For a moment I feel nothing.
The Swiss girl we’re riding with shouts out and points at my leg. It’s at that moment I look down and see the gash my bike gear has sliced into my calf. It doesn’t hurt and it’s not bleeding badly but it’s in a position that’s hard for me to see. I want to press on but Danny and the Swiss girl basically refuse. She insists we go back to town to have it looked at.
I curse myself for not bringing our first aid kit, for surely a band-aid would do the trick.
She wraps my leg in a bandana and we cycle the few miles back to town. Our first stop is a pharmacy, where they tell me I have to go to see the doctor for stitches. I learn a new Spanish word- profundo– deep. Off we go, down the muddy street until we find the clinic, which incidentally is right behind our hostel. I open the door and silence.
The entire clinic goes quiet.
I see a waiting room full of local women and children, literally covering every surface. Babies are crying, kids are coughing and the whole scene looks directly out of a world health documentary.
The receptionist addresses me in Spanish and Danny steps in to explain what happened. I’m whisked away to the backroom where a nun cleans out the gash with a bar of soap (locked in a cabinet) and some tap water. She keeps telling me it’s not deep. It’s clear this clinic survives on donations only, their supplies are extremely limited. The doctor comes in, prescribes me antibiotics, bandages it up and we’re on our way. I pay and pass through the waiting room ashamed that my leg took priority over them. Weeks later I meet an American emergency room doctor in Guatemala. The cut hasn’t fully healed and he tells me I definitely should have had stitches – muy profundo.
We had taken the railroad from the coast through to Creel, and while the views and vistas were amazing, I couldn’t help but compare it to our own Grand Canyon, which in my opinion is much more awe inspiring. Not that the Copper Canyon is something to sneeze at, it’s certainly gorgeous! The area is inhabited by the Tarahumara people, famous for their ability to run long distances. They survived the Spanish conquistadors by hiding in the canyon. The history of the area and it’s landscape gives the main town, Creel, a certain Wild West boom town feel. Without the cut we would have spent more time in the canyon, but with hiking and mountain biking now off the list, we were left with little to do and Creel is not a village you want to linger in.
Looking back, I can’t say that I loved the Copper Canyon, but I’ll always remember it. The scar continues to fade, but the memory of that waiting room will stay with me forever.
It was the first time on our trip that I realize we’d be treated differently.
I quickly learned that the Gringo, who it is assumed has money, is King. Ask and ye shall receive, no matter how many people are waiting or have waited for that item. It was a shocking revelation.
Leaving the Copper Canyon, we went to our second couchsurfing host of the trip, Martha in Chihuahua. Her father, unsure about this whole “couch surfing” thing, had taken a week off of his ranch work to stay with the family. Fortunately our visit coincided with his birthday, so we gave him a good excuse to come home and celebrate with the family. We were simply humbled by their generosity, hospitality and friendship and immediately we were grateful to get to know them. Her father insisted we use Spanish as much as possible, which made for some rather awkward dinner conversations when I dropped in French or Italian words, but helped us forge a bond.
Chihuahua has been affected by the ongoing drug and cartel violence that plagues the U.S. border with Mexico. Our host told us a bit about how life had changed since the violence started, but besides her stories, we didn’t feel the tension or fear. To this day staying with them was one of the best couch surfing experiences we’ve ever had.
IF YOU GO: The Copper Canyon Railway runs from Los Mochis to Chihuahua, but you’re better off taking a bus from Creel to Chihuahua. Read our Copper Canyon Railway Review before you go for train tips. The best scenery is West of Creel, so don’t skip that part! There are many hiking and biking opportunities throughout the Canyon and we’ve heard really good things about visiting smaller villages inside the canyon. Creel is considered the market center of the Canyon, so it’s the best place to find other travelers and tours. Plenty of hotel and hostel owners will meet the train.
Chihuahua is a great place to visit and has a real “Western” feel. It’s not exactly a tourist center, but there’s plenty to fill a few days. Soak in the history of Pancho Villa at the local history museum downtown. Take a walking tour of the historic areas and don’t miss the interesting cowboy boots in the market!
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