Select Page

Started April 27th  WALK ACROSS AMERICA  *  Fundraiser   *  DONATE HERE

No.70 Bike touring in Northern Mexico – Copper Canyon to Durango

Jun 5, 2017 | America, Blog, Mexico

The ferry crossing to the mainland of Mexico was sweetened by two super nice German women. It was simply fun to talk in my native tongue for a while and to hear the latest news from home.

While chatting we discovered a whale fountain in the distance but sadly the big creature was too far away to really claim it as a whale spotting.

Los Mochis was nothing worth seeing, same as the route from there to the village of El Fuerte. But the town itself was one of those places which was really nice to look at. The main reason to come here, however, was the train station.

I was treated to a train ride up to the Copper Canyon which is said to be among the world’s most beautiful train journeys. One of my dear fans contacted me long before I even got there and wanted me to have a great time in one of the biggest canyons on our planet. By far bigger than the Grand Canyon, but significantly less visited. So, it all sounded really good.

I certainly didn’t want to miss the train ride, but not only that, additionally I was strongly advised by the locals not to ride a bike from El Fuerte to the Copper Canyon as it is one of the number 1 drug-cultivation areas in Mexico and therefore not necessarily the safest corner of the country.

I met a man about my age who invited me to a fish supper. Sure, I agreed immediately and was punctual, like the Germans are ?

Thirty minutes late he came with a few mates in tow and began to spoil me rotten. There was a lot of food to eat and a few musicians were paid to entertain us. Lots of alcohol and lots of giggling on top of it. Somehow fun to see how much I was worth and how stupid the guy looked when I left the pissed bunch of dudes without him getting something out of it.

It is kind of funny when you are traveling from one culture to the next experiencing how the gender role has changed during the journey. But so far, I didn’t understand anything about the Mexicans, neither about the women nor about the men.

Unfortunately, the train ride was nothing to write home about but I had planned right from the beginning to get off halfway and pedal the rest of the journey with my pushbike.

Bahuichivo was my endpoint and it was time to start the adventure of the Baranca del Cobre as the Copper Canyon is called in Spanish. At about 1700 meters above sea level I pushed the pedals and fought from then on with the never-ending hills and mountains.

I was uncertain, I didn’t know the area at all and couldn’t estimate the danger in this environment. My Spanish is far away from being good enough to understand the details of people’s statements so it was a bit intimidating to ride through this massive mountainous area. I wasn’t at ease at all when a car came close and possibly reduced the speed. I was also not willing to camp here somewhere, because according to many locals it would be just damn stupid to do so.

Okay, so what to do. The helicopters kept flying their loops and the military drove patrol. Policemen were armed with machine guns in lonely villages, and I, a woman from Germany, riding here all alone on my pushbike. I wasn’t really sure if it was the smartest move.

It seemed that from now on I always had to find a safe place for the night because apparently there is no real danger during the day but only in the night. People have to be careful and in general you should not leave the road to not accidentally stumble across a marijuana field and bring the owners into turmoil.

So, I rode a little faster than usually and after fighting with steep hills and lots of stones on my way I had reached the village Urique at 500m above sea level. Urique was another colorfully painted sleepy town. The scenery was great, the people very reserved but not unpleasant.

I was invited to another fish dinner. This time from a family whose father had lived in the USA for a long time and thus spoke very good English. The fish was delicious, but the urge to give them financial support was a bit too pushy. Well, fish supper invitation ?

The kids played baseball on the ancient sports ground and to my surprise even here the policemen were armed with machine guns while watching the action.

It took me 2 days to cover the distance from Urique to Batopilas, another village in the middle of peaks and gorges. I had some steep ground to cover. Zig zagging serpentines up to 2000m to lose them shortly afterwards again down to 600 m above sea level.

At the end of the first day, I was getting nervous, as night approached, but the possibilities of asking people for a safe place for the night got less and less. Just before darkness I discovered a tiny hut and left the road and pushed my bike through the scrub to get there.

As I approached the house, I noticed right away that no one would really welcome me here, but it was already too late in the evening for another trial at another house

Tarahumara Indians live in this area. Extremely shy people. The men wear a kind of Jesus sandals with an extremely short wrap around the waist and a wide-cut bright colored top. The women, on the other hand are wearing long, wide, colorful skirts. Unfortunately, I did not dare to photograph them.

