trip of the canyon by train, the Chepe.  What follows is for Chris, whose enthusiasm sent us on this trip and whom we thought of many times during the week’s extraordinary journey.

We flew from La Paz to Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on a twin-engine propellor plane in a quick 45 minutes.  Before we left the Los Mochis airport my phone pinged with a message that our account lacked enough pesos to pay the electric bill due in a few days!  Just the way one plans to start a vacation!  My “Worry Meter” raced into overdrive because the electric company quickly disconnects your electricity if your payment is a day late.  After an anxious 1.5 hour cab ride from the airport to our hotel in tiny El Fuerte, I was relieved to discover a branch of our bank just a block from the hotel.  Rather quickly for Mexico, we solved our dilemma by depositing a substantial sum of our travel cash back into our account  so the house/dog sitter wouldn’t have to endure our house electricity-free and launch rotting food from the refrigerator.  Then I used my US$ debit card to recoup those pesos so we wouldn’t need to scrimp.

Our hotel, the Posada del Hidalgo (http://www.hotelposadadelhidalgo.com/home.html), is a piece of fine architecture in every way: old world charm throughout, well maintained, lovely landscaping, a nice restaurant with bar and pool, with very friendly staff.  We all recall the TV Zorro of our youth.  Well, it’s said that young Zorro, born Diego de la Vega, was born and spent the first ten years of his life in the old part of the posada before his father moved with him to what is now Los Angeles, CA.  True?  Who knows, but it adds to the pleasant stay at the Posada del Hidalgo.

We took a late afternoon excursion on the El Fuerte River, a float downstream in an inflatable boat spying birds, flora and the occasional cow drinking from the river.  At one point we landed to look at ancient petroglyphs carved in rocks centuries ago.

Dinner.  Randy enjoyed the river lobster, joyfully pronouncing it succulent.  I had the wonderful  black bass from the same river. Scrumpy, yes!  Then off to bed, for we had an 8 am train to catch.

Our train pulled out of El Fuerte’s wee station sort of on time at 8-something AM.  It slowly chugged eastward until we entered the mouth of the canyon and began a gentle ride along the river, rising and falling with the terrain all morning.  Tunnels and the occasional bridge also varied the ride while the scenery, lush green forest and giant, craggy rocks, held our attention.  A couple of times the train stopped at a tiny village or in some part of nowhere to let a passenger off or climb aboard.

About noon we pulled into our stop at Bahuichivo where we were met by the hotel’s van and taken to Hotel Mision in nearby Ceracahui (http://www.hotelmision.com/).  After a late lunch we took a tour to the Jesuit church across the street, built in the 1700s by indigenous Tarahumara Indians, a visit to the next-door Tarahumara girls school where young girls spend the week going to school and weekends at their homes in the mountains.  The school has 90 boarding students with 5 nuns teaching and caring for the girls.  Our final stop was at the Mision’s  tasting room!  The hotel has two hectares where they grow red and white grapes, producing one white wine and three different blends of red wines.  Being the bon vivants we are, we tasted all four wines before taking a wee siesta prior to dinner.  This hotel, one of the three hotels owned by the Balderrama group where we stayed, served dinner family style, not our preference, but actually just fine, as we met some very interesting people from all over Mexico, plus the odd gringo or Canadian.  The food was decent, but not up to the level of the Hidalgo’s.  As expected, the service was top quality.

We booked a tour to the canyon’s 7,000’ overlook followed by a drive down into the canyon by car to Urique, a small town at river’s edge for the following day.  Super Mario arrived on time and drove us up the mountain to his family’s charming lodge (www.coppercanyonamigos.com) in the forest, where we saw their quaintly appointed cabins, the small gift shop full of indigenous arts, and the sweat lodge their father had built many decades ago.  Mario’s brother Tito continued our drive to the Urique Canyon overlook with it’s breathtaking views.  He drove us down the 1 1/2 lane dirt, switchback road with no guard rails to Urique where we wandered about a bit, then enjoyed a riverside box lunch the hotel had packed for us.  We returned to the Mision in time for a siesta before dinner.  (Siestas are mandatory in Mexico, you know.)

