This blog began in late 2006 with the planning and preparation for a circumnavigation of the world in my 39-foot sail boat Pachuca. It then covered a successful 5-year circumnavigation that ended in April 2013. The blog now covers life with Pachuca back home in Australia.


Pachuca in Port Angeles, WA USA

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Creel, Chihuahua

Orchard with furled netting and heaters
We were up at 5.45 AM with a wakeup call from Stephen in Western Australia.  At 6.30 AM we were at the train station across the street and shortly after 7 AM the train departed.  The seats were comfortable and we had plenty of shoulder and leg room.  The window was large with a blind that we could be controlled with a knob. The car was about 25 % full.  This train was relatively short - about 6 passenger cars plus the snack bar.  A very pleasant surprise was that where the cars joined there were great viewing platforms that had a waist high restraining gate and a big open area above.

We passed through very good farmland with crops, cattle, and extensive apple orchards.  It was good to see water in just about every water course.  There were many starlings and most of the orchards were set up with nets to cover every tree when the apples are developing.  We could also see what we though were heaters for dealing with frost.  Then the terrain became more interesting with the train skirting water courses, passing over bridges, and through several tunnels, one of which must have been at least 2 km long.  The terrain became mountainous, covered with pine trees and dotted with log cabins here and there.  In the fresh air at the viewing platform the scent of pine trees reminded me of my boyhood in Alabama.

We had read about the occasional armed holdups of this train in the past, but we felt very secure because on board were two guards in the familiar special forces uniforms and armed with a pistol and a submachine gun.  We've become accustomed to seeing these security personnel all over Mexico, riding in Humvees, manning traffic checkpoints, and guarding public buildings.

We departed the train at Creel at 12.30 PM as planned and were soon walking to find a budget hotel recommeded in the guide.  We were not too impressed with what was on offer at that hotel so we took a room at the more upmarket Hotel Plaza Mexicana (600 pesos, including dinner and breakfast).  It is a medium size hotel beautifully appointed in the Mexican style, with a large courtyard.  In our room we are experiencing gas heating for the first time.  Then Brenda went out to have lunch and explore the town.

Creel could be described as a pleasant resort town.  It is located on the edge of Copper Canyon and offers all sorts of excursions for visitors.  We had a hefty lunch in a local cafe then I visited the local museum while Brenda went on a bird watching walkabout.  Brenda did not find many birds but she did enjoy watching two chipmunks courting.  The last time she saw them they were disappearing down a crevice between two rocks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Chihuahua - Day 3

Eternal Flame at Site of Hidalgo's Execution
After a great breakfast at the Quality Inn hotel we went back to Palacio de Gobierno to see something that we had missed the day before: the room where Miguel Hidalgo was executed.  The accompanying photo shows the room that a perpetual flame in his memory.
Strange Statue in Plaza Armas

Then we walked across the street to the Palacio Federal, which contains a museum covering the full spectrum of the history of Chihuahua.  The most special place was the dungeon where Hidalgo spent his last months.  It was a true dungeon with high stone walls and no natural light.  However, he had his bed, a desk, a trunk with personal possessions, a bible, writing material and a candle.

A corner of the museum was dedicated to the actor Anthony Quinn, born Antony Rudolfo Quinn Oaxaca here in the city of Chihuahua in 1915.  His mother was Mexican and father was half Mexican and half Irish.  He was a thoughtful and reflective man with a philosophical bent.  We saw examples of his art and writing that were very good.  Brenda and I will see if we can find his biography or autobiography.

Unfortunately the taking of photographs in this excellently presented museum was prohibited.
Note Bullet Holes

We hurried back to the hotel and cleared out just after noon the caught a bus and got off in front of the Jesuit-built church on Ocampo street and checked into our room here at the El Barcelones hotel, across the street from the train station.

After a short nap we walked over to the Museo Casa de Villa, dedicated to the life of Pancho Villa, who had an extraordinary life.  He was born to poor peasants, became a bandit, and had the charisma, leadership, almost reckless drive, and military cunning to rise the rank of General in the revolutionary struggle and become the governor of Chihuahua.  Pancho Villa's war tactics were studied by the U.S. Army and he and Álvaro Obregón were invited to Fort Bliss to meet Brigadier General John J. Pershing.  But the political winds changed and the US switched its support from Villa and the revolutionaries to the legal government. Pancho responded by leading the only successful foreign invasion of  U.S. soil, taking over the town of Columbus, New Mexico, then attacking towns in Texas.  As a result the U.S. Army spent close to a year chasing Pancho Villa around Northern Mexico without success.