After some long eye contact I was able to convince them I was okay and that there is no danger for them when I spend the night on their property. The mother nodded, but for the rest of my stay I was completely ignored. But completely. Finally, with some kind of a relief I set up my tent surrounded by goats and chicken poo and pitched my tent on the harvested corn stubble field.

With the sound of barking dogs and chock crows I fell asleep right away.

Steep started the day and steep ended the day.

Batopilas was another Pueblo Magico. A magical village, some of which can be found all over the country. In principle, an award to promote tourism in these areas and quite often they were really worth seeing.

In the end, everything was not as difficult as thought, but I admit that it was a bit creepy before dark, and since the people were anything but friendly or especially open, the situation didn’t really simplify for that matter.

In retrospect, I would say the area is not really dangerous for a tourist, even with a bike, but if one is so exposed the world always looks differently. But as always, afterwards you are smarter.

I did not like the Mexicans. I am rather an open type and friendly. “Hola senor, hola senora when I see someone on the street. I say hello when I enter a shop and I say thank you when I get change or a meal is served in a taco booth and I say good bye when I move on. Totally normal, right?

But this is rather strange in the north of Mexico. Because there is rarely something coming back, which I find very unfortunate and also not very welcoming. There are no laughing and waving children, who sweeten the day or simply some people who ask something or who are curious.

I stayed on a farm and nobody paid any attention to me when I set up my tent a few meters away from the house. I camped on sports grounds and no one was interested in me and was up for a chat. I also stayed in small hotels and no one asked me more than needed.

Sometimes I heard the name Trump when they talked about me. The Mexicans pronounce the name as in Spanish, which sounds really funny. Now and then I replied that I also can’t stand the man and that I am not a Gringa, but German. Then I usually earned a timid smile, but most often nothing more.

“Is Alemania, a state of Canada?”  people asked. “Nope, it is in Europe, muy lejos – far away” I gave as an answer.

From inside, I was cross at the Americans, because I still thought that the people are so disinterested and unwelcoming because of Trump. Doesn’t this man create enough damage; does he also need to ruin my time here in Mexico? However, over the course of time, I came to the conclusion it is not Trump’s fault, if so only to a small part.

I had heard so much good about the Mexicans that it just didn’t match with what I found and I tried to find reasons for it, but couldn’t find any.

The men were usually more open, and I could enjoy a few small talks. Women, on the other hand, were much more difficult. It sometimes looked like they were saying inwardly “don’t get too close to my husband”. I might be wrong with this statement, but I felt so unwelcome that I was desperate to find reasons for it.

The supposedly dancing and fun party Mexicans were absolutely nowhere around. Rather the opposite was the case.

The landscape resembled the states of Wyoming, Montana and Arizona. It seemed to me as if I had never left the Great Divide, the watershed was still winding through the mountains, even if there was no official trail in Mexico, everything reminded me of my time in the USA.

But where was the Mexico of which I had other pictures in mind?

One church after another, one village after another, farms, cows and cacti. In the long run this was quite boring. Even if I found the colorful houses and the cute little villages really appealing, but it kind of all looked almost alike.

The villages were often so deserted and remote that I thought that there might only be a handful of strangers in the year strolling through the area. Shouldn’t someone be curious and at least look who is cycling past the window? People all pretended as if we were somewhere in a big city and they had such encounters 100 times a day.

I also had another problem. It was the third big country in a row. I find nothing more demotivating than big countries for a trip on a bike. It’s all going on forever. There is no end in sight on the map. No variety comes up, no new food, no new language, no, no, no … much the same.

Furthermore, I was still puzzled that there was nowhere any wildlife. Supposedly Mexico has an extremely high biodiversity, but this was absolutely nowhere to be found.

On the Baja California people told me, even the tourists, yes, the Baja is not Mexico. The people in real Mexico are the real Mexicans, the country is different and much cheaper and much better. Well, there we go. You always have to make your own experiences, because so far, I have a different opinion on that, therefore such statements are always relative.

It is also necessary to consider your own stage of your trip when you visit a country. Before Mexico I had been in the West of the US, where the service and friendliness are great, even though it is not always honestly meant. Nevertheless, I liked that much more.

If I am American or Asian and have never seen an old church it is different for them than for someone like me coming from Europe.

