Armondo of Cabanas Family Diaz took us through to Divisadero for a last look at the view and to catch the train at 1.00. The station there is worth a look in itself – the platforms are lined with vendors of every description. Fast food Mexican style is cooked over 55 gallon drum wood fires and laid out enticingly – chile rellenos, burritos, tamales and all kinds of unrecognisable tortillas filled with local produce fill your nose with delicious aromas ( pity we had just had a huge home cooked Mexican breakfast!). There are drink sellers with freshly made lemonade and a thirst-quenching coconut drink, as well as cups filled with chunks of seasonal fruit, all competing of course with the ubiquitous local crafts of the Tarahumara. It is a feast to fill all the senses!
After a 2 hour train journey through spectacular scenery, we arrived half an hour early at Bahuichivo, where the Diaz family had arranged for their friends to meet us and take us to Urique, 6000 ft below next to the river in the bottom of the canyon. We were to spend the night there and have a general tour of the area before returning to the train the next day. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the usual crowd of touts for all the local hotels and we waved the business card Armando had given us – unfortunately to no avail. Being early, we decided to wait patiently and took turns walking up and down the platform – the only gringos in sight, surely someone would spot us!
An hour and a half later the station had become much busier and I stopped to ask 3 bus drivers chatting if they knew of the place we were going to – one piped up “oh, Roger?”. He had been there all the time and it had not dawned on him that we were his people! Luggage and ourselves finally ensconced in his 4x4, there followed the most amazing feat of driving skill I have ever witnessed. Railway line on one side, vehicles ahead and behind, as well as on the other side of us, all that remained was a narrow gap. Jose proceeded to manoeuvre backwards and forwards till he had completed a full 90 degree turn through which he finally exited. The really astounding thing to me, was that the driver of the vehicle really blocking us was sitting behind the wheel just watching the whole performance – it never occurred to him to move and neither did it seem unusual to Jose that he didn’t!
What followed was a bone rattling ride along dusty, twisty and undulating roads at a speed rivalling any rally car driver. Three quarters of an hour later we arrived in Cerocahui, shown the old mission church and school, then taken to a little restaurant on the adjacent plaza where we were introduced to Mama and told we would be staying there. A lively discussion ensued, needless to say, with the end result being that Jose agreed to take us to Urique. We set off at breakneck speed again, only to get a kilometre down the road before there was a huge bump and the wheel literally fell off – in the middle of a narrow bridge. We blocked the traffic in both directions for about an hour, while Jose retrieved the wheel nuts, borrowed a jack from the blocked truck and put the wheel back on.
Meanwhile, Roger and I decided the prudent thing to do was say in Cerocahui, so we headed back to Mama and decided to check the entire booking, which is just as well, because they wanted to charge us double what had been agreed. An hour and an interpreter later we came to an agreement – stay there, have dinner and breakfast, no tour, no Urique – it was a 6 hour journey with a 6000ft drop in altitude (although we later discovered it was only 2hrs), and a return trip to the station the following day at a cost of 600 pesos ($60 aprox). Our original agreement for Urique and the tour was 600 pesos a piece, so it was a fairly equitable arrangement. We had a plate of chicken and rice soup thrown at us for dinner, despite being told there was hot water, we got to our room which was very comfortable, to discover there was no water at all and in the morning our breakfast of Mexican scrambled eggs, tortillas and instant coffee was again, literally, thrown at us.
After meeting some fellow train travellers who were staying at the very upmarket hotel, we arranged to travel with the hotel shuttle bus back to the station. I’ve never been so glad to leave anywhere – we were made to feel so uncomfortable and unwelcome and had to pay for the privilege, to boot! We’ll just need to come back another time to visit Urique.