Eventually Villa "retired" to a large ranch in Durango but was killed in a well planned assassination on 20 July 1923.  After his death 25 women came forward claiming to be his wife.  After a government investigation Luz Corral was deemed to be his true wife and she finished her days living in the Pancho Villa house that is now his museum.    (See

Brenda and I spoke with an English-speaking guide at the museum who told us that Pancho had 26 children by his 25 "wives", and that there was a total of 65 women in his life.  (I'm not sure if one night stands count.)  Back in Guadalajara a museum official asked me if I was Mexican, and when I replied No he told me that I had the facial structure of Pancho Villa.  Maybe he keeps running into Pancho's descendants.  The guide also told us that Pancho said that the reason why the US Army could not catch him is that while they were looking ahead searching for him he was behind them, following.

The centerpiece of the museum is the bullet-riddled 1922 Dodge which Pancho Villa was driving when he was assassinated in Parral.  For me there were other items of interest.  The museum has a great display of armaments of the time.  I was able to see close up for the first time Winchester bolt and lever action rifles, and a variety of machine guns that I had seen only in films of WWI.  There was a U.S. Pratt double barrelled 44 caliber machine gun of 1882 and a Colt water cooled machine gun that would have fitted well in All Quiet on the Western Front.  But there were many other things: The furnishings of their daily life, saddles of the day, swords,  cannons, etc.  On a wall are photographs of Anthony Quinn visiting Luz Corral de Villa at her home, sometime before her death in 1981.

Fashion notes from Brenda

Many men in Chihuahua State dress in a particular cowboy style: a white finely woven white straw hat, a long-sleeved open neck shirt, distinctive pointy-toed boots, jeans, and a leather belt to match the boots.

We find it hard to believe how many shoe and boot shops there are especially in Chihuahua and Durango States. As well as colourful cowboy boots for men, very high heels and imaginative styling are popular with women.

Indians have quite a presence in Chihuahua. Many of the women and girls wear long and colourful dresses.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chihuahua - Day 2

Prison near train station
This morning we took the bus to the train station and got our tickets for the train rides from Chihuaua to El Fuerte.

The condemnation of Hidalgo

The Execution of Hidalgo
We plan to take three overnight stops on the way to El Fuerte: Creel, Posada Barrancas, and Bahuichivo.  This will enable us to take  time to enjoy the scenery and wild life.  Because of the curious train scheduling we will be riding Economy Class on the first leg to Creel, and First Class on the second and fourth legs.  For the third leg we will simply purchase the economy ticket at the station.

We are not sure of the availability of microwave internet along that route so it is possible that no blog entries will be made for several days.

The guide states the following: "One of the world's most scenic rail journeys, the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico is also a considerable feat of engineering: it has 37 bridges and 86 tunnels along its 653 km of railway line ..."  And regarding Copper Canyon: "This labyrinth of seven main canyons and dozen or so lesser ones covers a region that's four times larger than the Grand  Canyon of Arizonna, and in several pats the canyons are much deeper (more than 1800m in places)."

After we purchased our tickets we walked across the street and booked a room at a hotel.  Our plan is to move to the hotel tomorrow so that we are better positioned to be at the train station at 6.30 AM on the following day.

State of Chihuahua Legislative Chamber

Gun more than 3 meters in length
On the way back to our hotel we visited the Palacio de Gobieno and saw yet more murals depicting the history of the area.  We also visited a small museum dedicated to Miguel Hidalgo, who was executed in the courtyard of the building.  Then we visited another small museum displaying early day armaments.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chihuahua, State of Chihuahua

Interior of Parral Cathedral

Ore encrusted pillars
On the way to find a taxi we paid a quick visit to the Parral cathedral.  Of special interest in this church are the pillars encrusted with ore from the local mine containing zinc, copper, gold and silver. 

We arrived at the Parral bus station at 9 AM and were able to purchase tickets (at 190 pesos for the both of us) for a bus leaving for Chihuahua at 10.15 AM, after getting confirmation that it would be a first class service.  The trip lasted an enjoyable 3 hours of comfortable riding while we watched the rugged scenery pass by.  We got movies and access to two toilets with no padlocks.
Scenery on way to Chihuahua
There was a bus stop just outside of the bus terminal and within a few minutes we were on our way to the center of Chihuahua six kilometers away.  The bus driver spoke very good English, asked me where I was from, and soon we were in a lively conversation about Australia, Mexico, and the USA where he had lived for three years and toured through about 25 states.  He dropped us off at Calle Victoria near the Cathedral and after walking southwest along the road for a few blocks we found the Hotel Jardin del Centro, which had been recommended in the guide.  The hotel is a good one.  It has a pleasant verdant courtyard, although it is in a bit of disarray while they do some renovations.  The room is modern, the staff is friendly, and we feel very secure here.  The price is slightly higher than that reported in the guide, at 380 pesos ($32) per night.