When one thinks of Mexico we usually conjure fine beaches, warm weather and refreshing margaritas.  Mario and Tito both told us that it ain’t that way in the mountains.  Their farm is high enough to enjoy approx. a foot of snow in the winter; thus wood-burning stoves in their guest cabins.  At the Hotel Mision we also had a wood-burning stove in our room, but snow accumulations are just an inch or so there.

The next day it was back to the Bahuichivo train station for our 12:24 train that was a tad late again.  We quickly learned to expect this type of schedule throughout our trip.  Mussolini had no influence on Mexican trains.  We settled in on the train and enjoyed more of the scenery and tiny villages and tinier farms as the train choo-chooed towards Chihuahua.  Our train stop was at Barrancas, then a short shuttle drive to the Hotel Mirador (http://www.hotelmirador.mx/home), strategically located on the canyon’s rim; our room’s balcony hung over that rim with a magnificent view to the canyon’s bottom and eastern wall, where the sun rose in a glory of orange and yellow the next morning.

But before we could see any of this I, as in Tom, admit that I’d left our return train ticket in the seat-back pouch in front of us…on the train that was about to chug away.  I bolted from the shuttle, boarded the train, scampered through their car and felt the train begin to move before I could get to our tickets.  So I jumped to the platform with great flair and, now sweating profusely, reboarded the shuttle where every passenger knew of my stupid plight.  I was immediately partially saved by a private tour guide, Cecilia, who told me, “he’ll take you to the next stop,” pointing to someone I’d never seen.  Trusting strangers in a strange circumstance, I joined my new friend, Israel, in his truck and off we hurtled for the nearby “real” station where the train was still pondering its next move.  I ran down stairs, bolted along tracks and rushed to our former car, told the conductor something unintelligible, leapt on to the train again, hurried to our seats and was met by Ricardo and aptly-named Santa, who we’d enjoyed a couple of meals with at the last hotel.  Santa reached into the pocket, produced and handed the tickets to my grateful paw, while I bid them a huge gracias and a hasty adios, jumped off the train, ran back up the tracks and the flight of stairs to waiting, smiling Israel.  The day…the trip…was saved.  Off to our hotel.

We’d booked a tour for the Basaseachi waterfall and the frontier town of Creel with a hotel employee, our Israel, for the next day.  Told we would be the only two on the van with Israel, we were joined by 14 disparate Mexicans, all of whom joined in chorus for a medley of Mexican songs shortly after we got underway.   Laughs and smiles, great joy, prevailed.  As these tours often go, we had 4 “brief,” unexpected stops before we got to either of our chosen destinations.  The first was to the locally famous “Roca de Amor,” a mighty natural rock in the shape of…an erect penis.  Israel told me it would bring me more children.  Fat chance, Israel.  Next stop was a small cave where 8 people lived.  I counted 4 beds, one totally unrecognizable for the mountain of “stuff” piled to the ceiling on it.  The ceiling was very low, furniture sparse, dirt floor clean (you have to believe that oxymoron) but the roof was covered in soot created by a tiny homemade stove with a humongous pot on its surface.  Next stop was the Misión de San Ignacio, built of stone for the Jesuits by the Tarahumara Indians in the 17th century.  The Tarahumara still use the church today.  It’s built in an area referred to as the Valley of Mushroom and Frog stones where a flexible imagination is required.  Were we getting closer to our two destinations as the day moved on?  No, another stop to see the pretty horseshoe lake of Arareka came first.  Then to Creel to drop off the 8 passengers who did not care to see the falls.  At the falls, drove a rutted, rocky road about a mile to its end and walked 300 meters through a pine forest to the falls.  Alas, it was the dry season so the very high Basaseachi falls did not fall.  But the lower, nearby Cusarare waterfalls made the trek worthwhile.  These falls were flowing with water despite the non-rainy season; a rainbow ran across the cascading water while we gaped in awe.

