Before I knew it, I had been at Entre Amigos Hostel in Urique in Copper Canyon, Mexico for an entire week and had done little but walk to town a couple of times and cook delicious meals from ingredients plucked from their organic garden. I also realized that the local Tarahumara (Raramuri) Indians were rarely seen in Urique; if I expected to experience their culture I would need to visit the smaller villages in the area. Of the two Tarahumara villages within hiking distance, I chose to visit Guadelupe Coronado because I was told the seven kilometer walk was level, which would be better for my still recovering hip and knee.
I set out in the early afternoon on the dirt road that follows the Urique River upstream, hoping to escape the worst of the midday heat and still arrive in time to shoot photos of the towns historic mission church in the golden afternoon light that precedes sunset. Though it is possible to drive to Guadalupe vehicles must ford the river at one point, making 4-wheel drive an absolute necessity, but since I was hiking I could simply cross on the swinging bridge. At the ford, I headed up the hill and stepped carefully over the gap between the first metal tread and the rocky lip to which the suspension bridge was attached. Holding onto the thin metal wire handrail and mesh netting that make up the sides of the bridge, I picked my way to the middle of the river and stopped to watch tractors and heavy dump trucks crawl around the river bed, working around the clock to construct a new concrete bridge.
I was sadly considering that the old swinging bridge will soon be abandoned when I reached the last third of the span. Here, the platform changed from metal steps to rough wooden planks; many were severely split and wobbly, while others were missing entirely, leaving dizzying gaps to the shallow waters a hundred feet beneath my feet. Gingerly, I tested each plank before applying my full body weight, gripping the metal cables in the event that one gave way. As I hopped over a missing plank that had been stuffed with a tree log I admitted that a new concrete bridge wasn’t such a bad idea. Finally stepping onto terra firma on the other side, I shuddered and looked back across the canyon. Two Tarahumara women were setting down their 50-pound sacks of groceries to rest before crossing the bridge; thank God I made it across before they added their weight to the flimsy span.
On the other side the road diverted into a side canyon and began a gradual climb. The terrain was greener here, with blooming trees and a forest of giant cactus with upthrust limbs. A smaller stream ran below the road, pooling turquoise beneath enormous pink boulders. In some areas, the path turned to fine white sand, an indication of the floods that inundate these valleys every summer when the rains come. After two hours of walking it seemed like I had come much further than seven kilometers (4.2 miles) but still no village was in sight. A local man walking in the opposite direction assured me that the town was not much further and pointed to a steep red hill just ahead, telling me to take the left branch at its base. Someone has a definite sense of humor if they think this route is flat, I thought.
I slogged up the steep hill, determined to make it to Guadalupe. At the top I stopped to catch my breath and felt eyes on me. A group of young Tarahumara girls, dressed in vividly colored traditional skirts and blouses, sat on the edge of the road, swinging their legs over the canyon gorge. They eyed me suspiciously and averted their eyes as I approached. “Kuira Ba.” I said hello, the only phrase I know in Tarahumara. Still they would not look at me. Switching to Spanish, I asked permission to take a photo. They glanced up cautiously, but no permission was forthcoming. I asked their names; no response. Finally I held out the camera and showed them some digital images, again asking if I could take a photo. When the boldest of the girls showed a flicker of interest and nodded slightly I quickly snapped her photo and turned the camera around so she could see herself. She giggled and squealed, pointing to her image while the others scrambled up from the ground to see. Before long, all of them wanted their photos taken. It was a sign. The village couldn’t be far now.
Thirty minutes later I was about to give up when I turned a corner and passed through a gate and a cattle guard. Surely this meant civilization was near. I trod down a long, steep incline, with the river below on my left and a red canyon wall soaring above me on the right. Beyond one last curve the canyon wall fell away and I was looking down on a lush green valley with cultivated fields, rimmed by craggy mountains on all sides, in the middle of which a small village was clearly visible.
Though it looked fairly close, it was another half hour before I reached the village, just in time to capture a photo of the old mission before the sun dropped behind the mountains. A dozen or so single story adobe homes were scattered around the dusty square but not a person was in sight. Even the school yard was deserted. As I stood quietly surveying my surroundings, a slight motion caught my eye. Beyond the church, a door of one of the houses had been partially opened and several sets of young eyes were peering out at me. I walked toward the house but the door was hurriedly closed. At the front fence I waited; little by little the door was cracked open and the eyes reappeared. Eventually the camera game won the kids over and they, too, were giggling over their photos.
