Category Archives: Chihuahua State

Ugh… here again

Neither of us are incredibly excited to get back to Juarez but it is almost comical how easy it seems to be driving in this city after the major crisis when we got here. I guess that´s what seven weeks of practice will do for you! And maybe because Mex was driving instead of me but don´t tell him I typed that! We saw the newspaper announce that crime is on the rise with 2000 car thefts and 200 murders in the months of February and March. Oh well… We feel safe in this hotel and don´t plan to leave for anything the rest of the day. We got a suite by the pool which is hopefully warmer than it was last time or we won´t be enjoying it too much. It is around 90 here so maybe a quick dip in a cold pool wouldn´t be so bad! We are optimistic and only got a room for one night. PRAY AND HOPE FOR US!

Chihuahua state totally reminds me of a western movie complete with scrubby dessert, dust devils, sandstorms and even tumbleweed blowing across the road. It´s amazing how much greener things have gotten since our trip down. The peach and pecan trees that line the highway in ranches are starting to get their leaves and the brush in the dessert is actually green. Farmers irrigate their crops although I can´t imagine there is enough water here to do that!

One thing I wish I had after three weeks without using the car AC is tinted windows. Whenever I saw a car with them in Florida I always joked about them being for pimps or drug dealers trying not to get recgnized but OH NO! EVERYONE should have them in Mexico! It doesn´t seem to matter what direction we are driving, there is sun beating in the window heating us up and having the windows down is no help. I did manage to get burned through the window a few times. I´ve burned and peeled so many times I´ll be a whole new person under my freckles by the time I get back.

We are both so excited to see everyone! We should be able to count the days on two hands until we are sleeping in our own beds (even if Mex gets his way and we detour for a day through Vegas).

Oh yeah… one piece of excitement for the trip today… As we were leaving Chihuahua city we got pulled over by a cop who told Mex the speed limit was 70 KPH NOT 70 MPH which he was going close too. He took Mex´s license which made both our hearts stop and told him he had to go back in the city to pay a fine before he could get it back. We stayed calm and Mex asked him if he could write down the directions for us because we had no idea where to go. At that time he must have decided it wasn´t worth it and he gave Mex´s license back and told us to slow down. The cops can take your license away from you (which we had been warned about by the nice RVing guy on our copper canyon train ride) but it still freaked us out.

Well I guess it wouldn´t be a proper road trip without the car trouble and cop action right? =) No harm done. Our car has a few small door dings now which makes me sad since it was six years old and in perfect condition but at least we will ALL leave in one piece! TOMORROW!

Hope and pray.

All our best to you as well and thank you for your support and wonderful thoughts.

Much love,
Min and Mex

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Ah Chihuahua!

Pancho Villa's home in Chihuahua City

Yes, they really do say that here. In fact it is on all their tourism posters! Today we had the tour of town on our own since the trolley was broken. We saw the Pancho Villa museum which luckily had translations in English. There was lots of memorabilia including the bullet-ridden car where he was murdered while in Parral by assassins (although apparently there are a number of places that claim to have the car Villa was assassinated in so authenticity is a little in question). It was interesting because the museum was in his old house that was given to the woman the government declared his legal wife (he had many others too) after his murder. I keep getting the heroes of the 1810 revolution confused with those of the 1910 revolution but Villa is from the latter.

We also saw the small Hidalgo museum which is where he was assassinated by the government in 1817 (I think). He is the one who gave the cry for freedom that is celebrated on Mexican Independence day on September 15 and 16th. The Government buildings all have beautiful murals covering their walls that depict Mexican history.

There is a gorgeous mansion here called Quinta Gameros that was built in the early 1900´s by a rich silver miner for his fiance but during the four years of construction she fell in love with the architect according to one story and died according to another… maybe both, who knows. After sitting on the plaza for an hour and people watching we grabbed some Domino´s and headed back to the hotel. Juarez is only about five hours away with a stop to turn in our car permit but we want to get an early start tomorrow just to make sure there are no car problems or anything else. The computer here is some odd brand so I´m not even going to try and upload any more pictures.