Angel de la Libertad monument, Templo de San Frnacisco at left
We went for two walks in the afternoon.  During the first walk we discovered the great fresh food market and purchased bananas and mandarines.  Before returning to the hotel we had a late lunch of 2 tacos each.  We then went on another walk to the Plaza Armas then visited the cathedral, taking note of the chandeliers of imported Venetian glass. Walking on we saw the impressive Palacio de Gobierno where the revolutionary hero Miguel Hidalgo was shot.  Further along we saw the huge monument Angel de la Libertad, representing the liberty of the Mexican people.  And beyond that was the white Templo de San Francisco, the city's oldest church, built in 1721-1741.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hidalgo del Parral, State of Chihuahua

I don't care if it rains or freezes ....
Today we made the 6 hour bus ride from Durango to Hidalgo del Parral, in the state of Chihuahua. The bus fare for both of us was 570 pesos ($47).

We were witness to a serious accident during our taxi ride to the Durango central bus station.  We were travelling on the outside lane.  20 meters ahead of us on the inside lane was another taxi.  I saw the street vendor start pushing his cart onto the pedestrian crossing.  A second later I thought "Shit, that taxi isn't going to stop!" Another second later the driver saw the man, there was the squealing of tires, and a cloud of blue smoke then the taxi hit the man full on and demolished the cart.   Our own taxi stopped without too much room to spare.  I ran over and saw the man unconscious and still.  However, I saw no blood or broken bones.

The first car on the scene was an ambulance.  The accident happened near a hospital and there happened to be an ambulance not far behind us.  Soon there were 4 paramedics attending to the man and as he was carried to the ambulance in a stretcher we saw him lift his arm.

It's easy to blame the taxi driver because he should have been paying attention to the road ahead.  On the other hand, the push cart vendor seemed to get onto the crosswalk without taking any notice of oncoming traffic.  There may be a lesson here.  It was early on Sunday morning and there was very little vehicular or pedestrian traffic.  I think that everyone just let their guard down.

We like to think that the injured man will be OK.

We passed up an opportunity to travel with Omnibus de Mexico and instead chose another carrier because its bus left in only 1 hour.  While having coffee we checked the tickets and saw that we would be travelling "economy" class.  We prefer to travel Delux class (with plenty of leg room, his and hers toilets, etc) but have found First Class acceptable. However, we had wanted to avoid Economy Class.  The bus turned out to be a reasonable one, although we noted two differences.  Even though the bus was equipped with movie screens, no movies were shown.  Then I went to the back to relieve myself and saw that the toilet door had been locked with a hasp and padlock out of a hardware store.  Fortunately 3 hours into the trip the bus stopped at a place where toilets were available.

The ride was enjoyable because we had front seats and were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery and interesting road that was at times very narrow and winding as we passed over mountain ranges.  But it had its moments, particularly when meeting very large trucks on very tight bends.  At the front of the bus was a large crucifix and several icons on the ceiling.  One was of Jesus Christ looking up with a terrified expression as if to say "When will this harrowing trip be over?"

From the Parral bus station we followed our usual M.O. and took a taxi to one of the two main parks in the central historical district.  Soon we found a hotel which, though cheap at 190 pesos, is a bit rough.  We were smart enough to ask to see the room and it turned out to be a box with no windows at all.  We told the man that we had to have a window and he found a place for us on the second floor with a good sized window. The room has the basics, we think that we are safe, and it's only for one night.

Durango - Day 2, Visit to Villa de Oeste

The Wild West Town
Since the 1950's hundreds of films - mostly westerns - have been made in the Durango area.  The attraction was the authentic wild west scenery untainted by roads, power lines, airplane con trails, etc.  We are aware of three main sites: Villa de Oeste, only 12 kilometers north of Durango, Chupaderos, another 8 kilometers along the road, and Rancho La Joya, about 45 kilometers north of the city.  In 1969 La Joya became the property of John Wayne, who used it as the setting for several of his films. Elaborate sets of western towns were built at all 3 sites.
Can Can in the Street

Things are getting serious

Preliminary Hanging

Shootout at Main Street

We visited Villa de Oeste.  It looked like a dilapidated Western town with the saloon, jail, blacksmith shop, church, houses, boot hill, etc.  The city of Durango has crept up toward Villa de Oeste and Brenda and I figure that there hasn't been filming there is perhaps 50 years.

