Date of Trip: January 2010
I was in Tucson for an annual symposium for tour directors. After the tour, one of the symposium participants arranged for an 8 day package tour with Argonaut Tours to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. This tour involved one of the premier train journeys of the world. We rode the train from El Fuerte to Divisadero where we stayed on the Canyon rim. The tour went through a piece of the state of Chihuahua in northwest Mexico.
This was an excellent tour due to our super tour director Eduardo Rivero. He explained everything to us including crafts, geology, birds, animals and the Tarahumara Indian culture. On long bus rides between destinations there was always an educational video.
The tour began in Tucson and we went into Mexico spending the first night in San Carlos. From there we went to El Fuerte where a bird watching tour on the river took place. I really found this to be fascinating because I know nothing about birds.
Then we boarded the train. The scenery was so spectacular that you hardly knew where to shoot first. In Divisadero we had exposure to the Tarahumara culture, which I knew nothing about before this trip. Mexico is somewhat of a stratified society with the indigenous people on the bottom of the pecking order. The women make a living by making basketswhich they sell for next to nothing. The Tarahumaras are, by and large, very poor. Many children do not go to school. If they do go to school, they do not stay in school past elementary school. The schools are often a great distance from their homes and they must board at the school during the week.
No matter how you handle it, when a stone age culture meets a more advanced culture, the stone age culture is never benefited and all the same problems result. The Tarahumaras live in caves in the cliffs often with attached sheds. Water comes from springs and, of course, has to be hauled into the dwellings. Some of the children were so cuteand at the same time have no future.
Everyone bought baskets and some purchased wood carvings that were made by Tarahumara men.
Copper Canyon, which is really 6 canyons, has a geology that is entirely different from the Grand Canyon. The origin is entirely volcanic rather than having been cut by rivers. While the scenery was spectacular, it is marred by trash everywhere. When a country is poor, picking up the trash is not a priority. As with many poor countries, there are plastic bottles and bags everywhere. At times I wanted to get off the bus and pick some up –not that it would have done much good.
We spent two nights at the Canyon in Divisadero. I had a room on the edge of the Canyon — just spectacular. One day some of us went to a Tarahumara Indian village, which was very interesting. There is a clinic and the doctor comes once a week to treat the Tarahumaras. One of the difficulties is the terrain. If someone is injured, he has to get to the clinic and that can take hours or days. The clinic was very clean. The Tarahumaras live in very basic conditions and most women give birth at home. The infant mortality rate is 20%. One thing that was shocking to us was that young girls are often in relationships with older men. It is regarded as normal in the Tarahumara culture and the Mexican government does not interfere. Most girls have babies by the time they are 14. No one has a good solution to changing all of that.
From Divisadero we took the motorcoach through Creel and Casas Grandes before crossing the border at Palomas. We did stop at a Mennonite Museum. The Mexican Mennonites came from Manitoba, Canada; they left Canada when the Canadians were making them subject to taxes. The Mennonites in Mexico are not as strict as the Amish and some of the more modern Mennonites do send their children to the universities. We also stopped in an area with a large Mormon population. Mitt Romney was born there when his parents were on a Mormon mission. There is a small Mormon Temple. Of course the Temple was not open to outsiders.
There were a lot of stops at craft places including Maya Ortiza pottery center. By the end of the tour I had had enough shopping. I do have to say this: When our guide said that a certain place was best for an item, he was always right. I bought a carved ironwood bear (the artist starts with an axe and then moves on to more refined instruments to get the final carving). Some of his work belonged in a museum! I bought two small pots and a lot of nonprescription drugs (a real bargain in Mexico).
I would recommend this tour for anyone who is a bit adventurous. The hotels were the best to be had, but please do not expect the kind of hotels you find in the big resorts. This tour was in rural Mexico. If you take this tour with Argonaut Tours, I would recommend asking for Eduardo as the guide. He really made the trip. It was my first trip to Mexico and now I want to see more of it (but less trash).
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