Too soon, I waved goodbye. I had at least a two hour walk ahead of me and daylight was fading. While I wasn’t worried about walking the road at night – the moon was full and I was prepared with a flashlight – I was freaked out by the prospect of crossing the suspension bridge in the dark, sure I would plunge to my death. An hour later, the last rays of the sun were trickling away when I heard the welcome sound of a vehicle approaching from behind. As always in the remoter parts of Mexico, the driver was happy to give me a ride and soon we were sloshing through the river. From my seat in the bed of the pickup truck I looked up at the suspension bridge, glistening under a luminous moon, and said a silent prayer of thanks that I didn’t have to cross it a second time.
13 thoughts on “An Adventure In Copper Canyon, Mexico, Chapter Nine – Hiking to Guadalupe Coronado”
Thanks for your blog about Copper Canyon about which I read some time ago…I thought i’d take the train one time ,but never got there…I wanted to see that beautiful waterfall somewhere along the canyon but one has to hike down to it I think…Forgot the name of it too…But all my proposed travels went by the wayside as I ended up back in China so many times instead and that seems to be where my heart is, although I’ve wanted to see other places as well..At least I got to travel in Europe when my husband was in the Army back in the late 50’s and see Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and parts of Austria, in just a few months and we did it in our 1936 BMW believe it or not…Wonderful memories…Appreciate your writings…I tried to ‘sell’ my Essays on travel in China, but thus far no success, so I may just end up giving them away instead or share parts of them of a little bit at a time as I don’t want to keep my writings to myself. This world is a big place to see and so happy that I’ve been able to do as much as I have…I even took my late third son to China 3 times and he loved traveling too…he was developmentally-disabled and was almost 46 when he died in 2010, but the Bible says that the dead will live again on this earth just like the man Job who knew that “God would have a yearning” to bring him back when he died. Job 14:14,15; John 11th chapter.
I lived in the town of Urique for about a year off and on. The longest I stayed was 5 months. I was asked to dance with the diablo’s for semana santa in guadalupe. It was the most amazing thing I have ever done. I would recommend this area to anyone. It is lush with fresh fruit, has great swimming holes and the people are wonderful. Entre Amigos (also known by the locals as Keiths Place) is the greatest hostel ever!
Derrick: I couldn’t agree more! It’s one of the world’s special places.
Those bridges are always an adventure. I love them! Just be happy it wasn’t windy too!
Lovely pictures of the hike – I”m glad you got out and explored.
I’ve been on bridges like that in Ecuador but not quite so rickety
We met in the hostel in Creel…
Thank you so much for your recomendations about Entre amigos in Urique! We had a wonderful time there with the family working there and Semana Santa celebrations in Guadalupe with the Tarahumara people!
All the best for your travelling and webblog!
hasta luego Barbara
Hi Barbara! So glad you loved Entre Amigos as much as I did. Aren’t Maruca and Tomas wonderful? I’m sure I’ll go back there at some point. It’s just one of those wonderfully serene places on the face of this earth. Great to meet you all!
I’m doing some checking. I live North of Denver and thought of taking the bus through El Paso but have been advised to stay away from Ciudad Juarez. I’m sure if it’s the trip for me to take, things will drop perfectly in place and POOF!, I will be off.
I’m simultaneously dreaming about multiple trips including to Choquequirao outside Cusco, into Bolivia or back to Bali.
Hope you have warmed up from the hostel experience.
Larry: Although I am really disgusted by our government’s position on the danger of traveling in Mexico (in general, it is a big, fat, politically motivated lie), there are some spots that would be good to avoid, and Cuidad Juarez is one. Do not bus through CJ as it is the leading drug trafficking route from Mexico into the U.S. It is likely nothing would happen to you, but it is better to be safe than sorry. I have definitely warmed up, not that I am in the center of the country. Wait till you see the photos of Guanajuato. It is the most stunning city I have ever seen, anywhere in the world.
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences and the photo’s bring the experience to life. I’ve been on-line figuring out how I can get to Copper Canyon and relax in Urique myself now! Hope the knee and hip are feeling better!
Hi Larry: Don’t know where you live, but if you want to do it really cheap you can take the bus down from San Diego to Los Mochis, another bus to El Fuerte to see that lovely town for a couple of days, and then hop on the train in El Fuerte.
Very nicely written. another excellent story from another adventurous trek. Great pictures by the way.
What an adventure! And good for you for making the trek…safely!