Two or three shows are put on each day, involving the sheriff, cowboys, Indians, and dance hall girls.  There is also a make believe movie director.  We saw the 3 PM show and it was a hoot involving a bank robbery, the bad guys being shot, somebody being strung up, and finally a couple of cow girls gunning down the sheriff and riding out with the loot.  It was a real hoot and the crowd loved it.  After the show Brenda and I walked around town where we had a bite to eat and a drink at the local saloon, visited boot hill where we saw the grave markers of Robert Wagner, Burt Lancaster, Richard Harris, Dolores del Rio, and even John Candy.  Presumably these were some of the big names who had worked at this set.  We also managed to get thrown into the jail and talked our way out, but as we walked away a desperado started to strangle Brenda through the bars of the jailhouse window.

We returned to the bus at the appointed time of 5 PM only to learn that there had been a change of plan and the bus would not return to Durango until 6.30 PM, after the next show.  Brenda and I expected to then see a repeat of the 3 PM show, but it turned out to be more interesting than that.

A "movie" was to be made and three world weary and mean looking men were required to play the bandidos.  Like it or not, I was pressed into service as one of the bandidos.  Not speaking Spanish very well made it difficult to understand the script, but I understood that I was to walk down the street and cover the right side during the robbery.  I checked that my toy gun wasn't really loaded, put on my cowboy hat, and went to it.
The Morales Gang Behind Bars

Future Not Too Bright

Close Call for Brenda

There were actually 4 takes: the first a normal one, the second as though the film was being run in fast forward, the third in slow motion, where we moved and spoke in slow motion, and  the final take where we were armed with bottles and got shot at the end.  I must have done a reasonable death scene because I dropped the bottle, staggered back, then fell flat on my back with my arms extended, and the people that I had earlier threatened with a gun laughed pretty heartily.

Afterwards we all went into the saloon expecting the three dance hall girls to do the Can Can.  Instead, the Indians put up an excellent and very camp dance that had us all howling.
Bank Robbery in Progress

Cool Hand Bob

Fellow Bandido Bites the Dust

The Village People doing their thing

Before  we departed for the bus I left one of my cards in case I had been spotted by a talent scout.  You never know.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Durango - Day 2, Visit to Palacio de Gobierno

This morning we visited two buildings with murals.

The first was the Palacio Legislativo, with two murals, one done in relief.  Shown is part of one of the murals, an in-your-face statement of the artist's view of the role of the Church in Mexico's difficult history.  Note the cross in parallel with the sword, and the Conquistador's flag.

Later we visited the Palacio de Gobierno, built in the 1790's for a Spanish mine owner.  Today it is a working government office building filled with murals.

Benito Juarez in Center

Second Floor

Friday, March 25, 2011

Durango, State of Durango

Landscape on Road to Durango
We arrived at the Zacatecas central bus station at 9.30 AM.  One great thing about these central bus stations is that all of the companies servicing the area are represented and it is very easy to compare prices and schedules.  Omnibus de Mexico had a bus leaving at 10 AM and that's the one that we took.  The price was 480 pesos ($40) for the both of us.  We had a pleasant 5 hour ride to Durango, admiring the rolling landscape with hills in the background.

View to the Left

Brenda Admiring Street Scene
At the bus station Brenda struck up a conversation with a young English-speaking Mexican who asked about Australia.  He escorted us to a cab and directed the driver to take us to a budget motel that he knew in the Centro de Historico, the historical part of the city.  Brenda and I thought the hotel too 1960's Australian blah so we walked about 9 blocks to the cathedral because across the road from it was the Hotel Plaza Catedral, described in the guide with the words "This cool, 270-year-old castlelike building is a labyrinth of stairways, arches, and tile work.  Rooms are a bit dilapidated and some are gloomy: those facing the cathedral, with small balconies, are the nicest and brightest."

Room 307

Looking down on inner court yard from 3rd floor

Looks like a private chapel at the second level
Well, we wanted some character and we got it.  For 300 pesos a night we followed the advice of the guide and took a room with a balcony facing the cathedral.  If my arithmetic is correct the building dates from 1740.  It has the thick stone walls, high ceilings, and a two inner court yards that though roofed today would have been open to the elements at one time.  There are balconies and even a small chapel overlooking the court yards.  The views from the room are excellent, with a long promenade to the left, the cathedral on the other side of the promenade with its mixture of protecting angels and threatening bells, and to the right the Plaza de Armas.

Blog Archive


Statistics Click Me