Another random note about Mexico… Don`t travel here expecting US style customer service. Most of the hotels and restaurants and bus stations and banks and where ever else really don`t care if you are unhappy. That has been a difficult adjustment for both of us. Twice when his brother has sent us money the place where you pick it up didn`t have enough money to give us (only $300). This is even though the place in the US guarantees that the person in Mexico will have it in two hours or less. Very frustrating. Also, when you use your credit card the receipt shows your entire number plus the expiration date. We noticed two charges on my credit card from Juarez that we don`t remember making. It`s easy to remember since I`ve only used it about five times. Our advice… bring enough cash to pay for everything in interior Mexico! It probably isn`t such a big deal in a resort place like Cancun but you never know.

Ok. Buenas noches everyone. I might not type tomorrow (or maybe just a short one to let you know we are at our hotel) but I will type some sort of update on Thursday afternoon or evening.

Hope and pray and all that good stuff! We BOTH hope to see all of you very, very soon!

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Copper Canyon – Barranca del Cobre

The courtyard of our El Fuerte inn, the Posada Don Porfirio

Here is a slightly out of order narrative of our Copper Canyon trip with some scattered advice. And, yes, it has a well-deserved place on the 1000 Places list!

We got on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico train in Cuauhtémoc and took it through the canyon for 11 hours to El Fuerte. A couple of notes… you can not buy tickets at the Cuauhtémoc train station (at least not when we were there) so you have to either get on in Chihuahua (or Los Mochis on the west) or risk that you won’t get a seat. There was plenty of room on the train but, during the busy season there might not be. We paid on the train and the conductor “forgot” to bring us change but my Spanish-speaking hubby tracked him down and got it. Tickets are not cheap. It cost us about $200 US to go from Cuauhtémoc to El Fuerte and $130 US from El Fuerte to Creel. When going East sit on the Right side of the train. When going West sit on the Left side of the train for the best views.

About an hour east of El Fuerte the train starts to cross rivers for some breath-taking views (and really high bridges)

The El Fuerte train station is about a mile outside of town so we got in a taxi with two other tourists. We arrived after dark. It was a little nerve-wracking because as we were driving past a corn field some guy stepped out of a corn field and tried to flag down our taxi. I could tell the taxi driver was nervous as he swerved and sped around him. That put both of us on edge right away. In El Fuerte, we spent the night in a 200-year-old hacienda called Posada Don Porfirio, which cost about $400 pesos ($38 US). The room was nice with a private bathroom and very high ceilings – about 14 feet – giving it an open feeling. We arrived late at night so felt a little uneasy about the group of men huddled in the courtyard but when we awoke the next morning and the owner gave us a tour of the beautiful gardens, we realized it was just nerves. (We asked some of the passengers on our train where they stayed and they recommended Hotel La Choza, El Fuerte and the Rio Vista Lodge. We had called some of these places and they were full… probably booked up by these tour groups. The Posada San Francisco looked nice on the outside when we drove by.)

Overall the train ride was very, very scenic. We met lots of really nice people. Mainly Americans in their 60s and 70s on tour groups. The train went through a lot of very little towns and farm fields at the beginning, as we worked our way west. There are lots of apple orchards around Cuauhtémoc but most have black fences that unroll over the tree tops to prevent them from being scorched by the sun. We saw barely any clouds the entire time. The first stop of the train where a lot of people get on is a small town called Creel. It turns out we could have driven there if we wanted to because the road has asphalt the entire way.  That is the town where a lot of backpackers get off and it is possible to hire guides and go on treks in the canyon. We read that you should never go hiking without a guide because the mountains are actively used for drug smuggling. If you are adventurous, take a small bus down 4500 feet to Batopilas, a little mining town at the bottom of the canyon on the river. There are quite a few hostel-type hotels and all the “young” people seemed to congregate here.

View of Copper Canyon from Divisadero, the only stop the train makes in the entire 11 hour journey.

Copper Canyon, in Divisadero

The second day, on our way back through the canyon, we did get off in Creel and went into the canyon to a hotel called the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge in Cusásare for about $185 US a night.  It is a fairly nauseating, twisty, 30 minute van ride to the lodge. If you get easily car sick, beware! The lodge had no electricity and was lit by kerosene lamps and heated by a little wood stove which was definitely not powerful enough. Luckily, the bed had about 10 blankets. It was charming in a rustic sort of way. The only downside was the lamps put off a very, very strong gas odor that made me want to open the

