Mexico: Silver City to Creel

Mexico map 1

I finally managed to get going again after spending over two weeks in Silver City, the last city on my route before crossing the border into Mexico, waiting for some packages to arrive, shipping some things home, and a last minute decision to build a new front wheel with a dynamo hub to charge some electronics. It was a perfect city to be delayed in, but I was getting restless having only expected to stay no more than a week to do a bit of research and relax for a couple days. I was fortunate enough to have a comfortable place to stay while I was there, though, as stealth camping in a city for that length of time would make me feel a little more homeless than I’d prefer.

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Finally leaving my “home” in Silver City for more than the past two weeks.

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Last section of dirt road before the start of a long, paved, flat highway to the border.

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A much welcomed well in the virtually non-existent town of Hachita.

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Almost there. Pretty much the only vehicles you’ll see on this road are border patrol vehicles.

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Desert landscape.

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And there we are, end of the USA.

Mexico

I’d heard of Mexican hospitality, but before even being officially allowed entry into Mexico I was already getting my fill.

I had somehow failed to become informed about the $24 fee for a 180 day travel permit to enter the country and showed up at the border with only $4 US in spare change (I had stopped by the bank on my way out of Silver City to pick up some Mexican Pesos and was told I was supposed to have ordered that in advance). The border agent took my $4 and paid the remaining $20 out of his own pocket, then asked me if I wanted to make a sandwich. Bemused, I followed him to a room around the corner where I found a table full of all sorts of food – fruits, vegetables, bread, cookies, chips, drinks, etc. He opened the fridge and pulled out some ham and cheese, gave me a knife and a chair, and I went to work. As if that wasn’t enough, he sent me off with a bag of fruits and some cookies, but not before showing me the shower, which is apparently just another service offered at the Antelope Wells border crossing.

Clean and satisfied, I was now on my way in Mexico.

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The unassuming but ever accommodating Antelope Wells border crossing, or El Berrendo, as I believe it’s called on the Mexican side.

But not so fast, apparently my map was a bit outdated.

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A promising enough start, especially after the long stretch of pavement to get to the border.

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My suspicions about the ever deteriorating road were confirmed when I reached a gate after a few km. Naturally, the most sensible thing to do is open the gate and plow on ahead, hoping it still leads to the highway.

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But after battling an unprecedented number of goathead thorns and pushing through sand, the road eventually lost all semblance of a road and I was forced to concede that I might be best off turning around and finding an alternate way out through one of the many forks I had passed.

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Gate number 3, but this time padlocked. There was a newly paved road on the other side which was clearly the new road going to the border that I had somehow missed. 

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With no intention of turning around and heading back to the border after a couple hours of messing around in the bushes, I was left with no choice but to dismantle the barbed wire fence beside the gate. But I was back on track.

After that brief section of dirt road after the border, it would’ve been about 120 km of unavoidable highway riding with no shoulder and heavy truck traffic to get to Nuevo Casas Grandes, a city on my route I would have to pass before I could get back into the mountains. I made it about 20 km before Janos, a smaller town right at the midway point between the border and Nuevo Casas Grandes, when a pickup truck pulled over ahead of me and it was none other than Luis, from the border, on his way home from work to Nuevo Casas Grandes. At first I wasn’t sure if I was “cheating”, but the highway only got busier and I was very glad for the opportunity to avoid it. I was kindly invited to stay with him and his family, where I stayed for two nights.

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Mexican hospitality. Complete with home cooked Mexican meals. 

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The archaeological site of Paquimé, just outside of Casas Grandes.

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Roadside shrines are almost as abundant as roadside garbage, here. Well, not quite. Nothing seems to be as sacred as empty Coke bottles and Tecate cans. 

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Colonia Juárez, settled by Mormon pioneers in 1886. While using wifi at a church building, I was once again offered a place to stay for the night. By strange coincidence, the family I stayed with here were related to the family I stayed with the previous two nights.

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After Colonia Juárez, it was time to head back into the mountains. (Looking back down at the road I’d come from.)

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Finally, dirt! Upon leaving pavement, the road immediately split into two directions, neither of which where accurately presented on my map.

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So I stopped at this house to ask directions and met Hermán, who is restoring this house built in 1888. After a drink, some cake, and a new hat, I took the path that went straight, probably the wrong choice, and spent the rest of the day taking almost every wrong fork in the road.

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But at least the scenery was nice.

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The barbed wire gates on the road help show how little traffic these roads must get.

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Just before dark I stumbled upon what I believe to be the tiny community of Jovales, which was not on any of my maps, but I had passed a few hand-written signs nailed to trees bearing the name. After asking directions for El Largo, where I had been trying to get to all day, the words ‘mucho frio’, ‘dormir’, and ‘casa’ and some pointing led me to believe I was being offered shelter for the night. That was about as far as communication went for the night and I realized how badly I need to work on my Spanish.

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I crossed many small creeks and rivers in this area, but none too deep.

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These puddles went on for quite a ways, usually spanning the entire width of the road.

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But once the mud puddles were out of the way, much of the day was spent riding through beautiful pine forests.

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And ranch lands.

About 20 km past El Largo, just as it got dark and started raining, I serendipitously stumbled upon the three-ranch town of Rio Chico at the bottom of a canyon, which I haven’t found on any maps. I went to inquire at a building that looked oddly like a hotel if there was anywhere I could camp that would be out of the rain. It turned out not to be a hotel but some sort of Christian ministry type place where Christians come to stay and do things, I guess. I was offered a room by the very kind family in charge of managing the place and promptly fed a generous meal of pork, pasta, tortillas, and beans. I was also served a breakfast of ‘cyclist proportions’ in the morning.

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It was also very nice to be able to communicate in English, which I’d had very little opportunity to do in Mexico so far.

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Feeding the pigs in the morning. They have a ranch with pigs, horses, chickens, cows, I think, and probably some other animals, too.

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They raise the pigs and donate some of them to poor people to start their own farms.

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I was offered to stay another night which was hard to refuse, but I felt I was making very little forward progress in Mexico and decided to ride the meager 60 km to the next town, Madera. 

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It was raining lightly when I left, but it started raining much harder in a few kms. Always too stubborn to put my rain gear on, I rode in the pouring rain in just a t-shirt and pants until I lost almost all feeling in my arms and hands and was shaking so violently from the cold that I had to walk my bike for 3 kms until I could ride again. I arrived in Madera utterly drenched.

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I warmed up beside a furnace at the Bomberos (fire station) and spent the night, which is apparently not an uncommon place in Latin America for cyclists to stay.

While in Madera I got an email from Vincent and Melanie, who I had ridden with in Montana while on the Great Divide. They were in Creel, about to ride a week long loop through the Copper Canyon, to Urique and back to Creel, and could wait a couple days for me if I wasn’t too far away. The distance was more than I could cover on my bike in that time and would necessitate hitching a ride somewhere. It was a bit of a scramble, but once I got to the highway CHIH25 outside of Vicente Guerrero I managed to get a ride from the second vehicle that passed and made it to Creel in perfect time for an awesome week of riding through the Copper Canyon in good company.

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Miscommunication with a bread truck driver led to me being put up again for the night in Santo Tomás. It was a cold and early 5am start from here to get to the CHIH25, where I would have a much better chance of getting a ride to Creel.

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Creel, seen from the Christ statue overlooking the city.

The following week through the Copper Canyon, or Barranca del Cobre as it’s called in Spanish, will be a blog post in itself as I took far more pictures than I know what to do with.