We returned to Creel for 25 minutes, then journeyed back to our hotel with it’s mighty fine view.  Creel looked interesting but we can say no more about it for we saw no more of it.

The next morning we ventured to a nearby adventure park that offered very long zip lines (one promises speeds from 75 to 125 km/hour!)  We passed.  We were interested in the long tram ride to a distant pinnacle with more exquisite views.  Then it was off to catch our very late train for the return to El Fuerte.  Mussolini, where is your influence?

We were in different light for this ride so it offered more shadows in the canyon and a different perspective of the journey.  Another night at the lovely Posada del Hidalgo.  Alas, Randy was stung by a bee during dinner.  Seems we were to end the trip the same way it began, loaded with anxiety.  Shortly after we retired to our room she sent me to ask the front desk to call a pharmacy for an Epipen or it’s equivalent in pill form.  She’d already taken a benadril with little success.  I knew this was serious business.  Four pharmacies later we learned that nothing of that ilk was to be found in El Fuerte.  So, I dreadfully enquired about pharmacies in distant Los Mochis.  Before we finished our inquiries, Randy called me and declared that the worst had passed.  She was fine now; we both slept well and the next morning we flew home to a welcoming La Paz.

We consider the Copper Canyon to be a hidden gem of Mexico, if not the world, a delightful, uncrowded trip replete with impressive views, food and friendly Mexicans.  Viva el Barrancas del Cobre!.

And a mighty big Thank You to Chis Willemin, our inspirer and all-time great guy who will always be missed.

We were not on a tour, however, we arranged our trip through Arizona-based S&S Tours (www.ss-tours.com).  We have nothing but praise for Sue and Erica, who promptly sent us information on the trip, prepared the 7-day train ride we requested and sent us everything we needed, from train tickets to hotel vouchers that included the side excursions we desired.  Not to mention tons of information about what we would see, expect and cultural differences to be aware of.

Once we left the Posada Hidalgo in El Fuerte we had no connection with anywhere other than where we were.  For 6 days we endured no news, no emails.  It was surprisingly easy to accept.

Erica Soto
S&S Tours, LLC
Ph:
  520-803-1352: Fax:  520-803-1355
Email:  erica.sstours@gmail.com
Whatsapp:  520-266-4432

Dolores Hidalgo – Mexico

 

Cradle of Independence–Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Mexico                         by Erica Soto

Dolores Hidalgo-esAs we enter Dolores Hidalgo, we are welcomed with streets filled with a rainbow of stores selling hand-glazed talavera pottery.  We stop at a work shop where the process is explained to us.  We see some of the artists at work, drawing and painting each piece by hand.

Our first stop is at the Nuestra Senora de Dolores Church where Miguel Hidalgo, the parish priest rang the church bells to summon the town’s people to issue a speech against the unfair Spaniard government. Being that the day we were there was a Saturday, the church held many ceremonies from baptisms, quinceneras and weddings; almost every hour.  The church doors where filled with many locals preparing for the ceremonies.   It was a privilege for us to here on a Saturday and become part of their celebrations.  We were even invited by the bride and groom to follow the procession of their wedding.

Just across the church there is a large monument of Father Hidalgo in the tree-filled plaza. It is a perfect spot to enjoy some exotic ice-cream.  What a difficult decision in deciding what flavor to try! Luckily we could combine flavors from traditional vanilla, pecan and chocolate to the more exotic and unique, such as tequila, avocado, elote (corn), nopal (cactus), and shrimp, among many others.  The vendors are happy to let you sample the flavors and enjoy seeing your taste buds react.  You might just be surprised which flavor you choose!

Dolores Hidalgo maintains its quaint-Mexican charm that makes you feel very welcome here.  The local people appreciate your visit.  We were invited to return soon!