A fuzzy picture of our room at the Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge

window despite the frigid temperature. All our meals were included (because you are in the middle of nowhere and have no other food option). Since the train was late, we did not get down in the canyon until about 6 and 6:30 was “margarita time.” There was a group of mountain biker guys who had gotten some local moonshine from down in the canyon that they shared with us. They were super friendly and fun to chat with. Needless to say, a little moonshine and a few margaritas later I had my head in the toilet for about three hours. We were at about 7000 feet and I guess I miscalculated the elevation in relation to the effect of alcohol. Although Mex had almost as much

Electric-free Copper Canyon Sierra Lodge (American-owned by the way) down in the canyon

as me and felt nothing so it may have been the beef I ate that he skipped. It was very sad because that meant I felt like crap the next morning when we had a chance to hike to the nearby waterfall. My husband was very wonderful and not upset at all. He did have fun trying out some of the bikers multi-thousand dollar bikes. In the morning, there were a handful of Tarahumara Indian women sitting on the steps right outside our door selling their baskets but they were not pushy at all. We got back up to Creel about 2 pm and ended up taking the bus back to Cuauhtémoc because it left earlier than the train (and cost less).

Street vendor right next to the train stop. Take a bite! The chiles rellenos were fabulous! We didnt get any stomach sickness from this street food.

A couple more notes… In Divisadero, the train stops for 15 minutes. Jump off and go down the street/stairs in between the vendor stalls to get to the edge of the canyon. Do NOT go up the stairs if you want to get to the edge of the canyon. You will get a not-so-great view for a picture and waste valuable minutes backtracking to get to the edge.  There is a hotel right on the edge (literally) where I would love to spend the night if we ever go again. We grabbed some food from one of the vendors. I had tacos and Mex had chiles rellenos. It was so very good! They cook it on this oil drum stoves and it is hot and yummy (with just the right amount of savory grease). You have to chew your food quickly though because you can’t bring it on the train. Neither one of us got sick from this but who knows. It could have been the start of why my stomach has been a little off since the train ride. There were also many, many Tarahumara indian women selling beautiful baskets. They were not too pushy and none of them just begged for money. They were always offering baskets which truly are beautiful. We bought a hand-made tortilla basket for Mex’s sisters and wish we could have found more of them.

The train Copper Canyon train making its way over one of the many bridges

I think the train goes over 80 some bridges and almost 40 tunnels. It really is an amazing train ride. The first class train is very nice with a lot of room and there is the spot in between cars where you can take pictures through open windows (although you have to fight for a spot at the best parts). There are many tour packages that leave from the US or you can fly in to Chihuahua City and leave from there. We would definitely recommend it and advise stopping in the canyon at least one day. Early March was a nice time to go weather-wise although the scenery was pretty dry. They say the summer is really, really hot in the canyon. Another time that is supposed to be nice is in October or November because it is after the rainy season and there is a little more greenery and wild flowers.

Great views about 2 hours east of El Fuerte

Some notes on scenery spotting. If you are looking at a guide-book like Lonely Planet with a map, the area between Cuauhtémoc and Creel is mostly farm fields and little towns. South of Creel about an hour the scenery starts changing to pine trees. In Divisadero, you get to jump off and see down in to the canyon. Get off the train and look because, sadly, you never really get a great view IN to the canyon from the train. The area around Temoris is stunning! About 1.5 – 2.5 hours north of El Fuerte the train crosses rivers and lakes and is really beautiful. Right around El Fuerte it is more of a desert landscape with Saguaro cactuses and scrub brush.

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Cuauhtemoc

We made it out of Juarez and through the Chihuahuan Dessert.

Chihuahua Desert

I must say it was very “desertish” with scrubby brush and dust devils galore. I was surprised by the mountains that rose constantly to the west of us. I guess I never realized there would be mountains this far north but I guess you need mountains to make canyons. Since we are on our way to tour one of the world’s largest canyons, I guess the mountains make sense!

Chihuahua Desert between Juarez and Chihuahua City

There is not wireless at our hotel room so I have to use the computer in the lobby. Traffic was not really bad and the roads were all in very good condition actually. I know Chihuahua is one of the richest states so that might change as we go farther south. There are signs saying “No tiras basura” (Don’t throw garbage) every few miles. They mostly seem to be effective.  I say mostly because there was usually a small pile of trash at the base of the sign but nowhere else. There were also billboards every couple miles with “En tres años” (In three years) and pictures of happy Mexican families doing daily activities. Not sure what this means… Unbelievable happiness will come to Mexican families in 2011? Or maybe the billboards were put up in 2007 and it is a countdown to the 2010 bicentennial…

The tolls really killed us… about $22 US to go 5.5 hours… That does not sound too bad except probably only 1.5 hours were actually ON a nice quality toll road! We did put gas in. It was $0.80 a liter and there are 3.8 liters in a gallon… I am not sure what that works out to but it seemed expensive. About $30 US to put in a little over 1/2 tank or 7ish gallons.