I also heard that the southern part of the country, especially Chiapas, would be so great. Good to know but that didn’t help me at all right now, while I was at the other end of the country and had only mountains and eternal expanse and thousands of miles ahead of me.

The exotic also lacked a little, also the food didn’t knock off my socks even if this is so widely praised. For me there is nothing better than Asian food, not a single taco can beat a tasty curry. At the end, the Taco’s all tasted the same.

The tremendously great time I had cycling thru the Baja California was most probably still in the back of my mind and I guess I also wasn’t able to give the mainland a real chance, at least this is how it felt.

But I still had hopes for the south

One thing was definitely clear, there had to be some change, the country just did not touch me. Such a long trip doesn’t always have to be the same, so I decided to take a break from cycling and to move around like a classic tourist does for quite a bit.

Of course, this actually totally stuck in my craw, because almost 4 years back I started with the intention of riding every single kilometer with my bike. But in all honesty, after such a long time, one’s principles have been thrown overboard at least 100 times. But that doesn’t mean from now on I will constantly cheat, no certainly not. But it was time to wimp out for a bit.

For the next few weeks I hitchhiked or took the bus and explored some parts of Mexico like a backpacker without backpack – more coming soon.

30 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your blog. Always a great read. Best of luck. Mike

    Reply
  2. Awesome
    Love your work

    Reply
  3. I’ve driven through northern Mexico a few times, and I lived for about a year in Puebla, southwest of Mexico City. Southern Mexico will be different, including the flora, the food, and likely, the people, too, though I agree that they are not as open to strangers as are people from other cultures. Of interest to you may be that the city of Puebla has a large Volkswagen factory, so many Germans live there. It may be a nice break for you to visit there. It’s a beautiful colonial town with a lot of history.

    I love your photos, as always, and I’m reminded again that I need to visit Copper Canyon. Buen Viaje!

    Reply
    • Thanks Drew, given the fact that I am not up-to-date with my blog, I can tell you that I didn’t go to Puebla, but have seen other beautiful cities and towns. Do you have an idea why they are not open? Why especially the women are so unwelcoming? It still puzzles me! Is it only towards me as a white woman? Would love to hear your experiences! Cheers and thanks for your comment, Heike

      Reply
  4. Hi Heike,
    Enjoyed your blog. You certainly did Copper Canyon the hard way!
    I rode the train a few years ago and it was really great! Mind you it was with a good tour company who do not do it any more as I think they have decided it is too dangerous! Am glad I have done it and have great memories!

    Reply
    • HI Marie, I didn’t know that tour companies decided to stop travelling in this area. As said, I never felt threatened, just uncertain because of what I had heard – but as always, most often it is much safer than people say it is. THanks and happy life, Heike

      Reply
  5. Thank You! I am Not sure I can say…Hang in There…. I have been to Chiapas and other parts of Mexico and have little desire to go back. It seems like a lot of people are stuck there with little prospect of being able to change their lifes. Sad. I will be thinking about you.

    Be safe!

    Reply
    • Hello Anneliese 😉 Nice to hear that I am not the only one who didn’t feel very comfortable. Thanks for your thoughts….Cheers Heike

      Reply
    • it sounds to me like people are afraid; and even desperate. When being curious or paying attention can get you killed, as with the drug cartels , people learn to be wary; untrusting. It’s hard to be interested when you are utterly hopeless.
      I found that the desert makes everything else bright and glossy- and that is useful.
      There’s no place like Europe! I completed my ride from Lisbon to Dubrovnik 18 months ago and every day was magical. Of course, I’m from Texas!
      I think Cindy is finding more compassion in South America- are you headed there? Best regards!

      Reply
      • Thanks Melissa, of course for you Europe is interesting, sure, for me as a European it is what I am familiar with. I am not sure where and what I am doing next – but South America is surely interesting. Yes Cindy loves it.
        As for people being afraid. My experiences are that people want to protect you if you are in dangerous places.
        Cheers and thanks for your comment…Heike

    • I find the bad press about Mexico totally perplexing and would like to inform readers or those who may be embarking on a cycle trip to Mexico that for many cycle tourists I spoke to they list it as their favourite country. I found it to be an incredibly diverse country where I was always welcomed in to peoples’ families and social networks as though I was family.