S & S Tours
4250 S. Hohokam Drive; Sierra Vista, AZ 85650
Ph:  866 780 2813 or 520 803 1352; Fax:  520 803 1355
Email:  ss@ss-tours.com; Website:  http://www. ss-tours.com

Atotonilco – Mexico

Place of Hot Waters- Atotonilco, Guanajuato, Mexico                         by Erica Soto

Atotonilco sanctuary w logo-e.s.Approximately six miles from San Miguel de Allende we stop in the village of Atotonilco, which means “place of hot waters.”  Atotonilco has one of the most revered sacred churches in Mexico.  The sanctuary of Atotonilco is a mysterious church used for pertinence.   It also has an important part in history as the route for independence and where the banner of the Virgin Mary was ripped from the sanctuary wall by Father Hidalgo and used as a representation of freedom from the Spaniards.

When we step out off the car we immediately notice the silence of this village.   We stop in front of the Sanctuary of   Atotonilco.  From the outside it is a very simple church with high, plain, white walls. But as you get closer and take a good look, encrypted are various faint murals.  You will have to look very closely to be able to depict them. The façade murals were noticed after the sanctuary having been neglected for centuries was named and UNESCO World Heritage Site and funds were available for restoration.  When the outside walls of the sanctuary were being prepped for painting one of the workers realized that these murals were hidden behind the dust of the sanctuary walls. The sanctuary entrance is the original 1740 carved wooden doors and lock.  The wearing down of the entrance step is also noticeable.

Once inside the sanctuary it was entirely an opposite sight from the outside.  There are huge carved wooden images of mythical creatures, bleeding penitents, suffering saints and frescos. One of the most notable and important figure is of a bleeding Jesus of Nazareth.  This same figure is used for pilgrimage during holy week procession from the village of Atotonilco to San Miguel de Allende.

After the intense visit of the sanctuary, we stopped to have a relaxing lunch at the banks of Rio Laja surrounded by mesquite trees and cacti.  From here, we are only 10 minutes away from San Miguel de Allende!

S & S Tours
4250 S. Hohokam Drive; Sierra Vista, AZ 85650
Ph:  866 780 2813 or 520 803 1352; Fax:  520 803 1355
Email:  ss@ss-tours.com; Website:  http://www. ss-tours.com

Oaxaca Adventure Tour

Oaxaca Adventure Tour

Guelaguetza2-17 3Oaxaca has been said to be the most traditional state in Mexico. Located near the Gulf of Tehantepec on the Pacific coast, it hosts 16 ethnic groups with 28 dialects. There is so much variety in the capital city and surrounding folk art villages that there is something for everyone. The botanical garden tour in the capital is the best I have taken. All the wonderful plants from the state there have important uses in diets, healing and local crafts. Close around the capital are many wonders worth visiting. The Monte Alban archeological site is on par with Tikal of Guatemala. Its history spans over 1500 years and only 10% has been uncovered. The small museum is worth visiting with original stelas from the site on display. Visits to the villages of the master craftsmen of wool rugs, the famous nightmare alebrijes (carved wooden animals and mythical creatures, the black pottery, and cotton weavings are a wonderful glimpse of the creative energy abounding in this area by the indigenous people. Oaxaca is known for is 7 moles, sauces that have as many as 31 ingredients in them, principally chocolate. A cooking class with the owner of a local restaurant is fun and informative and delicious. In 2016 we made stuffed chilies, squash blossom soup, and chocolate tamales, among other delicious foods.

San Miguel de Allende

 

San Miguel de Allende #1 City in the World

(By Conde Nast Readers, topping the list of the top 25 cities in the world)

San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, is a little city with big appeal. Colonial charm and a sophisticated cosmopolitan atmosphere draw flocks of travelers every year. It has two claims to fame in that it is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Mexican National Landmark.

San Miguel de AllendeSMA is easily walked from one end of town to the other, providing baroque and neoclassical architecture that finds expression in churches, monasteries, mansions, gardens, plazas.

The archeological site of Canada de la Virgen, only 10 miles away, is an impressive Toltec fortress. Explore the seven enormous pyramids, plazas, ball court and more.

Artists discovered the beauty and charm of the city in the 1940s and is to this day is a vibrant arts community. The Allende Institute and School of Fine Arts thrive on patrons and students of the arts from around the world. November’s Festival of Jazz and Blues is one of Mexico’s largest music festivals. Concerts abound throughout the city in theaters, the cultural center, amphitheaters and the town center, the Jardin.

