Millennium in the Copper Canyon (3 of 3)
Part Three: In the bowels of the canyon (finally)
It was the first of January, 2000. We woke up to the birds singing the same tune in the same deserted town. We checked out of our hotel and wandered around town looking for a way to leave it. We went to the bus station and enquired about buses leaving town. The lady there bluntly informed us that we were way out of luck and that there were no buses at all leaving Guachochi for a day or two.
We left our backpacks there, walked over to a slightly uppity restaurant for breakfast, and pondered our situation over a plate of huevos. The food was so greasy that even the coffee tasted like it had been brewed with lard. It was exactly what we needed to start our new millennium with.
When we were sitting at breakfast, Karl casually remarked, “Guys, did something seem a little odd about last night?” We all agreed that there had been something odd, but couldn’t put our fingers on what it was. Guachochi was back to where it was before, calm, quiet and dusty. The deserted streets added to the surrealism of the previous night.
Walking around town, we ran into the Mariachi band of the previous night. They were in the process of loading their stuff into their tour bus. Of course, they were all immaculately dressed in their black shirts (top two buttons undone), tight black jeans, shoes and hat. We thought that maybe we could hitch a ride with them back up north. They said that they would be happy to give us a ride to Parral. It was a hard decision; a drive in a bus with a Mariachi band or the now slim chance of backpacking in the Copper Canyon. Copper Canyon won out.
Soon we spotted a crowd gathering at a small doorway near the square. On inquiring, we found out that it was the office of a private bus service, which had a bus leaving for Creel late in the morning. Our joy knew no bounds. We immediately bought three tickets to Basihuare and ran over to the bus station to collect our bags. The bus left Guachochi around 11 and it was so crowded that we had to keep our backpacks on our laps.
It was an uncomfortable two hours to Basihuare to say the least, but we reached the spot where we were supposed to get off a day earlier, found the trail and set off on it. Soon we ran into a Tarahumara man walking home carrying what seemed to us like a large tree on his shoulder. Seeing the small man walk comfortably with what must’ve weighed his body-weight on his shoulders, it was easy to believe all the stories about the legendary strength and stamina of the Tarahumara people. When he passed us by, he stopped briefly and said, “I guess you are here to hike. So stop standing and start hiking!” laughed, and sauntered away. So we started hiking.
Our trail was on the map alright, but we had not counted upon the other trails that existed along with it; cow tracks, goat trails, etc; a hundred sub-trails branching in all directions. Somehow, we managed to stay on the trail most of the time and just around nightfall, reached the top of a plateau. During the hike, we hardly saw a bird or a lizard. Everything seemed deathly quiet in the copper canyon. Just hot and quiet.
At the top, we were greeted by the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen. I understood what they mean when they say “beautiful as a desert sunset” (I don’t know if people really say that, but if they don’t, they should start). I am from a tropical country, I am used to the sun sliding below the ocean in a few seconds. To me, this sunset seemed to last an eternity. The sky was etched with every shade of red and each shade stayed long enough never to be forgotten.
We set up camp behind some bushes to protect us from the wind and ate a killer pasta dinner that we had been carrying with us all the way from Creel. It’s funny how even the worst kind of food tastes so much better when it is served on top of a mountain with dirt, stink, and sweat. We decided that in the morning, we would find our way back. We were slightly short of food and there didn’t seem to be any place nearby where we could get water, no streams or lakes of any sort. Also, we realized that we needed to get back to college.
In the morning, we could see an abandoned corn-field with an adjoining barn in the distance. After breakfast, we decided to hike around the corn-field and take a different trail back. This trail traversed some cliffs that looked down into the river and started from the corn-field. Later, we would realize that we followed the trail only as far as the corn field. A topo map is a comforting thing. Between all the lines on the map you feel that the vast area has been dissected into its different colors, brown, blue and green. With the map, a compass, and the surrounding mountains, we thought we were unassailable.
Boy, were we wrong! The trail we followed reached the cliffs way too early and ended abruptly at a sheer drop. Every trail that we followed from there seemed to end in some other equally sheer cliff equally abruptly. It was frustrating. Soon, we came across a dried creek. We thought, “Hey, if we follow the creek down to the river, we could follow the river to the next village”. Plus, we were a little short of water in our backpacks. Bad idea! Dry creeks have a bad habit of ending in waterfalls.
We were now truly stumped. I could see the headline back in Boulder maybe months later, “Bodies of three Colorado University students found in the Copper Canyon”. Love you mom!
Looking back the way we came, we realized that it was really steep. Our choice now was a dangerously steep descent down with our backpacks and no ropes or an agonizing steep scramble up to where we were a couple of hours back and a fresh start. We were more stoical than brave. So we went back up. It was getting really hot and we did not have any water left. We were tired, ornery, thirsty, and clueless. We did not run into any goats or cows like we had the previous day.
We split up in different directions and looked for trails. When we met half hour later, Rick had found something with faint promise. So we decided to follow it and voila! Like a creek that becomes a raging river, the little goat trail that he found was soon joined by a few other trails and was a comfortable hiking trail an hour or so from where we started. Rick had pulled us through, bless him.
Our next problem was the bus that we needed to catch. The bus was supposed to stop by Humira at 4 in the evening. We had started at 8 in the morning, giving us ample time to explore on our way back. It was almost 3pm and we did not know how long a hike we had back to the road. We hiked like we had never hiked before and in the end we were agonizingly close. We saw the bus leaving in the distance, just as we got off the trail. Stumped again!
There was hardly any traffic on the road, but we decided to try our luck at hitchhiking anyway. Soon a pig truck pulled by and the driver gave us a ride. Since he mistook me for a local, I got to sit in the cabin and Rick and Karl got thrown in the back along with some pig remains. That was another thing that they still haven’t forgiven me for.
Our journey back home from there is a barely broken series of bus-ride episodes. The pig truck dropped us off at a strange village where we took a bus to Creel. From Creel, we stood all the way to Cuauhtemoc on another bus and spent the night there. From Cuauhtemoc, we took a bus to Chihuahua, from Chihuahua to Ciudad Juarez, from Juarez to El Paso, from El Paso to Denver, and from Denver to Boulder the next morning. We took more buses in that week than we had done in the previous five years and we were truly and completely bussed out.
But hey, we had gotten completely lost in the Copper Canyon and how many people can claim to have done that!