      It’s true however that in certain areas like the Copper Canyon the sometimes indigenous communities are wary of foreigners, however I always found the Mexicans is be very friendly and proud people, if not sometimes a little reserved. I was helped numerous times and always felt welcome in Mexico. I am a male and I speak Spanish so maybe that has something to do with it.

      I was frequently offered to sleep in peoples homes and once when I was discovered camping in an avocado plantation the owner insisted I went to his home and allowed me to stay for 3 days while I rested. In San Luis Potosi I was invited to stay with a family for a week and visited them another time and keep in contact with them even today.

      It’s not a perfect country by any means and there are definitely systemic problems in Mexican society. The drug cartels, who exist only because of America’s ridiculous ‘war on drugs’, are a cancer which is eating away at the Mexican state and fabric of society. The is endemic gender inequality and petty crime is common and the police are unable or unwilling to deal with it. However as a tourist none of this will likely affect you.

      I just feel like Mexico gets such a bad press and it is in my opinion totally undeserved. North of the border the ignorance about Mexico harboured by many Americans is vast and ugly. But you can’t blame them too much as their standards in media and education are very poor. I just wanted to say this to encourage other people to go to Mexico and judge for themselves. It’s a fascinating country and the experiences I had there will stay with me forever.

      Best wishes,
      Ross O’Toole

      Reply
      • Thanks very much for your comment Ross. I appreciate the fact that you are supporting the Mexicans. I also don’t like the bad press about certain countries on this planet.
        In 5 months all over Mexico I didn’t encounter a single critical moment.

        But I disagree with one thing. Language barriers should never be a reason for unfriendly and ignoring behaviour. A little smile can go a long way anywhere on this planet.

        I don’t know if it was your gender or simply your luck why you were welcomed and I wasn’t, but I spoke to several people myself to try to understand why I had those unpleasant experiences. I would say that half of the people I asked, no matter if they were couples, males or solo females – cyclists, backpackers or RV tourists who disliked the people as much as I did. And the other half had a great time.

        As with any country and any nation – some suit you and others don’t. You always need to find out yourself.

        Happy riding…Cheers Heike

  6. Heike, seems like mainland Mexico was a bit disappointing for you, but hey you got some great pics as usual. I keep going back through, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Excelente!!!

    Reply
  8. Good to hear from you Heike, as always an update is welcome.

    It is indeed a strange culture where there is such poverty driven into seclusion by the greed and wealth of drug traffic. That, I assume, would be the fault of the United States with the sickening desires for the product.

    It is indeed a sad day in the world when a man “expects something” from a girl because he provided her with a fish dinner. Perhaps that behavior helps to explain the cold nature of the local women…….you have a way out, somewhere (if nowhere, or anywhere) to go. You have a freedom that they probably never even realized could have existed outside of their dreams. They hold nothing against you, they are envious in their entrapment.

    It’s just a momentary low in the road you ride. After the push and struggles to the top there is the ease of the coasting down the other side. I trust you will enjoy more times that remind you of why you are there in the first place.

    Ride safe,
    Greg

    Reply
    • Gregory, yes, I am sure that the US has a huge influence on it – and that’s why they might think, she is white, she is American….
      You have those guys everywhere, but I found this situation just too comical to have not mentioned it, because it was so obvious……
      I actually don’t always want to blame the men. Women have their own part on gender roles. Women can be really mean. Machismo behaviour is also partly the women’s fault – they bring up the kids and they don’t stand up for their rights. Even if I know that it is not easy and that not every woman has the confidence to go against the flow, especially if they have no chance to have a good education. But Mexico is not as poor as people might think.

      And yes you are probably right that they might have been envious, but I have been to other parts of the world where people were really poor and they had such a warm heart, more than I would have ever thought it could be possible. Usually the less people have the more they open their doors – they have nothing to lose.
      The gap between the poor and the rich in Mexico – and the rich neighbour country with all it’s problems might lead to all of it.
      Thanks for your comment, Heike

      Reply
  9. Heike, I’ve had great experiences bicycling in Northern Mexico and some less than great. One time I was riding around Chihuahua and Sinoloa, and Baja while carrying a book about vagabonding in Greece. That was a mistake. I kept thinking ” Why aren’t I there instead? “.