On our tours we always visit Atontonilco, one of Mexico’s most unique shrines, just outside the city. The fantastic world class folk art is highlighted on colorful murals and frescoes, gilded alters, sculptures and more. The Baroque artwork is so fine, the shrine has been known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Language schools also draw a lot of students to the city. My husband (Chuck) and I (Sue) spent a large part of one summer in this charming colonial city living in a private home. It was a great way for Chuck to further his Spanish. In addition to taking Spanish classes in a language institute, our “ home” spoke no English.

The famous San Miguel shoes are made here. On our Colonial Cities Tours, we always include a visit to the store that actually manufactures them. I (Sue) find them very comfortable for my narrow feet and I have them in purple, royal blue, turquoise, as well as normal colors..

Tren Crucero Rail Tour

Tren Crucero Rail Tour

Tren Crucero Rail Tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all you rail fans we are offering a luxury train experience from Guayaquil to Quito, Ecuador. An authentic steam locomotive carries you through some of the most exciting parts of the journey. Climb the Devil’s Nose, a masterpiece of engineering that is known as the most challenging railroad anywhere in the world. There is a total ascent of 10, 800 feet, with dramatic changes in vegetation zones and spectacular scenery. Accommodations will be in historical farm houses (or haciendas) where you will experience local customs and cuisine.

Beginning in the coastal plains, pass through a dense cloud forest, where you come against the towering walls of the Andes and the Nariz del Diablo Pass (the Nose of the Devil) in the Andean Highlands. Imposing volcanoes preside over the landscape as the train cruises through colorful quinoa fields and lands dotted with grazing herds of sheep, llama, and alpaca. On the Eastern side of the Chimborazo volcano, encounter the last “ice merchant” whose way of life harvesting ice from volcanic slopes stretches back for countless generations. Enjoy the unique experience of tasting homemade ice cream made from fresh fruit and hand-harvested glacial ice. None of your friends can boast this unique experience. A visit to the Cotopaxi volcano and the surrounding mountain forest is at the end of your climb

The descent towards Quito crosses the Avenue of Volcanoes passes through the Northern Andes. See the Cayambe Volcano iin the background of the plantations and livestock farms. A wonderful treat is in store for you in the impressive city of Otavalo: a steam engine awaits you at the recently restored train station. On this special train travel on the old rail line across the northern valleys between Otavalo and Ibarra.

Multiple departures. Call S & S Tours, 1 866 780 2813 or email at ss@ss-tours.com. Website: www.ss-tours.com

Gray whale watching tour

“A Dream Come True” Gray Whale Watching in Baja California, Mexico

 

Gray whale watching tour

Baja California Whale Watching

Even though I was raised in Iowa with no whales anywhere near to be seen, I have been fascinated by them since I was a very young girl. When my parents took me to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (they even had a mine there), they asked me how I liked it and my answer was “They do not have a whale here.”

The first few times I went whale watching in Magdalena Bay out of La Paz, my clients commented that they watched me as much as the whales. I was so excited about every sighting and could not express enough my enthusiasm for these “gentle giants.”

The Grays have migrated to Baja California to rest from Orcas, their prime predator, to breed and to calve in the protected lagoons. These elite migrant mammal travelers, journeying up to 12,000 miles round trip, come from the ice-plagued waters of Alaska’s Bering Sea to bask in the warm waters of Baja California’s bays.

The babies thrive in the warm waters as they have no protective layer of blubber at birth. It is a wonder to watch baby grays rolling over onto Mom’s back, teasing her all the while, or swimming under our skiff as though stuck to mom’s side. Whales breaching and spy-hopping add to the awesome adventure.

Friendly whales are common in this area and some will actually approach the skiff as though to say “hello.” Whale researchers have speculated if whales see the boats a potential mate as they can come up under the skiffs and rub against them. Or, perhaps some whales are just friendly.

