Friday, June 3, 2011

The Test of Copper Canyon - Part I

Emotions included excitement, enthusiasm, fear, anxiety, wonder, and awe as we set off from Creel towards Batopilas at the bottom of Copper Canyon. Mike was very much looking forward to showing off his unrealized dual sport riding skills, Jill was excited to see the small town and surrounding scenery, and we had both heard some warnings about the state of Batopilas - apparently everybody in town is somehow connected to drugs. But the more we asked people, the more specific they were. Not much happens in Batopilas itself. Which makes sense because that place is so far out of the way from anywhere.

Riding from Creel south to the Copper Canyon turnoff was stunning and fairly quick.

Pavement continued after the turnoff for a little while, but it was a well-maintained (new?) road with lots of turns and not much traffic. One military checkpoint slowed us down, but as usual they waved us through after a few simple questions.

The fun began once the road turned to dirt. Mike has never been much of a dirt bike rider (save the very first time he ever rode a motocycle, which was on a friend´s (thanks Joe B!) 400cc 2-stroke set up for motocross racing so the clutch wouldn´t even fully disengage out in a Iowan cornfield with dry husks covering the rowed was exciting to say the least, but apparently not enough dirt experience...), has never had a dual sport bike until preparing for this trip, and somehow convinced Jill that all of this was perfectly okay and that the ride down Copper Canyon would be great. Well, it kinda was... The first section of the road is packed dirt, with tight hairpin turns, and steep drops on the downhill side.

We had a letter from Rogelio, a friend we met at La Posada in Creel, to be delivered to his wife Sherry, an American who runs la Vista de Puente Bed and Breakfast in la Bufa, about 27 km short of Batopilas. It was kind of a fun mission for us, as we didn´t have an address or a name of the B&B, but rather a simple (and very Latin American) description of how to deliver this letter. And sure enough it worked out. Sherry wasn´t at the B&B, but was at the store 1 km further down the road, just as Rogelio explained. She was very nice and enjoyed living there, having commited full time a few years ago. Her B&B was beautiful, overlooking the river, but we continued on to our goal of Batopilas. We can´t vouch for it, but if anyone´s headed that way it could be a relaxing place to stay. She mentioned a price of 350 pesos per person (almost US$30) for room and board (another driving factor for us to continue onto our goal of Batopilas).

As we continued on down the canyon, the road had some rockier sections. Worst of all, and unexpectedly, it had some sandier sections too. We were rounding a right hand turn in the middle of the 2-track to avoid the washboard. About 3/4 of the way through the turn, we were on top of an ankle-deep mound of sand that had formed between the tire ruts. We didn´t stay on top of that mound for long. We were leaning slightly to the right, moving around 20 mph when the front wheel just disappeared down the mound to the left side. We both hit the ground before we knew it, Jill was thankful that her full face helmet caught the rocks instead of her chin. Mike was glad to be wearing the riding boots as his leg was still under the right saddlebag, resulting in a tweaked ankle. At least not too much damage was done. Except for our right side engine guard bag was now hanging on by a thread. Velcro straps to the rescue! It got held back on well enough to make Batopilas, we drank some water and headed on down... more cautiously and without further incident.

[no image available, but please wait for Part II...]

That afternoon we walked out to the mission church of San Miguel de Satevo (built circa 1600) further downriver. It turned out to be a very hot hour and 20 minute walk one way. We left around 3 in the afternoon hoping the canyon walls would offer some shade, but not until the way back did that happen. At least we could buy water in Satevo.

A shower and a meal, plus about 3 liters of water each, were welcomed that night. We stayed at Juanita´s near the far end of town, just off the corner of the plaza. She was very nice, allowed us to pull our bike into the courtyard, and the room was very clean. Not bad for 300 pesos, especially how safe it felt given our concern what Batopilas may be like at night.

Surprisingly, the town felt even safer and more comfortable in the early evening until around 9pm than during the daytime. There were more people out, including young children, families and teens, and much less of an edge. We didn´t go looking for drugs, and wouldn´t recommend anyone else do that there based on what we heard, but we really had no trouble at all.

Our computer time is running short, so please stay tuned for Part II. We are currently in Durango, heading for the coast tomorrow!

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