My Mexican Moments: Chapter 8

FM3 and Copper Canyon

We know we are moving here. I know we are going to take a trip to Copper Canyon; I just haven’t sold it yet to Soren. To facilitate our move from Toronto and our travels throughout Mexico, an FM3 is required. FM3 is our Mexican resident papers, which will open up a whole bunch of doors we will require in the future. We do not have to surrender our Canadian passports to obtain an FM3. The FM3 office is a Mexican bureaucracy on steroids. It would be a daunting process in English and, because it is, of course, all in Spanish, we hire Anita to hold our hands. With her expertise it still takes over four hours to complete, pay and submit our paperwork. Oh no, you don’t walk out with your FM3. This is Mexico; it’s a least a two- or a three-step process. And every day there are new rules. For instance, just this month the government has hired extra staff to pay you a visit to the domicile indicated on your paperwork. We just happened to be at home in our Villa Serena apartment, when three uniformed men appear at our gate. No appointment necessary. They ask for our temporary FM3 papers, they ask for our passports, they ask for our electrical bill. In fact, all the questions are identical to the ones we answered in the FM3 office. Sheets of carbon paper are rattling in the wind, stamp pads are whipped out; one man witnesses our signatures, the other two only ask questions. Finally they pack up their office supplies (no laptops for them, as Mexico is a carbon paper world) and two weeks later we return to pick up our green passport-like booklet. I don’t have to think about our FM3 renewal for another year, so now I can focus on Copper Canyon.

While we were in Sedona, we experienced the beauty of the Grand Canyon. It’s completely breathtaking; words cannot describe the grandeur of this natural wonder. It’s a humbling and emotional experience, mostly because we humans are so insignificant in comparison to this stunning landscape. I have been researching Copper Canyon for months. It is seven times the size of the Grand Canyon with over 20 canyons. There is a first-class train spiraling through parts of the canyon. There are fancy hotels built on precipices overlooking the canyon. There are no grand hotels in the Grand Canyon, and I would have loved to have had dinner, spent the night, watched the sunset and seen the sunrise in the Grand Canyon. We were not in the mood to travel by donkey to the bottom of the canyon to experience that. I don’t even think 30 years ago a donkey ride would have appealed to us. I gave up camping in Algonquin Park, Ontario and when I was 18, it’s been hotels for me ever since. But now’s my chance with Copper Canyon, because Balderrama Hotels and Tours has built a series of excellent hotels and launched a luxurious train ride for those of us who don’t want to hike. I just want to relax and breathe in the beauty. I want to surround myself in the silence of this magnificent space.

Copper Canyon is a long way north from Mazatlan. It’s proving to be an expensive five days. Soren protests, and wants to put it off for a year. I say I could break a leg on the streets of Mazatlan and perhaps not be mobile. We are healthy; we have the money, so let’s do it now. The first class train ride clinches the deal. Being born in Copenhagen, and traveling through Europe on the rails, he loves trains. Soren also likes the fact we will experience the bus system; how comfortable it is, does it run on time, details like that. Years ago, Mexico abandoned their rail system in favour of a more affordable bus system. The buses crisscross this country of 110 million people; that’s how Mexicans can afford to visit their friends and family in remote areas. Our bags are packed; we are ready for bus rides, the different topography and the Tarahumara Indians. Every single person we know has raved about Copper Canyon. Upon our return, here’s my travel report I e mailed to friends:

“Don’t go to Copper Canyon if you:

1) Have a Type A personality
2) Have been to the Grand Canyon
3) Have trouble sitting still for more than five hours

I scored three out of three. Too bad I didn’t take the quiz before I was on a one way train to boredom. The most expedient route from Mazatlan to Copper Canyon (which, of course, we did not take) is a six- hour bus ride to a sugar cane, corn- growing town called Los Mochis. Most people overnight in Los Mochis then board the Chepe train at 6 a.m. We chose a much longer bus ride — over 8 ½ hours to El Fuerte — and boarded the train the next morning at 9 a.m. We couldn’t wait to wind our way through the rocky landscapes. Well, it wasn’t exactly the Orient Express we boarded, and it sure wasn’t “first class,”as advertised. The train had not been mopped in weeks, and within two hours several of the toilets were backed up and out of service. We settled in, adjusted our seats and waited for nature to unfold. After four hours of scrub and cacti I was twisting my neck like Linda Blair in The Exorcist waiting and looking and waiting. After five hours, finally, our first real vista. It was pretty, it was oh no… looking a lot like Georgian Bay, a lot like Finland. Then again Finland and Georgian Bay are similar. Large flowing rivers, large lakes, large boulders, large graceful windswept pines, all presented themselves after hour number seven and hour number eight. I got a creepy feeling deep in my belly that a divorce would be waiting for me at our final stop. Soren doesn’t hide boredom well; the fury was pouring out his ears.

I really can’t blame him. I did the math. Over eight hours on a bus, plus overnight in El Fuerte, plus eight hours on the train with no real view —that was a total of 32 hours. Wait a minute, we could have gone from Mazatlan to Georgian Bay in that time, easily, and to Finland too! Never mind the Grand Canyon is only three hours away from Mazatlan. I thought the dining car would cheer Soren up. Not to be. The large bus groups get preferential treatment and seating, while individual travelers are asked to wait. We never did eat. The bar car was pleasant enough, except I almost punched an American woman out. She shouted at me, “Oh, you can’t compare the Grand Canyon to Copper Canyon, apples to oranges.” You most certainly can compare them; it’s human nature to do just that. She’d been to the Grand Canyon, and it was her second time to Copper Canyon so I shut up and thought of Nan’s expression: there’s an ass for every saddle.

So, there it lay flopping on the bar table like an exhausted fish; the plain truth. This was not the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is all pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, fuchsia and purples; it’s a canyon on LSD. By contrast, Copper Canyon is a canyon on Valium. It’s grays, it’s greens, it’s soft, it’s sleepy; there is no drama. There is no excitement. The eleventh hour brought us to our station, Posada Barrancas, and a stunning hotel built into the rim of the rocks, The Mirador. Balconies overhang the canyons, and the silence is much like a hot air balloon ride without the pump of propane. The sky is black ice with millions of brilliant stars. We sat and looked out, we sat and sipped wine, we sat and star gazed, and simply couldn’t work up the enthusiasm of traveling for 32 hours for this wonderful view. We agreed it was worth a four- hour trip.”

The five- day trip took: 8 taxis; 4 buses — 15 hours, 2 trains — 20 hours, and 5 hotels. Surprisingly, all the buses ran exactly on time, to the minute.
Cost: all in, $2,000(US) for two
Experience: 5 days of “what was I thinking,” marriage still intact”

That e mail purged the Copper Canyon holiday out of my system. The amount of time and the waste of money became like the pozole soup; we don’t have to do that again. We are ecstatic to return to our city by the ocean. The only blot on the horizon is that we have just one month left.

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