    Reply
    • David, I had to laugh about your comment 😉 Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side – sometimes we wonder, what on earth am I doing here? Cheers Heike

      Reply
  10. Hi Heike

    Thank you for more great photos. I look forward to you monthly posts and enjoy reading about your encounters. Many blogs go on and on about how wonderful everything is. You writing covers the good and the difficult. It is very grounded.

    Reply
    • Hi Daniel, I am happy to hear that my honesty is appreciated. Thanks for the feedback, cheers Heike

      Reply
  11. Heike,
    As always I love to see the beautiful pictures you take along the way. I feel as though I am traveling along with you. You have covered so many miles over the years and seen both the good and bad in various countries and cultures. I know you’ll again find a place and a people that you love as you continue to push on and on.
    I’m looking forward to your next blog. I hope it is more favorable in your opinion.
    I keep you in my prayers for a safe ride and that you will find wonder in God’s creation around this world.

    Reply
    • Thanks Rick! Nice that you still stay in contact! All the best for you – Cheers Heike

      Reply
  12. Love your photography! Gives a wonderful window into the area you are traveling. Thanks so much for sharing

    Reply
  13. Thanks for sharing Heike. Life is better with your pedaling, photos, stories. You are kind a journalist.

    Reply
    • 😉 Wow – love your great compliment – made my day 😉 Cheers Heike

      Reply
  14. Holy Shit! Your photo’s are so WONDERFUL! It makes me want to go to Mexico! Yes, I did read quite a bit of the post ? but the colors are so great and the people allow you to make a (stealthy) photograph! Landscapes are fantastic too. Heike, your eye is really really so artistic. You know, when I am in town I hardly make photo’s anymore. Then I just do what I need to do and go on… big compliments to you!!

    Reply
    • Oh Cindy – what a lovely comment – thanks so much!!!
      I also love town life – so much to see and do and so much to learn.
      Yes, the Mexican men were totally easy with pictures, never had any issues – only with the women it was difficult – but you know there are some other countries where it is almost impossible to take portraits of people!
      HUGS – enjoy your life on the road…..thanks Heike

      Reply
  15. Another barrage of breath-taking photographs, Heike. I especially liked the one of the snake with dirt in it’s mouth. Wow! And, of course, your graphic photographs of the Mexican people add a dimension that allows us to see how they live. The barbed wire and spurs bring back memories of when I lived in the West. Your scenes with bike parts add authenticity to your travels that cannot shed any doubt that you are on a journey of a lifetime. Best of luck, Heike, and God speed on your further travels.

    Reply
  16. Haha Hi,

    You are so lucky to get out of the Coppper Canyon without getting hurt.Many people have been been shot or disapeared in this area.The people do not talk to strangers because they are afaid of the local cartel members.That they might be seen as giving the wrong information or that you could be undercover police is a real fear.I will agree not the most talkative anyway.Again you are lucky you did’nt meet any drunken drug people or police while you were camping or on the road especially at night.I know of one person who was offered hospitality he could’nt refuse literally and just managed to escape with his life after waiting for the gun toting men to fall into a drunken stupour while he hid.Earlier they had hunted him with guns and lights while he hid in a wood.I have also heard because the tourist industry is so good for the comunity in the Copper Canyon that the cartels have warned members against actions that would hurt the industry and bring the army down on them.

    And yes I know people and the media espacially are very negative about places but sometimes, just sometimes there is some truth in there.There were 2 cycalists tragically murdered in mexico last year one was a german.

    Good luck with your travels and take the cookies off your site (not very nice). I thought you were trying to get away from that shit.Avarice and corporations,snooping,grabbing,selling,the economy must grow crap.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to anneliese Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

Hello, I am Heike 🙂

__________

Do you like my blog? Thank you very much for your support!

__________

__________

__________

You can also find me on social media

__________

__________

Top 25

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. / Durch die weitere Nutzung der Seite stimmst du der Verwendung von Cookies zu. more info / weitere Infos

The cookie settings on this website are set to "Allow cookies" to provide the best browsing experience. If you use this website without changing the cookie settings or clicking "accept", you agree. Die Cookie-Einstellungen auf dieser Website sind auf "Cookies zulassen" eingestellt, um das beste Surferlebnis zu ermöglichen. Wenn du diese Website ohne Änderung der Cookie-Einstellungen verwendest oder auf "akzeptieren" klickst, erklärst du sich damit einverstanden.

close / schließen