 

Mexico City Travel Tour

We are excited to announce our new scheduled destination, Mexico City, Puebla and Cholula,
January 26-February 2, 2017

Entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico city

Entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico city

The tour emphasis will be Archeology, Anthropology and Arts. Mexico City’s historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with important structures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Walk through the past and present of the Zocalo square (Main Plaza), the second largest in the world, built above the ruins of the Aztec City of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish after the conquest. Off the plaza you will find the Templo Mayor of the ancient Aztec capital, the Cathedral and National Palace with the mural painted by Diego Rivera. View more of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings at Dolores Olmeda Patino Museum located in the colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan in Frida Kahlo’s home.

Stroll through 3, 500 years of Mexican history in the world-famous Museum of Anthropology located inside the Chapultepec Park where Lord Pakal’s tomb treasures from Palenque lay.

One of the most important Aztec ruins of the world is found in Teotihuacan, “the place where men become gods”. The pyramid of the sun and the moon are among the best-recognized structures in these ruins.

We can’t exclude a showing of the world-famous choreographed art of the Ballet Folkloric, founded by Amalia Hernandez. This mesmerizing dance features arts and dance from regions throughout Mexico.

This group tour also features Puebla and Cholula. Under the striking view of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl Volcanoes in the center of Mexico is Puebla. The “heroic” city where the French army in 1862 was defeated in the infamous Battle of Puebla or known to many as the Cinco de Mayo celebration. Colonial architecture in Puebla reveals exuberant European style palaces built by the Spanish conquistadores who also brought with them the sturdy and colorful Talavera ceramic. Cholula does not fall behind in its Talavera wares. The city of Cholula is mostly known for its 365 churches and the hidden pyramid of Cholula.

Join us on our first scheduled group tour. If you have been hesitant about visiting on your own, this is the perfect opportunity to see Mexico City and Puebla. Our knowledgeable and personable guides will provide an enjoyable and enlightening learning adventure tour

A Trio of Exotic Spots

S&S Tours, based in Arizona, specializes in small group tours to Latin American Destinations, providing in-depth interpretations of each area’s culture and natural history. Owner Sue Stilwell spotlights three of them: Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru. 

Costa Rica

One third of Costa Rica is in reserves or national parks, and Stilwell says any visit should include an expert naturalist guide. “This Central American country is the most ecologically diverse Eden in the hemisphere – full of volcanoes, tropical forests, coffee farms, butterfly gardens, waterfall gardens, hanging bridges and beach parks- all with wonderful wildlife everywhere you go.” One of Stilwell’s favorite places is the Arenal Volcano area. “The volcano eruptions, seen from your hotel at night, are dramatic, ” she says. “And the next day you can enjoy zip lining through a forest, a boat ride on the Rio Frio River or touring a small organic coffee farm.”

Galapagos Islands

“The animal kingdom does not get any closer or better than in the Galapagos Islands,” Stilwell says. When visitors arrive on a double catamaran, they’ll see colonies of marine iguanas and sea lions that will mostly go about their business. “There is no fear of humans in this protected archipelago of volcanic islands,” she says. “You’ll point your camera to blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, giant tortoises and penguins. No zoom is required, though – the animals are only inches away.” The Galapagos archipelago lies in the equatorial waters some 600 miles off the coast of South America nad is reached via a short flight from Quito, Ecuador. S&S Tours rotates in a Galapagos program every two or three years. The next one is April 30 – May 6, 2018.

Peru

S & S’s Peru tour begins and ends in Lima, once the coastal capital city of the Spanish empire in South America. Intriguing museums and a visit to the catacombs are on the itinerary. Rail fans and ancient history lovers will be thrilled with this country, according to Stilwell. “three days in Cuzco, the oldest inhabited city of the Western Hempisphere, will reveal the secrets of the enduring Incan architecture through a guided tour to the primary sites in and around the city, ” she says. “To culimate your exploration of the ancient Inca civilization, you’ll ascend by narrow gauge railroad to Machu Picchu, the sacred mountaintop fortress of the Incas.”

For more information, contact us, or read our tour details.

See the original article on the Courier Site