Final Mexican adventures: Chepe train and hitch-hiking through Baja California

A word of warning, you are in for a rather long, soppy and very much photo filled read!

As usual, this blog is at least a month late and I’m unfortunately no longer in Mexico (so sad). However, being back on English soil has made me realise just what I’ve left behind: some amazing friends, lots of weird and wonderful foods and my new second home (sorry Spain). Over the course of my stay I was blown away by the kindness of almost all the people I met. Mexico is truly one of the most welcoming countries I’ve ever visited. Whilst certain parts are unsafe, after having spent almost a year living there, I firmly believe that its dangerous reputation is undeserved. I would like to thank all of those people who made my time in Mexico so special, particularly this banda de locos who adopted me for the year; thank you for welcoming me into your group of friends and introducing me to your incredible country (and its aguas locas). I never thought I would make such strong friendships on my year abroad and I can’t imagine my time in Mexico without you – you guys are literally the best!!

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Moving on! At the end of June Charissa and I hopped on a plane heading for Chihuahua to begin two weeks travelling around the north east of Mexico. Below is a little map (expertly edited using paint) showing our journey!

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Day 1

We set off bright and early on the first leg of our journey, catching the train at 6am from Chihuahua and arriving six hours later in Creel. This marked the first of a string of “if we’d only known that before coming” s, as we’d previously thought that there were no buses connecting each of our destinations and that people just used the (really quite expensive) train. How wrong we were! After having stayed up half the night helping a very confused American tourist in our hotel who’d been robbed (Charissa very much more so than me as it was 3am) we were knackered when we arrived in Creel, so didn’t do an awful lot that day besides finding a hostel and wandering around.

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Day 2 

Having gotten a good nights sleep we decided to rent bikes and explore! We ended up going on a 35km bike ride through the hills and forests until we reached a viewpoint and some hot springs. I’m not going to lie, the hot springs were a bit of a disappointment (especially considering that we literally had to walk miles to get there) but it was a beautiful day on the whole! Once back in Creel we discovered a questionable type of chocolate Dairylea dunker.

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Day 3

On our third day in Creel we decided to walk to Lake Arareko and got our first taste of hitch hiking in the back of a friendly Mexican’s pick-up truck! The indigenous people native to this area are known as the Tarahumara, and they traditionally made their homes in caves in the mountains. Whilst this is obviously not so much the case nowadays, we did pass some very inhabited looking caves, albeit by the side of the main road.

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Day 4

Today we left Creel and got the bus to Divisadero, the next stop on the route, where we were able to enjoy incredible views of the canyons and some pretty tasty gorditas too! We then walked a few kilometres through thunder, lightening and a cloud, following the edge of the canyon. Something I’ve learnt about Mexico is that when asking for directions, people will always try to give any kind of answer as opposed to just saying “no, I don’t have a clue where that is.” So after having been lied to several times, we eventually found our way to the bus and a little town called San Rafael. After a chance meeting with a doctor in a cafe we were invited to stay the night for free in the hospital where he worked. Not only did he give us a free and quite nice place to stay (despite the knife we discovered under the bed), he also paid for dinner too! It definitely restores your faith in humanity and the goodness of people when you meet absolute strangers who are friendly and want to help you just for the sake of it.

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hospital

Day 5

Today began with a wait in a bandstand for our bus, where we were kept entertained by a very friendly stray dog who forced me to give up my breakfast. After some faffing and indecision (you know me) we decided to get the bus to a little village called Cerocahui, where we rented a room with the cutest family ever. They gave us coke and biscuits. We went for a lovely walk in the hills with breathtaking views over Cerocahui and the huge forests that surround it.

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Day 6

We were up bright and early to go horse riding with Juan, a slightly crazy and very repetitive local. The steep and winding paths through the mountains made it somewhat scary at points, and Juan’s complete nonchalance didn’t exactly put me at ease. On a more positive note, Cerocahui is beautiful! Even though it turns that out the bus is significantly cheaper, we hopped back on the train for what we had been told would be the best of the journey, and it didn’t disappoint. The route was spectacular. We were carried over countless bridges, and through towering canyons and forests. Most of the journey was spent standing in the bit between the carriages with our heads out the window. The passing views and countryside were simply incredible and just too good to be wasted sitting in the busy train. It was without doubt one of the most amazing things I saw during my time in Mexico.

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Day 7

We arrived in El Fuerte the previous night and awoke to the realisation that it is the hottest place EVER, so much so that it took us three hours to leave the hostel in the morning. We wandered round the town, the result being that I got a picture with the biggest cactus I’ve ever seen. We then travelled two hours west to Los Mochis, where we were met by two lovely couchsurfing guys who gave us a lift to the ferry at Topolobampo (Mexican place names are jokes).

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Day 8

We arrived in La Paz at 7am and were picked up by another couchsurfer, Ryan, who took us straight to the beach for a spot of kayaking and snorkelling! It was completely deserted and incredibly beautiful in the morning sun, surrounded by rugged, cactus covered mountains. We went into town and tried clams, which were still alive and wriggling somewhat (not great). The terrible food situation was, however, remedied by fish tacos.

