As I planned my annual trek down to Mexico for New Years Eve, I decided to take a different route this year. Since Christmas falls in the middle of the week, I begged off from the traditional family Gluttonfest and Gift Card Extravaganza in order to stretch my vacation into two weeks. I am meeting my brother Don in Oaxaca for our annual Mexico New Year’s celebration, so this would give me just enough time for a side trip to parts of Mexico not yet explored on the Bucket List.
I am a train fanatic, riding the rails at every opportunity. I have done the Transiberian Express from Russia to China, the Rovos Rail steam train through South Africa, as well as the Europass Rail through Europe. I can’t get enough of those scenic railways! So the “Barrancas del Cobre,” or Copper Canyon Railway through western Mexico has long been on my wish list.
There was only one catch, though. In order to reach the railway from Texas, one must pass through what is notoriously reported to be “The Most Dangerous City in the World,” Ciudad Juarez. Not only does the city itself carry a State Department warning, but so does the entire area all the way down to Chihuahua, the northern terminus for the railway.
Although I try not to base my fears on media madness, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about this route. When my friend Lynne asked me, “How did you think nothing of traveling to Iran, yet you are concerned about traveling through Ciudad Juarez?” I had to agree that it is odd that I would feel apprehension about Ciudad Juarez after Iran. After all, I have traipsed through Hezbollah territory in Lebanon, civil protests in Syria, earthquakes in India and erupting volcanoes in Italy. So it strikes me as odd that I have these feelings as well. But the Lebanese were not afraid of being in Beirut, and the Iranians seemed perfectly at ease sitting out on the main square in Esfahan long into the night. But as for Ciudad Juarez, well, there are even MEXICANS who are afraid to travel there!
I figured as long as I stayed on the bus, I should be okay. I would diversify my money in different compartments (including the lining of my suitcase, and under my shoe inserts) slump down low in the seat, and wear dark colors so as to blend in, getting out of my seat only when absolutely necessary. However, I swallowed hard as I was told when I picked up my ticket in Dallas for the bus to Chihuahua that this bus would only go as far as El Paso. It would not cross the border. I would need to exit the bus, take a taxi across the border into Juarez, and catch a second bus to Chihuahua. All with my 10th grade Spanglish.
Although the bus from Dallas to El Paso was full, there were only five of us going across the border to Ciudad Juarez, and only one other continuing on to Chihuahua. Fortunately, he spoke much better English than my Spanish. They piled all five of us into a taxi. I was going to take the middle of the front seat, but despite my protests, the driver forced all four Mexicans into the back seat, giving me the front seat all to myself.
Crossing the border and finding the bus to Chihuahua was seamless. Mexico is well known for its fine bus system, so it was no surprise that the bus across the border was twice as nice as the one from Dallas to El Paso, with plush seats, comfortable leg rests, and even wifi on board.
The town of Chihuahua was very quaint and like most all Mexico cities, very “walkable” with a large plaza in the city center surrounding a beautiful church. I only saw one group of armed men the entire trip, and that was the US Border Patrol at the border crossing.
Otherwise, it was a pretty typical Mexican city…