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the possibility of a white christmas (in mexico)

Leaving Recowata, Jeff and Jason and I head in opposite directions. The boys make their way back to Creel while I set off towards Urique, 160 kilometres away. I camp alone, for the first time in over a month, near the highway and, in the morning, set off into a cold grey day. The weather degenerates as I ride and soon it is snowing. The wind is icy cold.

I arrive at El Divisadero mid-afternoon chilled to the bone and extremely hungry. El Divisadero, at 2750 metres, is a famous lookout over the Copper Canyon complex. Copper Canyon, as it happens, is not one, but many, canyons which cover a huge area in the state of Chichuahua and three of the canyons meet at this point. The sight-seeing train stops at El Divisadero and at this time the place, no doubt, is hopping but when I arrive alone on my bike in the middle of a storm only a few miserable Tarahumara huddled under colourful blankets with their handcrafts in front of the posh hotel next to the lookout are in evidence. The taco stalls that surround the station seem all but abandoned.

I lean my bike against the wire fence of the lookout next to the hotel and try to find somewhere out of the driving wind and rain to study my map and take stock of the situation. A man coming out of the building stops to ask me how my trip has been. A terse “Cold and wet!,” is all that I have to the energy to muster but as he turns away I realise he could be a valuable source of information and I question him about the availability of food. The man directs me to a small store above the station which has a fine selection of sweet things and not much else. I stock up as best I can.

As I stand trying, ineffectually, to shelter from the wind next to the store, eating tortillas and candy bars and feeling rather sorry for myself, a group of six heavily armed uniformed security personnel walk up the steps from the station. Half of them stop to pose for me as I get out my camera.

Heavily armed security personnel - I dont know if these guys are police, army or private but they look quite menacing to me.

Heavily armed security personnel - I don't know if these guys are police, army or private security but they look quite menacing to me. The state of Chihuahua currently contains some of the most violent places on the planet.

I wander back to the lookout and consider my options; continuing in the sleet and rain is an unappealing prospect and a cup of coffee seems called for. The hotel beside the lookout is a little intimidating but summoning up my courage, I step over the Tarahumara women still sheltering under their colourful blankets by the door and enter.

The man I spoke to earlier, who I took to be a tourist, walks out of the office and greets me. I ask him if there is somewhere I can sit for a while and he directs me to the lounge area which boasts gigantic windows with panoramic view of the canyons. I fall into a comfy armchair as close to the heater as I can manage and take off my sodden, unwaterproof raincoat. My down sweater is also soaked and, therefore, almost useless.

A woodpecker viewed from the comfortable lounge of an expensive hotel with panoramic views of El Divisadero.

A woodpecker viewed from the comfortable lounge of an expensive hotel with panoramic views of El Divisadero.

A christmas tree reminds me of the proximity of Christmas.

A Christmas tree reminds me of the immediate proximity of Christmas.

A man approaches and asks me, in Spanish, if I would like a coffee. Of course, I would.

He brings me a polystyrene cup full of very welcome hot liquid. He returns again and offers a refill and then asks if I would like something to eat. I confess to not having the budget for eating in such a posh establisment but he shrugs and says it doesn’t matter.

Before long, he returns with a bowl of lentil soup. It is very good.

Next he brings me a bowl of chicken stew and sits in the armchair opposite me while I eat and so I tell him about as much of my journey as I can manage in Spanish. He is clearly impressed by the fact I have ridden around 10 000 kilometres from Alaska and points me out to the guests passing through the lounge. Various people, all Mexican tourists, come to question me about my trip and I answer as best I can in a mixture of Spanish and English. For a second or two I entertain the idea of asking how much it would cost to spend the night here but eventually I prise myself out of the warm and comfortable surroundings and head outside fortified by food and admiration.

The weather is slightly better and a few rainbow patches shimmer over the rocky vista in front of me. I get on my bike and return to the highway.

A little sunshine mixed in with rain...

A little sunshine mixed in with rain...

... make for mini-rainbows.

... make for fragments of rainbow.

I ride forty kilometres to the dismal hamlet of San Rafael where, for the first time, I am refused water when I ask for it. People stare at me coldly and as dusk is approaching I want to put some distance between me and the town. The paved road ends here and I ride a couple of kilometres on slippery mud before pulling off the side of the road to find a place to camp.

Various trails run through the forest and litter is scattered carelessly on either side. I eventually find a reasonable clean spot and gather sodden ice encrusted wood with the hope of building fire big enough to warm me for the evening. Snow still dusts the ground and I am beginning to feel that it is possible that I may experience a white Christmas in Mexico. The fire is reluctant to start and I use almost all the fuel for my alcohol stove getting the wet wood to smoulder half-heartedly.

In the morning, I light another fire ad take some time to dry my tent and sleeping bag before setting off again.

A reluctant fire in the snowy woods. This is not really how I envisaged Mexico.

A reluctant fire in the snowy woods. Somehow, this is not really how I envisaged Mexico.

Cold camp in the morning, sleeping bag hanging to thaw the ice crystal that form on it during the night.

Cold camp in the morning - sleeping bag hanging to thaw the ice crystal that form on it during the night.

My map, somewhat confusingly, indicates two possible approaches to Urique. One appears significantly shorter than the other but the turn-off seems to be close to San Rafael and I decide to back track a little to be sure I haven’t missed it. I stop to question people passing on the road but they have no idea what I am talking about and look bemusedly at my map. As far as they are concerned there is only one way to Urique so I give up and continue on the muddy road in the direction I have been travelling. I pass some road works and head downhill where the road surface degenerates into a muddy soupy mess which gathers on my wheels and clogs my mud-guards until forward motion is impossible.

Incapacitated, I wait to see what will happen next. Several vehicles pass but they don’t react to my predicament. Eventually I flag down a truck and explain my problem as best I can. The men lift my bike onto the back of the truck and drive me a kilometre or so to the top of the hill where the road divides and indicate the route to Urique while they continue on the other road. I get out my tools and remove my mud-guards but still can’t manage to push my bike through the mud.

Incapacitated by mud.

Incapacitated by mud.

I stand by the road unsuccessfully trying to hitch a lift until the same truck unexpectedly returns. The men tell me they will drive me to where the road starts to descend into the canyon. They reload my bike on the tray and we drive a few kilometres over muddy road before stopping to unload my bike again. Thankfully, the road surface seems navigable here.

As I thank the men and remount my bike, one of them asks if I will marry him. I refuse this proposal as politely as I can before setting off down the hill.

My rescuers from the mud situation.

My rescuers from the mud situation.

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