Mexico’s most remarkable train journey

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There’s a train
journey in Mexico that takes you past some of
the most spectacular scenery in the world. It’s a trip I’ve wanted to
make for a very long time. It’s 5:00am. I haven’t even had my tea yet. But I’m here at El Chepe,
Mexico’s last passenger train, and I’m so excited. El Chepe is the nickname for
the Chihuahua Pacifica railroad, which runs between Chihuahua
city and Los Mochis on the Gulf of California
in Sinaloa state. Mexico’s railways were
nationalised in 1937 and state run for six decades. But privatisation combined with
highway and air route expansion essentially killed off passenger
train travel by the late 1990s. El Chepe was privatised in 1998,
and it’s the sole surviving route. Jose Contreras started
working on the train when he was 16 selling drinks. There are 17 scheduled
stops on this journey. Although unofficially, it
can stop over 50 times. At one of the stops while
Jose wrangles the crowd I’m allowed access
to the engine to talk to engineer Victor Gomez. Construction of the
line began in 1898, but delays due to engineering
limitations, funding difficulties, and the
Mexican Revolution meant the railway was
only completed in 1961. It was definitely
worth the effort. This is exactly why I wanted
to get the El Chepe train! It’s absolutely
stunning, and these aren’t even the best bits yet. Through its journey, the line
climbs to over 2,400 metres. High up in Mexico’s legendary
Sierra Madre mountains we stop at Divisadero. Here, passengers can
take a close look at the Copper Canyon,
which is actually larger than America’s Grand Canyon. This is what I’ve come to see. It stretches as far as you can
see, as deep as you can see. There’s supposed to
be a river down there. Who knows where? It’s just magnificent. It’s green. It’s rugged. And it goes on, and on, and on. Sadly, I’ve only got
15 minutes to take it all in before we’re off again. Parts of this area are only
accessible via the El Chepe train, so it’s an important
transport system for locals. For, others the motivation to
ride the train is different. These grandmothers go
on holiday every year without their husbands. Even though the atmosphere
is lighthearted, there’s still the odd and
slightly surreal reminder that the state of Sinaloa, where
notorious drug lord El Chapo Guzmán was captured,
isn’t far away. Not that it seems to
bother anyone here. It was hard to leave the
party, but there’s still plenty to see outside. As the light fades, we
gradually wind our way down to Los Mochis,
and hours later reach our final destination. It’s 2:00am. We’ve been on the
train since 6:00am. But we’re finally here
in Los Mochis, Sinaloa. It’s been an unforgettable
ride, but now it’s time for bed.

 

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