After our last stop, there was a brief moment when Creel seemed like it might be a bit disappointing. There were no panoramic views of the canyon and it seemed as though the best it had to offer may not have been all that accessible. However, after a bit of research there seemed to be a large area of sites that were relatively close and accessible by foot or by bike and that is exactly what we would do for the next few days!
The other upside of Creel was access to a hearty breakfast of a morning. Eggs were a staple and both huevos rancheros (fried eggs with frijoles and a rich tomato sauce) and huevos con machaca (eggs scrambled with dried beef) were favourites.
Hiking to Lake Arareco
After breakfast on the first day, Kim and I went for a short walk that escalated fairly dramatically.
We walked north out of Creel and turned right up a steep hill into a pine forest in search of the start of the footpath. I am almost certain it wasn’t the most sensible route, but we did find a footpath heading in broadly the right direction. Having risen so quickly, we were soon treated to views back across Creel.
A short distance along the trail we came across an almost perfectly round rock on an otherwise unremarkable piece of hillside. This set the tone for what was to come, rock formations dominate the landscape in this area.
We continued through an area of vast open farm land, scattered with interesting rocks and made our way to the village of San Ignacio.
San Ignacio seemed to exist almost entirely of two large schools and a tiny but ancient church. We didn’t stay too long as we knew we would be coming back the next day, opting instead to push on towards Lake Arareco.
Leaving San Ignacio, past it’s pretty graveyard, we started climbing once again and were met with a wooden crucifix. A warning sign perhaps, that we shouldn’t be heading off deep into the woods with a dwindling supply of water!
We pressed on regardless, half expecting to find a small shop once we reached the lake. We trekked through the deserted woods, birds of prey circling ominously above our heads, not seeing another soul until we reached the lake. However, even at the lake we only saw one person and he (unfortunately) was not trying to sell us drinks! It would be a thirsty trek back…
By the time we arrived back in Creel, we had walked 12 miles and had built up quite a thirst, having had to ration our limited water on the return journey. Luckily we were to spend the evening at Cam and Mathieu’s place to sit over a few beers, so there was plenty of opportunity to “rehydrate”. Our group also grew to five that evening, after a chance encounter with Marti, a Catalan who could speak a scarcely believable number of languages! The other three were putting our basic Spanish to shame, but it also gave us hope that one day we too could be bilingual, or indeed more…
Mountain Biking Los Valles
The next morning, the now five of us set off on mountain bikes to explore the valleys around San Ignacio. After a 10 minute slog at the start to get the bikes up the steepest section of hill, we began the long descent towards the Valle de los Monjes through plenty of fun rocky downhill sections. For novice mountain bikers like ourselves, it took all of our concentration to stay on the bikes. Thankfully though, the worst that happened to me was a mouthful of pine tree as I misjudged a gap through the trees!
After the downhill section, came a long section where we actually had to do some pedalling! We had built up quite a sweat by the time we arrived at the stunning Valle de los Monjes. Once there, we spent an hour or so, climbing some of the more accessible rocks and admiring the views before continuing on our way.
As we had the day before, we found ourselves at San Ignacio once again. This time, we paused for a little longer both to take a hard earned rest and to take in the scenery. The local dogs were also taking a keen interest in the food that we took out for our lunch, whilst the local children tried to flog us local crafts.
Just outside of San Ignacio was the Valle de los hongos (valley of the mushrooms), with rocks that look exactly as one would expect from a valley of that name.
By this time, I was starting to flag. The rest in San Ignacio had done me no good! I could suddenly feel all the walking from the day before and all the cycling from today in my legs. As such, discovering that the next section was uphill was a considerable disappointment!
It was a slog, but we made it to the top. From there, it was a slightly more comfortable coast down into town.
That evening, Kim and I first went for a dinner of Sopes, in the same place we had eaten on our first night in Creel, before one last drink with our new friends before we all went our separate ways.
From Creel, we took the bus to Chihuahua. El Chepe runs along the route, but it is a far more expensive and less frequent service and by all accounts the bus covers much of the same ground and the views are similar. Compared to the first section of the train, the views weren’t as good, but the bus was still passing through a very picturesque part of the world. The views, coupled with a very entertaining busker, made it an enjoyable journey. Plus after days of hiking and outdoor activities, a chance to just sit down for a few hours was a welcome change of pace!
We arrived in Chihuahua to find preparations for Christmas in full swing on the main square outside of the cathedral. A life size nativity scene was our first clue that Mexican Christmas might be quite different to how we do things at home.
Chihuahua was never likely to be a highlight of the trip, but we found it to be an interesting glimpse of Mexico away from the tourist towns, particularly with the build up to Christmas. The main square was buzzing with buskers and people ballroom dancing. The whole place seemed a world away from the narco violence tearing apart other parts of the state and in my mind spoke wonders for the character of the people in the country.
There was also an impressive array of cowboy boots available if that is your thing.
On our final night in the hostel in Chihuahua, Kim and I were planning the next leg of our trip, when who should walk in but Cam & Mathieu. We just couldn’t get away from them…