I’m just back from two and a half weeks in Mexico! It was a whistle stop tour involving about 7,000 kilometres from the north to the far East of Mexico, deserts, cities and swamps and 2 internal flights. Slight madness perhaps but it meant we got a taste of a fascinating, beautiful welcoming country.
We started up north in the city of Chihuahua. Northern Mexico is of course home to the country’s main drug cartels and has a violent reputation – none of this really affects tourists too much but Chihuahua (which is only about 400 kilometres from Ciudad Juarez, the world’s most dangerous city) certainly doesn’t see many foreign visitors (we were the only ones I saw). It definitely felt like Wild West – most of the men wore cowboy hats, and there were loads of Jeeps and Dodge vans around, also some very picturesque cactuses.
We were up north in order to take the Copper Canyon railway, which is a bit like the Orient Express except it goes through mountains, canyons and scrublands. Women from the local indigenous communities wait at the stops selling amazingly delicious snacks called gorditas (little fat ones) as well as trinkets, bracelets etc – though the Chepe (as it’s known) also has a very nice dining car. The views were spectacular – my camera can’t do them justice. Towards the end of the journey one of the ‘stewards’ on board gave us a moving little speech thanking us for coming to Mexico and choosing Chepe, saying Mexico needed tourists, and that’There is more to Mexico than the beach’. I couldn’t agree more. The train terminates in Los Mochis but we stayed at El Fuerte, in a 400-year-old converted hacienda which we had entirely to ourselves – except for a tiny terrapin who shared the jacuzzi with us. The hacienda was decorated with a particularly Mexican medley of seemingly random, colourful objects including carousel horses.
The Rough Guide described El Fuerte as ‘a backwater’ which it sure is, probably especially in the low season (summer!). We ventured to the edge of town to find El Fuerte’s best restaurant that was meant to serve amazing black bass – it was in semi-darkness with 3 guys playing cards. Eating out in the evening seems not to be big in Mexico, but we eventually tracked down some dinner at a strange little restaurant where, after a group of Americans and Mexicans on some kind of cross-border community linking visit had left, we were the only people (they also didn’t have any drinking water, which seemed odd). The waitress and we watched TV as she served. Returning home to our hacienda, we noted that the armed guard watching the building next to us was still there. Reassuring. As was the arrest of ‘El Brad Pitt’ in Chihuahua on Wednesday a day or so after we left town … we knew nothing about it until a friend emailed the link. Chihuahua did feel very slightly edgy, but if my experience is anything to go by, tourists will remain safely oblivious to anything untoward.