Mex and I had a few communication breakdowns due to the stress of not knowing what we were doing but we have calmed down now. Driving around the city of Chihuahua was particularly stressful because the exit signs always seemed to be on the “wrong” side of the road so we never knew what lane to be in. Also, when we got to the outskirts of the city, every intersection was crowded with people selling food, newspapers, coming up and squirting fluid on the window and trying to wash it. It was very nerve-wracking since I read way too many online horror stories of people being attacked in their cars. Definitely shouldn’t have done as much “research” on driving in Mexico as I did.

This hotel in Cuauhtémoc – the Tarahumara Inn –  is not as nice as our last one but seems pretty clean and has secure parking which is important. Costs about $70 a night. The city of Cuauhtémoc is mid-sized (about 90,000 people) so driving in it was a little better, although I did end up going the wrong way down a one way street. There are about 50,000 German-descended Mennonites in this area. They reportedly speak little Spanish and keep mostly to themselves, marrying within the community. I found an interesting article on drug use in the Mennonite community. I guess it is hard to live in one of Mexico’s most dangerous states without some surrounding influence. It is very strange to be walking down the street surrounded by Mexicans and then see these white men in overalls and white women in homemade dresses and bonnets. Very out of place.

It is about 3 pm and we spent some time walking around town a little. There are some interesting shops and this strange two-story market area that we went in to. I can’t really even describe it very well. Mex feels a little ill so we are going to relax and get ready for our Copper Canyon trip tomorrow. I can’t believe I didn’t take a single picture of the town. Still getting used to this tourist thing I guess.

UPDATE at 9 pm – We just finished dinner at the hotel restaurant. Finally some authentic Mexican food! We both had shrimp but with different sauces and it was great. Mex´s stomach has not gotten any better. He is having major cramps but nothing else and we cannot figure out why since we both have eaten exactly the same thing today. It may be the stress of my driving. If you notice that I am missing contractions or some punctuation it is because I am typing on a Mexican keyboard which has extra buttons that are amazingly impossible to figure out. We are both glad to not be driving for a few days and think going all the way over to Tequila may be an optimistic plan. Especially since we do not have the best of tempers in stressful situations. Thank goodness mom and dad drove us down to El Paso (dad really did all the driving) or we would probably both have ditched the car by now and gotten on a plane. I am starting to miss everybody. More now than when I was stuck in the hotel which seems odd. I am getting very excited to meet his sisters and dad and nieces and nephews and see his town. About nine or ten days left though until we get there. Have a good night everyone.

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Last day in Juarez


Here is a picture of the Mexican pesos. The coins make a lot more sense than US coins because the largest ones are the most valuable. It is roughly a 10 to 1 value (about 10.65) so you are looking at a $10, $20, $5 and $2 roughly.

By the way- His actual interview was incredibly short. They only asked three questions! One of them was if we planned on having kids. I thought that was a little odd. He actually had his interview “on time” at around 8 am but then he had to wait until about noon for them to give him the paper with the results – a rejection of his familial visa application due to his living in the US more than 180 days without a visa (that is how the law reads). Annoying that he had wait for that when we knew up front it would happen and even have his second Waiver interview scheduled.  Oh well. It seems like it would be more efficient for everyone to just skip to the 2nd interview. However, I suppose the US immigration department would miss out on a few thousand dollars of fees. I guess the first interview does serve the purpose of determining if the individual even qualifies for a Waiver. For instance, an individual who has falsely claimed to be a US citizen, who has entered the US undocumented more than once, has committed a felony, or a number of other exclusions, can NOT even attempt to get a Waiver of Inadmissibility.
 
I was totally excited that he came back by 12:30. We went to the mall for a little while and bought some bread for our road trip tomorrow. We are sooooooooooooo excited to leave this place and see some of this beautiful country!
 