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Day 9

We stayed another day with Ryan, aka. the nicest couchsurfing host ever. It’s so uplifting to be able to meet such lovely and welcoming people who are willing to just open their doors to complete strangers. Couchsurfing is brilliant. During the day we visited a waterfall and unfortunately got caught in a crazy thunder storm. We then drove, soaking wet and still in swimwear, to some hot springs which nicely counteracted the cold, despite being somewhat smelly. We cooked dinner with Ryan, the highlight being REAL cheese. Back in England it seems almost absurd how excited we got over this.

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Day 10

We left Ryan’s to attempt to hitch our first ride and ended up getting no further than the next village, where a random American family mistook us for actual hardcore travellers and bought us lunch, so nice! Next, we got a ride with an extremely enthusiastic guy with a car full of mangoes who was convinced he was “travelling with two angels”… On the plus side we left with our arms full of mangoes and other strange fruits! We then hitched for a while in a huge lorry with a half deaf guy and his CD of one hit wonders. By this point we were properly driving through the desert, and whilst it was completely uninhabited, it was also a lot greener than you’d think and FULL of cactuses. The next ride was the only bad-ish experience we had. It started with the driver asking us lots of odd questions (like do we have our passports on us) and culminated in us getting scared, jumping off in the next city and staying the night there. Possible disaster avoided!

In light of this incident, I feel I should take a moment to explain our decision to hitch hike, as I realise it sounds like an incredibly foolish thing for two young, foreign women to do in a country with such a dangerous reputation. We hitch hiked mainly in Baja California and for the following reasons: buses are very expensive and hitch hiking is free, there is only one main road spanning the peninsula, so we always knew where we were heading, and finally, there are lots of Americans in Baja California, so we weren’t such a novelty. In fact, through hitch hiking we were able to meet and talk to all kinds of people, like truck drivers, who we wouldn’t otherwise have spoken to.

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Day 11

After a bit of a late start we got a lift with a super friendly lorry driver. We unfortunately missed out on the hilarity of hitching with a police officer, although, on the plus side he stopped a bus for us and let us on for free! We arrived in Loreto where we met our next host, Oscar, who drove us to the beach. He and Charissa went snorkelling for clams, whilst I enjoyed the sunset from the shore. Unfortunately they found lots of them, which meant we ended up eating fresh clams right on the beach by torchlight, whilst being eaten alive ourselves by mosquitoes. HATE clams.

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Clams by candlelight

Day 12

After leaving Loreto in the morning, we waited for what felt like a million years by the side of the road with some friendly and confused locals: I don’t think they get many foreign, female hitch hikers. We finally found a lovely truck driver to take us all the way to Ensenada, 17 hours away (help). My only concern was that he seemed to be paying more attention to the virtual pet on his phone (not even joking) than to driving. This journey made us realise that one of the major flaws in our plan was using Google maps to estimate how big Baja California is, and therefore thinking we could easily get from bottom to top in a week… You can’t.

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Our bed for the night

Day 13

We arrived safe and alive in Ensenanda (despite feeling rather desvelada), where we met our next host, Luis. The day involved a lot of sleeping, followed by a trip to the beach where we explored the rock pools and swam in a sea that felt as cold as it would in England.

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Day 14

Our Tijuana couchsurfing host, Roman, came to meet us in Ensenada and we went with him and Luis to the Ruta del Vino, an area outside of Ensenada full of vineyards. We had a lovely relaxing day eating cheese and drinking rather too much vino!

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Day 15

On our penultimate day we decided to do something adventurous and crossed the border into San Diego. After queueing for at least 2 hours (significantly improved by fluorescent strawberry tamales), we finally made it onto US soil! I’m not going to lie, the most exciting part probably was crossing the border, as we hadn’t done an awful lot of research and spent most of the day wandering around. My surprise at just how many Spanish speakers there were inevitably turned into a game of guess the Mexican, and we eventually came to the conclusion that San Diego is a big city, not unlike Tijuana. During the day we spent a fair few hours searching for a typical American thing to take “that picture” with and failed abysmally. Roman came to pick us up at the end of the day, and it was almost laughable just how easy it was to get back into Mexico after having waited 3 hours to leave; I didn’t even notice we’d driven through the border till about 5 minutes after…

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Day 16

As we had a flight to catch in the afternoon we spent the last day wandering around the so-called touristy part of Tijuana. The city is obviously famous for being the home of “tequila, sex and marijuana,” or rather, that’s all I knew about it before arriving. Roman took us on a tour of this part of the city and explained that in the past, tourists (usually Americans) came here to do all the things they couldn’t do in their own country. What I saw looked like the part of a city tourists would usually avoid. The buildings made a sharp contrast with those we’d seen in other parts of Tijuana, and on some roads you could walk past a prostitute literally every 5 minutes. Whilst I realise that prostitution is nothing new, it was strange to have it there right under my nose, and even stranger still was the idea that this aspect of Tijuana is almost normalised, just because it’s Tijuana. It’s truly horrible to think that people come expecting to see this and to experience this “real” Tijuana. I’ve got mixed feelings on the city and, on the whole, found it a pretty weird place.

Before leaving we decided to be very stereotypically English and ordered tea in a taqueria. Needless to say, we got some looks. We met up with Roman and had ceviche one last time (help!) before he dropped us off at the airport,and that’s where our adventures in the north come to an end!

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This is unfortunately my last post after an incredible 10 months away. However, rest assured that cheesy as it sounds, this is not goodbye Mexico, but hasta luego!!

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