An interesting story about the El Paso – Ciudad Juarez border area. In 1827, Jose Ponce de Leon received a land grant from the Mexican government on the south side of the Rio Grande (called the Rio Bravo in Mexico). Leon’s land became known as El Chamizal (the name of the park we drove by at the border crossing with the giant Mexican flag). The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, named the Rio Grande as the US-Mexican border from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. The area then became separated into two cities, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. The Rio Grande turns from flowing south to southeast right by the El Chamizal. The south bank of the river was constantly eroding and spring flooding was causing the river to actually move.
 
By 1895, the entire park was on the north side of the river. It was after the great flood of 1897 that the US and Mexico decided to construct a cement canal and control the flow of the river in 1899, splitting the cost. In 1911, a dispute started. Even though Pedro Garcia, a Mexican farmer, had clear title to the El Chamizal land. It was on the El Paso side and Americans settled on it. The Mexican revolution started soon after and the dispute was put on the back burner. In the 20’s, prohibition sent Americans across the border to drink, drug trafficking started going northwards and the Immigration Act of 1924 signed by President Coolidge put limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, actually excluding all Asians from immigrating. Conditions were so bad in the area during the Great Depression that officials on BOTH sides agreed to put up a border fence, which was constructed in 1940.
Finally in 1963, after 93 years of dispute, The Chamizal Convention was held and President Kennedy and Presidente Lopez Mateos came to an agreement. It was President Lyndon Johnson who attended the dedication ceremony in 1967. Now there is a Chamizal Park on both sides of the border to tell the history and cooperation of the two counties working together (after almost 100 years, of course).  I guess that means in another 90 years the two countries may come to an agreement on how to handle the drug trafficking and immigration problems that span both borders.

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Wind storm

That’s all to report for today. Seriously strong winds are howling outside of our hotel room. It’s insane! It sounds like we are in the middle of a tornado. The curtains are blowing even though the window is shut tight. We had dinner in our hotel tonight and talked with the waiter a little while. He’s from Puebla state which is right next to Mex’s state of Morelos. He said he came to Juarez to work because there was no money in Puebla so he’s trying to make some money here and then move back home. He also told us that since he’s been in Juarez he’s been robbed by the POLICE twice. They asked to see his identification and then took his whole wallet and pulled the money out. Great =(   He’s also been robbed by other people a couple of times. In my opinion (and Mex’s) things back home would have to be pretty desperate to move to this town. It was very sad for both of us to hear his story… Just one of millions and millions of stories in this country. How horrible to live in a place where you cannot trust the police. The very people who are there to protect you. I give the Mexican president a lot of credit for trying to clean up both the local police and federal police forces but the corruption is so deep and ongoing it seems like an impossible task. In Minnesota, I would never hesitate twice to call the police in an emergency or run up to a policeman on the street if I was in trouble. I really can’t fathom what it would be like to live in a place like Juarez.

Seriously, I don’t know how we are going to sleep with this wind howling! We can’t even hear the TV over the wind!

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Lazy day

Delicious red and green chilaquiles

Sometimes we just wish we were kids again! This looked so fun.

 So today was pretty uneventful here in Ciudad Juarez. We decided to stick close to the hotel since we will have plenty of opportunity to see Mexican markets in other (i.e. SAFER) towns. Our hotel has an awesome breakfast buffet and it’s the first time we’ve seen anyone in the restaurant. It was $270 pesos ($23 US) for 2 of us which is pricey but seems equivalent to what you would pay in the US for a similar spread. We had a dish called chilaquiles for breakfast. Totally yummy but incredibly unhealthy I’m sure. It’s basically fried tortillas cut into wedges, soaked in green or red sauce until they are soft again and then sprinkled with cheese. Of course we also had omelettes and french toast (really, really good)!
After that we walked a block down the road to the Rio Grande Mall which is a fairly small mall, probably about the size of Northtown Mall in Minnesota. Seriously, sometimes it feels like we haven’t really left yet. The mall was complete with department stores carrying Tommy Hilfiger and any kind of perfume that you could want. There were even sunglasses huts and cell phone huts down the middle of the mall. We saw this super cool bungee thing for kids that looked like a blast. We grabbed a bite at the food court and had some semi-Mexican food.

Mex got a little tired so he took a break in a massage chair for five pesos (less than 50 cents) in the middle of the mall. We went back and tried to swim in the pool but it was absolutely frigid- Lake Superior cold. Then we tried to go in the hot tub but the water smelled really, really bad. So we ended up just sitting outside and enjoying the nice weather. For dinner we walked down the block and had Domino’s pizza. Exactly like in the States! That’s all for today!

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